5 Clever Hacks for a Debt-Free, Stress-Free Holiday

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An upset man looks at his phone and credit card in front of a Christmas tree
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Here we are again.

Isn’t it amazing how something that happens at the same time every year can still sneak up on you?

We can’t do your shopping for you, or pay off your credit cards, but we can offer some tips to make this year a bit less hectic and a lot less expensive.

1. Set a realistic budget

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This year, be honest about what you can afford to spend. Create a budget that includes all costs and, if it looks unmanageable, start cutting.

Feel free to skip expensive traditions, making cost-effective substitutions, like having potlucks with friends instead of going out, or setting limits on gifts.

For every way to spend during the holidays, there’s a corresponding way to save.

And you knew I was going to say this: The earlier you start, the better. The most expensive shopping you can do is the last-minute kind.

2. Get money back when you shop online

Woman using laptop to do AI research
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You should never, ever shop online without getting money back. Ever. Nor should you shop online without using tools to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Here are some to check out. All are free, and none take more than a few seconds to sign up for.

  • Rakuten: Get cash back when you shop online through this site, which you may also know as Ebates. Get a bonus (sometimes as high as $40) for signing up, and get even more for getting your friends to sign up.
  • Swagbucks: Earn cash back when you make online purchases at thousands of stores by shopping through this portal.
  • TopCashback: This service operates in a very similar way to the previous two.
  • Capital One Shopping: This browser extension will help you save when you shop online. It will compare prices across the internet so you know if an item you’re purchasing is cheaper elsewhere.

3. Give meaning

crafty picture made on cardboard
OnlyZoia / Shutterstock.com

On more than one occasion, I’ve given my wife diamonds. But ask her to name the best gifts I’ve ever given her, and she’ll undoubtedly mention the cards I’ve made for her over the years. Some were simple, some elaborate, but all came from the heart and made her laugh.

The best gifts are those that let the recipient know you’re thinking about them and that you remember what makes them smile. A picture, a music playlist, a homemade card, a poem: these are the gifts that make lifelong memories and may take time, but don’t cost much.

4. Make extra money

Senior woman holding cash
Andrii Iemelianenko / Shutterstock.com

There are lots of ways to spend money during the holidays. But there are also lots of ways to make money all year long.

From slashing your car insurance bill to getting paid $250 to open a savings account to getting paid to walk dogs, the internet is awash in ways to make extra money. Use some of them to offset your holiday spending.

For additional ideas, see “51 Fast Ways to Score $1,000 or More.”

5. Use rewards points

Couple using a credit card on laptop
adriaticfoto / Shutterstock.com

The best price you can get for anything is free. If you have reward points from credit cards, this is the perfect time to use them.

And if you’re not collecting points, before you start shopping this year, get a card that offers them. Just make sure you’ll pay it off every month. You can find the best deals here.

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