How To Not Suck… At Saving For The Holidays

The holiday season is still in full swing, and we’re willing to bet you’re not done spending money yet. What’s more, some of you will be paying off your holiday spending on credit card bills for months to come; the holiday cheer followed by the January credit card bill blues. Break this nasty cycle by planning ahead for the next holiday season.

You can even make it a family affair by getting your loved ones to help.

Automatic Deductions
No, it’s not sexy (well, guess that depends on what excites you, and we here at Consumerist love anything that saves money), but automatic deductions are one of the best ways to save for any kind of goal.

Try saving in a Christmas Club account, which is simply a bank savings account that’s earmarked for holiday spending.

They’re not out of vogue yet. While you may not find availability at every bank, about 70% of credit unions still offer Christmas Club accounts, according to the Credit Union National Association.

You can arrange for small amounts to come out of your paycheck or checking account and be deposited directly into a Christmas Club account before you can spend it. If your banking institution doesn’t offer a Christmas Club, you can use any kind of savings account — just watch out for minimum balance fees.

Setting aside $10 a week (that’s two grande mocha lattes that most of us can honestly forgo) would give you $520 for next year’s festivities. Saving $25 a week would give you $1,300. That’s a lot of presents (maybe even one for yourself, if you’re extra nice).

The only negatives? The interest rates on these accounts are usually paltry, and most official Christmas Club accounts don’t allow withdrawals until November or later. Then again, that’s a good way to make sure you don’t spend the money on something else.

Spare Change
The coins you set aside in that jar on your kitchen counter or bedroom dresser can come in very handy for extra cash. Let it accumulate, then bring your moolah to a money counting machine (look ahead for the ones that don’t charge fees — they are out there) or ask your bank teller for those old-fashioned coin rollers (just make sure you don’t get charged a teller fee for seeing a real person).

Take your bounty and deposit it into an account that’s earmarked for the holidays, or if you trust yourself not to spend it, stick it in an envelope and put it away in a safe place at home.

Hold the Bills
While many of us think to dump those leftover coins in a jar to save for future use, we tend to keep small bills in our wallet (and sometimes spend them foolishly, because hey, it’s only a dollar, right?).

Resolve not to spend one kind of bill — a single for most of us, or maybe even a $5 note. When you get your denomination of choice back from a store clerk, add it to your holiday savings account. As long as you don’t touch that stash, you could have a nice wad of money to spend come next November and December.

Create New Savings
There are plenty of ways you can save money with everyday actions, from bringing lunch to work to making your own coffee to saving on utility bills.

Pick a spending target to trim and set aside your savings.

Quit Something
We’re certainly not going to tell you how to run your life, but if you decide to make a change, save the cost for the holidays.

Some ideas? Gym memberships, cigarette costs, take-out Chinese dinners, those fancy and pricey coffees, beer… Um, maybe not the beer, but you get the drill. Whatever you stop spending, start saving.

Check Your Rewards
If you use a rewards credit card, you may be able to redeem points for gifts that are fit for giving. Some cards also allow you to buy gift cards with your points. You can use those cards as presents, or, better yet, use them to buy holiday presents so you’re not adding to the balance on your plastic.

Celebrate Late, On Purpose
If you’re not able to see your family on the actual holiday, or even if you are, consider making the celebration late — on purpose — so all the gift buyers can take advantage of all those post-holiday fire sales at stores.

Plus, if you have to travel by air to see your loved ones, a holiday delay may allow you to benefit from the less popular travel dates.

Give Up Giving
Do you really need another ugly sweater, and couldn’t Aunt Marge live without that apron with a reindeer on front?

Many families decide to forgo the gift-giving for other adults, and they simply spend on the younger kids.

Or, because we know some holiday-lovers won’t want to give up giving entirely, consider a Secret Santa or grab-bag affair in which each participant only has to buy for one person — and set a budget.

Speaking of budgets…

Set A Holiday Budget Challenge
Challenge your family members to see who can come up with the best gift for under a certain dollar figure.

Sweeten the pot by having each participant add $5 or $10 or a master fund, and the person who comes up with the most creative gift under your agreed-upon spending limit gets the bounty at the end.

If you win, you could set the cash aside for next year’s holiday savings.

Still speaking of budgets…

Create Your Own Limits
If you can’t get your family to play along with spending less, you can still do it on your own. Long before you step foot in a store to buy anything, make a list, and check it twice. Make sure you’re only buying gifts you must, and then, make sure you stay within a predetermined dollar range so you don’t break the bank — again.

Create an Experience
The holidays are supposed to be about being around loved ones (no matter how much it can hurt). So rather than sit around with full bellies and a mess of wrapping paper, get together and create an experience instead of buying presents.

Maybe you can join together — financially and physically — to cook dinner for a needy family. Or spend time in a local soup kitchen. Or visit people in a nursing home who don’t have family nearby for the holiday.

Spread some holiday cheer, gosh darn it!

In conclusion, what’s a holiday spending story without a little Dr. Seuss?

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at

You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.

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