November 30, 2023

10 ways to embrace frugal holiday spending

Embracing frugal spending habits this holiday season can save you money and ensure people on your list get the right gifts. See how here.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Whatsapp

10 ways to embrace frugal holiday spending

Woman in yellow shirt smiling looking at phone holding credit card during holiday season

Are you stressed about holiday spending this year? A lot of people are feeling uncertain about their financial situation right now. Nearly half of Canadians (46%) are concerned about their debt levels, according to BDO’s most recent Affordability Index

A further 56% of Canadians say financial issues are the hardest thing for them to talk about. More than relationship issues or their health.

With us all feeling the pinch, it’s not a bad thing to consider cutting back on spending this holiday season. The last thing anyone wants is a maxed-out credit card at this time of year.

Social pressure might make you push your spending further at this time of year. What you really need is an honest holiday budget that can get you through the season debt-free.

What is frugal spending?

Think of frugal spending as being mindful with your money. A frugal person spends carefully, compares options and prioritizes their needs and wants based on what’s most important to them. Frugality isn’t about spending less, it’s about spending wisely.

One common misconception is that being frugal means being cheap. Nothing could be further from the truth. Frugality isn’t just about your wallet. Believe it or not, you can find satisfaction, freedom and even joy in living a frugal lifestyle.

But this doesn’t change the fact that frugal living isn’t often associated with the generosity of the holiday season. 

Frugality doesn’t mean seeking the lowest possible price, at whatever the cost to your friends, family or sanity. It’s about getting the most out of your money by doing your homework and practicing mindful spending. Be conscious of what, how and why you are spending your money. Every gift should undergo a process: comparison shop, read customer reviews and take advantage of a retailer’s price matching policies.

How to embrace frugal holiday spending

1. Avoid social pressure

Canadians say they are comfortable saying “no” to things they can’t afford. A whopping 89% told the latest BDO Affordability Index that they would tell friends and family that they couldn’t afford to participate in planned events. 

This number is very surprising. It can be very hard to say, “sorry I can’t afford that,” when everyone else you know is going.

This is true of gift giving as well. It’s no secret that gift giving can be a social contest. Are you buying presents for people at work? Your kids’ teachers? Your neighbours who live three doors down? These can be very nice gestures.

But ask yourself: who are you really buying for? Them or yourself? If you had to give the gift anonymously, would you still be buying it? Rather than thinking about what other people are doing, try to do the best you can with your own holiday budget.

2. Promote frugal holiday spending to friends and family

If things are particularly tight this year, as they are for a lot of households, don’t be afraid to open up to your friends and family about your worries, finances and spending plan, and promote frugal holiday spending.

Drawing names instead of buying gifts for everyone, getting gifts only for the kids, and contributing to the holiday dinner are all affordable ways you can give without piling on credit card debt. Chances are you are not the only one with holiday spending stress.

3. Thrift for gifts

A great way to save money, not just during the holiday season but year-round, is thrift shopping. Buying things second-hand is a great way to get things that would normally be out of your budget for a fraction of the price. A quick trip to a thrift shop is sure to yield unique gifts. You of course have to make sure that what you buy is in good condition, no one wants to receive a sweater with a hole in it or a book with pages missing.

Thrifting is a great way to find rare treasures. Keep who you’re buying for and their interests and style in mind. You want them to be happy with it. If you have someone especially difficult to buy for on your list though thrifting may be the thing that allows you to find something truly unique for them.

4. Potluck the big dinner 

A large meal during the holiday season with extended family is a tradition for many. If you’re the one hosting it doesn’t just mean added stress of attending to everyone’s needs, it also means a larger grocery bill.

There is an easy way to avoid this and that’s a potluck. Having everyone bring a dish will make the meal feel more equitable and avoid placing a financial burden on the host. It also avoids any arguments in the kitchen about how things should be done and who is to blame when a dish doesn’t turn out right. Plus, with the food already made by the time everyone arrives it means dinner is ready on time. 

5. DIY Gifts

Making your own gifts is a great way to save money and show that you really care about someone.

You don’t necessarily have to know any special skills to make some great DIY gifts. It’s Always Autumn has a great list of 25 gift ideas you can make from home. From homemade bathbombs to snowglobes, these ideas are all meant to cost less than $15 each and if you make multiples of them you’ll save even more money.

You can do more than just DIY the gifts to save money. You can DIY the wrapping paper. You probably have some old gift bags lying around or brown paper you can use instead. You can even wrap gifts in newspaper for a truly different look that’s sure to make them stand out.

You can even DIY the card! Cards are expensive, $5 for a piece of paper with a message written by someone else? You can make it more personal and more meaningful! Getting the kids involved also makes this gesture even more heartwarming. 

6. Regift 

OK we know this one may be a little controversial but it’s a viable option. Who hasn’t gotten a gift in the past and thought ‘what am I ever going to do with that??’ If you have a past gift you have never used or receive something you know you don’t want you can pass it along to someone who you know will. 

It’s best to be open about regifting. When passing along an item to someone else you can say ‘oh (blank) gave this to me and I never have/will ever use it, but I know you will.’

Remember, regifiting only works if you know for sure the person you’re passing the item along to will use it and love it. 

7. Make informed spending decisions

Being frugal means making informed decisions. One of the quickest ways to increase holiday spending worries is by going online, scrolling through website after website, not knowing what you want to buy. The sheer misery of this scenario is enough to push the most rational spender into buying anything, at whatever the cost. Don’t do it! Instead, take the time to think about what the recipient would truly appreciate. Brainstorm within a set budget amount. Track your expenses. Why not consider adding a column to your holiday budget for a variety of ideas that you can mull over?

Still stuck looking for what to buy for someone? If you’re wondering what gifts to get for your kids, or your friends’ kids, try discussing the popular “4 gift rule.” gives a variety of variations on the “4 gift rule” for kids of different ages to avoid overspending.

8. Find free or cheap holiday related activities

Not everything about the holidays means you have to spend money. There are plenty of free holiday activities each year. Head out to the News Years fireworks or a holiday lights instillation. There may be free holiday concerts in your area as well.

Some activities you don’t even need to leave the house for! Set time aside to watch all your favourite holiday movies, bake some homemade cookies, make a gingerbread house.

You may even decide to give someone some of your homemade baked goods as a gift, which also saves you money.

9. Trim your list

Cutting the number of people you buy gifts for can be a great money saver. If you spend money on extended family and your outer circle of friends during the holidays it may be time to change that. 

Cutting down who you buy for to only immediate family and close friends can drastically cut your expenses. 

As long as you’re upfront and honest with those you won’t be buying for that the cost is simply too much this year they’ll understand. Everyone is struggling now. 

You can offer those who you would normally buy for a homemade treat made especially for them, or perhaps a lunch date instead. It will come with a more personal touch, and they’ll probably appreciate it much more than something you picked off the shelf. 

10. Give gifts of time and charity

Are you buying for someone who already has lots of stuff in their life? Giving the gift of time can be a very thoughtful and affordable way to help them out. Time is precious. If you have a family member who has no time to cook, consider dropping off a few freezer-friendly meals. A friend who is simply overworked and over stressed? Write them a card and make your time official: offer to shovel them out after the next big snowfall. The ideas are endless.

You might also consider giving your friends and family the opportunity to participate in an act of charity. But be careful. It’s important the charity speaks to the recipient and their values. Again, do your research to best match the organization with what they really care about. Ideally, it should be a cause or an organization that’s already on their radar. If you’re able to hone in on your loved ones’ sense of humanity, this is a wonderful thing.

Do you have more questions?

Check out our related content


November 30, 2023

10 ways to embrace frugal holiday spending

Embracing frugal spending habits this holiday season can save you money and ensure people on your list get the right gifts. See how here.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Whatsapp