How to Make the Holidays Special on a Budget

There is an immense pressure during the holidays to give gifts and participate in partying — for both adults and children — in an effort to make the season memorable. Indeed, a recent survey on holiday spending demonstrated that most expect to spend nearly $800 on gifts alone.

However, the holidays revolve around the intangible, they’re about the people and the priorities we hold most dear. Thus, it is absolutely possible to make them meaningful without breaking the bank. In fact, it is likely that if you and yours are able to focus on the immaterial, what you’ll find is that you’ll actually able to enjoy the holidays more than before!

So, if you find yourself in the familiar, stressful landscape of holiday spending, read on, and then enjoy this precious time with loved ones.

The Budget

The first thing you need to do to ensure you don’t break the bank is to actually assess how much you can spend without putting unneeded stress on your finances, and by extension your celebrations and relationships.

Creating a holidays budget should always include:

  • Making a list of where you would like to be able to spend (gifts, parties, holiday cards, etc.)
  • Designating the financial amounts possible to each
  • Taking note of potential holiday pay or bonuses that may change your spending levels
  • Tracking how much you actually spend

If you don’t enter the holidays with a special budget prepared, you’ll likely find yourself blindsided by the expenses and unprepared to creatively respond when the resources aren’t there. However, when you do plan in advance, not only are you then able to proactively safeguard your spending, you can also prepare in advance to creatively bridge the gap when the resources simply don’t exist.

The Traditions

Even the least-sentimental among us usually has a few traditions. Maybe it’s something like matching pajamas for everyone, but perhaps it’s something as simple as hot cocoa on Christmas Eve. The key to maintaining traditions when money is tight is to think about them creatively.

Revamp the Established Traditions

If your long-standing traditions are going to prohibit you from remaining in a comfortable financial situation throughout the season, consider how you can shift them in the interest of spending less.

For example, if you’ve always had holiday photos taken in a pre-decorated studio session, an option is doing them in a new atmosphere. Consider creative photo taking ideas that are outside the box, but will still capture the people you love best.

Or, if you’ve always made a trek to a ski resort for a weekend of outdoor sports, make it a day trip instead of one that lasts three days. Memories: made. Budget: maintained.

Consider New Traditions

Sometimes, there are things that have to be omitted from the tradition rotation in the interest of protecting the resources your family relies upon. But, when that happens — while it is certainly disappointing — it opens the door for your family to embrace new traditions that won’t wreak havoc on your budget.

Some examples include:

  • Holiday parades and light shows
  • Family holiday movie nights
  • Making holiday treats
  • Volunteering together

 

Gifts

For kids especially, gifts can be a challenging thing to take on when your bank account is slim. We want to make our children happy, and we want to give them the things that will bring them joy. However, as parents we also have a responsibility to take care of their needs to set examples that demonstrate wisdom.

Often, the best way to ensure your child will be able to enjoy their gifts, even if they can’t have exactly what they’re hoping for, is to get as close as you can.

The homemade: If you’ve got a creative knack, homemade gifts are an option that are personable and memorable. Ornaments, costumes for small children, tree forts for older kids, art, and jewelry are all options that can be made with the intended in mind.

The second hand: Sometimes, we can’t make the gift, but we can give versions that are more cost-effective than brand new versions. Likely one of the most predominant areas this will come into play is with electronics. While it can be tempting to roll our eyes when our kids want the latest and greatest, the University of Cincinnati notes nearly 90 percent of parents believe media and technology resources can be helpful education partners.

To afford second hand tech, consider gently used, trade in offers, and refurbished items.

The discounted: Never underestimate the power a good sale can have to help you maintain your budget. Planning in advance sets you up to be able to spot the sales you’ll need to score items at a discount. Whether it be party decor or strands of lights, if you know before you scan promotions, you’re less likely to miss out on the right one.

Ultimately, the parties we attend and the gifts we give are unlikely to last long into the future. Instead, the way we make our loved ones feel, will last. The traditions and the gifts are ultimately about fostering connection.

As Arthur Coombs writes, “True love is wanting the happiness of another with no ulterior motive. There is no angle or agenda. You behave in a way that places that person’s needs, wants, and wishes above your own. It defines how you treat others.”

During the holidays, we have the task to protect the needs of our family and to balance that with the pursuit of giving them, and ourselves, a joy-filled holiday season. Doing so is attainable for those who are willing to approach things with a touch of creativity and open mindedness. Your bank account size doesn’t have to define your holidays — only you can do that.

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