MNP’s 24 Holiday Debt Savings Tips

2020-12-23   minute read

Grant Bazian

Make 2020 the year you enjoy the festive season without the all-too predictable festive regret

We love the holidays here at MNP. But we hate the stress and financial difficulties it brings to millions of Canadian households every year. There are great ways to enjoy the festive season without breaking the bank — and we love sharing them with you. That’s why out team comes together to bring you our 24 best tips to enjoy the holiday season without going into debt.

Many of this year’s tips are new twists on old favourites. A couple are unique to our (hopefully one-off) pandemic-afflicted year. All are guaranteed to help you reframe how you spend money and prepare for future holiday seasons.

Keep reading to see the full list, and be sure to let our team know which ones resonated most for you!

Cap your spending

Do you enter the holiday season knowing how much you intend to spend on gifts, stocking stuffers, cards, food, and decorations? Or do you find yourself accounting for your purchases when the credit card bill comes at the end of the month?

Setting some sort of hard ceiling for your spending can help protect against the negative effects of holiday fever. Whether you’ve been contributing to a savings account or envelope throughout the year, or use a spreadsheet or good old-fashioned budget, begin with a number in mind and stop spending once you’ve hit your limit.

Draw names

Rarely is it practical to buy gifts for every family member, friend, and co-worker on your list. You may end up spending more than you can afford, struggling to decide who does and doesn’t get a gift, or resorting to small forgettable presents for everyone just to keep things affordable. This increases the chances for hurt feelings and broken budgets and completely ruins the spirit of the season.

Pulling names from a hat is a fantastic way to ease the tension. Whether it’s a secret Santa (nobody knows who is buying for anyone else), or an open draw, focusing your time and attention on only one other person makes gift giving more fun, more personalized, and much more affordable.

Set a limit

It can feel extremely disheartening to open a gift from a loved one only to realize its monetary value is significantly higher than you spent on them. Of course, the it’s the thought that counts and gift giving should never be a competition to see who can outspend whom. But, the fear is always in the back of our minds, nonetheless.

The easiest way to avoid this veritable arms race is to set an agreed upon dollar limit for all gifts. Now instead of worrying about breaking your budget or attaching a dollar value to your relationship, your only competition is who can buy the most considerate gift for $50 (or whatever value you choose).

Gift an act of service

If you have specialized skills or extra time on your hands, giving an act of service can help save money and truly personalize the experience for your recipient. The possibilities are endless, too. It could be something as simple as monthly house cleaning services for a year, or as complicated as renovating a bathroom. The only limit is your imagination.

Look for bargains

With all the buying options at your fingertips these days — not to mention all the Black Friday, cyber Monday, and pre-holiday sales — you should almost never have to pay full price for any item on your list. Do some comparison shopping before you leave the house or click that buy button. Look for retailers who price match, or even better, beat competitors’ prices.

Don’t forget to look for free shipping and free return policies for online items, too. It may be the thought that counts, but you there’s never been more opportunities to buy more thought for less.

Leave the plastic at home

At this point, that post-holiday credit card bill has become an all-out cliché. Consider making your holidays a debt free affair. Whether you save up throughout the year or simply find a way to factor the added costs into your December budget, find a way to use only Interac and cash for your holiday spending. You’ll thank yourself come January.

Shop with precision

There’s a scientific law you won’t find in any peer reviewed journals, but we can promise is nearly infallible in its accuracy:

The amount of money any person spends over the holidays is directly proportionate to the length of time they spend in any given shop, mall, or ecommerce marketplace.

The more targeted and efficient you can be with your shopping, the less tempted you’ll be to add “just one more piece” to someone’s gift. You’ll also avoid the urge to treat yourself after hours on your feet and fighting the crowds. You’d be amazed how much holiday shoppers spend on snacks and meals during long, drawn out days at the mall.

Eliminate the guesswork

Be straightforward with family and friends about what you do and don’t need. It may feel awkward at first, but this simple act of honesty can be extremely helpful for giver and receiver alike. You can save time for your friends and loved, and even save them some money by peppering in a few low-priced items. You also ensure you’re getting what you really need — even if its basic necessities or help paying off debt — and would have to spend money on otherwise.

Curb the urge to splurge

Take some time during the lead up to the holiday season to sort through your closet and storage areas and get rid of any old, unwanted, or worn out items. It can be tempting to treat yourself amid treating everyone else. However, simply seeing how much you already have and how much you’re likely to receive in the months ahead can really put things into perspective.

You may also find items to donate or sell, topping up your tank of warm fuzzies and potentially generating some much-needed cash to put against any holiday debt.

Make a list

A well-defined holiday shopping list helps you keep track of four very important pieces of information:

  1. Everyone you need to shop for
  2. What gifts you intend on purchasing for each person
  3. Your intended spending target vs. actual spend
  4. Any outstanding purchases

Mental overload is rampant over the holidays and self-control is already at a premium. Your budget will almost certainly go out the window if you have to make a last-minute dash to buy for that one person who slipped your mind. A list can make all the difference.

Avoid rush shipping charges

Free two-day shipping is truly a wonder of the modern world. Only, it never seems to be available on that one item you really need to buy. If you’re willing to wait a week or two, there is very little reason you should have to pay for shipping at all — but those rush charges can really take a toll on your budget. The earlier you can place your online orders, the cheaper and less stressful your holidays will be.

Keep it small

Given the continued spread of COVID-19 across Canada — and significant restrictions on social gatherings, depending on where you live — this is not the year for large holiday gatherings. Disappointing though it may be, keep things intimate and consider this a one-year break from the high food costs. 

Stay home

Likewise, this is certainly not a great year for travel. Aside from the obvious concerns about either spreading the COVID virus to a smaller community or bringing it back from a larger one, you can also reduce your holiday costs considerably by staying closer to home.

Manage your energy consumption

Everyone loves a good holiday light display, but even the most beautiful set-up is only going to be visible between sunset and the time everyone goes to bed. Put your lights on a timer to save on energy costs. Switching to low-wattage LEDs can also significantly reduce your power consumption and the number of bulbs you’ll have to replace over the lifetime of your lights. 


The practice is a bit of a taboo — but regifting can make for a very heartwarming experience for both parties if done with right intentions. Look for items like a cherished heirloom, an appliance you’ve never (or gently) used that you know the recipient would get even more value from.

Values instead of value

Even if you don’t have a defined limit spending limit with family or friends, you can still break the cycle of trying to outspend one another. When people say it’s the thought that counts, what they really mean is that you’ve taken time to choose a gift that speaks to the recipient’s deepest and most cherished values.

Consider, for example, you have a family member who really loves coffee. A bag of artisanal coffee beans may not cost as much as a pair or diamond earrings. But then diamond earrings could never warm her heart the same way as a tasty cup of joe on a frigid winter morning.

Make a plan to get out of debt

There are hundreds of reasons why you may not be able to avoid using your credit card or line of credit this holiday season. But there isn’t a single reason why you shouldn’t know (a) how much you’ve spent on credit or (b) how you plan to pay those purchases off well before you get that bill in the mail.

On a spreadsheet or sheet of paper, write down how much you’ve spent. Now decide when you’d like to be rid of your holiday debt. Working backwards, this will give you a monthly payment target (minus interest charges) you’ll need to hit to reach your goal. This may require cutting back on some non-essential spending over the next few pay periods, so don’t forget to include these details as well.

Share the load

You don’t have to bear the burden of gift giving alone. If you know there’s an expensive item a friend or family member really needs this holiday season, recruit help to make it a possibility. You’d be amazed how touched some people will feel when they realize several over their loved ones have coordinated and pooled funds to make their dream come true.

Again, it’s not the number of presents under the tree, but the thought behind them that really makes the experience special.

Reap the ultimate cashback reward

If a friend or family member is passionate about a charitable cause, donating in their name can be extremely impactful. Many organizations offer holiday packages which include small trinkets and stories about the impact of the donation. Tears of joy will almost certainly follow.

Better yet, you can write off a portion of the gift come tax time, either increasing the amount you can give or alleviating the financial pressure of your gift depending on your situation. 

Get creative

Many people have fond memories from primary school of making a holiday craft for mom or dad and watching them open it on the big day. Maybe it’s time to resurrect your creative skills and rekindle that excitement. Make a scrapbook, write a song, build a piece of furniture, paint a picture, create a piece of pottery. Give someone a heartfelt gift that only you could possibly give them this year.

Look up leftover recipes

Depending on the size of your gathering this year, it’s likely you’ll have a fair amount of food left over from one or both of your feasts. Turkey sandwiches are great, but there are literally hundreds of recipes out there that can help you put a fresh twist on all those holiday fixings. If you’re lucky, you might be able to save on a week’s worth of groceries — and put that money toward your holiday debt.

Begin your debt free resolution today

Getting out of debt is consistently near the top of the most common New Years resolutions. But there’s no rule that says you have to wait for January 1 to get started. At the very least, begin planning how you intend to achieve your goal now. Our website has several DIY solutions to help you find your way forward.

If your debt situation is severe, MNP Licensed Insolvency Trustees also provide Free Confidential Consultations to help you understand your options. Why not get an appointment in the calendar today?

Double check your list

Remember your list? Even if you think you ticked off everything, it’s a good idea to give it one last read through a day or two before the holiday season. At best, it will calm your nerves and reassure you everything’s going to be A-Okay and you’re ready to kick back and enjoy the holidays. But it could be you forgot something and still have time to run out and get it. Better to find out now than half an hour before all the stores close! 

Start planning for next year

If you can set aside just $10.42 every week between the end of this December, you’ll have saved $500 by the beginning of the next holiday shopping season. This is truly the surest way to prevent yourself from overspending and going into debt. And you’ll be amazed how much smoother, joyous, and generous the holidays can feel when you’re not constantly worrying about how you’ll pay for it all. Especially if you can keep in mind all the tips above.

On behalf of myself and everyone at MNP, we hope you have a safe, healthy, and debt free holiday season!

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