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How To Budget For the Holidays in the Year of COVID-19

Laura Woods
·5 min read
Shot of a young couple using a digital tablet at home.
Shot of a young couple using a digital tablet at home.

The most wonderful time of year is upon us, but for most people, the 2020 holiday season will be unprecedented. Typically a time to gather with loved ones, exchange gifts and feast on traditional holiday fare, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Americans to redefine the season.

In fact, 74% of people say they will be having smaller than usual holiday gatherings with family and friends ? and 47% are completely canceling their gatherings ? according to Morning Consult. In addition to social distancing guidelines and general concerns regarding the potential to spread COVID-19 at get-togethers, money is also a concern for many people.

Record-high unemployment levels and continued economic uncertainty are causing many Americans to cut back on spending this year. The good news is, it?s still possible to have a merry holiday season on a budget. Use these tips to curb your spending, while still making the holiday season special for your family.

Last updated: Nov. 6, 2020

Senior couple crossing the road on a city street.
Senior couple crossing the road on a city street.

Start Shopping Early

If last-minute holiday shopping is usually your thing, this might be the year to rethink your strategy. The National Retail Federation reports that 42% of people planned to start their holiday shopping by the end of October, with another 41% getting started in November.

Shopping in the eleventh hour is stressful and it can also cost you extra money. Starting early will allow you to avoid last-minute rush shipping and price-gouging on popular gifts with limited inventory.

Realize It?s Okay to Say ?No?
Realize It?s Okay to Say ?No?

Skip the Holiday Feast

Massive quantities of food are a staple at holiday parties and large family gatherings. However, since you?re probably not hosting many people ? or anyone outside your household ? this year, there?s plenty of room to cut back.

Instead of making ? or buying ? a huge spread, have each family member choose a dish or two and serve a condensed menu. This will allow you to save money on your grocery bill, without leaving anyone wanting for their favorite holiday food.

Pizza eating in an restaurant.
Pizza eating in an restaurant.

Opt For Nontraditional Holiday Meals

Classic holiday menu items like a turkey, prime rib and ham can add up fast. Nothing is normal in 2020, so if you can get your family on board, consider serving a more affordable holiday meal this year.

Ordering a pizza or grilling up burgers certainly isn?t a standard holiday meal, but switching things up can be fun. In addition to saving money, less time in the kitchen will also give you more opportunities to relax and enjoy yourself.

Happy couple on a vacations, taking their luggage out of car boot.
Happy couple on a vacations, taking their luggage out of car boot.

Map Your Road Trip

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of people don?t plan to travel for any of the winter holidays, according to Morning Consult. Of those planning a trip, 85% are most comfortable traveling by car.

If you?re hitting the road this holiday season, save money by planning your route ahead of time. This will allow you to reserve hotel rooms in advance, so you can enjoy early booking rates. You?ll also be able to map out affordable food stops and even research gas prices along the way, so you can find the most economical places to fuel up.

amazon stock price value
amazon stock price value

Seek Out Free Shipping

Amid a pandemic, it?s not surprising that 60% of shoppers plan to purchase holiday items online this year, according to the NRF. What?s noteworthy is 91% of people are focused on finding free shipping deals.

Shipping fees add up fast and can substantially increase your holiday spending. If you?re shopping online, seek out stores that offer free shipping. Many require a minimum spend, so be savvy with your shopping.

For example, Target offers free two-day shipping when you spend $35. Avoid paying for shipping by adding household items you need anyway to your cart to meet the minimum spend requirement.

Read More: Retailers Make Big Pre-Holiday Shifts to Accommodate Online Shopping

Knitting Knit Needle Yarn Needlework Craft Scarf Concept.
Knitting Knit Needle Yarn Needlework Craft Scarf Concept.

Start a Handmade Gift Tradition

On average, people plan to spend around $650 on gifts this holiday season ? down just slightly from $659 in 2019 ? according to the NRF. Of course, everyone won?t be able to spend anywhere near this much.

If you?re looking to give meaningful gifts on a shoestring budget, consider getting crafty. Gifts made with your own two hands are unique and heartfelt, as the receiver knows you spent a lot of time and energy making something just for them. This can also be a great quarantine pastime, serving as an all-around win.

shopping-sale
shopping-sale

Get the Most From Every Dollar

More so than ever, ?tis the year to make your money work for you. Stores will likely have plenty of sales and coupons available this holiday season, so know what you want, watch for deals and be ready to buy when they become available.

It can also pay to sign up for sites like Rakuten and Ibotta, which allow you to earn cash back on purchases at various major retailers. Many credit card companies also offer deals you can link to your card, so log into your account and take advantage of these opportunities to save.

Close-up photography of two hands while giving gift.
Close-up photography of two hands while giving gift.

Condense Your Gift List

If your holiday gift list traditionally goes well beyond immediate family and close friends, you might need to cut back this year. Focus on buying for your inner circle, so you can avoid going into debt this holiday season.

Anyone worth receiving a gift from you will understand your need to stick to a budget amid a global pandemic. In fact, many people will likely be relieved you don?t want to exchange gifts this year, because they?re also trying to cut costs.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How To Budget For the Holidays in the Year of COVID-19