As we continue making our way through the fourth quarter and zero in on the final months of the year, I wanted to take a moment and share some money saving ideas BEFORE we hit the hectic holiday season, because, lets face it, after Halloween we rush directly into Christmas and before we know it, it’s January and we are wondering what the hell happened to Thanksgiving, as we begin to procrastinate on our New Years resolutions.

In our family, bonding time and togetherness is the number 1 priority. We live in a small house, we eat all of our meals around the dinner table together every night, and we do just about everything together from soccer practice to art award shows. Family vacations and adventures are high on the list of priorities for us, as these are the memories and experiences that will shape my children into amazing, kind, free spirited adult humans someday. (At least I really, REALLY hope so.)

I think its important for any family to keep in mind that materialism and budget traveling do not mix well. Look at it like this, the $300 purse for your daughter, and the $400 gaming system for your son may gain them some popularity points and last them a few years before winding up in the goodwill box or on craigslist, but that $700 spent could cover just about every drop of gas to get you from coast to coast and back, with memories and experiences to last a LIFETIME. Your children are only young once, and before you know it, they are living their own lives and suddenly too busy for the old family vacations.

For this reason I always urge my children to make handmade gifts for their father, their siblings, and their friends. As the main personal shopper of my family, I will be making it a point to spend less money at the stores than I did last year, and put more money away for our next great adventure in 2017.

With all of this in mind, here’s 17 tips to save money this holiday season

  1. Make adventuring with your family a number 1 priority and goal for next year. Having it as a constant goal to talk about will make it so much easier to put money away. Brainstorm with your family on things they’ve always wanted to see and do, then start researching. I SWEAR TO YOU that by actively thinking about your goals, you will begin to actively prepare for them too.
  2. Learn to cook. Yep, I said it. As a culture, we have become so reliant on chain burger joints, bars and fancy restaurants, but did you know that you can save well over 60% per meal by cooking at home?  The average bill for my small family to eat out sits right around the $60-$80 range. Throw in the 20% tip, and we are hovering around $100. For ONE meal! I may not be able to provide the variety of meal options, but I can cook one hell of a nutritional and satisfying meal for less than $30 a day, and that allows for leftovers. If I have to do it on a budget, I can easily do it on less than $20. Not sure where to start? Just do a google search for recipes.
  3. Cook ahead. After you experiment with some fun cooking ideas, try doubling the recipes and cooking ahead for later in the week. Most recipes will freeze and reheat pretty well, but be sure to read comments from other experiences first.By practicing the cook ahead,  you’re cooking in bulk which is always less expensive per serving than smaller meals.
  4. Pack your lunch. I don’t eat much fast food, so when I do I try to stick to “healthier” options such as Panera. I also don’t eat meat, so my meals are usually less costly than my carnivorous counter-parts. I can easily spend $10 a day on lunch. Lets say I can find time to eat lunch 3 days a week. (Hairstylist problems). $10 a day x 3 days a week x 52 weeks = $1,560 a year.
  5. Quit smoking. For real, I am almost 2 years quit and I felt the increase in my pocketbook IMMEDIATELY. $6 per day x 7 days per week x 52 weeks per year = $2,184 a year per person to smoke. That’s more than you’d need for gas and accommodations to cross the country. Not to mention the better physical health for all of the fun adventures you’re going to take.
  6. Limit your night life. This is an easy one for me, as I don’t have much of a social life outside of the occasional girls night in. I get all the gossip and fun I need at work, so when I do have the chance to go out, I do it with my husband and call it a date night. I limit these nights out and in turn, save a TON of money. If you must, consider limiting yourself to one night out for every few hundred dollars you accumulate towards your next adventure.
  7. Sign up for a travel rewards credit card before doing your holiday shopping. This can be a bit touchy, especially if you tend to have frequent moments of weakness when it comes to buying. If you do have self restraint, however, this is a great option for anyone who practices the buy and payback immediately technique.
  8. Plan ahead to put what you can afford away on a weekly basis. We currently have 33 weeks until the time of the year that I normally take our family road-trip. If you get paid weekly, that’s 33 paychecks, If you have more than one income that’s 66 paychecks. What can you reasonably put away each paycheck to see and do something you’ve never done? Whether its as little as $20 a week ($660), or as much as $100 ($3,300), you can go and experience something brand new by adjusting your budget style. Bonus – if you’re a tipped employee that doesn’t rely on tips only, consider saving half of your daily gratuity. It adds up quickly.
  9. Get rid of the entertainment extras. Did you know that pretty much everything you watch on cable television can be found for free online? Its true. Ditch the $100 a month TV bill, and add it to your adventure fund. (Disclaimer, I’m not sure how much it really is per month. We haven’t had cable TV in 4 years.) This will also help you to recondition your brain. We’ve all been trained to believe that we must consume, this is a lot easier to avoid without constant propaganda being shoved down our throats.
  10. Ask yourself if you REALLY need another pair of fashionable boots for fall. Chances are, you don’t.
  11. Get Crafty. Give the gift of love. As in love, I mean homemade love. Sure, your mom might appreciate the $500 gold necklace, but I bet she’d appreciate a basket of hand made goodies tailored to her even more.
  12. Write a clear and well thought out holiday list and check it twice. I find that I tend to veer off my initial idea when I’m shopping without a list whether its grocery, clothing, school or holiday shopping. I either forget stuff or buy unnecessary stuff, and I never end up coming home with what I had intended to get, I go back to the store and the vicious cycle starts all over again. Make your list, check it twice.
  13. Stick to online shopping. Its a lot easier to get exactly what you’re looking for, and you’re saving money on gas and food as you are staying home.
  14. Consider taking on a seasonal position at your favorite store. Right now the demand for part time seasonal workers is high. Getting a position at your favorite store not only gives you extra money, but also discounts the shopping you do.
  15. Sort through your closet. Now is the time to be charitable and chances are, you’ve got some clothes that just aren’t doing it for you anymore. Consider donating some of your things, and consigning the others. Its a great way to earn some extra cash and will help out men, women and teens who otherwise can’t afford the nicer things in life.
  16. Consider gifting your family (travel buddies!) with travel necessities. Will your trip next year involve flying? A nice rolling suitcase and neck pillow is a must. Road tripping? Better stock up on their favorite DVD’s. Camping trip? How about a nice, lightweight down sleeping bag or a day-pack in their favorite color?
  17. Clip Coupons and split your shopping at box stores. Yes, this may sound like something you shouldn’t be doing until you’re like 9o, but you can save SO MUCH MONEY with coupons. And I’m not just talking grocery coupons. Almost every big retailer has some sort of coupon available, you just have to look for it. Consider downloading apps to your favorite stores and companies for money saving offers. You can also buddy up with a friend to head to the bulk box stores, such as Sams club or BJs. You may not need 48 rolls of paper towels for the same cost as 24 at the grocery store, but if you split that cost with a friend, you will instantly save 1/4 of what you would have spent otherwise.

If you’ve read this far into it, I must have entertained you at least a little bit. Drop a comment and let me know what you think, or what you’d add to this list! If you’ve found some inspiration here, I’d definitely LOVE to know.

Take care!