I absolutely love the holiday season, and I spend a good portion of the year looking forward to it! However, the one aspect of the holidays that I don’t like is feeling stressed about money. This year I’ve committed myself to start saving now so I can just worry about what to cook for Christmas dinner and not about how I’m going to pay for everything! Here are eight of the best and easiest ways to start saving for the holidays now:

 

1. Buy a gift card once a week with your grocery shopping

This is probably my favorite way to save for the holiday season! It can definitely take some discipline to add another $10 or $20 to your grocery bill, but it’s worth it in the long run. Each week at one of my grocery stops, I pick up a gift card in whatever amount I can afford. If it’s a tough week I may just opt for a $10 card and if I can afford a little more I grab a $20 or $25 card. Set these aside somewhere safe, and you’ll have yourself a nice little stash of gift cards by December! Even if you only purchase a $10 card each week from April through November, you would end up with over $300 in gift cards!

2. Use more cash and save the change

This is an oldie but a goodie! Every time you pay for something with cash and get change back, put that change in a jar. Then every time your jar is full, cash it in! I used to think this concept was too much trouble (who wants to roll all those coins!) and I didn’t want to pay a fee to use one of those coin counting machines. However, Coinstar, which has locations in thousands of supermarkets, is actually fee free if you turn your coins in for select gift cards! They have plenty of great fee-free options such as Amazon, Lowe’s, Old Navy and Starbucks.

3. Set aside your rebate app money

If you’re signed up for all those great apps and programs that KCL talks about, such as Ibotta, Endorse, Swagbucks and SavingStar, then you’re probably banking a few bucks a week in your Paypal account. This is a really simple way to save that can add up pretty quickly! Last week I was able to cash in $5 on Ibotta and $3 on Endorse. It may not sound like a lot, but at that rate you could save $250 over the next eight months!

4. Build gift card balances slowly

Purchase a gift card to a store where you often buy gifts, and every time you go there, add a few dollars to the card. Use this card to shop with during the holiday season! Let’s say you visit Starbucks once a week from April through November and just add an extra $3 each time. By the time December comes you’ll have about $100 to spend there on gifts! And at $3 a week, it’s a pretty pain free way to save a little extra.

5. Watch for deals and start buying now

This can be tricky because we all know there may be something someone likes now that they may not like in eight months. For this reason, I steer clear of anything too fashion forward or seasonal and stick with classic items that I know will make good gifts. Just this month, I managed to pick up some great Disney toys I found in their clearance section for under $5, as well as a throw at Kohl’s marked down 80 percent! Whenever you see a hot deal that you know will make a great gift, go ahead and pick it up now. By the time December rolls around, that gift closet should be pretty well stocked!

6. Sell items you don’t need

Spring is the perfect time to clean out the house, so why not pull together all those items that you don’t need and have a garage sale to add to your holiday fund! This is what I did last spring, and even though I didn’t feel as though I had a ton of stuff at my sale, I still managed to make about $200! If garage sales really aren’t your thing, sell the stuff you don’t need on eBay or take them to a consignment shop.

7. Round down your bank account balance

Every month when you pay your bills, round down the balance in your bank account and set the money aside for the holidays. For example, if you are left with $636 after you’ve paid your bills, immediately take that $36 out (or transfer it to a separate account) and set it aside for holiday shopping. I prefer to keep a separate savings account just for holiday savings because you know what they say — out of sight, out of mind!

8. Use those "freebie" coupons on gifts

I love when I get those great emails from stores with offers for $10 off a $10 purchase, $5 off your next purchase or whatever they may be. I call them “freebie” coupons because you can usually get something free (or very close to free) with them. Whenever I get one of these, I use it to purchase something that can be used as a gift! I find that these types of coupons are a great way to get teachers’ gifts purchased throughout the year because you can always find great little gifty items under $10. Last year when Pier1 sent out a $10 off $10 coupon, I used it to buy two adorable coffee cups. I ended up filling those cups with chocolates and other items that I had “bought” free with coupons!