Holidays and budget are two words that do not typically go well together. Remember when Rachel from the show Friends mixed the recipe for a dessert trifle with a meat pie and it all got layered into one hilariously inedible glob?
That’s what holidays and budgets are often like: a mess everyone wants to avoid!
But ignorance is not bliss when it comes to holiday spending: did you know that October through December is when Americans spend more on entertainment and restaurants than the rest of the year combined?
Think about that for a sec: over 50% of our spending on self-indulgence happen in one quarter of the year. It’s a surprising statistic, but it does make sense.
We are busy and tired. School is in full swing, we are shuffling kids from one activity to the next, so we drive through Chik-fil-a on the way home from soccer practice ($38), we buy tickets to a Christmas concert because we kinda said yes to a friend before thinking about it ($96), we do a little impulse shopping ($12) along with the Christmas shopping, and voila, there’s $146 spent in one evening that wasn’t in the budget.
To help prevent the holiday season from turning into the metaphorical equivalent of Rachel’s trifle, here are 16 ways to rock the holiday season on a budget.
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1. Make a list of your random Christmas expenses. This free holiday planner checklist in the Resource Library is handy for that! This way, you can make a list of the things you want to include in your budget and then you don’t have to say no to the fun things that are important to you.
2. Plan out your special meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Look for sales now on non-perishables and frozen foods so that you can buy those in advance at the best prices.
3. Let your guests bring some of the food. Most people are glad to contribute and potluck style meals are fun because everyone gets to bring something their own specialty. And remember even small things add up. A bottle of sparkling cider, a package of dinner rolls, and a pumpkin pie are easily $15.
4. Write out a list of who you are buying a Christmas present for and what the spending cap is for each person. If there is one particular item you really want to buy, make sure you budget accordingly.
5. Make some of your gifts. I like to handmake presents as time allows, as it can be a big budget saver and is more unique than buying gifts. One year we roasted our own coffee from beans we bought from Sweet Maria’s. We did it with an inexpensive Presto Hot Air Popper. It was so well-received our family has asked us to repeat that one, and it was a lot of fun to learn how to roast our own coffee.
6. When you know your budget, you know your boundaries. If the big concert doesn’t fit within your financial priorities, say no. As Henry Cloud says, “No is a complete sentence.”
7. Don’t fall for guilt trips. Never accept guilt from someone who is pressuring you to spend money you don’t have or don’t want to spend. If a friend or family member has a problem with your unwillingness or inability to spend money on something they feel is important, keep in mind their choice to fret about it is not your problem to fix.
8. Be honest and clear with your family ahead of time if you feel they might not be receptive to your budget-minded ways. A line like, “we’re going to keep it simple with gifts and activities” or “we aren’t planning to travel out of town this year” should suffice.
9. Avoid the comparison trap. This is hard. I still catch myself in comparison mode and have to snap myself out of it! Sometimes I wonder if I’m being stingy or depriving my kids of enriching life experiences because they don’t have the deluxe five-story doll mansion. And then I see them making a rocket ship out of a cardboard box and remember that they’re fine.
10. Block out advertising. Turn the TV off, don’t buy magazines, limit social media time. Advertising is everywhere and it DOES influence our thoughts and desires, tempting us to dishonor the financial boundaries that we have committed to keeping.
11. Jesus is the reason for the season! Repeat this mantra as often as necessary.
12. Focus on gratitude. I’ve always liked that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas because it’s an opportunity for us to recenter our minds. Don’t let Black Friday supercede Thanksgiving! Stay in the spirit of gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal, and maybe even avoid Black Friday shopping all together. I reserve a page each week in my bullet journal for writing down a list of what I’m grateful for that week. It’s helped calm my anxious moments, put life in perspective and renew my joy.
13. Read an advent devotional. I plan to use this advent devo by Ann Voskamp since the twins will love putting the ornaments on the tree and it’s kid-friendly. Now that they are old enough to enjoy this kind of thing I look forward to making it an annual family tradition!
14. Look at your calendar for the next two months. Decide NOW how busy you want to be this year. Stuff will come up. It will feel hectic to a certain extent no matter what. If you want to have less on your plate, be okay knowing that you will have to say no to some events.
15. Give more. It’s easy to unintentionally spend more, but we can’t accidentally give more. That has to be on purpose. Make a point to find new opportunities to give and be a blessing this holiday season.
16. Involve the kids. Children tend to be naturally generous when we give them opportunities. Let them put together a box for Operation Christmas Child, pick out a present for a child whose parent is incarcerated through Angel Tree, or buy a goat for a family through Compassion International.
There’s no reason to fear a giant January credit card bill when you equip yourself with mindfulness and a plan to stick to your budget. What are your tips for having an amazing holiday season that doesn’t cost a fortune? Comment below to share!
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