Between your quest to find kid-friendly gifts that won't break the bank to whipping up sumptuous entrees that will make everyone's mouth water to entertaining the kids while they're on a holiday hiatus from school, you're feeling extremely overwhelmed! Take a deep breath and follow our no-stress tips on how to save money during the holiday season while still having fun.
Preparing the big meal
Make a list and stick to it
According to Stop & Shop consumer advisor, Andrea Astrachan, the key to saving money on holiday meals is to plan ahead. This means to check the inventory of food you have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry before finalizing your shopping list. With a list in your hand, you'll not only save money by buying less on impulse, but you'll also avoid last minute trips to the store for missing ingredients.
Don't shop on an empty stomach
No matter how rushed you are, before you go on your shopping expedition you must eat something! According to Lisa Beels and Christine Naylor, classically trained chefs and founders of Petite Palate, having something in your belly prevents impulse hunger buys that can bulk up your bill. So grab a piece of fruit, a granola bar or another healthy snack to fill you up before you head to the grocery store.
Take advantage of coupons
Clipping coupons is no longer solely the domain of polyester-wearing, middle-aged housewives. In fact, take a quick look next time you're shopping and you'll see many other like-minded moms breaking out their coupon stash! You can clip coupons from magazines, Sunday newspaper inserts or coupon sites like Coupon Sherpa, which provides access to thousands of online store coupons and discount codes. And what's great is that with the Coupon Sherpa app (and other couponing apps), you don't ever need to clip. You can just show the digital coupons on your smartphone at the register.
Don't shy away from store brands
Sure, your kids would rather have Toucan Sam's mug on their box of Fruit Loops as opposed to some copycat no-name brand cereal. In this economy, however, they're just going to have to pour their milk on it and eat it! Don't worry: Most no-frills brand items are comparable in quality to their more expensive branded counterparts.
When planning your holiday feast, purchase staple items in bulk. The best case scenario: You'll have plenty of food to satisfy those growing teenagers and visiting relatives. Worst case: You'll freeze the leftovers and have dinners ready to go for the next two months!
Declare a potluck holiday feast and assign each family member a side dish or dessert. They'll feel good about being able to contribute in some small way, and it will help you shave off the overall cost of the meal -- especially since other than cooking the basics like turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, you would've made a beeline for the deli counter or bakery for those extras.
Holiday gifts on the cheap
Check out Freecycle for gifts
Head to Freecycle.org, a free classified system, where you can find people in your area offering free goods -- from electronics to new clothes to toys. The only catch: You'll have to quickly respond to the product of your choice and pick it up.
Although it doesn't sound all that exciting, the truth is that you can often buy the same present for your child a week after the holidays at a big discount. If you can manage to tide them over with an IOU (a few pieces of chocolate and a promise can go a long way), you'll save a load of cash on your gifts. And with the extra cash, you might even be able to get yourself a little something too!
Make your own gift wrap
Forget the expensive gift bags and wrapping paper of years gone by. This year, breathe new life into your old newspaper and magazines and let your kids cut and paste their favorite images together to create themed gift wrap! If your daughter loves fashion, let her leaf through some old issues of Vogue and wrap her presents with pictures of models dressed to the nines. Remember it's all about saving and using what you have!
Create homemade presents
The old saying that kids can be happy playing with a cardboard box is true. Put together a snowman kit with a hat, carrot stick, buttons and a tie. Wrap it in a pillowcase and tie a ribbon around it! Go through your jewelry box and wrap up a pair of earrings or a necklace you haven't worn that you know your daughter has been eyeing! Use your skills to create gifts for your family -- whether from cooking, knitting or woodworking.
Next up: How to save on holiday decorations >>