As a child, the holiday season was truly magical. There were sparkling lights, delicious treats, joyful music, and of course, lots and lots of presents. Unfortunately, as an adult, this glorious time of year has become a giant pain — there’s party planning, hours of decorating, the looming threat of unexpected guests, and of course, the reality of buying lots and lots of presents.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it all went from being enchanting to irritating, but I suppose it was somewhere in my late teens when the crushing weight of having to purchase everything associated with the holiday landed squarely on my shoulders. The holidays aren’t fun when you’re broke.
I’m not the only one that feels this way — in fact, I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single adult who doesn’t die a little inside when I mention the financial impact of the holidays. So how do we make it better? How do we relieve the stress without throwing tradition out the window? It’s actually surprisingly easy.
The irony of me writing about buying affordable holiday decor is practically palpable. I spent $300 on decorations this year and I still haven’t figured out why. I think I may have blacked out at the craft store. I swear, I just went in there for cardstock.
Start by reusing your old decorations. This is kind of a given, but I figured I’d throw it out there nonetheless. Another way to get decorations on the cheap is to ask family and friends if they have old decor they no longer want. Hey, it’s new to you!
Consider DIYing a few decorations this year. You’d be absolutely shocked at the elegant decor you can make out of dollar store items. If you absolutely have to have new decorations, plan ahead and buy during the off season. You can snag some amazing deals the first couple of weeks after Christmas when stores are trying to get rid seasonal stock.
Parties for Pennies
If you want to save money on your holiday party, start by holding it at your home instead of an expensive venue. Not only is there no booking fee, you’re also free to bring your own food and take advantage of the decorations you already have set up.
While sending out paper invitations is definitely classy, it’s also ridiculously expensive. Use email or set up a Facebook event instead. It’s easier, cheaper, and a lot harder to lose in the shuffle of the holiday. Speaking of paper, hit up the dollar store for paper goods for your party. You can find napkins, flatware, and just about everything else you may need for a table setting there.
Food is easily one of the most expensive elements of a party. That’s why I recommend making your holiday party a potluck. It saves money, gets your guests invested in the party, and leaves a lot less cleanup for you. You can coordinate what your guests are bringing by creating a signup list, assigning people dishes, or simply making a list of suggested foods and allowing people to bring what they want.
Another way to go easy on your wallet is to ask guests to bring their own booze (BYOB). You can let them know by putting it on your invite or by telling them in person. Our holiday party this year is a BYOB dessert potluck, so at least I’m taking my own advice somewhere.
It’s not always easy to keep spending reigned in during the holidays. After all, the smile on the faces of your loved ones when they open that perfect gift often feels like it was worth every precious penny. That said, if you want to avoid putting yourself into debt, you have to shop smart.
Retail Me Not recommends making a list and really sticking to it. Stores do everything they can to encourage impulse buying, and when they’re successful, you end up spending far more than you anticipated. Spend time planning exactly what you want to purchase for each person on your list. You can ask them what they want, or make a plan based on their interests. (Side note: create an Amazon wish-list. It makes gift giving so much easier on your friends and family.)
Once you have your list, be militant. Don’t get sucked into “great deals” or “holiday steals” — stick to that list like it’s Captain America’s shield and you’re going to war with Thanos. Try to get your shopping done in as few stores as humanly possible. The fewer stores you go to, the fewer impulse buys you’ll be faced with. I did all of my shopping online this year. It made it easy to stick to my list, I didn't make any impulse purchases, and I feel like I really made the most out of my Amazon Prime membership.
Experience Over Gifts
Thanks to the overwhelming pressure to spend every cent you have on gifts, it’s really easy to get a little depressed this time of year. If it’s getting to be too much, it might be time to consider engaging in a gift-free holiday. Instead of focusing on presents, spend time with the people you love and create memories. You can:
- Make hot chocolate with marshmallows after going for a winter walk
- Watch a holiday parade
- Attend a tree or menorah-lighting ceremony
- Bake together and then gift your baked goods to friends and family
- Go caroling
- Donate holiday gift money to a worthy charity
- Build snowmen
- Drive around and look for holiday light displays
- Watch your favorite holiday movies
Take photos of your experiences and compile them in books. Then, spend time revisiting the memories in coming years before going out and making new ones.
This is all well and good for the weeks leading up to the holiday, but what about the day (or days) itself? How do you enjoy the holiday without the traditional gifts? Consider the following:
- Wake up late and make a delicious breakfast family, friends, or roommates
- Make holiday-themed crafts
- Have a picnic lunch on the livingroom floor
- Play board games or put a jigsaw puzzle together
- Cook a scrumptious dinner and have a lively conversation
- Light candles, turn out the lights, and listen to music
By taking the focus off gift giving (and receiving), you can make relaxing a priority. Whatever traditions you have — or may want to start — the most important gift you can give this holiday season is the gift of time. Together, with your friends and family, you can make the holidays magical again.
About the Author:
Liz Greene is a makeup loving, dog hugging, anxiety-ridden realist from the gorgeous City of Trees, Boise, Idaho. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene or catch her latest misadventures on her blog, Instant Lo.
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