How to Save the Most Holiday Money (the Military Way)

in Plan by Lacey Langford, AFC®

Christmas and the holidays are a magical time of the year. They’re filled with family and traditions. It’s a time to celebrate and remember. But let’s be real, Christmastime is also a time of immense spending. There are presents to buy, holiday travel and lots of parties. 

Military or not, for most people, it’s the most expensive time of the year. Because of this, it’s essential to plan and prepare how to save the most holiday money you possibly can! Here’s how you do it.

The best way to save the most holiday money is first to understand your spending limit and then create a game plan for how you’ll spend money during the season (it’s easier than it sounds). That means you’ll need to know who your shopping for and how much you’ll spend on each person. You’ll also need to plan for other holiday expenses like parties and travel. Once you have that, you can work on holiday money savings techniques like timing your shopping, using military discounts, and making extra money.


Know Your Holiday Spending Limit

The quickest way to waste money at Christmastime is not to have a budget. You cannot have a blank check for Christmas! Let me repeat that. You cannot have a blank check for Christmas. Before you buy ONE gift, you must know how much you can afford to spend or want to spend during the holidays. Knowing your spending limit will help you avoid taking extra savings or financing Christmas with your credit card. And avoiding both of those will save you money. 


Your spending limit isn’t a number you pull out of thin air. It’s something you put thought into based on the money you save and budget your create. Ideally, you would have a Christmas or holiday savings account where you’ve squirreled away money all year if you have, great! The amount in your Christmas fund is your limit. If you haven’t been saving, keep reading. Below I will tell you how to make a plan and handle “no money for Christmas.”


Create a Holiday Plan

To plan how you’ll break down your Christmas spending, you need a list or a budget. Who are you buying presents for? Family, friends, teachers, the trash man? You need to make a list of people you plan to buy gifts for and how much you plan to spend on each of them. Make sure the total you plan to spend doesn’t exceed your Christmas spending limit.


For our holiday spending plan, I use good old fashion notebook paper. We make a list of all the relatives and people we plan to buy presents for. I’m big about keeping it equal and fair, so we spend the same amount on every person in our family. Except for parents—we spend a little more on them since they gave us life! We also add line items for extra groceries for our Christmas Eve party and Christmas dinner. Using notebook paper makes it easier for me to have the list on hand when I shop and cross people off the list once I’ve bought them something.


Let’s not forget. Expenses during the holiday season aren’t limited to buying presents. There are holiday parties, cookie exchanges, holiday clothing, and travel, to name some. So don’t forget to add everything you plan to spend money on during the holidays to your plan. Doing so will ensure you stay on or under budget.


How to Save the Most Holiday Money When You Shop

Timing is everything. Especially when it comes to shopping. Because timing your holiday shopping just right will bring extra savings. Mark your calendars to remember the best times to buy at the lowest price. For example, Black Friday is good for toys, clothing, and beauty products. And Cyber Monday is an excellent time to get deals on gaming consoles and electronics. Being patient and buying at the right time will save you extra money during the holidays.


Use Military Shopping Discounts

Just because you have a spending limit doesn’t mean you have to spend it all. You should try and get the most of every dollar you spend. A great way to do that is with military discounts. Many stores offer discounts to Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families in honor of their service. Here are a few places to get military discounts and overall savings.

Military discounts aren’t limited to shopping in-store. is a resource that allows you to prove you’re qualified for a military discount while shopping online. They even have a listing of companies that offer military discounts in-store and online.


The Exchange

Most people in the military community know the Exchange is the place to shop for clothes, electronics, and other items in-store or online, you’re purchase is tax-free. Also, the Exchange will price match with local competitor’s prices. For people stationed OCONUS, the Exchange is authorized to match online prices from stores like Target and Walmart.



raSince you have to shop anyway for Christmas, why not get paid for it too. Rakuten allows you to earn cashback form over 2,500 stores when you shop through their site. Your cash builds up, and they’ll send you a check every three months with your shopping earnings. 



Swagbucks gives you gift cards and cash for doing things online. When you shop, take surveys, or watch videos, you receive points. Then you can trade them in for gift cards and cash. 



Slickdeals is a website that can get you the best deals on the items you want to buy. You can set deal alerts for items on your buy list. They send you notifications when there’s a deal for that item. 



I prefer to online shop so I can use a combination of our military discounts, Slickdeals, and Rakuten to get the best price. When I receive my cashback check from Rakuten, I add the money into our Christmas savings account to use for our holiday spending at the end of the year.



What to do When You Have No Money for Christmas

Sometimes people have no money for Christmas for whatever reason. Kids or no kids, it’s a MAJOR stressor not to have money to buy gifts. I get it! A financial professional or not, if I didn’t have enough money to buy my kids presents, I would be upset and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. If you don’t have any cash on hand, here are some ideas of how you can still give gifts this year. 


Homemade Presents

Homemade gifts get a bad “wrap” (pun intended) when, in fact, they can be the most loved and meaningful gifts you give this year! One of my family’s favorite holiday traditions is drawing names and making a homemade gift for that person. With the help of Pinterest and Youtube, you can make something memorable and/or useful on the cheap.  


Toys for Tots

The Marines take a mission seriously, and their Toys for Tots program is no different. Each year the Marines take new donated toys and distribute them to those that are less fortunate. If toys aren’t in your budget this year, there’s help. Here’s where you can apply to receive toys.


I’ve had the personal privilege of working near a Marine Toys for Tots drop off location. It was humbling and inspiring to witness the power of people giving toys to children in need. It’s pretty cool that the Marines take on this mission year in and year out. 


Armed Forces YMCA

The Armed Forces YMCA provides many support programs and services for the military community. Two that are helpful during the holidays are Operation Holiday Joy and Ride Home. Operation Holiday Joy takes donate funds and provides Servicemembers and their families with toys and food baskets during the holidays. Operation Ride Home is a partnership with Jack Daniel’s to give active-duty Servicemembers financial donations to travel home during the holidays. The funds are for junior enlisted personnel. If you have no money for Christmas, both programs can offer financial assistance or provide toys and food. 


Finding Free Financial Help

Most military installations offer free financial help. Often you first need to see a financial counselor for them to understand your current finances. But once that’s done, they can offer you resources such a free food, financial grants, or other available resources based on your situation. 


Installation Resources

You’d be surprised what you might be able to get help with during the holidays on a military installation. Here are some of the items I have seen first hand: free Christmas trees, toys, and clothing for children, gas gift cards, and holiday turkeys. At some military bases, you can even rent dresses for holiday formal parties! Many Chaplains can provide gas or food gift cards to those in need during the holidays. The best way to find the available resources in your area is to contact your installation financial services office. It’s worth the visit. 


How to Make Money During the Holidays

If your funds for Christmas shopping are coming up short, there are ways to make extra cash for the season. You could babysit, walk dogs, or you can even rent your car out. Here are some ways to make cash.


Sell Unwanted Items

The first place to start making extra money is to sell the items you don’t want or aren’t using. I do a purge of my boys’ rooms before the holiday each year. I donate some items to others for the holidays and sell the rest on Craigslists or eBay. I also use Poshmark to sell some of my clothing or shoes I’m no longer using or like.  



Another way to sell unwanted items is through DeClutter. They will buy Legos, old iPhones, books, CDs and DVDs plus a bunch more. Their service makes it easy for you to list items, get a valuation, and then throw it all in a box and ship it to them. You get paid the day after they receive the goods. 


Seasonal Work

The holidays are the perfect time to pick up seasonal work. Many stores are looking for extra help with the influx of holiday shoppers. Not only can you earn money, but you can also get employee discounts for more money savings. You can also pick up extra income doing tasks for others using TaskRabbit.



Etsy Printables

A great way to make some side cash is by creating Etsy printables. You can create checklists, scavenger hunts, or printable quotes and sell them to people on Etsy. Here’s an interview with an Etsy printables expert on how to get started and a whole course on Etsy printables.


Ride-Sharing for Holiday Money

You can pick up some extra money by driving people around in your free time. You can sign up and become an approved Uber or Lyft driver during the busy holiday travel season.


Rent Your Car Out

If you’re going to be home for the holidays or away and don’t need your car, you can make money by renting it out to others with services like Turo or Zipcar. You take pictures of your vehicle and mark dates your vehicle is available for rent. It’s a great way to make money when you aren’t using your vehicle. 



Pet Care

If you’re an animal lover, you can make money at it with Rover. Rover is a pet sitting and dog walking service. You can sign up to pet sit or walk dogs during the holiday season. You can work around your schedule and get paid for it.  


Family Care is a way to make money, providing family care. You can earn money in various ways like babysitting, house cleaning, pet sitting, or providing elder care through their platform. By the way, gives a 25% discount when they sign up for a subscription.


Move People for Extra Christmas Money

As military folk, we’ve developed an expertise in moving. Why not use that skillset and earn extra money. You can sign up for Dolly to help people move at $15/hour. If you have a truck, you can earn $30/hour. Another company that pays you to move people around your schedule is Lugg. They advertise you can earn up to $2,500 per week.






It’s Alright to “Just Say No”

Saying “no” is something more and more people need to do. In addition to your normal life, a lot is going on during the holidays. “Doing it all” isn’t something most of us can afford in time or money. The quickest way to solve that problem is to say no. 


Many people know they don’t want to do something or don’t want to buy a gift but end up doing it anyway because they feel guilty or judged. Don’t be pressured into anything that’ll cause you financial stress. Most of your friends and family aren’t going to help pay your bills. Feel free to say no and blame it on me. There’s no shame in wanting to save money for your financial goals instead of a cookie exchange. There’s also no shame in not having the money to spend on holiday presents. You do what’s best for you and your family!


Create a Backup Gift Plan

Inevitably you’re going to forget someone you wanted to buy a gift for. Maybe a teacher or coworker. But you don’t want that to be a cause to go over your spending limit. So you should have a fallback gift position to avoid going out last minute and blowing your Christmas budget. 


I like to keep a present reserve for such occasions. Throughout the year, when I see a fantastic deal on toys, candles, or gadgets, I buy them and put them in my present reserve (a.k.a a plastic tote). That way, if I forget to buy a gift or get a short-notice invite, I have something on hand, so I don’t overspend. This trick comes especially handy for kids’ birthday party invites!





How to save the Most Holiday Money For Next Christmas

The sooner you can start planning, preparing, and saving for Christmas, the better. Waiting to save money until December 1 isn’t ideal. You know all year that Christmas is coming around. The best time to start saving for the holidays is January 1. Putting aside $50 per month for an entire year will give you a budget of $600 for the holidays. That spending budget might be plenty for you, or it may not put a dent in your Christmas spending, but either way, it’s a jumping-off point for you to know how much you should save each month. 


Our spending plan doesn’t change much each year. Each year, we know more or less who we’re buying for and what events we need to save for. So last year’s holiday spending limit and budget is a good jumping-off point for us to decide how much we should save to have the total we want to spend on Christmas next year. 


The holidays are a time to celebrate, not to be stressed out. To avoid stress, it’s best to learn how to save the most holiday money you can. And to do that, you need a spending limit and game plan. Finding ways to cut costs on top of all that gives you time to focus on what’s most important to you during the holidays, instead of financial stress.