Channel your holiday spirit on a shoestring with these easy ways to experience more and spend less this holiday season.

By Jenny Hoff

The holiday season is in full swing and, fortunately, Austin has had enough cool days to make it fairly easy to get into the holiday spirit. It’s also an easy time to start splurging. After all, holiday parties, dinners and gifts only come around once a year. Luckily, you don’t have to forgo a true holiday experience if you’re trying to stay on track financially. Here are some ideas for getting more out of this season while spending less.

Decorate with items from Austin’s awesome thrift stores.

We often think of gifts and food as the most expensive parts of the holiday season, but at $50 to $100 for a holiday wreath, decorating can eat up more of your budget than you might anticipate. Thrift stores are great for finding beautiful holiday decorations for your home. But unless you’re extremely patient and good at sifting through heaps of stuff to find those few hidden treasures, you should plan ahead. Head to a department store first for some decorating ideas and snap a few photos with your smartphone to use as inspiration when you hit the thrift stores.

Host a different kind of party.

Getting together with friends and family is what the season is all about. Gathering warms the soul when it’s cold outside and keeps our spirits high, even when we’re getting less sunshine and vitamin D. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy holiday dinner party, consider hosting an alternative get-together that’s much more budget-friendly. A potluck cuts food costs, a wreath-making party saves money and spurs creativity and a gift-wrapping party makes a tedious chore fun. The key is to make sure everyone contributes something so no one has to pay for everything. Just create a simple spreadsheet with everything that’s needed, share it with your friends and guests can fill in what they’ll bring.

Organize a toy swap.

Toy swaps can be a huge money saver for parents. While older kids might have their hearts set on the newest gadget (Pro tip: Look for deals on these items on eBay before hitting Amazon.), younger kids often like a variety of toys, and since they usually lose interest in any one toy after a few plays, you can swap some almost-new toys with fellow parents—and your kids likely won’t know the difference. Host your own toy-swapping party with neighborhood parents or with parents from your kids’ school and get more mileage out of all those toys that haven’t been touched in months. If a get- together feels like too much work, create another simple spreadsheet with all the toys you’re willing to swap (make sure they’re in good condition) and have other parents add swap items too.

Consider using a price-comparison app.

If you know you’ll buy new stuff this season, check out available tools to make sure you get the best price. The ShopSavvy app shows you where to get the best price for items you want to buy. The free Shopular app helps you find in-store and online coupons. And Honey is an app you install on your computer that automatically looks for discounts anytime you shop online. When shopping in person, always ask whether stores offer a price match, and look for coupons from competitors that they’ll honor. If you’re shopping for gift cards, check for discounted cards on websites like and

Enjoy an array of free activities in Austin.

From complimentary nights at the Austin Trail of Lights to numerous holiday strolls, Austin and the surrounding areas have endless options for free celebratory activities this season. Check out for a calendar of fun family-friendly activities and events that don’t require you to spend a dime to feel festive.

These are just a few ways you can create memories instead of debt this holiday season. Have fun, soak it all in and challenge yourself to spend a bit less this season to get your new year off to the right start. Happy holidays!



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