This post is sponsored by American Express. All views and opinions expressed represent my own.

It’s December and you know what that means. It’s officially the holiday season and I couldn’t be happier!

This for me is the happiest time of year. I love listening to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas on repeat. I love watching Love Actually followed by The Holiday for the umpteenth time. I love eating all the carbs, drinking mulled wine by the fire and of course spending quality time with friends and family. 

What I don’t love is the pressure to spend, spend, SPEND! I’ve worked so hard all year to curb my spending and live below my means. I do not want to undo all my hard work right before the year’s end.

Luckily, I’ve got a plan. First, my husband and I booked flights back home in September for a really good price. And we’re staying at my parents place for free and will get around via public transit. Also, instead of me having to buy presents for everyone in my family (my parents, two sisters, brother-in-law & husband), this year we are doing a gift exchange again.

This is the second year we’ve done this, and I’m so glad it’s now becoming a tradition. Last year we actually broke with this new tradition and decided to nix gifts altogether. The reason being was that I had just given notice at my job and a few other family members were in between jobs. Buying gifts when a good number of us felt uneasy spending money just didn’t make sense at the time, so we had our first no-gift Christmas last year.

But this year everyone is gainfully employed (thankfully!), and we’ve decided to go back to the gift exchange. But even though we’re keeping our costs low doing this, no matter what the holidays are always an expensive with higher grocery bills, parties on top of parties, and buying a new outfit or two.

That’s why I always try to abide by these 4 simple rules so I don’t go overboard and spend more than I want to. Hopefully these little money-saving tactics can help you too, but let me know in the comments what you do to try to stay on budget during the holidays!.

1. Shop Online to Get Free Shipping

Yes, I am flying back home, but I don’t want to waste valuable luggage space with a present. That and I usually just bring a carry-on with me because it’s free, and yes, I’m too cheap to pay for a checked bag.

So, every single year I buy whatever gifts I need online and ship them right to my parents place. Then, when I get there I have a stash of wrapping paper from earlier years I use to wrap them.

And if you’re asking yourself “But don’t you spend money on shipping?” the answer is “Not really.” Sometimes if I find something really great for a good price, I’ll spend the money on shipping. But in general I shop at online stores that offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount like Amazon or Indigo.

2. Use Promo Codes & Coupons

On top using e-commerce sites that offer free shipping, I also try to save money by Googling for special promo codes and coupons. If there’s a pop-up that asks for my email in exchange for 10% off, heck yes I’m gonna sign up to that newsletter. If there’s a promo code out there to save 15% off my purchase, you bet I’m gonna scour the internet for a promo code that works with my checkout cart!

I know most people might think it’s a hassle, but just think of it this way. If you did this for every gift you bought every year for the next 10 years, think of how much money you could save by just not being lazy. Probably hundreds if not thousands of dollars! To me, that’s totally worth it.

3. Use Your Credit Card to Earn Rewards

When I shop online, I also always make sure to use my credit card to earn points or get cash back. But aside from gifts, another expense that comes up a lot for me during the holidays is food. I like to buy groceries for the family so I can make meals and bake goodies. I also go out to eat a lot to reconnect with friends.

I make sure to put all of these expenses on my credit card because I get points or cash back on these purchases, and usually most credit cards give you the highest rewards for grocery and restaurant related purchases.

For instance, let’s take the SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express, which currently ranks as the top cash back credit card by Rewards Canada and Rate Supermarket. Right now, you can earn up to 5% cashback on gas, groceries and restaurants for the first 6 months up to $300. You’d also earn 2% on all other purchases and when the welcome rate ends. This offer is obviously only for new card members, but it’s a pretty sweet deal nonetheless.

Click here to learn more about it »

SimplyCash American Express

4. Go Old-School & Make Something from Scratch

This one may sound like a bit of a cheap skate move, but I’m not suggesting you make a macaroni art sculpture and call it a day. No, I’m saying if you have a hidden talent for something, this is your time to shine!

If you’re a master knitter, take this opportunity to knit the raddest Gryffindor-inspired scarf for your Harry Potter loving brother-in-law.

If you’re a future candidate for The Great Canadian Baking Show, then bake the yummiest assortment of cakes, cookies and Nanaimo bars your family has ever tasted.

If you’re an amazing artist like my dad, paint an amazing watercolour like this one he did of the Toronto skyline he based off a photo I took on my iPhone (yeah, he’s DAMN good!).

I’m telling you, this isn’t the cheap way out. Making your own gifts may actually be more memorable and thoughtful than something you’d buy from a store.

How do you try to stay on budget during the holidays?

I share my 4 top tips for how to save money during the holidays, and one those tips includes using a good credit card to get rewards on your purchases! Or, just use this time of year to use your points or cashback to spend during the holidays so you money!