8 Ways to Save for the Holidays in the Next 8 Weeks

curious man holding present...

Are you ready for all the expenses that come with the holidays? Let's make it a little less stressful by looking at eight ways to save in the next eight weeks.

1. Trim Your Budget

The quickest way to having more cash is to go through your budget and cut down on anything that's unnecessary. Can you give up eating out for a month or two? What about going without getting your hair done? In the spirit of giving to others, try to temporarily cut down spending on yourself.

By simply asking your service providers for less expensive options, you may secure a discount or a reduced rate. I just did this with my phone bill. I had an unlimited data plan, and I switched to 3 gigs of data and cut my bill by 40 percent. The worst that can happen is that the company representative says no -- but the best is you could save money on monthly bills just by asking.

2. Make Your Gifts

Have a Pinterest-surfing session and get on the hunt for handmade gift ideas. Do you have any artistic abilities, like painting, drawing or knitting? Put those skills to use.

If handmade gifts aren't your thing, consider making your own greeting cards. Plus, your card recipients will feel extra special after receiving such a thoughtful item in the mail or at a holiday gathering.

3. Change Your Tax Withholding

If you normally receive a tax refund, try adjusting your tax withholding at your job so that your next few paychecks are a little bigger. That will mean more money in your pocket around the holidays, but a smaller refund. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Getting money back via a tax refund means the government got an interest-free loan from you. Turn that around and enjoy that interest-free loan for yourself.

4. Strategically Plan Your Shopping

Plan when it comes to both everyday shopping and shopping for holiday gifts. Consolidate your shopping to a day or two during the week and shop at a cluster of stores if possible. That reduces both mileage, which saves gas, and time (which may save your sanity).

5. Redeem Reward Points from Credit Cards

Do you have any unused points waiting to be redeemed from your credit cards? You can redeem most points for cash back or gift cards than can be used for loved ones. Next year, don't use any of your credit card rewards until the holidays so you'll already have money saved for your holiday shopping. This is a strategy I've used for years.

6. Look for Coupons and Discounts

Search for coupons and deals on websites like RetailMeNot. Browse for discounted gifts on deal sites like Groupon or ScoutMob. Make sure you're armed with a list of gifts you want to buy first. This savings strategy can backfire if you buy things just because they're on sale, so use discipline to avoid overspending. Also, ask for price matches at stores.

7. Shop Online

We all know about Black Friday, but you can often get some of the best online deals shopping the Monday after Thanksgiving. I got a great deal on my laptop bag by buying it on Cyber Monday.

Besides saving you gas, online prices can be cheaper -- and some online retailers don't charge sales tax. Shopping on a site like Amazon (AMZN) can save you time and help you avoid the holiday rush around department stores and malls. And even traditionally brick-and-mortar businesses, like Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT), offer exclusive online deals that you can't get in the store. For instance, Walmart is testing matching online prices.

8. No-Spend Challenge

If you're really serious about saving in these last weeks before the holidays, establish a no-spend challenge for part of the time, say weekends, every other week or all of November.

A no-spend challenge is what it sounds like: a period that you choose to not spend any (extra) money. Yes, you'll still need spend on rent, utilities, gas and groceries. The no-spend idea is for discretionary expenses, like dining out, going to an event or shopping for yourself. For an added challenge, see how many $0 days you can achieve in a row. One writer I know used this technique to help pay off her debt.

If you have a no-spend weekend, for example, cook and eat all your meals at home, plan on a family game night or take yourself on a walking tour of some part of your community. Plan on free activities or use resources you already have. Then, put the surplus your no-spend time created toward holiday expenses.

Sophia Bera is a virtual financial planner for millennials and the founder of Gen Y Planning. She is location-independent but calls Minneapolis home. She offers a free Gen Y Planning newsletter.

10 Shopping Strategies to Rock Black Friday -- and Beyond
See Gallery
8 Ways to Save for the Holidays in the Next 8 Weeks
Two of the best sites to find deals are BlackFriday.com and DealNews.com, which also offer useful free apps and plenty of advice. DealNews rates deals with Editor's Choice labels. And remember, many stores will be open on Gray Thursday (the new retail-centric name for Thanksgiving), with Macy's (M) opening at 6 p.m. There will also be early-bird and night-owl specials, so you can develop an hour-by-hour itinerary. And remember: Before you buy, check out the return policies.
Sheets and linens are still cheaper during the traditional January white sales. Toys are often discounted much closer to Christmas. However, if it's a must-have hot toy, you may have to bite the bullet. Holiday decorations will be marked down the most the day after Christmas. Video games and DVDs may be marked down more if you can wait until after Black Friday week. The big Black Friday bargains this year will again likely be TVs and laptops.
After you have researched the sales, do a little advance showrooming. Try on apparel. Check out the doorbusters -- and alternatives if they sell out. Learn a store's floor plan, where to park, where to check out and where to find a restroom.
On the big day itself, remember your objective. Don't waste time and money on things you don't really want. Keep in mind that not everything labeled "sale" is a real bargain. Many stores will have guaranteed blockbusters, items that will definitely be in stock only for a brief amount of time, and you wouldn't want to miss out on these while distracted by tchotchkes.
Hackers and thieves are a serious problem. Try not to flash your debit card too frequently. You may prefer to use cash and stash it somewhere pickpockets can't easily access. As always, store valuables out of sight in between store visits. Be polite and patient so you don't become a holiday crime statistic. And know that despite the graphic footage of violence at Walmart and other stores every year, your odds are encountering such unpleasantness decrease every year as these stores are beefing up staff and staggering doorbusters. After the shopping, check your credit card statements to make sure no one hacked your accounts.
Best Buy will price-match items sold on Amazon. Many retailers have similar policies. You can also compare prices in-store with smartphone apps and websites like Smoopa and CamelCamelCamel. Bring store ads with you, so that if a desired item is cheaper somewhere else and the store you're at has a price matching policy, you're golden.
Sign up for loyalty programs and apps now so you can get promotions in your email or on your phone. Promotions are often released early to loyal shoppers. Target has a Cartwheel app. J.C. Penney (JCP) and Sears (SHLD) have loyalty programs called JCP rewards and Shop Your Way rewards.
Some of the best deals will be on Thanksgiving. Offers.com has a good updated list on store opening hours, and it may be worth it to rouse yourself from a turkey coma to shop, according to DealNews, which said 29 percent of Editor's Choice deals last year were from Gray Thursday. Following the hustle and bustle of Black Friday comes Small Business Saturday, which since 2010 has promoted local retailers; Super Sunday; and Cyber Monday, which encourages people to shop from their office computers (with the best deals on clothes and shoes, DealNews concluded last year). On Tuesday, feel good knowing you've done all your holiday shopping without breaking the budget or your back.
The best way to stay focused is to dress comfortably, bring a buddy, stay hydrated and be prepared -- for anything. Keep your receipts and remember to ask for gift receipts. If you've done your research, showroomed and your apps, you should have a profitable, pleasant and safe holiday shopping season. And if you have any great tips, leave them in the comments.

Read Full Story