Holiday Shopping on a Budget | ModMoney

A Finance Blogger's Guide to Budget-Friendly Holiday Shopping

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With Thanksgiving upon us and the December holidays right around the corner, it's finally time to talk holiday shopping. And what better way to nurse a pumpkin pie hangover than to move on to the next holiday activity, am I right?

While December is a glittery, enchanting and peppermint mocha-filled time of year, it can also be stressful on our wallets. Because let's be honest, a holiday that revolves around "giving" also implies "spending." And while Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales offer toys and clothes and gadgets at low prices, it's so easy to go over budget. In fact, according to a National Retail Federation survey, consumers will spend an average of $1,047.83 this holiday season. What they don't tell you is that many will also emerge on January 1 in a pile of debt.

Now I'll get to the point. What can YOU really afford to spend this season? And how do you avoid spending too much? Consider this your one-stop guide to all things holiday shopping. Learn how to create a holiday budget and discover secret tricks to getting the best deals of the season. Happy (responsible) shopping!

How to Create a Holiday Budget

1. Determine what you can afford to spend.

Before you head down an online shopping, Cyber Monday rabbit hole, it's important to take a step back and evaluate your current financial status. How much can you actually afford to spend on holiday non-essentials this year?

Start by taking your after-tax monthly income. Then, subtract your monthly living expenses. That includes your rent, car payment, utility bills, groceries, etc. Basically everything you HAVE to pay this month. Also subtract any monthly payments you owe toward student loans or credit card debt. The resulting number should give you a sense for what you can spend on discretionary holiday purchases.

2. Make a list of your holiday expenses.

Think about all of the expenses you'll incur as a result of the holidays. Gifts for friends and family. Tips for special service people. Holiday cards and gift wrapping. Shipping costs. Home decor. Food and drinks if you're hosting a holiday dinner. Gas and airfare for holiday travel. The list is longer than you might expect.

Now, take your total budget and divide it among these line items. Now you know exactly how much you can spend on each gift to stay within your financial means.

3. Track your progress.

As you cross items off your list, be sure to track your expenses and compare them against your detailed budget. That way, if you go over budget on one item, you can start looking for ways to trim your expenses on another.

Cashback Apps for Holiday Shopping

Now comes the fun part...actually spending your holiday money! But before you start buying gifts, groceries, and holiday decor, read these tips to get the best deals and to earn money back on every purchase.

Cashback Apps for Holiday Shopping

Let me make this very clear. I NEVER shop online without going through a cashback site first. Why? Because they give you FREE money just for shopping!

Here's how they work. Cashback sites partner with retailers to pay you back a percentage of your purchase. So instead of heading straight to Bloomingdales to buy my favorite perfume, I would:

  1. Navigate to a cashback site.
  2. Search for Bloomingdales and see the current cashback rate.
  3. Click on the Bloomingdales logo.
  4. Shop like normal through the Bloomingdales site.
  5. Get a check in the mail from the cashback website.

Cashback apps are so easy to use, and they will cushion your wallet in case you go over your holiday budget. It happens to the best of us.

Rakuten Ebates Cashback

Rakuten (the old Ebates) is offering Double Cash Back sitewide on pre-Black Friday deals! Plus, you'll get $10 just for signing up through this link.

Mr. Rebates Cashback App

Mr. Rebates is another cashback site that has competitive cashback rates for retailers. Be sure to check the rates for all of these options to ensure you're getting the best deal!

Active Junky.jpg

Active Junky is a cashback site that dominates the athletic gear niche and partners with over 600 athletic retailers (think Nike, Under Armour, Athleta, Cabela's, Dick's, etc.). And you automatically get $10 just for signing up.


Lemoney often has the highest cashback rates I've seen, so this is definitely one to bookmark on your browser.

Holiday Shopping Apps

Beyond cashback websites, there are so many other technology tools out there to help you maximize every dollar you spend this season. Whether you're dining out, cooking at home, shopping for gifts, or decking your halls with holiday decor, there is an app that will help you save money and stick to your holiday budget. These will be my most-used apps this season.

Best App for Grocery Shopping: Ibotta

Groceries are one of my biggest-ticket items this time of year, which is why Ibotta is perfect for the holidays. After you go grocery shopping, scan your receipt into the Ibotta app and get paid based on the items you purchased. Everyone goes grocery shopping, so why not get paid for it?

Raise | Buy and Sell Gift Cards Online

Raise is such a fun app for the holidays because it allows you to buy and sell discounted gift cards. Before I make a purchase, I always check Raise to see if there are any discounted gift cards available. (I've been able to find SoulCycle and Nordstrom gift cards for 15% off or more!) On the flip side, if you receive a gift card this season that you'll never use, why not sell it and get the cash instead?

Best Cashback App: Dosh

If I'm shopping in-store or going out to eat at a restaurant, Dosh is the first app I check. Just connect your credit card to the app, use it to shop at thousands of partner stores and restaurants, and get automatic cash back.

Best Coupon Code App: Honey

Gone are the days when you have to manually test dozens of coupon codes to find the best promotion. The Honey browser plug-in is one of my most-used apps. It will automatically test every coupon code available at checkout and apply the one that saves you the most money.


Now that you have a solid budget and 8 new apps downloaded or bookmarked, it's time to shop! Happy holidays, y'all!

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