For many Canadians, the holidays are traditionally a time when budgets can be forgotten, credit card balances may sneak higher, and many shoppers prioritize gift-giving and holiday cheer over boosting long-term savings.

It’s easier to overspend and then face the New Year with needing at least a month or more of intense saving to recover.

But you don't have to resign yourself to a quiet January to have some fun this holiday season. There are plenty of ways to help you save money during the holidays, whether you’d rather shop the mall or craft DIY gifts or enjoying eating more affordable fare. 

Here are some tips and shopping hacks to try to help curb your holiday spending without dampening your spirits.

Prepare a spending plan

The key to sustainable holiday spending and less financial stress is to figure out what you want to buy and then decide whether the items you find are worth the price. That way, you're less likely to make impulse purchases or miss out on cheaper merchandise.

A simple spending plan starts with listing out everyone you plan to give a gift, what you want to give them, and how much you want to spend on them. It’ll give you an idea of how your spending will be changing leading up to the holidays. Try to make sure you have this in place before you get drawn in by festive display windows or limited time online deals. 

If you're feeling short on time or energy, you may feel tempted to wait until you get to a store to figure out what you need, rather than bring along a shopping list. But shopping without a plan in place is almost always a mistake–especially now, when retailers are more motivated than usual to tempt you into filling up your cart.

With many retailers relying heavily on traditionally hot holiday shopping periods, such as Cyber Monday, to ring up crucial sales, they are all but certain to surround you with extra-tempting deals to get you to add more than you planned to your cart. Rather than rely solely on willpower to resist impulse buys, suit up with stronger armor by drafting a pre-planned gift list. Then do your best to stick to it. You'll be more focused when you shop and will also have more time to compare prices.

Figure out how much you can really afford

After spending so much time apart, it's only natural to want to shower your loved ones with generous gifts or amp up your holiday festivities to help make up for an isolated year. But no matter how good a purchase may feel in the moment, the last thing you want to do is overspend so much that your holiday spirit turns into a holiday regret.   

Creating a spending budget 

Step 1: Take time now to pull up your credit card, bank account, and savings account statements 

Step 2: Tally at least two to three months' worth of real-time monthly expenses, including long-term savings contributions and unplanned purchases. 

Step 3: Subtract your take-home pay from the same period. Your goal is to figure out exactly how much money you typically have leftover when your income is stable and you don't make any adjustments to your spending

If you find that there's not much difference between your income and average monthly spending to comfortably pay for your holiday purchases, you may need to readjust the amount of money you plan to spend. Pull out a highlighter or use a personal finance app to track your spending habits and see if there are purchases you can temporarily do without. Also round up all of your one-time purchases and add up how much you spend on them per month. Assuming your income doesn't fluctuate, the amount you usually spend on one-off purchases without going into debt should give you a fair idea of how much you can afford to put toward holiday purchases.

Prioritize your spending

After drafting a holiday budget and figuring out your spending limit, you may find that your ambitions for the season don't match your reality. If your holiday wish list is too large for your budget, then you'll need to make some cuts. The key is to do so mindfully and prioritize your purchases so that you don't regret your choices.

Some holiday purchases are likely to be more meaningful to you than others. So rather than try to buy everything on your wish list, think carefully about what you really care about and what will give you or those on your wish list the most long-term satisfaction.

A recent survey by Interac found that many Canadians are currently prioritizing purchases that boost their mood, such as feel-good experiences. The survey also found that feel-good purchases linked to shoppers' passions delivered some of the most powerful mood boosts.

Never set up a budget before? Check out the Scotiabank Money Finder Calculator to see where you are at with your income, expenses and if you have additional funds to put towards your goals. Although the tool is designed to help you prioritize everyday living expenses, rather than holiday shopping, working with it could give you a helpful framework for thinking about your holiday spending budget.

Try to avoid debt

Whatever you do, don't let your desire for a festive holiday overwhelm your financial health next year once the festivities are over. Racking up high interest debt during the holidays could follow you around for long after the New Year.

You might want to consider if you want to use an installment plan that is available on eligible Scotiabank credit cards for your holiday spending. A credit card installment plan is one way to pay for purchases over a fixed period – through your credit card. It may help you to take control of your budget and manage your spending by providing flexible payment options on your credit card. Scotiabank now offers an installment plan available on eligible Scotiabank Visa* credit cards called Scotia SelectPayTM.**

What is a credit card installment plan and how can I make the most of it?

Before you consider an installment plan, check how much room you're likely to have in your post-holiday budget and make sure you can afford to fit in the monthly minimum payments on that plan and be able to pay them off on time. It's important that you are not making purchases that will overly stretch your budget even if you want to use the installment plan on your card to pay that purchase. You will need to build the amount of your installment payments that are part of your credit card balance into your monthly budget so that you can pay them off on time each month.  

If you're already prone to overspending, you will want to be extra cautious about financing holiday purchases. You may also want to consider bringing just your debit card when you visit the most tempting stores.

Shop earlier

If you already know what you want to buy this holiday season, then you're in an ideal position to shop around and take advantage of early deals. Shopping early may also save you headaches later on. With many retailers dealing with major supply chain problems this year because of the pandemic, they are having a harder time maintaining a steady stock of popular products. As a result, shoppers are being encouraged to check off items from their wish list as early as possible so they don't miss out.

Rather than wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping, visit your favourite stores now and check to see if they're offering any special deals to encourage early shopping. In addition, use this extra time to shop around and compare prices. If you find a lower price at one store, you may be able to convince another retailer to offer you an even better price.

Go in on joint gifts

Another time-honored way to trim your holiday spending is to recruit a partner for your holiday gift-giving. By pooling your resources, you'll be able to give better gifts with less expense, and your loved ones will appreciate higher quality gifts that they can hold onto for longer than a season.

Alternatively, consider organizing a gift exchange or Secret Santa with family or with a smaller group of friends so you don't have to buy so many gifts.

Buy local

With so many retailers struggling with supply chain woes and higher shipping costs this year, you may also find better prices on gifts and other holiday purchases if you stick to stores closer to home. Supply chain challenges are affecting retailers big and small. Shoppers who lean heavily on online purchases could experience some sticker shock if retailers are forced to pass more of their supply costs onto customers. In addition, retailers that sell items in person as well as around the world may also feel extra motivated this year to offer special deals to locals so they can save on shipping.

Redeem your credit card points 

You could be surprised by how much value you have sitting on your rewards cards. A recent survey by J.D. Power and Associates found that 22% of Canadians have put off redeeming their rewards for more than a year. As long as those rewards haven't expired, this could mean you will have money credited back to your credit card balance (also known as a statement credit), if your card offers that option to redeem your rewards.

For example, a year's worth of your everyday spending on gas and grocery on a cash back card, such as the Scotia Momentum Visa card, could net you more than enough cash back to pay for several gifts. Some new cards also offer sign-up bonuses if you spend a pre-set amount. If you don’t already have a rewards card that earns points or cash back, now's a good time to apply for a card or switch to one of those cards.

Give practical gifts

Another good way to shave your holiday expenses is to choose non-traditional gifts that are more likely to be discounted. To get the best deals, scan the flyers you receive in the mail and use coupon apps to check for deeply discounted merchandise.

Also consider what your more practical-minded loved ones would appreciate in a new gift and what might help them most. Gift cards, for example, may seem like a cheap or lazy gift. But recipients living on a slender budget may love the rare chance to shop for themselves.

Alternatively, think outside the traditional holiday gift box and consider intangible gifts that you technically can't wrap. You might offer your services to help save a loved one time, cook for them, organize a potluck, or provide another highly valued service.

Bottom line

The holidays don't have to be expensive to be festive. If you have a pattern of overspending as soon as the weather begins to cool, take a moment to rethink how you're spending your downtime and your money. You may need to give yourself some more room than usual to reflect upon the past few years of holiday spending and come up with a more realistic plan for a lighter season.

Ready to help get your finances on track for your future? Come in and speak to a Scotia advisor today