If you are among the 45% of Americans who would prefer to skip Christmas gifts, we’ve got a suggestion for saving money and cutting holiday stress: Change your family traditions to meaningful ones that won’t break the bank. Just because you’ve bought your sister an expensive gift for the past 36 years doesn’t mean you have to continue that practice.
Here are 10 ways to save money while still enjoying a fun and meaningful holiday:
Set a holiday budget and stick to it. Don’t let emotion drive your shopping and spending. Whether you have $100 or $500 to spend on holiday festivities and Christmas gifts, when temptation strikes, remind yourself how happy you will be in January when (not if) you stick to your budget and don’t overspend.
Spend less than last year. Plan to spend 80% of what you spent last year. If you don’t know what you spent last year, take your best guess, and keep track this year so you will know. To help you stay on track, download free Microsoft Office templates. You’ll find plenty of ways to organize and track everything from personal expenses to your Christmas gift list and monthly budget planning.
Plan ahead to save money on holiday meals. Prepare the turkey dinner from scratch or make it a potluck. Assign a different scratch-made dish to each family member. Even children and teens can learn tasks such as how to assemble green bean casserole or peel potatoes. Cooking this way really saves money, so enlist all the help you need. If you have friends and family attending, make it a potluck and ask them to bring a dish. People like to participate; find out if they have a specialty they want to bring and cross it off your to-do list.
Buy only gifts that you can pay for in full by Dec. 25. Spend only what you have, not what you wish you had. Don’t buy Christmas gifts using credit cards to get you through the holiday. If you need to spread out the cost, use the layaway program at major retailers like Sears, Kmart and Toys ‘R Us. Caution: Be sure to read the fine print and choose a layaway plan with no service fee. Those extra fees can end up costing you more than credit card interest.
Limit the amount you spend on every gift. One family I know limits Christmas gifts to something homemade and costing no more than $10. Whatever rules you choose, set a maximum dollar amount for each gift and stick to it. Pick gifts like coffee gift cards, movie tickets, books or fashion accessories that have lots of price points and selection. If the hardcover book you want to buy is over budget, find a paperback bestseller or locate a hidden literary gem by enlisting the staff at a good local bookstore. If the necklace you want to buy is too expensive, buy a less-expensive pendant that you know the recipient can use on an existing chain, or give a gift card to an accessory store such as the affordable Claire’s, the fashionable Henri Bendel, the innovative Laila Rowe, or the value-conscious H&M.
Draws names and buy only one gift. Put all family and extended family names in a hat and let everyone pick one name. This way, you only have to buy one Christmas gift. Another option is to buy one big family gift, such as a television, board games for family game night throughout the year or a family computer.
End gift exchanges between adults and in extended families. You can save a lot of time and money if the adults in extended families agree not to exchange gifts with each other. They may also decide to limit gift-giving to the children in their immediate family. This may work better if opening Christmas gifts is done at each individual family home prior to the shared event. When the extended family gets together, it can be only to share the meal, games, storytelling and other holiday entertainment.
Do charitable acts in lieu of gifts. As a family, agree to participate in a charitable project for the holidays. This can include donating cash or goods to a food bank or charitable cause, volunteering at a soup kitchen to prepare or serve meals, helping at a food bank to pack holiday boxes or deliver food to home-bound clients, or helping to pack and send care packages to our troops overseas. Don’t overlook extending kindness to your neighbors, such as transporting a disabled person to do their gift or grocery shopping, shoveling snow or clearing leaves from clogged gutters or street drains.
Start new traditions. Read Christmas or other inspirational stories aloud as a family. Find instructions for a DIY Advent calendar online to build and share throughout the season. Bake cookies or make candy from scratch. Teach your children generosity by asking them to sort through their toys, selecting gently used toys still in good condition that they no longer play with and donating the toys to a charitable organization.
Participate in the Christmas spirit. In lieu of gifts (or in addition to limited gifts), plan a schedule of holiday services and events. Major cities and even small towns offer a variety of free plays, pageants, concerts and church services that capture the spirit of the season. Take a drive to marvel at Christmas lights. Attend an inspirational religious service or awe-inspiring tree lighting ceremony. Immerse yourself in some holiday music.
May the peace and joy of the season be with you and yours now and throughout the New Year.