Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season on a Budget

The holidays are a time for families to gather, enjoy annual traditions, and experience the “magic” in the air. There’s a reason it’s called “the most wonderful time of the year”! However, it can also be the most expensive time of the year. There are gifts to buy, of course, but that’s just one part of your holiday expenses. There are also decorating, entertaining, food, and travel expenses. And there are so many holidays so close together! For families with children, it feels like you’ve barely recovered from the whirlwind of the back-to-school season when it’s Halloween. Before your jack-o’-lantern is off the porch, the grocery store is advertising Thanksgiving deals and shops are filling up with Christmas decor. As soon as Christmas is over, it’s New Years’ time. It can feel overwhelming, especially if you are trying to stick to a budget. Don’t worry, though: You can stretch your holiday dollars and have an excellent season without blowing your budget.

Make a Holiday Budget

Your first step in keeping your holiday spending under control is knowing how much you can spend. Have you been setting money for the holidays aside all year? Do you have a bonus you plan on earmarking for holiday spending? Or will you need to pay for the holidays out of your regular paychecks? Start by listing all of your holiday expenses, including gifts, food, travel, entertaining, and decorations. Next, assign dollar amounts to each category. Within your gift budget, make a budget for each person. For coworker or teacher gifts, you might make one budget line and give everyone the same present. Then, track your spending to make sure that you stay within these limits.

Space Out Holiday Expenses

Doing all of your holiday shopping in one day allows you to get it done efficiently but also will add up to one incredibly expensive day. If you have saved up the entire amount of money you need for holiday shopping, go ahead and shop until you drop, but if you haven’t, be kind to your budget and space your shopping out throughout the season. Shopping in bursts allows you to spread your shopping across multiple paychecks. If you need to buy presents, decorations, and the fixings for a holiday dinner, try buying a few gifts each week, splitting the big-budget groceries over two weeks, and picking up decorations during a different week.

Embrace Affordable Traditions

Think about your holiday memories. Do they all involve expensive outings, or do you remember the smaller things, like frosting cookies with your grandmother or watching a favorite holiday movie every Christmas Eve? The answer is probably the latter. It’s easy to save money and make memories when you ditch expensive outings and embrace affordable, fun traditions. Try these:

  • Movie Night: Figure out what holiday films are on the streaming service(s) you already pay for and create a playlist of your favorites. Make a dinner that’s sofa-safe, and let everyone pile onto the couch in their favorite jammies. Everyone will remember the night they spent in their pajamas eating dinner while watching great holiday films.
  • Festive Lights: There are many places where you can pay to drive through and enjoy displays of Christmas lights. But you can also save money by scoping out the lights in your neighborhood or in nearby towns. Unsure where to go? Find fantastic holiday light displays online by entering your location and how far you are willing to drive.
  • Jolabokaflod: Iceland has a charming tradition where everyone reads on Christmas Eve, called Jolabokaflod. Help bring this sweet tradition to the States! Used bookstores and thrift stores are great places to find affordable books for readers of all ages. Let everyone’s Christmas Eve gift be a book, and then crank up a holiday playlist, make some hot chocolate, and enjoy a cozy night reading with your family.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

We all live in the age of social media, and we all feel the pressure to make every event or moment into a magazine-ready photo. You must have perfectly wrapped packages stacked under a beautifully decorated tree, a bounty of holiday dishes displayed on a beautiful table using exquisite china, and a stack of holiday cards with each address done in calligraphy, all of which would look perfect on your Instagram feed. Reject this mindset! Simplifying the holiday season will help you stick to your budget and make sure you’re spending your holiday dollars according to your priorities. It will also remove items from your to-do list, which will help you manage holiday stress. For instance, instead of making a holiday dinner with multiple appetizers, two main dishes, several side dishes, and an entire dessert buffet, focus on family favorites: Chose one appetizer, one main dish, a couple of side dishes, and one beloved dessert to make up your holiday menu. Instead of decorating every room in your house, focus on decorating the place where you spend the most time. And instead of spending money on wrapping paper, reuse gift bags and try cheap wrapping paper alternatives.

Make DIY Gifts

The amount of money you have for gifts isn’t always enough to buy a fancy store-bought gift for everyone on your list. Luckily, there are lots of great DIY gifts you can make for very little money. The Internet is full of great ideas for gifts everyone will love.

  • Family Photo Heirloom Ornaments: Any family member will love these sweet ornaments, which showcase your family’s history in a festive way.
  • DIY Fleece Blanket: Everyone loves a cozy blanket! This cheap, quick project will produce great gifts.
  • Gourmet Marshmallows: Winter is hot chocolate weather for most of the U.S., and who doesn’t love marshmallows in their hot chocolate? Try these homemade marshmallows, which would make an excellent gift for teachers and coworkers.

Give Nontraditional Gifts

Along with DIY gifts, you might also consider giving nontraditional presents, which can be cheaper or delay your cash outlay until after the holidays. For instance, you and your partner could commit to a monthly date night. Give your parents a certificate for a movie date with you. Suggest to your friend group that instead of giving presents, you should all go out for a great dinner together. Perhaps you and coworkers could donate to a local charity instead of giving individual gifts. And for your extended family, try either picking names out of a hat or planning a white elephant gift exchange: Either way, you’ll only have to buy one present.

Seek Out Discounts

The number one rule of online holiday shopping is that you should never pay for shipping. Many retailers offer free shipping, especially during the holidays; if they won’t ship for free to your door, see if they’ll ship your order to a nearby store for pickup, which is usually free. You should also take the time to search for promo codes before you place your order to help you save money. Here are a few good places to find deals:

  • FreeShipping: Founded by a couple who also hated paying shipping fees, this website partners with retailers to offer free shipping and other promo codes to save you money!
  • RetailMeNot: Since it’s one of the largest sources of promo codes on the Internet, you’ll be able to find codes for almost any retailer on this site.
  • Slickdeals: Create a profile here and set up alerts for what you’re looking for (say, a new laptop). When a new deal pops up, you’ll get a notification. You can also look through their forums to learn about new opportunities to save.

Budgets may be tight during the holiday season but, unfortunately, financial emergencies won’t wait until the gifts have been given and the celebrations have been enjoyed. Financial emergencies may require immediate attention and a substantial amount of money. For those that may not qualify for a traditional bank loan, alternative lending options, such as title secured loans and personal loans, may be good options for your unique financial emergencies this holiday season.

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