5 Things To Cut From Your Holiday Budget

According to the National Retail Federation, 2023 holiday spending is expected to grow 3% to 4% over the previous year, reaching record levels. That equates to approximately $960 billion spent by American consumers this winter holiday season. On a per-person basis, an NRF-comissioned survey indicates that consumers expect to spend $875 on average for the holidays. In addition to gifts, the spending total also includes seasonal items, such as decorations and food.


Indeed, there can be a lot of peer pressure to spend during this time of the year, but try to avoid worrying about what other people are doing with their hard-earned dollars. Set your own personal holiday budget and stick to it. To stretch that budget, you might wonder if there are any areas where you can cut back without seeming like a Grinch? The good news is that with some careful planning and trading retail norms for thoughtful workarounds, you definitely can trim your spending without sacrificing merriment. After all, your friends and family wouldn't want to learn that you landed yourself under a stressful mountain of debt for their sake.

Fancy food and wine

After a dreary few years of both social distancing and limited gatherings courtesy of the COVID pandemic, holiday parties are finally back in full swing. And while there's a natural tendency to want to make events feel special with over-the-top food and wine, but you can put out a great spread on a budget.


To start, experts recommend not waiting until the last minute to make a run to the grocery store because you'll pay more. Instead, make a list of what you think you'll need for meals and gatherings and start shopping weeks or even months ahead of time, as these items go on sale. This way, you'll have a better chance of scoring nearly everything on sale, not just what happens to be on sale during a one-time shopping spree.

Also, if you have a Trader Joe's or an ALDI nearby, the quirky grocery chains can be alternative sources for quality wines and other spirits for less. Trader Joe's, for example, also stocks a huge selection of interesting and easy-to-heat appetizers for holiday hosting (and could give the illusion you spent more). Finally, when guests offer to bring a contribution to the party, let them. It'll help your wallet and people genuinely like to get involved.


New clothes for holiday parties and events

Of course, you'll want to look your best at holiday events this year. After all, you'll be interacting with family, friends, and coworkers — some of whom you may not have seen for a while. In a 2019 survey of 2,000 people, jeweler Lightbox found that the average respondent expected to spend a budget-wrecking $787.97 on new clothes and accessories for holiday gatherings. More shockingly, 55% of respondents admitted to having bought an outfit for a party and not worn it again (via The New York Post).


To avoid accumulating unnecessary debt, resist the urge to run off to the nearest department store and swipe your credit card for new threads. Instead, try shopping in your closet first. Spend an afternoon trying on all of your nicer clothes and donate or sell any garments that no longer fit, are damaged, or are simply outdated. Next, experts recommend mixing and matching what's left to see what looks good together. An extra layer like a jacket or vest can freshen up an outfit and make it more formal, as can a different pair of shoes or accessories like a belt or jewelry that you might already own.

If you're hitting a creative fashion wall with your holiday outfits, consider inviting a friend over to get their perspective. A fresh set of eyes might see a great outfit pairing that you're missing. Better still, you can get several friends together for a clothing swap where everyone brings some items to trade.


Shipping and mailing costs

Let's face it, retail shipping rates from FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service have skyrocketed post-pandemic. Instead of purchasing gifts locally, then mailing them to family and friends, consider purchasing an item from an online retailer that can be shipped directly to the recipient. Many online stores offer free shipping to members, like Amazon Prime or Walmart+. Alternatively, free shipping is available at many retailers during special sale periods or if a certain spending threshold is met. In a worse case where you do have to pay a retailer for shipping, the rate may be lower than what you'll pay as an individual. Further, many third-party sellers on Amazon and eBay offer free shipping to entice buyers, and in the latter case, you can shop vintage or secondhand goods.


If you do need to ship something yourself, it's always handy to have a selection of different boxes and padding like bubble wrap available to avoid paying high office supply store or UPS Store prices. That's why you should save these materials from when you receive packages throughout the year. Finally, consider purchasing non-tangible gifts to avoid shipping. Of course, there's the old fallback of gift cards with e-delivery, but if you want something more personal, consider alternatives, such as giving a streaming subscription or an electronic subscription to a magazine or newspaper that you know the recipient will enjoy.

Expensive gift wrap

Heavy, luxury gift wrap not only adds considerable expense to gift-giving but can actually be too thick for amateur wrappers to get professional results. And let's face it, most wrapping paper hits the trash or recycling bin moments after the gift is opened. As an alternative, regular brown packaging paper, also known as kraft paper, provides a timeless, classy look at a low cost. Especially when you dress it up with a red accent ribbon and perhaps even a sprig of rosemary for seasonal flair.


Your local dollar store can also be a treasure trove for budget-friendly wrapping paper, along with gift bags and accessories like bows. It's honestly hard to tell that some of these products cost only $1. Another perennial favorite of thrifty gift-wrappers is newspaper. If you want to add a bit of visual punch, choose sections of the newspaper with color. For example, kids (or kids at heart) will love getting a gift wrapped in the Sunday paper's comics section, while the frequent flyer in your life can receive a gift resplendent with images from the travel section.

Individual gifts for coworkers and acquaintances

Buying gifts is perhaps the biggest component of holiday spending and while you might not want to skimp on your spouse or children, what about all the peripheral folks in your life, such as coworkers? Instead of buying all of your coworkers individual presents, ask if there's interest in doing a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange instead. That way, you'll only need to produce one gift, which in the case of a White Elephant exchange, may even be an unwanted gift that you already own. Plus, low-budget, fun gift exchanges have an element of gameplay and mystery that can add to the festive atmosphere.


Also, if you're receiving an excessive number of invites to events that require gifts to folks that you might barely know, congrats on being popular, but don't be afraid to turn some down. If you do want to attend, but without the pressure or the expense of buying presents, offer to help cook, clean up, or decorate to make the party a success.