The MapleMoney Show » How to Save Money » Frugal Living

Ways to Make Christmas Fun and Affordable, with Lauren Greutman

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Do you find yourself going broke every Christmas? Do you feel yourself losing control over your spending? If so, you’re not alone. Thankfully, my guest this week is here to help.

Lauren Greutman is a financial coach who has appeared on The Today Show, The Rachael Ray Show, and Good Morning America, sharing simple, easy ways families can take back control of their money, live within their means, and create the happier life they’ve always dreamed of. I sat down with Lauren to find out how families can enjoy a debt-free and stress-free Christmas every year.

Early in our discussion, Lauren surprised me when she mentioned that she manages to get all of her Christmas shopping done without spending any money. She went on to explain the different strategies she employs to make it happen.

One thing Lauren does is layer savings in a strategic way so that you’re never paying full price for an item. This could be through the use of coupons, or shopping online through cash back rewards sites. She also uses gift cards strategically to save even more.

Lauren has a 4-gift rule with her kids. They can expect to get something that they want (that’s really nice), something they need, something to wear, and something to read. It’s a system that has prevented her Christmas shopping from spiralling out of control, as it does for so many of us.

If you’re inspired by Lauren’s message, you can take action today, by signing up for Lauren’s 30 Days to a Debt Free Christmas Challenge. It’s not too late!

Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor Wealthsimple will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights, and the environment. To get started with Socially Responsible Investing, head over to Wealthsimple today!

Episode Summary

  • You need to have a strategy to save for Christmas
  • How Lauren is able to do her Christmas shopping for free
  • The value of automating your Christmas savings
  • Tips on selling your stuff to pay for Christmas
  • Lauren explains her 4-gift rule
  • Why Lauren shares the Christmas gift budget with her children
  • Why do we get afraid of offending our children at Christmas time?
  • Just because it’s a deal, doesn’t mean it’s a deal for you

Read transcript

Do you find yourself going broke every Christmas? Do you feel yourself losing control over your spending? If so, you’re not alone. Thankfully, my guest this week is here to help. Lauren Greutman is a financial coach who has appeared on The Today Show, The Rachael Ray Show, and Good Morning America sharing simple, easy ways families can take control of their money, live within their means, and create the happier life they’ve always dreamed of. I sat down with Lauren to find out how families can enjoy a debt-free and stress-free Christmas, every year.

Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor, Wealthsimple, will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights, and the environment. To get started with socially responsible investing, head over to today. Now, let’s chat with Lauren… 

Tom: Hi, Lauren. Welcome to The Maple Money Show.

Lauren: Thanks for having me on, Tom. Glad to be here.

Tom: We’re getting close to Christmas and to me, and the people around me, it seems like Christmas is one of the times of the year where we’re most likely to get a little loose with our finances. You can budget well all year, yet Christmas just seems to sneak up on people and things are a little easier to get out of control. Parties come up you weren’t planning for. Or you want to get that one extra gift. And you don’t really think about the expensive meals. I just wanted to run through with you, some of the things you’ve done (and have helped others with) around saving money on this whole Christmas season.

Lauren: There are lots of different ways you can save money at Christmas but I think what it really comes down to is having a strategy. For me, it’s like a game. It’s the Christmas game… what’s my strategy? How are we going to make this all work out? There are a lot of different moving pieces to this. Number one, obviously, is Christmas budgeting. But you don’t have a budget unless you know who you’re shopping for. And that includes teachers, the mailman, the pastor. Whoever you shop for, write it all down. On top of that, where are you going to get money to buy these gifts? And how are you going to save money on the gifts you do buy? There is a multi-layer approach I teach. But a lot of people give up on the “just buy gifts” part. Not only can you save money on gifts you can get money back too. You can use coupons, get free gifts, use rewards and apps to get free gift cards to buy gifts with. I haven’t paid for Christmas presents in years because I do all of these strategies myself. 

Tom: Let’s jump into that part then. How do you stack all these things up so much that you’re not paying for gifts?

Lauren: One of the things I’ve always done for years and years and years is take surveys online. That’s a popular thing that we personal finance bloggers write about and talk about. Using credit card rewards. Going into my credit card rewards program and cashing out those rewards for gift cards if I’m not planning on travelling anytime soon. I also use cash-back sites. Some of my favourites are Rakuten and Swagbucks. Those are two that I’ve used throughout the year. I cash in the points I get from them and get gift cards. Another favourite app I love is Fetch Rewards. I’m always scanning my receipts all year. And because I have a blog, I use my referral code on that blog. I get an affiliate link or referral code. I use my actual referral code on that site to get gift cards. Then I use the gift cards to pay for Christmas. And I’m always looking for ways to make extra cash on the side as well. That money goes into a separate checking account. I’m saving up all year from all of these little places. Think about it this way, if you’re going to buy a gift… Let’s say you’re going to go to Walmart to buy gifts. This is how I would do it—the multi-level approach. I would go to my grocery store and buy gift cards in the amount of money I’m going to spend at Walmart because my grocery store will give me gas points so I will get a couple of free tanks of gas. From there, I would then take the gift cards, then go online and buy the stuff through a cash-back portal to get cashback. Sometimes it’s five to 10 percent cashback. Then I would select, pick up in-store. So, you’ve got a couple of tanks of free gas and an extra five to 10 percent cash back just by adding two quick and easy steps for those. That’s kind of how I mentally think about Christmas shopping. It’s not just going to the store to buy gifts. You might have saved up the money throughout the year but that’s not the last step. You should think about how you can price match the item or shop online at get a cash-back site. That’s another thing you can do. When you pick up the item you purchased online and you’ve found it at a lower price, a lot of stores will price match. Use an app. I have an app I love called the Flipp app. It’s actually a Canadian app. I don’t know if you knew that. 

Tom: Yeah, I’ve heard that. I use Flipp a lot. Not as much for price matching but for the flyers in general. They have those deals right in there. 

Lauren: Yes, I use it a lot for price matching. Especially on Black Friday. They have all the Black Friday ads in there. You can search PlayStation 5 to find where the best deals are. Bring the app into the store and show them. If they price match, they’ll price match it there. Now you’ve saved a third way on that same transaction. And it really doesn’t take that much time. It’s just learning how to layer these savings in a strategic way where you’re not paying full price. 

Tom: You mentioned Black Friday. Some people love Black Friday and some people hate it. Personally, I’m pro-Black Friday as long as you’re going in with a strategy—some sort of game plan where you know the things you want and you’re not going to be convinced to buy something else because it’s such a great deal. What are your thoughts on Black Friday?

Lauren: I always buy Tupperware on Black Friday. They always have my Tupperware buying price. That’s when you get the best deal on Tupperware. And I lose it all the time so it just makes sense. I actually agree with what you said, Tom. Don’t do in and just buy stuff for the sake of buying it. Do your due diligence and research ahead of time. We find deals right up until Christmas—the same price as Black Friday. For me, I’ve been in this industry for a long time and I’ve seen that a lot of it is just marketing. They do give a lot of great deals but they also have free shipping days which is December 14 and now people are going nuts on free shipping day. Then we’ll have the “last day to ship” before it gets to you on Christmas Day. They’re making up new days every year to get people to spend more money. Make your shopping list. See what the rock-bottom prices are and try to layer and stack those deals. 

Tom: More this year than ever, even though there is usually a Black Friday week, this year seems to have an additional week. It’s smart on their part, where if they can’t convince you to spend that week, they don’t risk you going somewhere else the next week.

Lauren: Exactly. When I started my website in 2009, I was more of a deal blogger. I posted a lot of deals. I stopped posting deals and started focusing more on budget content, debt-reduction content. I was a deal blogger for many, many years and it was so exhausting. It was all a marketing game. There are good deals but we found just as great deals online like Amazon—a  lot of different places that just offered the same (if not better) deals than Black Friday deals right up until Christmas. I don’t think we need to stress about it. You can find good deals right up until Christmas day. 

Tom: But that’s another thing I’ve done, too. I buy gifts for the kids when they’re on sale and available throughout the year, sometimes not even knowing this is going to be for Christmas. There are birthdays, there’s Christmas, Easter. There are all sorts of times to give the kids a toy or something. I often just buy whenever it comes up and keep it in a closet they haven’t found yet. 

Lauren: I love that.

Tom: You mentioned budgeting. Something like Christmas, I try to keep the same as other annual expenses. I pay my property tax annually so I can budget throughout the year and treat it like a monthly expense, even though it’s annual. Do you suggest doing this for Christmas? I guess you lumped together with Christmas in any of the other occasions into one fund, setting aside that money monthly?

Lauren: Yeah, I definitely recommend that. I love telling people about roundup apps. One is ACORN. My bank does a roundup account. If my purchase is $19.96 they’ll round it off, take the extra four cents and put it into a roundup savings account. My bank also has a rewards program. So, for however much money you spend from your checking account—it’s not even on a credit card, they give you rewards. I have $200 in my rewards account through a credit union I had. But some people really rely on programs like layaway from Walmart. And they got rid of layaway this year and started using a “Buy now, pay later” program with interest, which was really kind of detrimental on a lot of people because they really relied on that program. I think a lot of consumers don’t think about it. It sneaks up on us every year and then they’re scrambling. Anything that’s important to me, I try to put on auto because, with my finances, I try to keep them as simple as possible. When money comes in, whatever’s the most important goes out, automatically. Christmas is one of those things. Even if it’s $25 a month, $50 a month, that goes into a separate account you just don’t touch at all. That’s really going to help you when you get up to the holiday season so you don’t freak out because every year people think, “We’re fine,” then find out they’re not. It (Christmas) comes every year, people. You know it happens. If you get to this time of year and you’re still freaking out, there are options you can do. I think that’s what’s important. I know before we hit record, we were talking about how every November I do this 30-days to a Debt-free Christmas Challenge, for free on my website. One of the things I teach people to do in that challenge is going around your house and find things you’re not using anymore and sell them for cash to make extra money. One of the other things I teach people—not just in that course but on my YouTube channel and stuff, is how to go into thrift stores, find things, turn around and sell them on sites like Poshmark, eBay, or Mercari, for profit. I have a bunch of YouTube videos where I show people what the best things are to buy to do this. I just did it with four pairs of shoes I found at the thrift store and made $200 on them. There are options if you don’t have the finances right now. To get Christmas presents (so your kids don’t have to go without) think about asking for help from charitable organizations. There’s no shame in that as well. 

Tom: Yeah, that’s all great. I love the idea of being able to pick something up at a thrift store or a garage sale and reselling it. I’ve never done that. I’ve had Jason Butler on the show and we discussed this. It seems like often you need to sort of know the products you’re dealing with. He had some examples where he definitely did not know them and did just fine. I assume you kind of need to make sure that when you’re paying a certain price for something, you’re going to be able to make more money than that. 

Lauren: Yeah, there are a couple of different apps you can use. There’s the Amazon Seller app, which is a free app you can download. They have a barcode scanner right within the app. You can just go around the thrift store and literally scan barcodes of things and it’ll tell you what it would sell for on Amazon after their fees. There are so many things in thrift stores that are new, with tags, still in the packages. I’ll just go around and scan everything. You can do that with books, especially if you find textbooks or hardcover cookbooks. If they’re old Betty Crocker—the three-ring binder, old Betty Crocker cookbooks from when our grandmas were around. Those are worth a lot of money, $100, $200 sometimes. If you could find those, to me, it’s a treasure hunt. It’s one of my favourite hobbies. If I’m bored and my kids are at their dad’s house, I’ll go treasure hunting in the thrift store just because it’s fun. Also, I use the Poshmark app and search “sold” listings. If I find something like a pair of shoes that I know are good, I go in their search sold listings to see what they’re selling for. Somebody gave me a pair of Hunter boots, which are women’s rain boots that retail for $150, and I sold them on Poshmark last week for $90—and they were given to me. I like to deal with things like shoes because you can just clean them up really quick and take pictures of them. You don’t have to have a mannequin and stuff like that for clothing. I focus on women’s and men’s clothing, shoes, cookbooks, knick-knacks, and stuff like that. 

Tom: I’ve had success selling things, but they were just things I had. I had too many old video games. I’ve still got to get rid of my CDs. I’ve seen the selling side, but I like the ability to repeat it by picking things up and then selling them again. 

Lauren: I think people should start in their house. What do they have laying around their house that they’re not using that they can sell to pay for Christmas this year if they don’t have the money? 

Tom: Another thing I’ve heard you mention is a three-gift rule. Can you tell us about that? 

Lauren: Yes. I started the three-gift rule when my kids were really, really young. We don’t do it as much anymore. I think I might give my kids maybe five gifts now. You give them something to read, something they need, and something to wear. Something to wear, something to read and something they need. And sometimes, something they want. I would stick in a fourth there sometimes. Something they want (sometimes) to get a fourth. As a kid, I remember my mom would have so many gifts under the tree. You would be taking an hour and a half to open all the presents. By the time we got down to the last present, it was a Chapstick or a little teeny-tiny thing. Do we really have to wrap these? My ex-husband, Mark (when we were still married) started doing the three-gifts rule and it really was just to focus on each other. Focus on family and less on the material stuff we were getting. And as parents, it gave us a little bit of a break. So, something to read—everyone got a book. Something they needed, was usually clothes. Something they wanted, a Lego set or an American Girl doll set. That was the thing we spent the most amount of money on. They always got a really big gift that was something they really wanted. The first year we did it, was difficult. I’m not going to lie. The kids were younger at that time. It got a lot easier as the years went on and the kids knew everybody gets three gifts—and sometimes four gifts. That’s just the way Christmas was. It really hasn’t gotten much more extravagant than that. I keep it even though we’re divorced. Mark and I do separate Christmases. But as a single mom, I still keep it very simple. The kids get three or four gifts. They are bigger because they’re older. I’m getting requests for laptops now, a Nintendo Switch, something like that. Something they want. The kids are just kind of used to it, and it makes the holiday a lot less stressful for everybody. 

Tom: When I was a kid and even my kids in younger years, there were too many presents. I remember when I was a kid, this pile under the tree was ridiculous. It was wider than the tree and starting to come up the sides of the wall. Even with my kids, especially the first few years, it felt like we were getting them quite a few toys and such. But when you start adding grandparents in and everything like that, it gets to be way too much. And no matter how many toys you give a kid, they can only seem to take in so much. They’re going to have maybe one or two favourites and all the other gifts just kind of sat in the corner of their room, rarely getting used. I’ve seen it and have been better about it in recent years, but I’m not down to a three-gift rule yet. But just knowing that there are other relatives that aren’t even going to want to give anything but toys, you want to get those sort of relative points—where you’re giving them the cool toy. As parents, I think we can follow closer to what you’re doing, where you give what might be considered more “boring stuff” by some kids. But that’s kind of the role you play as parents sometimes. 

Lauren: And you know what? I found that so many years it’s exactly like you were saying. I would give a gift just to give them a gift under the tree. It wasn’t something they had asked for, and it wasn’t something they needed. And it would just sit there. I had wasted my money giving them this gift that cost me $30 and they’re not even playing with it. I’m very intentional about the gifts I give them now. They make me a list. My 16-year-old son even made me a Google doc with Amazon links this year. I said, “You’ve got it! That’s how we do it.” I make a big breakfast. We do charcuterie boards the night before and we do stockings. It’s just a nice, special time. But they understand, too, that I’m not going to just buy stuff to buy stuff . We need to have a strategy here. And you know what it did? It opened up a conversation too. They don’t want to waste my money either. They’re very intentional about the gifts they ask me for because they realize I’m having to spend my hard-earned money too, and they don’t want me to waste my money. If you have Santa, it’s a little different story. We’ve never done the Santa thing in our house, so because of that, they understand why I don’t want to buy something they’re not going to use. Make a list and I’ll work off the list. 

Tom: You reminded me of my kids starting to understand that these things have money attached to them. My oldest is 12 and he was circling all these things in the flyer. I think it was a Lego set that was something like $150. I think it was Walmart that put a big label on the flyer that read, great value. He writes a note, “Yeah, a great value!” with a little, winky, face. He understands these are expensive. Say we had a three-gift without the reading and everything—Just three-gifts, period. He still understands that a $1500 toy is not an equal replacement to a $20 toy. There’s value there. 

Lauren: And my kids asked me, “Mom, what’s the budget this year,” and I’ll tell them. And they act accordingly. 

Tom: Oh, I really like that—telling them the total spending. 

Lauren: Yep, I say this is the budget this year for Christmas, per person. They go and make their list. And they know, if you ask for a $200 Switch Lite and your budget’s $300 this year, you could get the Switch Lite, but just know the other gifts that you’re going to get are going to add up to $100. One of my daughter’s gifts last year I remember was I was a Switch Lite and she got it. All of her other gifts were things like a pair of shoes, a headband. She asked for a lot of like smaller gifts knowing that she was going to get the big gift she wanted. It gives them a little bit more financial responsibility. People might say that takes the magic out of Christmas. I don’t know. My kids still think it’s pretty freaking magical when they would come downstairs and see the gifts. I don’t tell them what I got them. I still make it magical. It doesn’t take the magic out of it. I think that’s a fear that people have by talking about money when it comes around Christmas with their kids. But this is the biggest spending holiday of the year. Our kids still need to understand, mom’s not going broke. I cannot afford to go broke every December. I just can’t. And these are the kind of topics we need to talk about so that our kids don’t do the same with their kids, you know? You’ve got a budget, spend accordingly. You’ve got a list. Give it to me, I’ll buy it. We’ll have fun. There’ll be some surprises and we have a blast, but there’s communication there. 

Tom: I assume this is how you’re doing it, but I could see myself doing this. If you tell them there’s a set budget, it doesn’t mean they’re going to get that $200 Switch and then $100 in other stuff. But at least they understand that if they ask for a $200 thing and they do get it because you decide that’s the thing they’re going to get, then it does mean that there’s less to go around after that. Just by asking for it, they at least realize they’re kind of going all-in on that thing. And if they don’t get that year, then at least they’re going to get a bunch of other smaller things. I like the idea of them knowing that the total you’re going to be spending. 

Lauren: Yeah. My 12-year-old daughter gave me a Christmas list this year and I gave it back to her and said, “Can you go put the prices next to all of those?” She went back and put the prices in. All totalled, it was $1,300 or something. I said, “I think you’re going to need to work on that a little bit,” and she laughed. But kids need to understand. Why do we get afraid at Christmastime to offend our children? We’re going to offend them and take away the joy of the holiday just because we’re talking about money? Every Christmas is so magical. That’s one of the lies we tell ourselves, that if we talk about finances and money with our kids around the holidays, somehow the holiday is going to suck for them. It’s just not the way it is. That’s just one of those kind of hard conversations. 

Tom: Well, I think when some people don’t want to get into the money side of it, they’re thinking talking about it before that magic of Christmas, they don’t want to ruin it. But there’s something that kind of ruins it, too, when you’re spending four or more hours opening gifts. It’s just nonstop. It can go just so far the other way. Like I said, it kind of becomes a declining thing where they’ve already got the presents they want to play with, but they still have to open these other presents, almost like it’s a job. I like the idea of focusing on things like breakfasts, like you were saying, where it’s not just presents. It’s actually spending some family time that isn’t completely focused on presents. One more thing I wanted to ask you about that sounded interesting to me from your 30-day Challenge are the two kinds of parties you mentioned. There’s a cooking, sharing party and a freezer meal party. These sound like pretty interesting parties. 

Lauren: This is one of the things I suggest to people to save money on big holiday parties. A lot of people throw these like extravagant holiday parties. I have a friend of mine that spends $2,000 a year throwing her Christmas party and then complains that she’s broke all the time. And I say, “Listen, why don’t we do something different?” There are a couple two different parties I suggest people do. One of them is a Christmas cookie party. Most people have heard about this but baking Christmas cookies is really expensive because they have some weird ingredients like anise and lemon oil that costs a lot of money. Let’s say you invite 10 friends over and each of you makes two different kinds of cookies. You make enough cookies for all 10 friends to bring home two dozen of those cookies. You get together for a night out. Maybe you go to a friend’s house, bring a few bottles of wine. You’ve got the cookies. You bring some hors d’oeuvres. Everybody comes together. You swap out the Christmas cookies. Everybody gets to go home with 10 different kinds of cookies and you only had to make two dozen or two different kinds. You don’t have to spend all the month of December decorating and making 12 different types of Christmas cookies and spending all the money on all the weird ingredients. That’s one kind of party that can help keep your baking costs down. The other one I recommend is called a freezer cooking party. And this one I’ve done with some of my friends in the past. On my website, I have a lot of freezer meals up on there. And I have a couple of freezer meal plans, so I always tell people to go grab a freezer meal plan. There are 10 recipes in that plan. You make 20 meals. You make10 meals twice. It’s about $150 to buy all the ingredients for all 20 meals. So, if you can get five friends together and each of you make two of the recipes (one recipe, five times and the other recipe five times) then you all go away with five different sets of two recipes. You’ve walked away with 10 different meals and you’ve only had to make two. You can do this in an hour. Do whatever you want to do—if you want to have coffee or wine or do it during the day, at night, on the weekend, just get together and prepare the freezer meals. Everybody goes home with 10 different meals. You’ve not spent a ton of money. You’ve hung out together and you’ve gone home with 10 dinners for the rest of the month. Not only have you saved your sanity, but you’ve also saved $200 or in your pocketbook. 

Tom: Both of these ideas sound pretty fun like it’s a chance to get together and do this. If you didn’t have the time to get together, at least you could still make your own two cookie things and still trade. But I like this idea because of the variety of it. You don’t just want two treats for Christmas, so you make five different things and now you’ve got so many that you’re eating way too much over Christmas and into January. I like the ability to be able to trade this out beyond just the money tips of it, just the variety you can add while still taking advantage of a better way to use your time and money towards these. 

Lauren: Yeah, definitely. And I like the money-saving aspect around the holidays too because you’re spending so much on Christmas. Right now, we need to free up some money in the rest of your budget. It really helps kind of free up some of that extra money so you can maybe go out for a holiday party with a girlfriend or something like that. 

Tom: Well, thanks for running us through all this. Is there anything else that I’ve missed here? Is there a big tip that we haven’t covered? 

Lauren: I think we covered most of it. The big piece that was really helpful that you had me highlight was the financial conversation piece with your kids—that it’s okay to have that. If people can sell the stuff around their homes and learn how to stack those savings, they’re going to see some huge freedom in their money this month. 

Tom: I love the idea of stacking savings. I would suggest for people to watch out for something that’s caught me in the past; savings can sometimes be an excuse to spend and, ultimately, it’s all marketing. There’s a forum here in Canada, Red Flag Deals. I remember about a decade ago I would see all these great things that people are finding online—these great deals. I ended up buying so much stuff I didn’t need. Remember, deals and savings are certainly not free money. Just stay focused on what you actually need or want for Christmas. 

Lauren: I would agree with that. I’ve been a part of a couple of deal Facebook pages in the past, and those have gotten me into trouble all the time. Just because it’s a deal doesn’t mean it’s a deal for you. Keep that in mind. 

Tom: Yeah, that item may be 20 percent off, but it’s still going to cost you the other 80 percent. 

Lauren: Exactly. Yes. 

Tom: Thanks for being on. Can you tell people where they can find you online? 

Lauren: My website is You can find me on Instagram and YouTube. And I’m actually just starting my own podcast, which launches January 3rd, called Hard Money Talks, which is talking about all these really uncomfortable money conversations like the one we just talked about. That’s what the whole show is about. That airs on January 3rd. 

Tom: Great. We’ll make sure to let people know. 

Lauren: Thank you. 

Thank you, Lauren, for sharing so many Christmas money-saving tips. It is possible to create an amazing holiday experience for your family without going broke. You can find the show notes for this episode at If you have a moment, head over to our YouTube channel, and subscribe there as we’ll be getting back to releasing never-before-seen content soon. Search for Maple Money or go to and subscribe today. I look forward to seeing you back here next week when Jacob Perez joins us to share some of the common mistakes he sees Canadians making when it comes to their mortgage. See you next week! 

Not only can you save money on gifts but you can get money back, you can use coupons, you can get free gifts, you can use rewards and apps to get free gift cards to buy the gifts…I haven’t paid for Christmas presents in years because I do all of these strategies myself - Lauren Greutman Click to Tweet