The holidays represent a celebration of faith and a fun time with family, yet they’re far from cheap. After buying for your kids, your relatives and holiday get-togethers galore, it’s easy to start the new year with an empty wallet.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts the average consumer will spend $935.58 on holiday gifts this year. If you hope to spend less than average, it’s best to start planning now.
While saving money over the holidays isn’t easy, it can be done if you’re willing to think outside the box. I spoke to several financial advisers and savings experts for their best tips on hacking a holiday spending bill. Here’s what they said:
1. Craft Your Holiday Budget Early
While the holidays are just a few weeks away, there’s still time to create a holiday budget that works. By figuring out who you need to buy for and writing it down, you can gain a visual of how much cash you’ll need.
“Determine the amount of money you can spend out of your pocket on gifts without looking to credit cards first or depleting all of your emergency cash,” says Seattle financial adviser Josh Brein. “Next, determine how much of that total cash you plan to spend on each person you want to buy for.”
If you find you don’t have enough money to cover the full freight of your holiday bills, look for low-hanging fruit to cut. Consider spending less on each individual or opting out of a few optional gift exchanges. Work with the numbers until you’re dealing with a figure you can afford. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
2. Compare Prices Online Before You Head to the Store
Even if you want to shop in person instead of online, you can save a boatload of money if you use the internet as a price-comparison tool.
“Whether it’s electronics, clothing, toys, etc., do your homework before purchasing,” says Kansas City, Missouri, financial planner Clint Haynes. “It’s amazing the difference in prices you can see from Target, Amazon, Walmart, and Costco for the same items.”
As with anything else, “there’s an app for that,” too. Applications like ShopSavvy, Shelfbucks and Amazon Price Check, for example, make it easy to compare prices before you hit the store.
3. Pick Up a Free 30-Day Trial for Amazon.com
Online shopping offers the best of both worlds — the ability to compare prices among several stores and the convenience of shopping at home. If shipping costs are weighing heavily on your mind, consider signing up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, says San Diego financial planner Taylor Schulte.
“With Amazon Prime, you get free two-day shipping on millions of eligible items. Time equals money, right?” says Schulte. “Think about how much time you can save by getting all of your holiday shopping done online!”
As an added bonus, your free Amazon Prime trial also includes access to thousands of movies, TV shows, and books. Instead of going out to the movies or buying a new book, use your free trial to entertain your family and save more money for gifts.
4. Use a Credit Card With Purchase Protection
If you don’t have time to compare prices on large items this year, let your credit card do it for you. If your credit card offers price protection and you buy an item that goes down in price, your credit card’s price protection feature may refund you the difference.
“MasterCard, Discover, Citi and [Chase] have cards that offer price protection,” says financial adviser David G. Niggel of Key Wealth Partners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. “To find out and verify whether your credit card offers price protection, you should call your credit card issuer.”
The most well-known of these plans is Citi Price Rewind — a Citi card feature that refunds the difference automatically on certain items if the price drops within 60 days. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
And don’t forget about other perks your favorite rewards credit card offers. “Some credit card issuers also offer other benefits such as purchase protection and extended warranty coverage,” says Niggel. “These can be very beneficial and give you peace of mind while you enjoy your holiday season.”
5. Don’t Forget About Shopping Portals & Savings Apps
While stores are quick to advertise items on sale, you can whittle the price of nearly anything down by using a shopping portal or a smart savings app. These options can range from your favorite rewards credit cards portal (think: Chase Ultimate Rewards or Discover Deals) to a savings app.
With the Ibotta app, for example, you can earn cash back for select purchases you make. With hundreds of participating stores, you’re bound to save — and with almost no effort on your part.
6. Make it an All-Cash Christmas
The holidays become infinitely more expensive when you carry holiday debt well into the new year. You can avoid the added expense of credit card interest by choosing a cash-only Christmas, says Brein.
“My favorite holiday spending tip that I routinely give to friends and clients is to only buy gifts with cash, no credit, for the holidays,” he says. “Chances are, if you end up springing for gifts that you can’t afford and have to put on credit, you could be paying those off until next Christmas, or even longer.”
Eliminating credit cards from your holiday spending picture may bring your buying power down, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t give something to everyone on your list.
“If your friends or family complain that they haven’t received exactly what they wanted, then you know who gets a lump of coal in their stocking next year,” says Brein.
In all seriousness, you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have on gifts for others. By sticking to cash, you can avoid starting the new year with a new credit card bill.
Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.
This article originally appeared on Credit.com and was written by Jeff Rose.