Holiday season 2017 is upon us. It’s that time of year when you might be doing a lot of traveling, going back to your hometown, and reconnecting with family and old friends. Probably even some people you rather enjoy being away from for the rest of the year, but I digress. It’s also that time of year when you might be expected to buy gifts, cook a lot of extra food, host others, and go out eating and/or drinking more frequently (yes I’m looking at you, people who celebrate Thanksgiving Eve like it’s 1999). I recently moved back to my hometown, and already our calendar is filling with dinners with friends, holiday parties, happy hours with coworkers, and gift shopping and antiquing with family.
With all this going on, it is really difficult to save money; I get major FOMO if I have to turn down an event with friends because I enjoy the excitement and social aspects of the season. Yet I’m still planning on practicing frugality over the holidays. Here are some of the things I’ll be doing to ensure I don’t hurt my bank account or fall behind on making extra student loan payments without becoming a hermit over the holidays.
Be Realistic About Your Budget. For me, this means I am planning and preparing for a little extra spending. I’ve been putting additional money aside for a few months in anticipation for extra holiday indulgences. I know that I probably won’t be able to keep my December budget as low as some other months, but I won’t be going into the month unprepared. This could also mean being honest with yourself and others about how much you can spend or even which events or activities you will be able to participate in this year. It might mean preparing yourself for the fact that that you will just have to meet up with your friends for drinks later after they go out for a fancy dinner. Know that even if you have to bow out of some activities, if they’re relationships worth having, your friends and family will respect your goals and financial choices and still want to spend time with you.
Minimal Gifting. I don’t buy gifts for a large majority of my friends. I’m of the mindset that presence is the best present (right out of a Hallmark movie, right??) and honestly I could do without Christmas gift exchanges at all. Alas, we do partake in family gift-giving, but have a relatively short list of recipients. Receiving gifts is just not my love language; I would rather have the focus be on spending quality time with friends and family. So while I will be buying gifts, it’s just not my style to make a big deal out of it. If gifts are a big part of your holiday tradition, you can lessen the monetary blow by preparing and saving ahead of time. I also know that some people are great at finding killer deals (I am not one of those people).
Staying in Together. One of my favorite parts of the holidays when friends and family from out of town are all together is just enjoying each others’ company, often late into the night, in our own homes. You can have a pot-luck style get-together where everyone brings a dish and drinks and share among your friends. Suggest a game night (Cards Against Humanity and Trivial Pursuit are two favorites in my circles). Plan to watch a movie (Elf, anyone?), binge watch the latest season of Stranger Things, or watch a sports game (if you’re into that). It doesn’t really matter what you do, just the idea of being with loved ones laughing and goofing off gives me the warm-fuzzies. And maybe a little bit of social anxiety, but hey, I’ll take it. All in the holiday spirit.
Mindful Spending. As great as staying in with loved ones is, going out a few times is unavoidable (and certainly enjoyable – I have been known to splurge on good food and drink over anything else) for me. There are definitely ways I’m mindful of my spending when I go out; I intentionally watch what I’m ordering including the prices of food and drink. I might eat before going out and then just order drinks and an appetizer, or snack on chips and salsa. If I’m at dinner and know I’m going to go out for drinks after, I might just order water with my meal. Or I might indulge all night. Whatever I spend money on though, I do it on purpose. I go into it knowing how much I’m willing to spend and I stick to it. Also, I hear a lot in articles and podcasts about friends splitting the bill. I don’t know if that’s just not a thing in the midwest or if it’s just not a thing among my groups of friends who are also paying off massive student debt, but I’d say don’t be afraid to be the one to say “I’m just going to pay my own tab, I only ordered water.”
Taking Advantage of Free Opportunities. Free activities abound year round if you look hard enough, and the holidays are no exception. Perhaps one of the best free things you can do with friends and family around the holidays is VOLUNTEER! Spend time with the people you love while making a difference for others. Other ideas include driving around looking at Christmas lights, going to local parades and festivals, and I’m sure there are tons of other local free events – I trust in your ability to use Google.
Just Because All Your Friends are Doing it… Doesn’t mean you have to. My in-laws love to go shopping together as a family at the mall (I actually hate going to the mall this time of year, but I do love the time spent together doing it) and antiquing in our local small towns. I can participate and fully enjoy myself during these times without buying a single thing. To me, again, it’s more about family time spent together than anything else, and I am content with that.
Bottom line: you don’t have to give up everything you love in order to save money during the holidays. But you probably could make some positive changes. I know I won’t be able to completely cut out extra expenses during the holidays, and I’m okay with that. By staying mindful and making intentional decisions about my spending this time of year, I can be sure that I don’t spend more than I want or mean to. It takes a little extra planning, but that’s well worth it to me. How do you save money around the holiday season? Let me know in the comments!