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Make 5 smart moves this fall to get your finances ready for the holidays

Ivana Pino@ivana_pino
Twenty/20

Spending tends to spike in the fall, as expenses for the holidays and travel costs begin adding up. Americans racked up more than $1,000 in holiday debt at the end of last year, according to MagnifyMoney's annual post-holiday debt survey.

Finding creative ways to add room in your budget and cash in your pocket now can help you avoid that fate this year. Consider these five strategies:

1. Book holiday travel before Halloween

Experts say your best bet for getting a good deal on holiday travel is to book early.

"Book both Thanksgiving and Christmas [flights] by Halloween," Liana Corwin, a consumer travel expert with flight price-tracking app Hopper, told Grow earlier this year. "November is when we see prices start to spike." And even earlier is better, if possible.

If you do have some flexibility around when you leave for or come back from your trip, you can shave hundreds of dollars off your travel costs by avoiding peak travel days. For example, the cheapest day to fly around Thanksgiving is the Monday before, with average round-trip prices of $288, about 20% cheaper than Wednesday, according to Hopper.

2. Cancel your gym membership

If your fall schedule is already packed with travel, family celebrations, and other holiday events, cancelling your gym membership or putting it on hold might be better bets than letting it sit idle. Monthly gym membership fees can cost you anywhere from $10 at places like Planet Fitness to more than $200 at upscale chains like Equinox.

If you decide you want to get back on the treadmill afterwards, you may be able to take advantage of new member promotions. If possible, hold off on getting a new membership until January, when a lot of gyms offer New Year's bonuses for people hoping to fulfill their health or fitness-related resolutions.

Book both Thanksgiving and Christmas [flights] by Halloween. November is when we see prices start to spike.
Liana Corwin
consumer travel expert, Hopper

3. Lay off the thermostat

As temperatures cool down, you can cut your utility bill by 10% or more just by making small changes to your home.

Prepare for winter by sealing any cracks around your home that could let in cold air and force you to crank up the heat, says Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at Truetrae.com. "It's inexpensive to do and you can save a lot on your heating bill once the cold weather hits," he says.

Another alternative is to invest in a smart thermostat, which automatically adjusts the temperature in your house depending on the time of day or whether you're home.

4. Slow cook your favorite fall meals

Bodge says one way to cut down on the cost of food is to use a slow cooker during the fall and winter months, especially if you spent all summer dining out. Many popular slow cooker recipes like chicken tacos or beef stew can cost as little as $5 to make, or can feed the whole family for under $2 per person.

With a slow cooker, you can add in all the ingredients for your meal at once, and since it turns off by itself, you are free to use your time to complete other items on your to-do list.

Graphic preview
Big Savings
Buying Target's own brand instead of name-brand products can save you big bucks on your grocery bill. Here are some items that will save you the most.
Product cost
Note: Prices listed are for Target locations in Manhattan.
kiersten schmidt/grow Target.com

"Cook easy and inexpensive soups and casseroles instead of going out," says Bodge. Maximize savings by cooking with seasonal vegetables like winter squash and beets, which are up to 50% less expensive than out-of-season produce.

To save even more, consider purchasing store brand ingredients for certain items, which typically cost about half the price of name-brand items, according to a report from Policygenius.

5. Start holiday shopping now

Instead of buying holiday gifts for your loved ones all at once, start your shopping early. That will give you more time to not only find the perfect gift for all the important people in your life, but you'll also be able to scour different stores and online sites for the best price on each item.

Start by making a list of all of your loved ones you plan to purchase a gift for, as well as potential gift ideas for each. This will help you stay organized and you'll have a clear idea of what exactly you're looking for, rather than overpaying for items at the last minute or making panicked impulse purchases.

And, if you ditch the long lines for online shopping, consider leaving your items in your cart for a few days. Some online retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy's, and Williams-Sonoma will follow-up with a discount for those abandoned items.

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