How to Cut Your Holiday Bills in Half Without Feeling Like Scrooge

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If you usually find yourself in January and February facing a stack of bills from holiday shopping, resolve that this year you aren’t going to let the spending get out of hand. Decide that your holiday memories are going to be happy ones, not headaches! Following are strategies for spending less while enjoying your holidays a lot more.

Credit Strategies

The perfect, fun-filled, gift-laden holiday season is just a matter of buying the right holiday trappings, right?

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That’s certainly what advertisers want you to believe. But you don’t have to charge your way through the holidays, or you’ll find yourself paying for it for a long, long time.

Be smart about how you use credit and stay in control:

  • Avoid “buy now and pay later” offers designed to encourage you to spend money you don’t have. These plans usually charge high interest from the date of purchase if you can’t pay the bill off in full by the end of the no-interest period — or if you are just one day late with a payment. If you can’t afford to pay for it now, you can’t afford to buy it now.
  • Keep track of your holiday purchases. Most people carry eight to ten pieces of plastic, so it’s easy to lose track of holiday credit card purchases, then be in for a big shock when the bills arrive. Record all holiday purchases in your checkbook register.
  • Use a low rate bankcard instead of high rate department store cards unless you are absolutely certain you can pay the bill in full. The savings can be dramatic. For example: if you have a $1,000 balance on a card that charges 19.8 percent and you just make the minimum payment over time, it will cost $2,922 in interest and take more than 25 years to pay off. But if your interest rate is 14 percent, your interest charges will be closer to $1,000 and it will take about 13 years to pay off.

    This example shows how important it is to pay more than the required minimum payment too. If you pay $50 each month, the debt on the card with a 14 percent interest rate would be paid off in two years with only $145 in interest.

  • Consider carrying only two credit cards for shopping. Use one (with a zero balance) for purchases you will pay off in full. Use the other (a low-interestrate card) for purchases you’ll pay off over time — but quickly! If you are already carrying credit card balances from last year, leave all your cards at home when holiday shopping to avoid temptation.
  • Avoid “skip a payment” offers that are as common as Santa around the holidays. You’ll just pay more interest and face a larger bill the next month.


Be honest: can you even remember what gifts you received or gave over the past couple of years? We often give pricey gifts because we feel guilty or pressured — then to top it off we also feel broke!

It truly can be “the thought that counts” if you’re thoughtful in your gift-giving. Make your list and check it twice. Do you really need to give all those gifts?

  • For younger kids, consider giving only one or two larger gifts instead of overwhelming them with a pile of smaller gifts — especially if they can expect gifts from relatives or friends.
  • For older kids, have them decide what they really want, then consider gift certificates which will allow them to buy what they want right after Christmas, when holiday sales offer lower prices. They can pocket the difference or buy even more for the same amount of money.
  • For family members, discuss drawing names so you only have to buy one gift instead of many. Or agree upon a spending limit per person. Enlarged and framed family photographs make terrific holiday gifts for parents and grandparents who have “everything.” Help kids make personal homemade gifts for their relatives. Even videotapes or tape recordings can be more fun than many store-bought gifts.
  • Consider homemade gifts of food, plants or even services, for family members, teachers or co-workers.
  • For all gifts, shop as early as possible for the best selection and prices. You won’t get stuck paying a fortune for some gift you aren’t sure is even right.
  • Online shopping can make your season far less stressful. Make sure you understand refund policies, and don’t forget to include shipping charges in your budget.
  • Make inexpensive wrapping paper by stamping brown packaging paper with festive ink or paint stamps.
  • Send holiday post cards instead of cards and save on postage. If you’re too busy to send cards before the holidays, consider sending New Year’s cards in early January.
  • Teach kids the value of giving. Have them donate used toys and clothing to charity. You may also be able to take a tax deduction.
  • Cut crossword puzzles out of newspapers and magazines throughout the year. Paste them into a notebook for a one-of-a-kind collection.
  • Cut out magazine photos and words that represent the lifestyle and interests of family and friends. Varnish them onto old cigar boxes, add glitter and ribbon to finish the box.
  • Ship holiday gifts by bus. The delivery time is as fast as the major carriers for one-third less, even with insurance.
  • Cash in airline frequent flier miles for magazine subscriptions and other gifts.
  • Collect twigs and leaves to make inexpensive but personal holiday wreaths as gifts.
  • Pick a craft project your whole family can take part in, such as candle making or woodwork. Each year do something different and your friends and family will get truly memorable gifts without busting your budget.

Our favorite tip was sent in to our “Savviest Scrooge” competition by Mary McEwan, Nashville, Tenn.

  • For grandchildren, create a book of wise sayings written on homemade coupons, one for each month of the year. Each month, the grandchildren have to explain what the saying means to them in order to cash the coupon in for $5. The kids have something to look forward to every month, and grandparents spread out the expense over the year.


You don’t have to outdo Martha Stewart when it comes to holiday entertaining! Do what you enjoy and skip the rest. You’ll be a lot happier and so will your family.

To save time and money

  • Organize a cookie exchange. Each person bakes a large batch of one kind of cookie, then exchanges cookies with others.
  • Buy baking and cooking ingredients in bulk when they’re on sale. Freeze extras or split them with a friend.
  • Keep everyday meals simple so you’ll have time to enjoy other activities. Make a list of five or six simple dishes your family will eat and rotate them throughout the month.
  • Focus on activities besides shopping. Read holiday stories with younger children and start holiday traditions with kids of any age. It’s likely your kids will enjoy and remember those experiences long after the gifts have been forgotten.
  • When you throw a party, make it potluck. Pick a theme, provide the main dish and perhaps beverages, then let your guests bring a dish to pass. (They’ll probably feel obligated to bring something anyway.)
  • Consider traveling before or after the holidays. You can save a lot of money on airfares and avoid long waits or heavy traffic as well.
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