Give yourself a gift: Cut back on unnecessary spending this holiday season

With the holiday season around the corner, it’s important to start checking your list twice now so that your wallet can jingle all the way through December.

According to a survey conducted by PwC, the average Canadian spent close to $1,600 last year during the holiday season. This is a problem as Canadians are already strapped for cash throughout the year. Between gift giving, entertaining, social engagements and contributing to charities, December can come with an expensive price tag.

And, let’s not forget, this is often followed by the post-holiday credit-card induced hangover in January where people start worrying about how much money they spent.   

This holiday why not give yourself a gift by spending less on gifts and celebrations. With all the sentiment and emotion that comes with the holidays, we often lose any shred of financial discipline that we may have during the rest of the year. The difference between wants and needs gets buried in the snow and we end up overspending! However, with a few handy tips on our list, it is possible to save like the grinch while still enjoying what’s important about the season.


  • Start a Secret Santa with family and friends and put a dollar limit on the gift. This way you only have to purchase one gift for this group. Remember not to overspend on the set limit.
  • Organize with family or friends a group gift and give someone on your list a bigger-ticket item instead of receiving smaller presents from everyone.
  • Search for coupons and deals on gifts you are going to purchase anyway.
  • Give someone the gift of your time and expertise instead of a physical item. Breakfast in bed during the holidays is a nice change from your normal routine.
  • You could even go gift-free, if you can get the buy-in from your family and friends. Encourage loved ones to volunteer at a local food bank, go caroling in the neighbourhood, or take the kids skating at a public park. That good feeling of being with your family and friends is often the best gift of all.


  • Go simple! Suggest a cheaper restaurant for your traditional holiday get togethers.
  • Even better, host a potluck and ask everyone to bring something. You could get creative by asking party guests to bring a holiday dish that is traditional and special to them. 
  • Wear the same clothes to several holiday parties (I would have absolutely no problem with this, but my wife would rather have a root canal then show up with the same outfit twice).
  • Just say no to events that aren’t a priority. Stay at home and enjoy the seasonal TV and Netflix.


  • Use public transportation instead of Uber or driving, and save on parking.
  • If you’re travelling home for the holidays, redeem credit card points to cover the cost of travel.
  • If you are flying, try to fly on off days to save on airfare.

One last thought: Try to use cash instead of credit cards when holiday shopping.  When you buy things with cash, you experience what psychologists refer to as “the pain of payment,” which means it hurts more than if you had used plastic. This should help reduce spending.

This holiday season put yourself to the test! Be like the grinch when it comes to your wallet but keep the spirit and goodwill of the season alive by focusing on what really counts – family and friends. You and your wallet won’t regret it.


Have any suggestions for saving money or alternatives to gift giving during the holidays? Post a comment below.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

About the Author

Bill Stephenson, CPA, CMA

Bill is a financial literacy volunteer with CPA Canada. He has broad experience in financial management, process improvement and assisting organizations that are undergoing transition. He has worked as both an accounting instructor and corporate trainer and is committed to promoting financial awareness and education. He can be reached at: