Enormous Christmas Trees
Let's say, theoretically, that you've had a really horrible year. You’ve lost family, moved cities, and your children are distraught. In that case, get a comically enormous tree that doesn't actually fit in your house and makes you go back to the store for extra lights. They'll tell stories about it for years. But you only really need that experience once, and part of what makes it fun is the grinning realization that it's a terrible idea to have a plant corpse dominate your living space.
Some people buy a ton of booze to make sure they're the best party host in their friend group. Some people just need it to put up with Uncle John's racist diatribe at the dinner table. Whatever the reason, be smart about how much you're buying—and how much you consume.
Ugly Christmas Sweaters
The Ugly Christmas Sweater was a beautiful thing. Then it was commercialized and ruined. The true meaning of the Ugly Christmas Sweater was that it was something given to you by an aunt or found at a thrift store and worn out of sheer respect and wonder at its awfulness. In our post-irony society, however, you can now just straight-up buy "hilarious" deliberately ugly sweaters for terribly high prices from companies like Tipsy Elves.
Strings of Lights
There's something magical about the holiday season that makes you want to buy thousands of cheaply-made electric wire to cover your flammable house with. Most everyone puts up a little decoration somewhere, but every town has one of those people who can't seem to control themselves with the lights—don’t be that guy.
White Elephant Gifts
Gift-giving can be a great opportunity to show someone how well you know them and how much you care. But then there are times when you have to buy a present due to social obligations at the office. The problem with the white elephant is that it's inherently meaningless because you don't know who's going to get your present. You either have to come up with something generically cool within the price limit and risk it winding up with someone who won't like it, or go the novelty route with a mambo Christmas album or something. Either way, the odds of filling a void in someone's life with your gift are slim to none, so don’t overspend.
Somehow Big Snack has convinced us that gingerbread and peppermint are only acceptable for a couple of months out of the year. They know that if they keep us leashed like animals until late November, we'll gorge ourselves like animals once we're given the chance. Everyone loves a good mulled cider, so why not make that business all year 'round instead of splurging during the tiny window "society" tells you to?
Some offices are like families. Other offices don't actually treat their employees well enough to be like families but are desperate to pretend they do. Enter the super-extravagant holiday office party. This is the one with six serving stations—half of which feature meats you've never actually tasted before. If you're attending one of these, go nuts. The money's already been spent. If you're looking at throwing one, think long and hard before you do. Would your employees rather just get drinks after work somewhere and get Christmas bonuses?
We're not suggesting you stay home by yourself instead of visiting your family. Just be smart about it. Flights are crazy-expensive this time of year, but you can still take the sting out by taking red-eyes or midweek flights. You can also pack meals for road trips instead of grabbing fast food and do all sorts of other little things to trim the cost of holiday travel.
Gifts for Distant Family
Many families do a rotating, "name out of a hat" gift exchange. In the midst of something like this, it's easy to compensate for not knowing your extended family by spending too much money on something you think is nice. But why not put away the Benjamins and stalk your relatives' Facebook pages to get a sense of their hopes, dreams, wants, and needs instead of blowing money on a juicer they'll never use?
It's easy to spend too much money on wrapping paper. Maybe you get carried away by your inner Buddy the Elf, or maybe you got pressured into it by adorable rugrats as part of a school fundraiser. Whatever the reason, you're probably putting too much money into something that's going to get ripped apart and immediately recycled if not tossed out.