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Holiday Money Tips From Us At Betterment

We know that the holidays can bring increased financial stress. Here are a few holiday money tips—straight from us to you.

Articles by Fred Egler, CFP®
By Fred Egler, CFP® Financial Planner, Betterment Published Dec. 01, 2014 | Updated Dec. 04, 2019
Published Dec. 01, 2014 | Updated Dec. 04, 2019
7 min read
  • Make a budget for the holiday season as a starting point: include gifts, travel, and other holiday-related expenses, like groceries if you’re hosting a big meal.

  • Research gift prices online before purchasing, and try to take advantage of steep discounts offered through events such as Cyber Monday.

  • Do your shopping early to make sure you’re not spending too much on last-minute purchases that could be overly expensive.

Sticking to your financial plan can sometimes be difficult, especially during the holidays. A financial plan is all about prioritizing what’s important. During the holidays, we might not all choose to give gifts or host a big dinner, but we all have people in our lives that are important to us—and we want to show them that we care about them.

This might come in many forms, whether it’s remembering to send a card, spending quality time together, upholding long-time traditions (think Pilgrim Rick from This Is Us), or giving a thoughtful gift.

Everyone has their own strategy for navigating the holiday spending crunch. Personally, I like to make a list of people I know I’ll get gifts for, find something online that I’d think they’d like, and then cross their name off my list. That way I’ve accounted for everyone I care about, and there are no last minute financial surprises.

We all experience financial stress during the holidays—even us here at Betterment. We’ve got our own personal tricks and tips that we swear by, and we’d like to pass those on to you. Here’s to making the holidays less stressful on your wallet.

Lauren Yee | CRM Manager

I manage how we communicate with our customers to help them get the most out of their Betterment account.

Money tip: I’m a big Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal shopper. Leading up to the holidays, I scope out what I’m interested in purchasing (for gifts and myself!), and put purchases on hold because I know the best deals will come on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Monday. I also do a lot of comparison shopping to ensure I’m getting the lowest price. Free shipping and returns are also big things I look out for when making online purchases.

Lessons learned: Start really early. My Mom starts buying at least 6 months in advance. She’ll find the best deals on things from different places, so she’s not in a crunch come the holidays. When I was younger, I remember going to Macy’s with my parents during the days after Christmas to get the best deals since everything is super discounted then.

For inspiration on gift-wrapping and decorating, Martha Stewart is my go-to. Hacks like lining up the wrapping paper seams with the edges of the boxes make gifts look perfect.

Dana Trentalange | Investing Support Associate

I assist customers, whether that be with a transaction, helping them understand investing, or guiding them on how Betterment works.

Money tip: I like to purchase gifts in advance to spread out my spending for holiday shopping. I find that many stores I shop at will have promotions throughout the year that may be better than the promotions during the holiday season.

Lessons learned: Since I buy holiday gifts in advance, it’s important to have a spending limit set to ensure that I keep track of the amount I’ve spent on each gift.

Esther Jeon | Junior Product Designer

We deal with a lot of money movement and transactions. My day-to-day involves figuring out how to optimize cash flows and make them more intuitive.

Money tip: I just graduated from school, so I’m learning to manage my income and budget. This season, I’ve been budgeting and making a list of things I want to buy for family and friends so I can be more realistic and not overspend.

Lessons learned: One year I didn’t plan ahead for presents and was rushing to get things. I thought, “Maybe I can just make something!” but that never works out. I would end up just wasting time at the mall, and that’s not very efficient. Now if I think of something, I make a point to write it down on my phone, so I’m not scrambling for ideas. I also try to pay closer attention to what my friends and family hint at during the year.

Swapnil Desai | Business Intelligence Engineer

I’m a photography enthusiast who happens to be an analytics professional.

Money tip: I started an investment account called “Gifting Swapnil” last Thanksgiving when I realized that the budget I had the previous year fell short a few $. By this year, I’ve earned enough return on that investment to make sure I transition from buying-anyway-with-guilt to buying-anyway-being-financially-smart-and-happy.

Lessons learned: There will always be something that you end up buying on Thanksgiving that wasn’t something you planned for earlier. Hence, it is always better to have a buffer to your budget. Your buffer might even come in the form of investment returns or interest, depending on how you saved throughout the year.

Liz Chang | Marketing Analytics Manager

I crunch numbers to quantify people’s behavior to try to predict what they’re going to do next.

Money tip: If you don’t know what to get somebody, you can get them a gift card using your credit card bonus points, because they usually have good redemption rates. You can also save on wrapping paper and be environmentally-friendly by using newspaper instead.

Lessons learned: My friend group throws a holiday party every year, and we traditionally do a Secret Santa. As our price limit got higher, people started getting gifts they weren’t happy with—so we switched to White Elephant, which has been way less stressful. I’m a White Elephant proponent over Secret Santa any day!  I get more out of the experience than the material objects, and most of my friends feel the same.

Becca Herries | Executive Assistant

Young professional with an affinity for Google Calendar. Prefers to eat every two hours, but can be left unfed for up to four. 

Money tip: If you need dental work, aim to do this well before the holidays. Wisdom teeth extractions should not encroach on the budget you’ve set aside to get your Dad new polos. Even though John Herries has traditional taste, you can often sneak in a pastel or animal insignia.

Lessons learned: Love Actually is not a good movie.

Jon Stein | Founder and CEO

I started Betterment in 2010 to help people do what’s best for their money so that they can live better.

Money tip: My wife and I prefer to find gifts throughout the year. The best is when we take a trip, I’m buying things not for myself, but for everyone else. This way when we come to the holidays, and we give the gifts we found, we’re not only giving something unique that we might not find near our home in NYC, but we’re remembering that vacation and telling the story of our travels with our family all gathered together.

Lessons learned: This past summer we vacationed in Russia, seeing Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the countryside, all for the first time. Having gifts for each family member in mind as we traveled and visited local shops made for a fun game—like a scavenger hunt.

Danielle Shechtman | PR Manager

I help communicate to the public what Betterment is and what we stand for.

Money tip: As annoying as they can be, I find it helpful to subscribe to newsletters and emails from companies that I know I want to buy gifts from. They always send deals and sales to their subscribers, especially around the holidays. This can help save a lot of money when it comes to holiday shopping.

Lessons learned: It’s not about how much you spend on a gift for someone, but how thoughtful that gift is. In the past, I’ve tried going over the top for my family and friends when it comes to buying Hanukkah and Christmas gifts. I realized, however, that they are more appreciative when I gift them something personal and thoughtful. For example, when someone mindlessly says “I really wish I had ‘X’,” store that in the back of your mind and buy it for them for the holidays. It shows that you listen to what they have to say, even if it’s just a passing mention.

Kiana Caston | Software Engineer, Web Guidance Team

I write code to make the web experience for users even better.

Money tip: My tip is more about a way to save money, and that’s by hand-making a gift. Whether it’s an ornament for an ornament exchange, a knitted scarf or hat, or a painting of something that person likes, I think something handmade shows thought. Plus, you can pick up a new hobby along the way!

Lessons learned: If you’re doing a Secret Santa, always check names, and don’t be afraid to ask someone that knows your Secret Santa well for gift tips. Also, when cooking a holiday meal for many people and potentially doubling the recipe, make sure you are doing the right math and remembering to double for every ingredient.

Brian Pollack | Senior Customer Insights Manager

I pay attention to the insights and feedback we get from our customers so that we can make a better product. I also send out surveys and conduct interviews.

Money tip: Rather than traveling over the holidays, save the money and stay local. Find cool things to do in your area that you haven’t done before. It might even be less crowded during the holidays, depending where you live.

Lessons learned: When I give Hanukkah gifts, I always try to think about a gift that could be mutually useful for both the giver and the receiver. For example, you could buy something for the house that you share, or, opt for an experience that you can both enjoy together.

Ashley Curran | Group Product Manager, Customer Engagement Team

I’m focused on keeping customers happy and my goal is to keep them with us as we grow and evolve.

Money tip: I start by estimating the number of people I’m gifting for and setting a target budget for each person. I divide that number by 12, and then I set aside money every month. I do the same for travel since my family is on the west coast and the holidays are an expensive time of year to travel. This way, gifting expenses aren’t a surprise, and I can comfortably travel to visit family. Setting aside these budgeted funds in a high-yield account helps me earn more on that cash throughout the year.

Lessons learned: Experiences over material gifts have always ended up feeling better for everyone involved. I prefer to create the memory. Whether it’s going to see a Christmas movie or the Nutcracker ballet, I try to make the gift and the time together all-in-one. Plus, it saves time.

When it comes to actual gifts, give yourself a break and don’t fire on all cylinders. Choose presentation OR content. For something simple like a gift card, put in a beautiful greeting card or tie it to an ornament. But with a substantial gift, like an InstaPot or theater tickets, it speaks for itself. Put a bow on it and call it a day! Cutting down on excess wrapping also cuts down on waste.

John Biscuti | Director of Customer Experience

I spend my days working to make our Customer Experience team the best in the industry. I’m lucky to have such an amazing team—they make coming to work a joy!

Money tip: The holidays are an expensive time no matter what, and on top of that, I also generally do some traveling in late December. I started saving really early. Starting in June, I put $50 a week into an investment account. The result is that this year, I haven’t felt the holiday crunch at all.

Lessons learned: I have a large family and we love giving gifts to one another, but a few years ago as our family grew, it started to get out of hand. Now, we do Secret Santa with a capped budget. It takes away so much of the shopping stress and makes the gift exchange a lot of fun.

Katie Knecht | Copywriter, Brand Creative Team

I write words to try and make something that’s complicated sound interesting and fun.

Money tip: This year for the first time, instead of feeling pressured to buy gifts for all of my friends, I decided to host a friend’s brunch. Everyone is coming over with their designated snack, and one $20 gift for an exchange. We’ll eat, hang out, and spend time together—which I feel is more important than spending hours researching the perfect gift.

Lessons learned: I have a note on my phone with a list of people I want to get holiday gifts for. Instead of starting it in November, I use it year-round and add ideas to it throughout the year. Sometimes I’ll buy gifts earlier in the year if something makes me think of that person. It helps me spread out the financial burden of the holidays across the year.


The views and opinions of the above individuals are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent those of Betterment.  

Contributing Authors

Lucia Mihalek
Investing Support Associate, Customer Support

Katie Marie
Content Manager, Betterment

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