7 uncommon ways to save for the holidays

Oddball holiday saving strategies

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Oddball holiday saving strategies

Families who’ve been hit with unemployment, foreclosure and higher credit card fees are tightening their belts and coming up with creative ways to save money on holiday gift giving.

Ideas such as taking no-spending months, giving the gift of manual labor and using accumulated credit card reward points to buy gifts are ingenious ways that folks can save on gifts.

Here are some nifty and resourceful ways people are saving for the holidays.

Stop spending for two months
Stop spending for two months

If you stop spending, you’ll be able to save money for the holiday season. Bills and other household expenses might make it seem impossible, but it’s not.

Danielle Marquis, adjunct professor of personal finance at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colo., suggests a compromise. “Institute two ‘months of nothing’ into your year, and divert all the money you save directly into a savings account titled ‘Holidays,'” she says.

“When I say a ‘month of nothing,’ I mean you don’t spend money on anything that isn’t an absolute necessity. You pack your lunch for work and road trips, bring reusable water bottles to work instead of buying something from a vending machine and meet up for potlucks at friends’ houses,” Marquis says.

Pick any two months throughout the year to put this idea into practice. Marquis says January is easier for her, because she commits to a self-imposed detox after the excess of the holidays; and June is easier too, because it is her birthday month.

“People tend to do nice things for me to celebrate, so it’s easier to do without,” she says.

Get rewards points through recycling
Get rewards points through recycling

Make the most of your old electronics by using a rewards-through-recycling program and save money. Through these eco-friendly programs, like MaxBack.com or RecycleBank.com, you exchange used cell phones, MP3 players, cameras and GPS navigation units for points toward the purchase of other items, including gift cards. At MaxBack, you can even donate your points to schools and nonprofits.

“It’s important for us to reuse and recycle,” says Sean Michaels, co-president of MaxBack.

The Environmental Protection Agency says old electronics generate about 3 million tons of waste each year, or almost 2 percent of the total amount of trash. About 2 million tons of the electronic trash ends up in landfills.

Gift your skills
Gift your skills

Are you good at fixing things? Do you cook? Can you build a kitchen cabinet?

A good way to give a great holiday present without spending much is by donating your skills as gifts. “Wrap your skills in a thoughtful way as an alternative to buying your friends another gift card,” says Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and author of “Psych Yourself Rich.”

She says if you’re a great designer, offer to redecorate a room in your friend’s house for free. A software whiz? Build a website for a friend or sketch out a plan for a new blog. A photographer? Offer a photography lesson or take and frame some portraits of friends or family, Torabi says.

These are useful and meaningful gifts that can not only save money, but also help your family and friends stretch their dollars.

Put together a Christmas closet
Put together a Christmas closet!

What do you do with all the extra holiday wrapping paper, gift bags and unwanted gifts from last year? Instead of throwing them away, Billee Sharp, author of “Fix It, Make It, Grow It, Bake It” has a better alternative.

Sharp says, “I have a Christmas closet where I put gifts I cannot use, and gift bags, paper, etc., to reuse and give out for the holidays.”

When the holidays comes around, instead of first going shopping, make sure you take a good look at what is in that closet. You just might find an item you can give away or a nice gift box you can reuse. Either way, you save money.

Give the same gift to everyone
Give the same gift to everyone

If you regularly give to the people who help you run your life better — your cleaning professionals, doorman, plumber or grass cutter — give them a useful gift to show your appreciation while you save money.

Find out their particular interests in hobbies and buy them magazine subscriptions. Some annual subscriptions are less than $10. Or make a small donation to their favorite charities.

Use this same tactic with family and friends. Michelle Girasole, co-author of “The Sassy Ladies’ Toolkit for Start-up Businesses,” says she buys almost everyone on her list the same gift because it saves her time and money.

“Last year, I bought little journals off the Compendium catalog website (live-inspired.com). They cost less than $10 each because I had a wholesale account! I wrote something complimentary about each person on the first page,” Girasole says. “What a big hit!”

Move the holiday
Move the holiday!

Although tradition says otherwise, holidays don’t have to be celebrated on their designated dates. Moving the holiday to a different date on the calendar can help you save money.

“Move your family’s Christmas celebration from Dec. 25 and closer to Jan. 1,” says Carrie Rocha, publisher of the Pocket Your Dollars website.

“When you buy presents, this is one of the best ways to take advantage of all the after-Christmas sales. It saves you a bundle, especially if you buy lots of toys for nieces and nephews or have big lists of people to give to,” Rocha says.

Save credit card reward points
Save credit card reward points

Using credit cards has its advantages — and if you have been using them throughout the year, make sure they are low-cost cards that offer rewards points. One way to save money is to use up these accumulated points to buy gifts for the holiday season.

Sarah Caron, writer of “Sarah’s Cucina Bella” blog, says she and her husband plan ahead and put bigger purchases on their credit card during the year. That way, they pay it off and still earn the points.

“It usually amounts to several hundred dollars in gift cards for different stores that we use to purchase gifts,” Caron says.

Tyler Tervooren, author of the “Advanced Riskology” blog, agrees. “My strategy this year to save was to target my credit card spending and only use high rewards-earning cards that I can then take points, miles or cash back to pay for fun holiday expenses,” he says.

Additional resources
Additional resources

To find more information on holiday gifts and saving, check out these stories at Bankrate.com.