Around the world and across cultures, there are a number of different Winter Holiday traditions. While these traditions and celebrations certainly have their differences, many contain the common themes of celebrating family and togetherness, bringing the beauty of light and color into our homes and showing gratitude in both the giving and receiving of gifts. When grounded in the simple tenets of these traditions, winter Holiday celebrations can be beautiful and comforting and can sustain us through long cold winters which often bring more darkness and less activity.
So why, you may ask, would we ruin these cozy vibes with talk of frugal strategies and a Holiday budget? Well – because we want you to have a fun-filled AND stress free Holiday Season!!!
While the winter Holidays can bring excitement and joy, the amount of time and money it can take to ‘make the Holidays perfect’ can turn this time of year into nightmare!
Holiday expenses, shopping online, the setting of a spending limit, the shopping list(s) and maxing out your credit card, trying to find the best deal at the grocery store and preparing holiday meals – all of this can just lead to stress, poor sleep, and alienation, preventing us from experiencing the joy and connectedness we hope for during the Holidays.
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Define your Own Perfect Holiday
So let’s avoid the nightmare!
Let’s not set ourselves up for bankruptcy, comparison, exhaustion, and feelings of inadequacy. Let’s decide for ourselves what OUR perfect Holiday will look like.
It starts with this question:
What do the Holidays mean to you?
Deciding this will help you keep YOUR “reason for the season” at the center of everything you decide to do. Keeping you from getting swept into outside ideas of Holiday ‘shoulds’.
Most importantly, defining this for yourself will inform the rest of your holiday decisions.
Decisions related to:
- Holiday parties
- Holiday Budgeting & Holiday Shopping
- Gift Giving (e.g., whether you will purchase gifts or do DIY gifts)
- Potential charitable donations
- What Holiday Cheer looks like to you
- Whether your celebration needs to include new decorations, excessive shopping, credit cards, etc.
Only you, and your people, can define what you want the Holidays to be a celebration of, but some ideas might include:
- Celebration of a religious figure or event
- A time to be grateful for and celebrate friends and family member(s)
- Just a good opportunity to buy gifts for people you care about and get together to eat and drink and laugh and have fun
- A pagan-style winter ritual to celebrate and express gratitude for all you have and get you through the long, dark winter
- A time to cook and bake and generally enjoy food and drink
- Anything else you want it to be a celebration of – REALLY! – Anything!
Set a Holiday Budget and Stick to It
Once you are fully centered in YOUR reason for the season – it’s time to take the exciting step of setting a budget.
I know, I know – this feels daunting and not very celebratory. But it is essential! Assuming your idea of celebrating the winter Holidays will require you to spend any amount of money, do not skip this step. The late months of winter are crappy enough without the stress of having financially overextended yourself and ending up in debt.
Your Budgeting Plan for Holiday Expenses
1. Set a Price Limit
Start with the amount of money you are willing to allocate to Holiday spending, above and beyond your normal spending and expenses. This amount might be $50. It might be a few thousand dollars. There isn’t a right answer. But if you don’t get clear on your holiday budget and start to plan for expected holiday expenses, you WILL spend more than you intended – the fury of the Holiday season and the Christmas shopping industrial complex is coming for us all!
Decide what is most important to you when it comes to how you will use your budget. Perhaps holiday gifts are your priority, maybe a big event or trip to celebrate the new year is most important to you, maybe it’s all about the baking and food for you.
3. Assign money to each category
Divide up the funds you have earmarked for your Holiday budget and allocate more money to those things that are most important to you. Or maybe you want to balance your purchases and budget across multiple categories of food, gifts, ugly Christmas sweaters, etc. Your choice! Set your price limit for each category. You can even break this down to how much you are able to spend on each person on your gift list.
If you want to really keep yourself accountable to the budget you set for each category, get yourself an inexpensive budget binder that allows you to physically allocate cash to each category.
Even if you end up making purchases online, you can ‘pay yourself back’ from your cash envelopes and more closely track your spending. Spending cash feels more ‘real’ than using cards and the tangible nature of a budget binder with real cash can be a powerful holiday budgeting tool.
Keep track of your actual spending in each category as the Holidays season ticks along. If you aren’t using a budget binder, create a simple spread sheet to help you track your spending in each category. Watching your available funds decrease will make you more likely to search for deals and check prices in order to stretch your funds as far as possible.
If you start to feel limited by the task of creating your budget, DON’T FRET!
You can still have a wonderful time during the Holidays all while sticking to your spending limit!
There are plenty of ways to save money during the Holidays.
Get Creative With Your Holiday Shopping
One great way to save money during the holidays is to get creative with your gift giving.
Stretch your Holiday Season Budget with Thrifting
Every Christmas I challenge myself to buy as many Holiday gifts at secondhand and vintage shops as I can.
Why Secondhand Holiday Shopping is the Best
- It’s like a treasure hunt looking for that perfect gift for the people on your list. Bundle up, stop for a festive coffee on the way and make a Holiday outing of it.
- It’s the best way to find something one of a kind; and you’ll have a great story about how you came across it and what about the gift made you think of them
- If you shop at consignment stores, you can also make some extra money by cleaning out your closet and selling some of the things you don’t need
- It’s environmentally friendly. The environmental impact of the excessive consumption associated with the Holidays is wild! Buying secondhand cuts down on both holiday spending and your carbon footprint!
- You find the best deals! While it does require searching, you are very likely to find better quality gifts at a fraction of the price at thrift stores – meaning your loved ones get cooler, better quality gifts and you stick to your Holiday budget!
Read our detailed guide to thrift store shopping here – it is full of tips and tricks and cool gift ideas – truly, it will open a whole new world for you!!
Homemade Gifts = Smaller Shopping List
Homemade gifts are another fun and festive way to cut down on your holiday spending. One of my personal favorites is a jar of cookie mix. This is a great option for people who love to bake and are looking to decrease holiday expenses.
Jar of Cookie Mix
To make your own jar of cookie mix, all you need is:
-A quart-sized jar with a lid
-1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-3/4 teaspoon baking powder
-3/4 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-2 large eggs, beaten
-1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Simply combine the dry ingredients in the jar, then attach a tag that reads:
“To make cookies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Add mixture to prepared baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Mmmmm Cookies!!!“
Make Your Own Decorations
Making your own decorations is a real Holiday season two-for-one deal! Making decorations is a great tradition to start with your family and friends and is much easier on your holiday budget than store bought decor.
There are so many fun, easy DIY projects that you can do to create festive decorations.
Popcorn and Cranberry Garland
This festive garland is easy to make and perfect for Christmas parties. All you need is some popcorn, cranberries, ribbon, and a hot glue gun. This Gorilla Glue Gun is great!
Paper Christmas Tree
This simple tree can be made from recycled cardboard or paper. It’s a great craft for kids and takes less than 10 minutes to make!
A burlap wreath is a great way to add some rustic charm to your home. You can make this wreath in just a few steps using some burlap fabric, ribbon, and a Styrofoam ring. Here are a few Styrofoam ring options.
Make a chain of paper snowflakes (kids love this one and it’s so easy and effective!)
The possibilities are endless, so get creative and have fun!
Check out these Christmas Ornament Kits to get you started!
This book includes 27 different Christmas decor crafts. The projects are beautiful and rustic with gorgeous pictures and detailed instructions.
Host Potluck Dinners this Holiday Season!
Hosting a potluck holiday dinner is a great way to save money while still enjoying a festive meal with your friends or family. Everyone can bring a dish to share, such as meatballs, homemade bread, or your favorite salad. You’ll have plenty of food without having to spend a lot of money. Plus, it’s a great way to try out new recipes! This Christmas Baking Book is so good for some extra special treats!
If you’re hosting a potluck dinner, be sure to ask your guests to bring their dish in a disposable container. That way, you won’t have to worry about dishes when it’s time to clean up. And don’t forget the drinks! Ask your guests to bring a bottle of wine or some festive holiday drinks.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to a potluck, consider investing in a casserole carrier.
A casserole carrier is one of those things that once you have it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. These gadgets allow you to safely transport food, in a temperature controlled way, keeping your dishes cushioned and upright during travel. This one even has two levels, so handy!
For your next Holiday get together – suggest a potluck! Everyone is working within a holiday budget, so most people will appreciate the chance to collaborate on a big festive meal during the Holiday season without having to take on the entire expense themselves.
Secret Santa or White Elephant Gift Exchanges
White elephant or Secret Santa gift exchanges are a great way to save money during the holidays. Here’s a quick breakdown of how they work:
Everyone draws a name and buys a gift for that person. The key is to keep it affordable, so groups will often set a price limit for gifts. Sometimes multiple small gifts are left over a number of weeks and other times, everyone gathers for one gift-exchange event. Usually there is an element of trying to catch or guess who your Secret Santa is.
Everyone brings a gift and places it in a central location. Then, everyone takes turns picking a gift from the pile. The idea is to get something that you want, but don’t necessarily need – often people purchase funny, impractical or novelty items. This is a great way to enjoy gift-giving and receiving without spending a fortune.
Enjoy Free Holiday Activities in Your City
One of the best ways to enjoy the Holidays without spending a fortune is to take advantage of the free activities offered in many cities. Many malls, downtown areas, and other community spaces host festive events that are free to attend. This can be a great way to get into the holiday spirit and spend time with your friends and family.
We love to go on a few Christmas light cruises through the city. Grab a hot chocolate and some snacks and enjoy the show! You can even rate them as you go. Our newspaper often maps out where to find the best holiday set up.
Many museums and art galleries offer free admission on certain days or during certain hours. This can be a great way to explore new exhibits or learn more about your favorite holiday traditions.
Finally, many libraries host special Holiday events like story time or concerts that are free for everyone to attend.
By taking the time to identify and prioritise what is important to you, you can plan ahead and get creative and enjoy a beautiful stress free Holiday season that doesn’t eat into your savings or land you in debt!