If you’re still paying off the bills from last year’s holiday merriment, we’ve got a list for you. You’ll find 101 money-saving tips from InCharge's SAVvy Elf. From food to gifts, entertainment to travel, these tips prove that you don’t need to let money (or lack thereof) get in the way of the holiday spirit.
General Holiday Savings Advice
Clean your house before the holidays. You'll be amazed at what you have left over (and stuffed in a cabinet) from last year (wrapping paper, bows, tape, décor).
Did you know that retailers make billions of dollars a year on unused gift cards and 25% of holiday gift card recipients from 2010 admit they haven't yet spent them? Give cash instead.
Tune out the conspicuous consumption of others. Ignore your friends' Facebook statuses from the mall. Remember: many big spenders are even bigger debtors. YOU are on the right path.
Audit your year-end spending from 2010. If you use online banking, this should be easy. Challenge yourself to spend less this year.
Shop garage sales for holiday items. Candles, decorations and holiday-themed dishware are re-sale staples.
Increase your income by picking up a seasonal job or doing 'odd jobs' for others. Give yourself permission to spend most of it, but put at least 20% into your emergency fund.
Make a holiday budget and stick to it.
Pay cash for all of your purchases. You'll be happy you did in January.
Just say no - if you need to. The holidays are busy and you don't have to do everything. Turn down an activity if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Saving Money by Using Technology
If your teens are good with technology, encourage them to give gifts with their talents. Making a website for a family-owned business, or a video card for a relative who can't make it home for the holidays are valuable gifts with no out-of-pocket expense.
This isn't your grandmother's coupon envelope. For those with a smartphone, try CouponSherpa. No clipping required, this app searches for coupons that can be scanned directly from your phone.
Use a budget-tracking app for up-to-the-minute information about your spending and balances. InCharge staff pick: Mint.com.
Use GasBuddy: this app will help you find the cheapest gas within a few miles of your location.
Try Dinner Spinner for your holiday leftovers. This App will come up with recipe ideas based on the ingredients in your kitchen and cabinets.
Want to deck the halls while listening to your favorite holiday songs? Skip the CD rack and stream holiday favorites from GrooveShark.
Saving Money On Communications
Make a "do-it-yourself" family portrait and send out free e-cards to friends and family. Save on printing & stamps.
Consider sending your annual letter via email or posting it on Facebook. Print out a few hard copies for elderly relatives.
If you can't afford plane tickets this year, arrange a holiday "Skype-a-thon" to visit with remote friends and family.
If you still want to send something out in the mail, consider sending a postcard and saving on postage.
Holiday Décor Savings Tips
Make wreaths and centerpieces the old-fashioned way while getting exercise in the process: collect acorns, pine cones, leaves and vines on a nature walk.
Make your own Christmas ornaments from common household items like tin foil and construction paper.
Buy a fake Christmas tree that you can use every year, but place (free) discarded branches from a tree lot in a vase, to provide an evergreen scent.
Get 50-75% off decorations by buying them AFTER the holidays.
Make holiday decorations from online clipart.
Put the kids to work making centerpieces. Get inspiration from sites like Kaboose.
Go retro: string popcorn and cranberries while watching a holiday classic on the television.
Saving Money on Energy during the Holidays
Save on your energy bill and improve holiday ambiance by dimming the lights (don’t forget to light a few candles).
Throw on a festive holiday sweater and turn down the thermostat.
Clean out your trunk before driving long distances for holiday get-togethers. Every pound of extra weight decreases your gas mileage.
Buy a programmable thermostat and turn down the temperature while everyone is at work/school and at night.
Weather-strip your windows and doors for better insulation.
Saving Money on Holiday Entertainment
Head out in your car with mugs of hot chocolate and enjoy the holiday displays in and around your town.
Attend a holiday play at a church or school.
Host a holiday film festival in your living room. Make it fun with popcorn and hot chocolate.
Borrow films from the public library.
Get involved in community toy, clothing or food drives. Make a family activity out of it.
Attend your town’s holiday parade for a (free) festive holiday afternoon.
Hold a home "lighting ceremony," complete with holiday music and snacks.
Check your community calendar for free holiday concerts and festivals.
Skip the costly mall-Santa, and find a (free) community event featuring the jolly old man. Check your local newspaper (online or off) for appearances.
Dollar movie theaters often run holiday classics in the month of December. Check the schedule, pack snacks and make a new family tradition.
Spend a day making a snow man family in your yard. Warm up later in front of the fireplace or around the kitchen table with hot apple cider/tea/chocolate.
If you live near a beach, consider visiting it in December. Take thermoses and enjoy a winter picnic.
Take a cable TV fast. Spend more time reading.
Check out exhibits, speeches and events at your local community college or university.
Organize a caroling visit to a nursing home.
Saving Money on Holiday Food
Shop the top and bottom aisle at the supermarket; the most expensive items are in the middle.
Plan holiday meals in advance. Buy non-perishable staples (flour, sugar, etc.) in bulk early.
If you are hosting a meal, ask for help with side dishes and desserts from your guests.
Review grocery story circulars and stock up on sale items, in advance.
Serve your meal on smaller plates. Your guests will be thanking you for helping them eat 15-20% less.
Make more of what's on sale and less of what's not.
Go traditional: Serve food and drink on real dishes with cloth napkins; avoid using disposable plates, cups or napkins.
Freeze leftovers and bring your lunch to work for 1-2 weeks after the holidays.
Bake your pies from scratch. With well-priced staples (sugar, flour, oil), you'll save at least 50%.
Don't forget about combining coupons with sales circulars for a major discount. Shop the internet for coupons too.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen for holiday meals and eat for free.
Use boxed wine. If you don't like the idea, pour into traditional wine bottles before serving. Cork with a plastic wine topper.
Make fewer side dishes.
Buy generic foods for staples. Your guests won't know the difference.
Make fewer meat dishes, it's cheaper and healthier.
Package leftovers in recycled pickle jars and other reusable containers. Skip the costly re-sealable plastic bags.
Hold a cookie exchange with friends. Make only one variety but get a sampling of many.
Make holiday staples with budget foods. Mashed potatoes are among everyone's holiday favorites and at less than $1/pound, you can't go wrong.
Buy $3 wine. Most people won't know the difference.
Saving Money on Holiday Gifts
Consider "do-it-yourself" gifts like homemade jellies and cookies or pickled vegetables. Design your own tags on the computer.
Avoid physical stores and shop online. Compare prices across retailers, before checking out.
Shop online at retailers that offer free shipping, but don’t overspend just to get the perk.
Skip the store-bought wrapping paper and expensive cards, and make your own. If you have children, let them help. A $4.99 roll of blank drawing paper from Ikea has as much paper as 10 wrapping paper rolls.
Trim your gift list. Have the conversation with friends and family in advance. If you still want to recognize certain people, write a heartfelt letter or give a homemade gift instead.
Institute a “Secret Santa” among family or friends, and exchange gifts with one person instead of every person.
If you have trouble with impulse-buying, skip Black Friday and trade it in for cyber Monday. Save money from the comfort of your living room, without getting caught up in the frenzy
Consider buying last year's model of expensive electronics (computers, game systems, tablets) and save big on the price tag.
Give your time to someone at the holidays, instead of a gift. Help an elderly friend or family member with shopping, cooking or decorating.
Google online vendors for coupon codes, before pressing the "purchase" button. Many times, you'll save at least 15% on your order.
Remember mix tapes? Make a mix CD with your favorite songs.
Buy couples a single gift that they can share instead of buying a gift for each of them.
If you are shipping gifts, think about weight, size and shape. Send light items like DVDs and CDs instead of books and/or bulky items.
Shop for inexpensive gifts at the grocery store. Challenge yourself to make food baskets (wine included) for under $10. It can be done. Visit ethnic grocery stores for more "exotic" brands/packaging.
For greatly discounted knitting yarn, buy a large sweater at a re-sale shop and unravel it. Knit hats, mittens and scarves for many people on your list.
Compare lists with your partner. Make sure you are not duplicating each other's efforts. Establish a "no gifts" policy between you two so you can focus on the kids (or paying off your debts).
Don't forget the dollar store. Shop at the dollar store for inexpensive toys, holiday décor and even clothing.
Saving Money with the Kids during the Holidays
Go to your public library and check out 12 Christmas books. Read one a night for the 12 Days of Christmas.
Make your own Advent calendar, using an online template.
Use baking soda, water, corn starch & food coloring to make your own red and green holiday play dough.
Spend an evening making paper chains out of construction paper.
Instead of buying a gingerbread house kit, make one out of graham crackers, frosting and M&Ms.
Find a consignment shop in your area. Trade in your children's outgrown holiday fare from last year for 'new' dresses and sweaters for this season.
Holiday Shopping Savings Tips
Don't take credit cards when you go shopping for holiday items.
Make a list and check it twice, three times and more. Reconcile your holiday spending on a weekly basis.
Spend as you go. Don't spend December's "extra" paycheck before you have it.
Use envelopes to help you budget your gift giving. Create an envelope for each gift recipient. Put their name on the outside and the money you have to spend on that person on the inside.
Don't buy anything for yourself when you shop for others this holiday season.
Look for combo opportunities: that's where you can combine coupons with clearance.
Buy gifts at 75% off after the holidays - for next year.
Use froogle.com (powered by Google) to compare prices quickly across online and offline retailers.
Avoid the store card discount trap: do not sign up for a new credit card in exchange for 10%-20% off your purchase.
Saving Money on Holiday Travel
Take a 'staycation' during the holidays by exploring the best of what's available in your own backyard.
Save money on baggage fees by shipping your checked bag items in advance, via inexpensive ground transport.
Fly on the day of the holiday (Dec 25th or Jan 1, for example) for a discounted ticket. As long as you get there for dinner, you'll be fine.
Fill up your tires with air for maximum fuel efficiency on a holiday road trip.