Spending

3 creative ways to find more money for your holiday budget

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The holidays are a great reason to gather with friends and family to exchange gifts — but it can be easy to end up in debt if you're not mindful of your spending.

Last year, American shoppers racked up more than $1,000 of holiday debt on average, according to MagnifyMoney's annual post-holiday debt survey. Purchasing a lavish gift can feel good in the moment. At the same time, you don't want to start the new year with a large credit card bill.

One way to prevent overspending is setting a budget, says Dan Horne, an associate dean and professor of marketing at the Providence College School of Business: "Set some expectations that you need to meet, in terms of gift giving. Think of that as your holiday buying list and start checking off those boxes."

Here are three creative and easy ways you can find more money for your holiday budget.

1. Use old gift cards

If you've been sitting on old gift cards, you can use them to buy presents or sell them for cash.

To get the most bang for your buck, Horne suggests using a gift card to buy a gift for someone else. "If it's a retailer you don't normally go to, you can use the gift card to buy others gifts and convert the value that way," he says. Note that while retail gift cards shouldn't expire, prepaid credit cards can.

There's also an opportunity to sell your old gift cards for as much as 90% of the original value on sites like Giftcardgranny.com, says Horne. You may not be able to sell the gift card for exactly what it's worth but, he says, "the more 'everyday' the gift card is, the higher its value." That means that gift cards for major retailers like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, or any well-known grocery store will have a high resale value: "Places where people shop all the time will have valuations of 85% to 90% of the card."

If you have a gift card for a local restaurant or boutique, Horne notes, the resale value will be lower: "You might be looking at 10 cents on the dollar."

2. Cash in rewards points

Using your credit card rewards is a great way to capitalize on money you've already spent. And you may be sitting on more points than you realize. Nearly a third, or 29%, of rewards-card holders let their points expire, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey of 2,558 adults.

"I think cashing in rewards points are great," says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at truetrae.com. You can use those points to buy a present for someone without spending additional money. She says you can also usually exchange rewards points for gift cards.

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3. Search for unclaimed money

Claiming lost money can be a helpful boost to your holiday budget. There is more than $40 billion in unclaimed cash and property swirling around, and some of that money could be yours.

Sites like Unclaimed.org and Missingmoney.com are run by state administrators, who conduct a state-by-state search to help people recover misdirected funds. The amount of time it takes to get your money will vary from state to state but the process is generally quick.

Earlier this year, when we put this to the test, one Grow staff member discovered about $50 in her own name and 15 additional claims for members of her family, totaling around $50 each, while another got a $100 finders fee from his mom after finding a large claim under a deceased relative's name.

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