It's that time of year again: The season for anxiously budgeting all the extra expenses that come with celebrating the holidays. Between family, travel and tax planning, the end of the year is stressful enough, so don't let holiday spending add to the worry.
From holiday gifts to party supplies and decorations, we examined six of the biggest holiday-related expenses and found their cheaper alternatives to help you save money this year.
1. Don't buy: Black Friday deals
Black Friday has stolen the spotlight for year-end deals, perfect for saving big time on holiday gift shopping. The problem is, the day after Thanksgiving is actually not the best day to find deals – not by a long shot. Some of the best deals can be found on days other than Black Friday during the holiday season. According to dealnews.com, the biggest deals occur on Thanksgiving day and Sunday of that same weekend.
Do this instead: Buy gifts closer to Christmas Day
Don't give in to marketing ploys of retailers and join in the Black Friday madness. The closer to Christmas you shop, the steeper the discounts will get because retailers have less time before they have to make room for January inventory. In fact, you will likely find the steepest discounts are found the day after Christmas.
2. Don't buy: Traditional gifts
You could always skip the consumerism of the holidays completely and focus more on spending time with loved ones. That's what the holiday season is all about anyway, right?
But that doesn't mean you have to look cheap and leave your closest friends and family members empty-handed.
Do this instead: Donate to family and friends' favorite charities
Instead of struggling to find a sweater for your dad or buying yet another impersonal gift card for your best friend, donate a reasonable amount of cash to the causes that matter to them. This makes a much more thoughtful gift that also helps others (plus, you can write it off during tax season).
3. Don't Buy: Greeting cards
Greeting cards are a nice way of saying you're thinking of others during the holiday season, but let's be honest, they're a total waste of money, paper and postage. You can still show family and acquaintances you care without having to buy a gift or an overpriced greeting card.
Do this instead: Send a photo e-card
It's the thought that counts, so eliminate the paper waste of holiday greeting cards and send a more personal greeting at the same time. Forget the silly GIFs and rudimentary artwork. Smilebox.com one site that allows you to craft a truly classy e-card by uploading a photo and adding music. You can even take it a step further by creating a scrapbook, slideshow or collage to share with loved ones.
4. Don't buy: Outdoor holiday lights
Holiday lights strung across roofs and trees are a winter staple in most neighborhoods, but they're also detrimental to energy bills. Don't believe it? Use this Christmas light electricity cost calculator to find out exactly how much you've been spending to cover your home in tiny, multicolored bulbs each year.
Do this instead: Replace outdoor lights with party bulbs
You can maintain the festive atmosphere without wasting electricity by replacing your outdoor lights with colored bulbs. Put a green party bulb in your porch light, or alternate red and green across your lawn. It will cast your home in holiday colors and won't result in higher energy bills.
5. Don't buy: Gift wrap from major brands
Target may be your go-to for all things inexpensive, but even this major retailer charges quite a bit for gift wrap, bags, bows and ribbons. Considering all your hard work wrapping gifts will be appreciated by gift recipients for approximately 10 seconds before being ripped to shreds (and hopefully recycled), there's no point in spending good money on supplies.
Do this instead: Visit the dollar store.
Dollar stores are a treasure trove of holiday gift wrap and accessories that you can pick up for – you guessed it – just $1 each.
6. Don't buy: Party supplies
For those who like to play host, you know just how expensive it is to entertain a large group. From seating, to table settings, to music and decorations, throwing a big holiday bash could easily leave you in the red by Jan. 1.
Do this instead: Rent them!
There's no need to purchase all the supplies that go into putting on a party – many items such as tables, chairs, decorations, place settings, and more can be rented for a fraction of the cost. It's cheaper, and you don't have to worry about where to store everything the rest of the year.
Casey Bond writes for GoBankingRates.com, your source for the best CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news and more.