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5 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Without Breaking the Bank

November 22, 2019

As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” 

For many families, it’s also the busiest and most expensive. Gifts, travel, entertainment, food – it all adds up, and can really put a crimp in your holiday spirit. Thankfully, the following strategies that improve your holiday spending almost always have an added benefit of making the holidays more enjoyable. Yay!

1. Make Lists

A little planning and organization go a long way in making the holidays less expensive and less stressful. I have a special binder (it’s green!) where I keep holiday information. Menus, shopping lists, receipts – it all goes in there to keep this year on track and serve as a reference for future years.

It’s easy to forget all the little extra expenses from year to year, however. Make a master list of everything you spend extra money on from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. My list filled more than a page. Think postage to mail presents, pet sitter for travel, snacks while holiday shopping – it all adds up. Once you can see it all in one place, you can figure out whether it’s a reasonable amount of money for your family or decide where to cut back.

2. Focus On What’s Truly Important To You

Figure out what really matters to your family, and eliminate the stress and expense of everything else. Perhaps you must travel to see your family, but you don’t need to send cards. Or maybe you love the colossal holiday dinner with 12 side dishes and four pies, but have absolutely no need for professional photographs each year.

It’s an interesting experiment to ask your kids what they consider the most crucial part of the holiday season. You might be surprised by the answers! Remember that what’s important may change from year to year. For example, when my kids were little, it was a BIG DEAL that we got dressed up and went to the Nutcracker Ballet every year. But as they got older, it became harder and harder to juggle our calendars, and then we didn’t go one year. Or the next year. And no one was sad. And we saved a couple of hundred dollars on expensive tickets.

christmas candle3. Create Low-Cost Family Traditions

Kids love family traditions, especially ones that can travel from home to home. Pick one or two free or inexpensive things that you can do year after year. Have a family cookie decorating event. Bundle everyone into the car with hot chocolate (even if it’s warm) and drive around looking at decorated houses. Watch the same holiday movies every year. String popcorn garland for your indoor tree, or put it on an outdoor tree for the birds. (Fair warning – this takes MUCH longer than it seems like it will, and is frustrating for little ones.) Set out strips of paper and let each person write down things that they’re thankful for, then put them together into a garland. Heck, just make paper snowflakes – they are so fun!

decorated holiday table4. Cut Back on the Gifts

Let’s face it – we all have enough STUFF. Pare down your gift list, both the number of people and the number of gifts that you give. Your second cousins in Utah do not need a box of souvenirs from your latest duty station – no matter how often they thank you for the last box. This means less planning, less shopping, and less wrapping – and probably less money, too.

Consider experience gifts, instead: concert tickets, zoo memberships, escape room family nights. They won’t fill up your house, and they don’t require wrapping or shipping.

christmas gifts5. Say No to People, Activities, and Things

Give yourself permission to say “enough!” Turn down a party invitation, with the associated babysitter and hostess gift. Don’t run out to the store for that one missing item, unless it’s absolutely essential, because you know that it’s hard to buy just ONE thing. Skip ribbon and gift tags and simply write names on the wrapping paper. Do your best to stay out of the stores and malls and off the websites that are tempting you with their amazing sales.

For most families, a few small tweaks to the schedule and plans can make for a holiday season that’s more fun, less stressful, and less expensive. Focus on the things you love, the people you love, and Happy Holidays!

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