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Mendo Lake Family Life

'Tis the Season to Save

Oct 29, 2019 02:29PM
By Kerrie McLoughlin

It happens earlier and earlier every year. The holiday music starts playing at the start of November, and the stores have holiday items out before Halloween is even over. And the commercials for toys! That’s when I really start to feel anxious. And what will we get for our relatives this year? How will we show our appreciation for people like teachers and daycare providers without burning up our credit card? Don’t worry. Here’s some help.

1. Have a plan. Yes, this means using that dirty word: budget. I set up a budget in Excel every year and love it because I can easily set formulas to add and subtract for me. This way I can play with numbers to see how much I actually have available to spend on each person on my shopping list. If doing a budget in Excel isn’t your thing, head to for a free downloadable and printable holiday budget planner.

2. Rack up the credit card reward points. But only if you can handle it. If your credit card has a rewards program that offers gift cards, use it. Caution: You must be able to pay off every cent you put on your card by the due date. If you don’t have it budgeted, don’t purchase it. Using this system, every year I’m able to earn a few hundred dollars’ worth of gift cards. I use them to shop or just give them as gifts. Go to for a comparison of the top credit card reward programs.

3. Rack up MyPoints. I’ve been a member of for many years and have earned gift cards not only by reading e-mails, but also by sometimes patronizing certain merchants. I’m quickly working toward saving up 10,000 MyPoints, which will equal $50 cash in my PayPal account. The bonus is that I use my credit card to purchase gifts I would have bought anyway, so I double my holiday earning power.

4. Make it yourself. Gifts in a jar (, such as cookie, cake, pie, and drink mixes, and other homemade treats, always go over well, and they are cheap to make. Put them in reusable containers, and you’ve gone green, as well.

5. Give up on trying to impress. Sure, the mailman would dig a $100 gift card to a local restaurant, and your sitter would love a $100 iTunes card, but you probably can’t afford either or you wouldn’t be reading this article. Do what you can, and let people appreciate you for who you are.

6. Sell stuff. Getting rid of clutter not only makes you money, it also makes room for incoming holiday gifts. Sell books, toys, clothes, movies, music, and more at consignment shops or on, or, if you’re really feeling industrious, throw a garage sale.

7. Buy nothing. To stay out of debt, consider not buying a gift for your spouse. Instead let him or her know you want nothing but to live a debt-free life full of security and hope for the future. If you just can’t leave gift giving behind, it can be a fun to find something for each other on a $10 budget. A love poem is free and goes a long way in my house. 

Kerrie McLoughlin blogs at about her roller-coaster-ride life homeschooling five kids.