10 hacks for saving money in December

Do your holiday shopping the cheapskate way by posting your political opinions on your Facebook page to dramatically reduce the number of people you have to buy gifts for. It works every time!

10 Ways to Save Money in December

1. Redeem Unused Gift Cards

Before you rush off to the stores, send out a search party around the house to collect any unused or partially used gift cards you might have lying around. Every year an estimated $1 billion in gift cards goes unredeemed. Start your shopping by matching up your unused cards with stores and items on your gift list to reduce the costs. Alternately, you can usually apply the balance toward a new gift card to give to someone on your list. Giving a topped-off card is sort of like “stealth regifting,” with the recipient never the wiser.

2. Speaking of Regifting…

If you’re still unsure about the appropriateness of regifting, get over it! Even the etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute say it’s acceptable to regift an item you’ve been given previously, provided that it’s in good condition, freshly wrapped, and — most importantly — something you truly believe the recipient will appreciate and not simply something you want to get rid of.

Of course, exercise extreme caution to avoid the ultimate regifting faux pas of giving an item to the same person who gave it to you originally. And remember what I always say: “It’s only regifting if you believe it’s regifting. Or, in the case of intimate apparel, if you’ve worn it more than once.”

3. Book an Exotic — and Cheap — Getaway to Southeast Asia

Looking for a warm-weather destination for February or March? If you make your travel plans in December, it might be possible to vacation in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos or another exciting Southeast Asian locale for what you would be paying for a more traditional winter break trip to Florida or the Caribbean.

Sure, depending on where you’re flying to and from, airfares will be pricey. But once you’re on the ground, the cost of lodging, food, local transportation and sightseeing is among the most affordable in the world, according to priceoftravel.com. For example, its 2014 “Backpacker Index” pegs the cost of vacationing in Hanoi, Vietnam, at about $16 per day, including a nice-but-cheap hostel, three “budget meals,” some public transportation costs and sightseeing excursions, and even some cheap beer.

4. Buy the Biggest Tree on the Lot

At Christmas tree lots where every tree is the same price, I’ve never understood why anyone would buy anything other than the absolute biggest tree. We always do just that, and then cut it down to the size we want, using the lower branches from the trunk to make wreathes and other holiday garlands.

Another money-saving option is to buy a truly “live” Christmas tree, one from a nursery, with the roots intact and wrapped in burlap. After decorating it for the holidays indoors, plant it soon thereafter in your yard (climate permitting), and enjoy it for many years to come. As few as three mature trees strategically placed around the outside of the house can reduce your heating and cooling cost by as much as 25 percent (see www.Energy.gov) and increase your property value by more than $1,000. Now that’s a growing investment — or an investment worth growing!

5. Deck the Halls with LEDs

If you’re in the market for new holiday lights this year, be sure to spring for LEDs, which are 75 percent more energy-efficient and last up to 25 times longer than traditional lights. Unlike conventional lights, the heat from LED bulbs is captured in a heat sink, so the lights remain cool to the touch. LED holiday lights are available for either indoor or outdoor use. And if you’re looking for some really inexpensive holiday lighting — or maybe a thrifty DIY holiday gift project — check out this video for how to make candle lanterns out of repurposed cans.

6. Repurpose Holiday Cards

You don’t need to support the billion-dollar U.S. greeting card industry by buying new cards every year. Years ago my wife and I started the much-laughed-about tradition of simply sending everyone back the same they’d sent us the year before, with an updated note from us inside. You can also repurpose festive cards to use as gift tags, wrapping, and other decorations, or cut the front off of a previously used card and mail it someone as a holiday postcard using a bargain-priced postcard stamp. Somehow I don’t think Hallmark is going to hire me as a spokesperson.

7. Stock Up on Supermarket Deals

Keep an eye open for some sweet deals at the supermarket this month, including some of the best prices of the year on baking and confectionery supplies. And even though beef prices have hit record highs this year, many grocery stores will no doubt use beef roasts, steaks and other holiday cuts as “loss leaders” to get you in their stores, so pick up a few extras to feed the freezer.

Citrus fruits — including grapefruit, oranges, and tangerines — are always a good value during the holiday season, in part because growers plan their harvests to reduce the risk of being hit by crop-destroying frost. When it comes to liquid refreshments, coffee and tea are often discounted at the grocery store in December, although alcohol prices are frequently jacked up to maximize profits from holiday merry-makers.

8. Plan a Caroling Party

Dec. 20 is National Go Caroling Day, which in my opinion is the best day during the holiday season to host a party for friends and family. By planning your party around the free, fun and festive activity of door-to-door neighborhood caroling, you reduce the need to provide an evening full of lavish (and expensive!) refreshments and other entertainment. Maybe just start with some light potluck fare at your home before heading out for the songfest, and then warm everyone up with hot chocolate or hot buttered rum afterwards. Fa-la-la-la-frugal!

9. Don’t Throw Away That Fruitcake!

What would the holidays be like if we didn’t have fruitcake stories and jokes to tell? Me, I actually like fruitcake, and you would too if you soaked it in a bowl of rum overnight and covered it in fresh whipped cream before eating. Heck, I’d eat an elf’s wooden shoe if it was slathered in enough rum and whipped cream. But here’s another great way to repurpose an unwanted holiday fruitcake: Varnish it and save it for next year (seriously). Fruitcakes really are pretty, so if you’re not going to eat it, coat it with a couple of layers of spray-on polyurethane, and bring it out as a holiday decoration for years to come.

10. Resolve to Spend Less, Save More and Count Your Blessings in the New Year

Two of the most popular New Year’s resolutions are to expand your assets and shrink your… well, to lose weight. See this article of mine for five creative — and painless — ways to put more money into savings in 2015. And here’s a great resolution to start on Jan. 1 and keep throughout the new year: Take a large, empty jar, and every time something good happens to you in 2015, write it on a small note and put it in the jar. Open the jar on New Year’s Eve next year and bask in all of the wonderful things that have happened throughout the year.

That last tip (and many of my others throughout the year) is compliments of my tremendously talented assistant, Adam Lucas. One of the very last slips of paper I’ll deposit in my 2014 jar — and one of the first slips I’ll be putting in my 2015 jar — will have his name on it. Thanks, Adam — and all of my other cheapskate brothers and sisters — for a terrific 2014 and an even better 2015!

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