Tips for a Frugal Holiday Season

December. The heart of the holiday season. I love the festivities, the time with family and friends, the good food, and all the lights. What I don’t love is how commercial the holiday season has become. There is so much focus on buying gifts, spending money. Black Friday – commonly (inaccurately) thought to be named for being the day that retailers make it into “the black” financially for the year – has expanded to include pre-Thanksgiving sales, stores opening on Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. Ok, so I support Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday – shopping locally and supporting small businesses is great in so many ways, as is giving to charity – but the common theme among all of this is: spend money. I personally want to what matters most – the people. Here are some ways that I keep my holiday season frugal.

text "Tips for a Frugal Holiday Season" overlaid on an image of a reg globe ornament with Christmas lights out of focus in the background

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure Policy for more information.

Frugal Holiday Tip #1: If you don’t need it, don’t buy it

“But this sale is so good!” It doesn’t matter if that TV is 75% off, or those oven mitts only cost $1. If I don’t need a TV, or oven mitts, purchasing either of those things is money wasted. While holiday shopping, because yes, I still do buy gifts for some people, retailers barrage me with “stuff”. So. Much. Stuff. It makes me feel like I need all sorts of things that I never considered even wanting!

I avoid being overwhelmed by this feeling by making lists and, for the most part, sticking to them. Sometimes, I may see something and it reminds me that it was something I had been wanting. In that case, if it is a good deal, I may purchase it. But, if it’s not on my list and I don’t need it, I don’t buy it and the money stays in my bank account!

Frugal Holiday Tip #2: Avoid purchasing low quality items

I feel like during the holiday season more than ever, I find low cost, low quality items. Things I consider cheap, “junk”. Here is one place where I can define my consideration of the difference between frugal and cheap. Cheap items are inexpensive, and quality can be anywhere from awful to good. Frugal items are good quality, and price may be anywhere from inexpensive to expensive.

An example that pops into my mind is electronics. On a recent shopping trip, I passed through the Christmas gift section. There were a lot of cheap electronics: phone chargers, bluetooth speakers, waterproof shower speakers. I own and use all of these items, but I am very discerning when I purchase them.

While I buy local and support small businesses when I can, I like to use Amazon to read reviews of items before I purchase. It is rare that I will purchase something with less than a 4-star Amazon review, and depending on the item, I will look for at least 50, 100, sometimes 1000 reviews. This gives me enough data (yup, a scientist at heart here) to have confidence that the item I am planning to purchase is good/reliable. Sometimes I will pay a little more. Maybe the item I buy costs twice as much, but if it lasts me 3 times as long, it was worth it. For example, I selected this portable bluetooth speaker because it had features I wanted, but to narrow down between a few that met my needs, I used Amazon reviews. 4.5 stars with over 4,500 reviews. It really is a great speaker.

Frugal Holiday Tip #3: Use reusable gift wrapping

reusable fabric gift bag and tag

When gifting, I opt for reusable gift wrapping, like the gift bags and tags that I make. This works best for families or friend groups that gift for each other, so the bags will keep being used over and over in the same group – it won’t be very frugal if gift bags are always given away and the maker cannot reuse them. I use these gift bags with my family and they are well-liked.

There is upfront cost and effort to make these reusable gift bags, but since they can be reused likely hundreds of times, they have long term cost savings. The fabric I used to make my gift bags was a huge thrifted tablecloth for $5, and if I used it all to make reusable bags, I probably could have made 20 or more medium-large size bags. Excluding the cost of my time, I could not have purchased that many paper gift bags for $5, and my reusable bags are much more environmentally friendly!

An easier way to reuse gift wrapping is to use paper gift bags, and just reuse them! I did this for years before I began making fabric reusable gift bags, and I still do.

Frugal Holiday Tip #4: reuse holiday decorations year to year

This tip applies for all seasonal decorations. Buy (or make!) at least decent quality decorations. I take care of my decorations, wrapping as necessary and packing them up at the end of the season. Rather than replacing an entire set of lights, I replace light bulbs and fuses in light strands when they blow. I reuse garlands and ornaments for my Christmas tree. I very rarely purchase new holiday decorations. When I do, it is thought out (I do not allow myself impulse purchases), and either to replace something that is very worn, or to add decorations to an area that previously had none.

According to a survey conducted by LendEDU, in 2019, Americans plan to spend, on average, about $100 on Christmas decorations. This year, I spent about $3, on bows to spice up a lighted garland. Everything else is reused. My wreaths are about 10 years old. Lights are about 5 (I upgraded to LED when some of the stores were recycling incandescent light strings several years back). Other decorations were slowly acquired over the years, many from when I was a child, and several others, given to me as Christmas gifts over the years. I am quite happy to have an extra $97 in my bank account this year, next year, last year, and all the other years I choose to carefully take care of my decorations so they will last for years, save me money, and stay out of the landfill.

Frugal Holiday Tip #5: make instead of buy gifts

handmade crochet trivet and wooden spoon.

I know a lot of people who really appreciate handmade gifts. Even (especially?) as a crafty person who can make a lot of things myself, I truly appreciate the thought, time and effort that goes into making handmade gifts. For people who have hobbies creating things, creating handmade gifts can be easier, but there are still things that anyone can do!

Note: not all handmade gifts are inexpensive to make, as supplies can be very costly! Additionally, what handmade gifts save in money, they cost in time. This is a trade-off that needs to be considered. For example, one year when I had lots of time, I crocheted trivets for many of my family and friends and gifted them with a wooden spoon that I wood burned. This year, when I have less available time, I have elected for less time-intensive gifts, which sometimes do cost more.

This post from The Spruce has 100 DIY gift ideas. While not holiday themed, it gives an idea of all of the different types of things a person could make! Not crafty? No problem! There are plenty of ideas that would work, like soup in a jar, cookies in a jar, homemade limoncello, and more.

Another idea that costs next to nothing but time t make – a coupon book! This could be things like doing chores that another person in the household normally does, giving a shoulder massage, taking someone out to lunch (different than a gift card, this includes quality time together), or anything else that the gift receiver would appreciate. This “coupon book” could be printed, or hand written, and stapled or paper clipped together.

However you spend your holiday season, I hope it’s a great one!

Do you have any frugal holiday tips? Please share in the comments below!

Great Money Making Apps and Websites – an update for 2019

Back in 2017, I wrote about my favorite apps and websites for making a little extra money. Now that it’s been a few years, it’s time for a money making app update! Which apps and sites do I still like, which ones are not longer working for me, and what new ones have I found? Read on to find out!

stacks of coins with greenery in the background, and text "Great Money Making Apps and Websites - an update for 2019"

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure Policy for more information.

My Favorite money making apps and websites

1. Swagbucks

Swagbucks is still far and away my favorite way to make money online.  Through this money making app and website, users complete activities to earn points, which can be redeemed for gift cards.  

There are many ways to earn points through the app and the website, including taking surveys, watching videos, clicking links from the Swagbucks website to retailer websites before making a purchase, and more. I use the app on my phone and have it play videos when I’m not using my phone.  When on my computer I play videos in the background or click through other activities.  

Every day there is a “Daily Goal” of points to earn, and users get a bonus if you complete that goal.  Swagbucks users get additional bonus points for meeting the daily goal for 7, 14, or 21 consecutive days, or all days in a month.  Examples of gift cards available are Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart, Marshalls; some grocery stores; various restaurants; airlines; cruise lines; gas stations; retail stores  including clothing, drug, pet, and electronics stores; and more.

Similar to Receipt Hog, Fetch Rewards, and Receipt Pal (below), Swagbucks, through their Swagbucks Answer app, as a simple way to earn points by taking a photo of receipts. It earns 2 points (equivalent to 2 cents) per receipt uploaded.  

Using this money making app and website I am still consistently making about $75/ month in gift cards. I have earned $3,930 through Swagbucks in the 4.5 years that I have been using the website/app. If you sign up for Swagbucks using my referral link, we both get 300 bonus Swagbucks (equivalent to $3) if you earn 300 SB within your first 30 days as a member.

Swagbucks homepage

2. Rakuten (formerly Ebates)

Rakuten, formerly called Ebates, is a money making app and website that allows users to earn cash back by shopping at online retailers when users navigate to the retailer website through the Rakuten website or app.  Earnings are paid every 3 months, as long as the user has earned over $5 during the previous quarter.  

My first year using this site I earned over $70.  More recently I have earned slightly less, as I shop around to determine which website provides the most cash back from my purchase (see items 1 and 7 in this list).   I have earned $250 in 5.5 years using Rakuten. I could have earned more, but due to overlap between Rakuten and Swagbucks and my preference for Swagbucks, I have more earnings from Swagbucks and less from Rakuten.

Overall, Rakuten is still a great money making app/website. If you would like a referral link, send me a message from my About Me page. If you sign up from my referral link, we both get $25 after you make your first purchase of $25 or more.

3. Receipt Hog

Receipt Hog is a money making app for Android and iOS smartphones.  With this app, users just take pictures of all their store receipts. Almost all receipts, except gas and restaurant (and maybe a few others), are worth points; receipts not eligible for points are eligible for “spins” which may results in points. When users earn enough points they can cash it in for Amazon gift cards, money to their Pay Pal account, or Visa gift cards. 

Earning is not super fast, but it is quick and easy to snap a picture of each receipt, and free money is free money! Being frugal, I am not a big shopper. It takes me about a year and a half to earn a $40 gift card. There are options to cash out $5, $15, $25, and $40. Saving up for the $40 gift card gives the most bang for the buck (fewest points per dollar), so I always choose to wait and save for those. There is currently no referral program for Receipt Hog.

image of Receipt Hog website

4. Ibotta

Ibotta is a money making app has rebates for specific retailers.  There are many grocery and drug stores as well as other retailers such as home improvement, clothing, and electronics. After making a purchase, users scan the barcode of the eligible product then take a picture of their receipt.  

This app mostly has rebates for brand name products, but most weeks there are one or more “any brand” item, plus an “any item” item which just requires any purchase to have been made at a participating retailer. This is where I make most of my money with this app.  Some stores allow linking of loyalty cards, which eliminates the need to scan barcodes and photograph receipts. As with Receipt Hog, I earn fairly slowly, but again, every little bit counts. I have earned $113 in 5 years.

5. Fetch Rewards

Fetch Rewards is a money making app that awards points to users for taking a photo of grocery, pharmacy, and some other stores’ receipts. Each eligible receipt is worth at least 25 points. Some receipts are worth additional points, if certain specific products were purchased. Once a minimum of 3,000 points are earned, the points can be redeemed for gift cards for a wide variety of places, including Visa gift cards, restaurants, travel, electronics stores, art stores, home goods stores, and more.

1,000 points = $1, so each 25 point receipt is only worth 2.5 cents. Put another way, it will take 120 receipts earning the minimum number of points to earn enough to purchase the smallest gift card. This app will certainly be a slow earner, but similar to Receipt Hog, it is very quick to scan receipts.

6. Receipt Pal

Receipt Pal is similar to Receipt Hog and Fetch Rewards in that points are awarded for taking a photo of grocery (and some other) store receipts in the app. This app requires 4 receipts be uploaded to complete one “card” which is worth 100 points, and there are timeframes in which the receipts need to be uploaded. Essentially, each receipt is worth 25 points, but if not enough receipts are uploaded in a given timeframe, none of the receipts have value. There are sweepstakes bonuses available after “cards” are completed and verified.

The point structure is variable like in Receipt Hog: if a user saves up more points, the value of each point is higher. For example, a $5 Amazon gift card costs 2,200 points making points worth $5/2,200=$0.00227 (so 1 receipt = 25 points = 5.68 cents). A $25 Amazon gift card costs 9,250 points, making those points worth $25/9,250=$0.00270 (so 1 receipt = 25 points = 6.56 cents). Each receipt is worth a bit more in Receipt Pal than in Receipt Hog, Fetch Rewards, or Swagbucks, but earning is still pretty slow on this app. Just like Receipt Hog and Fetch Rewards, it is so quick to scan my receipts that it is worth it for the few dollars per year that I expect to earn by using this money making app.

7. Bank and Credit Card Reward Websites

Bank and credit card reward websites.  Many credit card companies have websites that will give users cash back on purchases when users navigate to online retailer websites and make a purchase (like how users earn cash back with Rakuten, and one way to earn points with Swagbucks.  Navy Federal Credit Union has a Member Deals for credit card customers.  Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards has a shopping page for credit card customers.  Other credit card companies may have similar sites, so it might be worth checking out yours!

8. is my favorite website for finding coupon codes and printable and mobile coupons for online and brick-and-mortar stores.  Almost everywhere I shop has a page on RetailMeNot, and I have never found a coupon that was NOT on the RetailMeNot page.  This is my one stop shop for online coupons!

9. National Consumer Panel

I joined National Consumer Panel (NCP) in January 2016. This is an invitation only panel that seeks to understand consumer purchasing. It is by far the most labor intensive money making app I use for shopping, but the payouts are a bit higher than the other apps.

To participate in NCP, a user shops as ususal, and after each shopping trip, scans the barcode of each individual item; indicates the price, if the item was in sale, if a coupon was used in the purchase of the item, and a few more details. Users are supposed to report all shopping trips each week. Points are awarded each week based on how many sequential weeks shopping trips have been reported. Additional points are awarded for participating in surveys.

I typically earn enough points for a $50 gift certificate every 8 months. Gift certificates are available at Amazon, iTunes, and, in increments of $5, $10, $25, or $50, depending on the store selected.

If you are interested in joining National Consumer Panel, send me a message from my About Me page and the next time they are accepting referrals, I will send one to you. NOTE: this is an invitation only panel and they only accept referrals periodically, so I can only send referral links during timeframes when NCP provides them to me. The last one was in April 2019.

image of National Consumer Panel member login website

Which money making apps and websites didn’t make the cut in 2019?

My previous list included Swagbucks, Ebates, Receipt Hog, Ibotta, Checkout 51, Bank and Credit CardReward Websites, and

The money making app that did not make the cut in the 2019 article is Checkout 51. Over time, this app evolved to be exclusively brand name offers. As part of my frugal shopping, I mostly purchase store brand items. While I do sometimes purchase brand names (usually when there is not a store brand option), I went months, then years of never finding an item in Checkout 51 that I needed to purchase, so I stopped using this app. For those who do purchase a lot of brand name items, Checkout 51 still might be an app worth checking out.

Additionally, I did try SavingStar. I found that it had a LOT of the same coupons as Checkout 51, so there is great possibility for “double dipping” and getting to use the coupon twice – once from each app.

What money making apps and websites have I started using since 2017?

New money making apps that I use include Fetch Rewards and Receipt Pal. They are both quite similar to Receipt Hog in that they simply require taking a picture of a receipt in the app to earn points which can later be converted to gift cards. These apps are very quick to use, and earn money slowly but steadily.

I added National Consumer Panel to my list in 2019, though I was using it in 2017. Previously I excluded it because it was invitation only, it was labor intensive, and it was not very user friendly in the early days that I used it. I find the program a lot easier to use now – am am not sure how much NCP has improved or I have gotten used to it. Probably they have improved a lot, and I have learned a bit. I also wanted to let my readers know that this program exists, in case they want a referral next time that option comes around.

Do you have other apps or websites that you like to use to save or earn money? Please share with us in the comments below!