Genius Holiday Hacks To Save Serious $$$

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Fact: This season is expensive. There’s no getting around the fact that, no matter how careful you are with your money, you’re likely going to spend more than you anticipate. From buying that emergency snack at the airport when your flight is delayed forever to holiday get-togethers to that obligatory White Elephant gift you have to bring to your office party, the expenses will add up. But once you accept that, it’s easier to find ways to seriously cut costs.

We spoke with experts to hear their tips for how to pick out presents for under $5, how to have a festive holiday party that you won't be paying off through January, and how to avoid that oh-so-hard-to-resist temptation to do some "one for you, one for me" purchasing. Click through for some serious $$$-saving strategies.

Thrift Stores Are The New Mall Thrift stores can be great places to find inexpensive decorations and the perfect outfit for those ugly-sweater parties, not to mention a resource for one-of-a-kind gifts. And you can’t beat the bargains: At Savers, a chain of thrift stores throughout the United States and Canada, 96% of items are priced under $10.

Go To The Dollar Store The best place to buy wrapping paper and holiday ornaments is the dollar store, says Patrice Williams, author of Looking Fly on a Dime. Bringing baked goods to a party? Grab inexpensive serving platters to make your homemade gift look more upscale than a flimsy paper plate or plastic container would.

Download Honey This Chrome extension searches and applies online discount codes so you can easily get the best deals.

Never Pay Full Price For A Gift Card File this under awesome holiday hack: Buying gift cards online through a discount site like Gift Card Granny or Cardpool makes it easy to give big on a budget. And you can either give the gift card or use it to buy personalized presents from your favorite stores for a fraction of the price.

Avoid Shipping Costs December 16 is Free Shipping Day, when participating retailers waive shipping fees, often with no minimum purchase. Another trick: Roadie is a new delivery service where people already driving somewhere do door-to-door delivery (and your stuff is insured, so you don’t have to worry about it going missing).

Get The Best $10 Red Instead of grabbing the cheapest wine on display without considering the quality, download Vivino. All you have to do is screenshot the label and you get back info on ratings and pairings, so you can bring the best cheap bottle for that annual holiday shindig.

Make A Message In A Bottle “My friends and I all give gifts, but one year I was seriously broke. Instead of putting presents on my credit card, I bought inexpensive vintage bottles at a thrift store, then wrote a note about how much I loved my friends. I rolled up the note, put it in a bottle, and gave them out. They were big hits!” says a user on social media site Yik Yak. The point: Even if you’re not creative, a DIY gift is possible and can make a big impact.

Plan For The Unexpected Here’s the thing: No matter how carefully you plan your spending, you will have something random come up this season, says Rachel Cruze, personal-finance expert and author of Love Your Life, Not Theirs. Make sure you factor in a “miscellaneous expenses” bucket when you’re planning how much to spend this season to insure that you won’t have a last-minute surprise.

Skip The Gift Wrap “The markup on wrapping paper and accessories (ribbons, bows, etc.) is at its highest starting in November — a whopping 300% more than the identical products mid-summer,” says Mike Catania, cofounder of Promotion Code, a site that features promotion codes across retailers. “Rather than wasting money on paper that's going to be torn up, leave newspapers to fade in the sun and tie packages with bundling twine. The whiter you fade the paper and the tighter you're wrapping corners, the better the old-time-Christmas feel, and you can wrap a family's worth of gifts for under $5.”

Stack Online Codes “Many stores offer promotion codes for their online customers, and finding a working code can make a consumer feel like they've struck a great deal. Rather than stopping at one successful code, a lot of merchants will allow the input of multiple codes, even though they don't explicitly say so on the site,” says Catania.

Make A List Getting organized can help you save money, reminds etiquette expert April Masini, who advises people on how to avoid tricky money situations. “Have someone look over your list to make sure you haven’t missed anyone.” And don’t follow a boozy brunch with holiday shopping, she advises: “You’ll just spend more money on impulse purchases.”

Get Social Follow your favorite brands on social media so you’ll be the first to know of a sale, says Jon Lal, CEO and founder of cash-back and coupon site BeFrugal. On Facebook, like the brand’s page and opt to “see first” so they come up on your newsfeed. On Instagram, turn on post notifications. You can always turn them off after you’ve finished all your holiday shopping.

Sign Up For Sale Text Alerts A lot of major retailers, such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Payless, offer promo codes via text, says Trae Bodge, smart-shopping expert for sale site Annoying at other times of the year, but absolutely worth it for the holidays.

Order Groceries Online Planning a party? “If you've never shopped online for groceries before, the Christmas season is a great time to start,” suggests a rep for home-cleaning service Helpling. “Many supermarkets offer discounts of up to 20% off for your first online grocery order, as long as you spend their usual minimum of $40 to $60. These offers can be doubled up with coupons, free-delivery deals, and ‘three for the price of two’ offers. And if you've been ordering your groceries online for a while now, consider swapping supermarkets to take advantage of new customer offers.”

Keep Your Receipts “You need your receipt for returns, exchanges, and most especially for price-matching!” reminds Jamie Novak, organizing expert and author of Keep This Toss That. Have a single spot where you stash your paper receipts so you can find them should you need them. If they are paperless receipts, add a "tag" or move them to a single folder for easy access.

Clean Your Pad Sounds random, but you may actually have what you need wedged deep in your closet. So before you buy anything, take a look around. And get creative when decorating for a party: “I was going to buy risers for the table so my food trays would be at varying levels. Turns out a few stacks of books in varying heights underneath the tablecloth gave me the same effect!” says Novak.

Pack Snacks Yes, the drive-through latte is so tempting when you’ve got a billion errands to run. Since we tend to spend more time in our cars and in stores this time of year, Novak recommends toting a lunch bag with a few munchies. “Hot cocoa in a travel mug and some cookies or some single-serve snacks can save you lots of time and money!” she says.

Embrace A Basic Look “Basic white paper goods, tablecloths, and even wrapping paper are usually much less expensive than their fancy decorative counterparts. Go for mostly basic white plates and napkins, then sprinkle in an accent color to jazz it up,” says Novak. “Plus, a bonus savings is you can use these items all year round by simply swapping out the accent color to match the occasion.”

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By: Anna Davies