The holidays can be one of the happiest times of the year. However, all of that holiday cheer comes with a large, literal price tag. As the American Research Group found in a 2016 survey, the average American spent $929 on gifts alone during the holidays. The same survey also found that over half of respondents expected to rack up debt to afford all of the festivities.
The good news? It's not difficult to be a conservative spender and still enjoy the holidays. Here are seven ideas to get you started.
1. Book your airfare early and on "off" days
The price of travel during the holiday season skyrockets. However, strategically booking your flight can help save big on your airfare tickets. Flying earlier will offer the most affordable fares. For Christmas, aim to fly in around Dec. 17 or 18. This might allow you to escape the hefty fares and crowds that will ensue in the days leading up to the holiday, and booking your return for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will give you the best rates on the other side.
2. Make DIY gifts that people will actually like
It's possible to make gifts that are inexpensive in dollars, but priceless in thought. Homemade gifts offer a personal touch that a gift card or generic store-bought item can't. Make DIY gifts as personal as possible. You don't want to knit 10 identical scarves for all of your friends and family. Instead, think about the people you're giving to as individuals. What makes them unique? Also, what skills and talents do you have that you could use to create presents?
Perhaps you have a niece who is very passionate about fashion — making a scarf for her is a lovely idea. Think about her favorite colors, patterns, and design preferences and it's sure to be a hit because you created it with her in mind. Or, maybe you have an uncle who loves golf and you love to paint. You could use your artistic talents to paint him a scenic portrait of his favorite golf course.
I also find personal letters to be very underrated; if you want to be sentimental, gathering your words and presenting them in a thoughtful way is a fantastic gift that shows how much you care.
3. Bargain shop for decor
You only use your holiday decor for a few days of the year, so there's no need to spend hundreds of dollars on these items, as tempting as those department store displays can be. Hit up stores like T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, HomeGoods, and Tuesday Morning to find bargains on items that are department-store quality, for a fraction of the retail price.
If you're feeling crafty, you can also hit up Pinterest to find DIY holiday projects that you can make using your own two hands. You could even organize a holiday crafting party and make it a group effort with family and friends. Also, shop for next year's decor starting at the end of this year's holiday season, when you'll find the biggest savings.
4. Find other ways to get home for the holidays
Instead of flying, you can use many other, cheaper travel alternatives. One idea is to take Amtrak back to your hometown, which offers both scenic views and low prices (although be prepared for a longer travel time). You could also take advantage of Greyhound or Megabus, which offer bus tickets for as low as $1 — just be ready to rough it!
Another creative idea is to use ridesharing services like OpenRide, which allow you to go on long-distance rides that you wouldn't be able to book on Uber or Lyft. You can also make friends along the way with other locals who are headed to your hometown! It's all about the journey ...
5. Find ways to celebrate for free
There are lots of ways to enjoy your time off that are free or very inexpensive. Find tree lightings, Christmas light displays, free concerts, holiday movie classics, and perhaps the best idea of all, charities where you can donate your time. There's nothing like volunteering to help you to experience the real meaning of the season.
6. Master one dish and bring it to every party or potluck
Instead of buying expensive pre-made dishes from Whole Foods to bring to holiday parties, master one epic dish that you can bring to everything from your office holiday party to your own Christmas family celebration. That way, you can buy the ingredients in bulk and know with confidence that the dish is going to be delicious, saving you from the last-minute run-to-the-grocery-store panic.
Need some inspiration to get started? Check out these one-pot dishes that are simple to make but still delicious.
7. Buy one basic staple piece you can style in many ways
Just like with food, finding one statement piece that can be styled many different ways for all of your holiday festivities will save you from the temptation of buying new outfits for every party you attend. A classic "little black dress" is always a good choice, which you can style with different jackets, accessories, shoes, and bags to create new, fun outfits for every holiday occasion. If dresses aren't your thing, you could always buy something as simple as a button-down shirt, a crisp pair of pants, or even a pair of basic leggings that you can dress up or down.
The real joy of the holidays comes from spending quality time and creating lasting memories with your loved ones. You won't remember how much your gift to Uncle Louie cost or the $500 Christmas tree you had when you look back on your memories. Let this principle guide your spending, and hopefully bring you big savings, during the 2017 holiday season.