The holidays don’t come cheap — I started saving for my holiday trip home months ago, so it’s not so detrimental to my budget. There’s the cost of the flight, which is the biggest expense, but there’s also the car to and from the airport, the coffee I definitely have to pick up while I wait to board (because I’m a fan of early morning flights) and all sorts of other hidden travel expenses that pop up. I’m lucky enough to stay with family when I go home for the holidays, but if you have to pay for a hotel or Airbnb, this is another added expense. Not to mention this is the season of (gift) giving.
See how quick it all adds up (and how quickly your budget can take a major hit)?
But one great holiday hack your wallet will thank you for is taking advantage of freebies and discounts — and there are plenty (like the following 50) you can land during the holidays.
During the holidays, you’re driving all around town picking up party essentials, dinner must-haves and presents. As a gift back to you, many cities and shopping centers don’t require you pay to park. Speaking of presents ...
Dec. 14 is free shipping day in 2018. Browse FreeShippingDay.com for participating merchants and get your shopping list ready.
3. Going fee-free
Like we just mentioned, shipping costs are a fee you can avoid, but that’s not the only one. Here is a list of fees you should never pay — and how to avoid them.
4. Gift wrapping
Select stores will do the gift wrapping for you, as long as you purchased the item from the store.
5. Or a gift box
Prefer to wrap yourself? Lots of stores offer free gift boxes — just ask.
6. Gift tags
Like we said, this is the season of giving. If you’re wrapping gifts, don’t pay for the gift tags at the supermarket. Instead, download and print some for free, thanks to places like HGTV.
7. In-store discounts ...
Heading to the discount or clearance racks can help cut your spending. But there's more to getting an in-store discount. If you’re traveling somewhere, your out of town drivers license could score you a free discount card. For example, if you are visiting New York City, head to customer service at Macy’s in Herald Square to score some savings.
8. ... & digital deals
Discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial feature deals on merchandise, restaurants and destinations for lower than prices offered directly through merchants, ultimately helping you get the same gifts for less.
9. Budgeting sheet
Like we said, there’s a lot to plan for (financially) during the holidays and it’ll be a lot easier with this free budgeting spreadsheet. Not only will it get you on track for your holiday spending, but also sets you up for success in the new year.
10. Free money
What’s more helpful to your holiday budget than getting free money? You can get up to $50 from our partner Wealthsimple when you open and fund a new account with a deposit of $100 or more. Score another $50 on top of that if you transfer enough to qualify for Wealthsimple Black, which is available to users who invest $100,000 or more.
11. Big ticket items
Thinking of getting jewelry or a bottle of alcohol as a gift this year? Visit a duty-free shop at the airport, or if you’re on international waters on a cruise, and you can get these items tax-free.
12. Bonus credit card rewards
This may be the perfect time to get that new rewards credit card you’ve been thinking about (assuming you have good credit and are a responsible spender). A lot of these cards come with big signup bonuses — like points, miles or cash back — if you meet a spending requirement in the first few months of having the card.
13. Winter markets
The merch may come with a price tag, but strolling through these charming winter villages doesn't. Check with your local farmers market to see if they transform for the holiday season.
14. Holiday craft workshops
The Home Depot offers workshops all year, but the projects get holiday-centric this time of year. Some options include a holiday card display, gingerbread man ornament or sled with reindeer. Check with your local Home Depot for class schedules.
15. Knitting patterns
Colder months mean layers and bundling up in scarves. Instead of buying one, pick up a couple skeins of yarn and knit your own. I often turn to Pinterest for inspiration, but Loveknitting.com has several scarf patterns — as well as some for socks, mittens, blankets and other winter warmers — you can download in exchange for your email. Plus...
16. DIY holiday gifts
You can use those knitting patterns to make holiday gifts, too. Here are some other ideas for easy DIY holiday gifts that won’t break the bank.
17. New bedding or towels
Getting new bedding for someone on your list? Brooklinen sells sheets, towels, comforters and all other sorts of comfy products. And you can get 10% off your first order when you use the coupon code POLICYGENIUS.
18. Countdown to the big day
Instead of buying the kids an advent calendar — and having them argue over who gets the candy each day — go digital. You can count down to Christmas (and then track Santa once he and the reindeer head out) using Google’s free Santa Tracker tool.
19. Holiday art
Whether you have kids who are home for the holidays and need something to do or you’re an adult who wants to relax during the busy season, Crayola offers a great selection of free printable seasonal coloring pages.
20. Greeting cards
Plan to send some holiday cheer the old fashioned way? You don’t have to hand over major cash to get a pack of cards — instead, print some out. You could even get ones that your recipient can color, like these from We Are Scout.
21. Party games
You don’t have to fight the holiday crowds to pick up a new board game to play with the family during the holidays. For example, you can print out holiday bingo cards, play name that Christmas carol or get competitive with charades.
22. Party playlists
Whether you’re looking for some instrumental music to play in the background of your holiday party or a custom playlist of your favorite holiday songs, a free streaming service is the answer. In exchange for listening to a few ads, services like Spotify let you enjoy custom or pre-made playlists for free.
23. Live music
Nothing gets you in the spirit like a holiday concert. Check your local community board to find a nearby show you can attend for free, usually found at churches or on college campuses.
24. Cooking classes
If you’re bringing something to a holiday party or you’re helping with dinner this year and want to brush up on your skills, try a free cooking video class, courtesy of sites like Craftsy.
25. Or cooking advice
You can talk with an expert about cooking your holiday turkey, courtesy of Butterball’s Turkey Talk hotline. The service is free in November and December and can be done via online chat, email, by calling 1-800-BUTTERBALL or even with Amazon Alexa.
26. Meal kits
The holidays are busy, so save both money and time by not going to the store and using a meal kit delivery service, like HelloFresh. Best of all, we've got this deal for you where you can get $20 off your first three boxes (for a savings of $60).
The ingredients may not be free, but budget-friendly meals can really help your wallet during the holidays. To start, check out this comforting chicken soup recipe or this recipe for heavenly cheesecake stuffed cookies. Speaking of cookies...
28. Free cookies
Nothing says holiday cheer like cookies — and you can get some free on Dec. 4 in honor of National Cookie Day. Stores like Corner Bakery Cafe and Whole Foods have offered cookie freebies in the past.
29. A cup of cocoa
As you’re out enjoying holiday lights and other winter festivities, take advantage of discounts and freebies on National Cocoa Day, which is Dec. 13. Check with your local coffee shop for deals.
30. Hallmark goodies
Whether you’re stocking up on holiday cards or getting your yearly ornament for the tree, Hallmark has several freebies you can score with your purchase. Right now, freebies include a greeting card organizer with a purchase of 10 or more cards and a keepsake power cord when you buy any items powered by the cord.
31. Stocking stuffers
You could get a box of free samples mailed to you in exchange for sharing your opinions on sites like PINCHme.com or you can ask for free samples when purchasing other items at retailers like Sephora or Ulta. Speaking of makeup ...
32. Help with your makeup
If you’ve got a holiday party on the books, head to Sephora for a free mini-makeover to achieve the perfect smoky eye or to MAC to get your lashes applied. Several stores also offer complimentary makeovers when you spend a certain amount, but be sure to book ahead of time, as these appointments fill up fast.
33. Flu shots
‘Tis the season for the flu. And if you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet, now’s the time. If you have traditional health insurance, including Medicare, you can get your annual flu without paying a dime, as it’s considered preventative care. Find out where you can get a free flu shot here.
34. Rides around town
If you have a couple too many libations at that holiday party, don’t get behind the wheel. Instead, take advantage of holiday safe ride programs offered by companies like AAA.
35. Or to & from your hotel
If you’re staying at a hotel instead of with family during the holidays, you don’t necessarily have to pay for an Uber or Lyft. Many hotels offer shuttle service between the hotel and the airport. If you have to take Uber or Lyft, here are seven easy ways to save.
36. Rental car insurance
If you decide to rent a car during your holiday travels, check the fine print on your credit card. Rental car insurance coverage may be one of the free perks you get for being a card holder, so you may not need to shell out cash for insurance if you rent a car.
37. Flight deals
Flights during the holidays can be expensive enough, but each airline usually offers some easy ways to save on things like in-flight messaging and bag checking. You can check them out in this airline-by-airline guide.
38. Checked bags
Speaking of checking bags, this is one of my favorites. Skip the baggage fee with your preferred airline by carrying their branded credit card, saving you some cash for that holiday flight home.
39. Plane or train reading
A quick stop to your local library can give you enough reading materials for your travels, as well as something fun to enjoy while you relax by the fireplace. Prefer an e-reader? Amazon Prime members get a free book every month and most library cards get you free e-books and audiobook downloads.
Stay with a friend or relative to save some travel costs. No room at the inn? Consider becoming an Airbnb host — you can rent out your home while you’re gone, which can cover the cost of your hotel.
41. Photos with Santa
Whether you’re taking your little ones to see Santa or you’re embracing the spirit of the season with a group of friends, you don’t have to pay for those pics. For example, Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops offer free 4x6 photos with Santa. Check with your local location for specific dates and times.
42. Skiing discounts
Seniors, students and members of the military can often get discounted daily or season passes. And several resorts, like Snowbird in Utah, offer discounts when you buy your ticket online in advance. Check with your preferred resort for specifics.
43. Ice skating
While you can ice skate indoors throughout the year, the holiday season often brings free outdoor rinks for you and your family to enjoy. But keep an eye out for the rinks that don’t charge. Instead of paying to skate at the rink at Rockefeller Center, as iconic as it is, head to Bryant Park where you can borrow skates and get on the ice for free. Check with your local rec center or winter markets to find the options in your area.
44. Snow sport classes
Outdoor retailer REI offers free classes all year, but during the winter you can attend sessions about your favorite snow sports. From sessions about ski and snowboard tuning, snowshoeing basics or even a Pray for Snow gathering, you’re sure to find something at a location near you. Check their site for details.
45. Museum admission
Many famous museums, like NYC's Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, often have free or pay what you wish days. Here are some family-friendly museums throughout the country that offer free admission.
46. Stunning views
OK, so being out in the cold may not always be ideal, but it’s worth it when you find yourself in a winter wonderland or if you’re in a warmer state. Check out this list that highlights the best hiking trail in each state. Just make sure you’re staying safe and on the trail, especially if there’s snow on the ground.
47. Money guidance
If your goal is to improve your finances in 2019, take small steps each week. The free Policygenius newsletter (which you can sign up for here) sends the one money thing you need to do that week, right to your inbox.
48. Gym pass
If you’re traveling and want to keep up your fitness goals, many gym chains, like Golds Gym and Planet Fitness, offer free passes for a few days. You can typically sign up online or in person.
49. Use what you already have
This is the perfect time to get creative. Instead of buying festive decorative pillows for the couch, wrap a ribbon around the ones you already have to make them look like gifts. Or use the scraps of wrapping paper to make festive paper chains.
50. A financial checkup
The new year isn’t that far off — and this is usually the time when people take a hard look at their finances. Start 2019 off right by using this free insurance checkup tool, which tells you what insurance you do — and don’t — need so you aren't spending more than you have to.
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