50 things that can make your holidays more affordable

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50 things that can make your holidays more affordable

Updated November 11, 2019: The holidays are a beautiful, albeit expensive, time of year — even more so if you plan to travel. In fact, I started saving in September for my flight home, as this is my biggest holiday travel expense. But it’s not the only one — add in the car to and from the airport, the coffee that’s essential with an early morning flight and other hidden travel expenses that pop up, and it’s a lot. 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 line item to include in your holiday budget.

And we haven’t even started talking about this being the season of (gift) giving.

As you prepare your holiday budget, remember there are plenty of freebies, deals and discounts during the holidays that can help you save — including the 50 below.

1. Parking

Leading up to the holidays, you’re driving around town picking up holiday party essentials, dinner must-haves and presents. As a gift back to you, many cities and shopping centers don’t require you to pay to park. Speaking of presents ...

2. Shipping

Get your shopping list ready: Dec. 14 is free shipping day in 2019. Browse FreeShippingDay.com for participating merchants.

3. Going fee-free

Not paying for shipping is just one extra charge to cross off — here are some other fees you should never pay — and how to avoid them.

4. Gift wrapping

Select stores will do the gift wrapping for you when you’re in the store, as long as you purchased the item from the store. (Note: Gift wrapping for items ordered online still typically comes with a fee.)

5. Or a gift box

Prefer to wrap gifts yourself? Plenty of stores offer free gift boxes or bags — just ask.

6. Gift tags

Now that the gift is wrapped, you don’t have to 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

To help you keep your spending organized, check out this free holiday 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. 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.

11. Stocking stuffers

You could get a box of free samples mailed to you in exchange for sharing your opinions on sites like PINCHme.com. Some retailers also give out free samples if you ask at the register.

12. Gym pass

If you’re traveling and want to keep up your fitness goals, many gym chains, like Gold’s Gym and Planet Fitness, offer free passes for a few days. You can typically sign up online or in person.

13. Winter markets

The merch may come with a price tag, but strolling through these charming winter villages doesn’t. Check out this list to see the best holiday market in each state.

14. Stunning views

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.

15. Travel tricks

If you’re planning to travel out of town during the holidays, these 15 ways can help you save on travel.

16. Rides around town

If you have a few 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.

17. 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 six easy ways to save.

18. Rental car insurance

If you rent a car during your holiday travels, make sure you check the fine print on your credit card first. 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 extra cash for insurance if you rent a car. Your own car insurance may also provide enough coverage.

19. 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.

20. Checked bags

Speaking of checking bags, this is one of my favorite travel deals. You can often skip the baggage fee with your preferred airline by carrying their branded credit card, saving you some cash for that holiday flight home. Speaking of credit card perks...

21. 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, which may be easy with holiday shopping.

22. 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.

23. Lodging

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 help you earn enough to cover the cost of your stay elsewhere.

24. Holiday craft workshops

The Home Depot offers workshops all year, but the projects get holiday-centric this time of year. Some options this year include a light-up Christmas sign and a stocking ornament class for kids. Check with your local Home Depot for class schedules.

25. 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...

26. DIY holiday gifts

You can use those knitting patterns to make holiday gifts, too. Here are some other ideas for easy do-it-yourself holiday gifts that won’t break the bank.

27. Get creative with what you have

Seeing as you only use holiday decor once a year, this is a great time to get creative. For example, 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 scraps of wrapping paper to make festive paper chains.

28. 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.

29. 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 print some for you or your recipient to color, like these from We Are Scout. Or...

30. ... & more cards

If you don’t want to print your holiday cards, you can still get a good deal. Hallmark has a buy one, get one half-off for holiday boxed cards through Dec. 24 or a free card for every 10 cards you buy through the end of the year.

31. Other Hallmark goodies

Whether you’re stocking up on holiday cards, getting your yearly ornament for the tree or shopping for neighbor gifts, Hallmark has several freebies you can score with your purchase. Right now, this includes things like a buy-one-get-one free three-wick candle in festive scents like Christmas sugar cookie and cinnamon wishes.

32. Countdown to the big day

Instead of buying an Advent calendar — and having to deal with arguments about 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.

33. 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 lashes applied. Several stores also offer complimentary makeovers when you spend a certain amount, but be sure to book ahead of time, as these seasonal appointments fill up fast.

34. 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. Instead, print holiday bingo cards, play name that Christmas carol or get competitive with holiday-themed charades.

35. 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.

36. Live holiday 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.

37. 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 Bluprint.

38. ... 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 texting 1-844-877-3456 or even through Amazon Alexa.

39. Recipes

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 holiday sprinkle cookies. Speaking of cookies...

40. 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.

41. 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 or cafe for deals.

42. 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 shot without paying a dime, as it’s considered preventive care. Find out where you can get a free flu shot here.

43. 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 four-by-six photos with Santa and free holiday crafts. Check with your local store for specific dates and times.

44. Skiing discounts

Seniors, students and members of the military can often get discounted daily or season ski passes. And several resorts, like Snowbird in Utah, offer discounts when you buy your ticket in advance online. Check with your preferred resort for specifics.

45. Ice skating

Indoor skating is fine throughout the year, but there’s something special about an outdoor rink during the holidays — especially because you can find free outdoor rinks for you and your family to enjoy. For example, 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 free. Check with your local rec center or winter markets to find options in your area.

46. Snow sport classes

Outdoor retailer REI offers some free (and some low-cost) classes all year, but during the winter you can attend sessions about your favorite snow sports. With classes about everything from ski and snowboard waxing and avalanche preparedness to winter camping and snowshoeing basics, you’re sure to find something at a location near you. Check their site for details.

47. Museum admission

Many iconic museums, like NYC's Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, have free or “pay what you wish” days. Here are some family-friendly museums throughout the country that offer free admission.

48. Easy Money

If your goal is to improve your finances in 2020, take small steps each week. The free Policygenius Easy Money newsletter (which you can sign up for here) delivers money news and money moves to make each Friday, right to your inbox.

49. 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 2020 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 next year than you have to.

50. Birthday perks

Have a birthday during the holidays? You’re privy to even more perks — like these 50 birthday freebies, which includes everything from coffee and food to movie tickets and bowling passes.

Image: Almaje