This is not about a no-spend Christmas. I have nothing against people who choose not to spend money on Christmas, or those who choose not to spend in general.
But not spending isn’t for me.
Instead of focusing on how to eliminate spending entirely (or even mostly!) this holiday season, I’m working on saving money in some areas, so I can spend what I want in other place. Thanks to a mix of forethought and creativity, my budget is feeling just as holy jolly as my spirit.
1. Just Say No
I probably sound like a D.A.R.E. poster from my elementary school. But truly, one of my greatest strengths as an adult is knowing how to fold a fitted sheet. Just kidding. I don’t know how to do that because I am not a wizard. But I do know how to politely decline invitations. If you don’t have the time or the money to attend twelve holiday parties in the span of two weeks, say so. It’s an invitation, not a summons.
Here’s how I do it:
- Reply as promptly as I can.
- Genuinely wish them well.
- Try to schedule an alternative, like a coffee date.
I can’t say that I don’t feel bad or sad when I know I’m missing a fun party. But for my schedule and my sanity, sometimes saying no is necessary.
2. Seek Alternatives
For a community that loves to talk about how experiences are supremely better than things (I’m still not sure I agree), we are really great at overlooking one particular fact: Experiences can be really freaking expensive.
Experiences are also really important.
Holidays are wonderful, and holiday are hard. Sometimes at the very same time. Growing up, my parents helped me learn to treasure time with people over the holidays, and I’m so thankful for that. It makes realizing you had your last holiday with someone a little less awful.
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So when someone suggests doing something around the holidays, I don’t take offense. I don’t take to Twitter to complain about how costly things are. Instead, I try to delight in the fact that people think of me and want to spend time with me. (OK, fine. I have a cute kid, and everyone wants to see him. You had to make me say it, didn’t you?)
When things are costly and I still really want to go, I try out a few different things:
- Research prices and tickets online. Sometimes, the date or the time makes a difference. Other times, buying in advance can save money.
- Explore cashback details either using shopping portals or a credit card that might have a special bonus category.
- Check Groupon and similar sites.
- Look to see if my library offers passes for free.
- Suggest similar (cough, cough, cheaper) alternatives.
Here’s how this recently played out. Chicago has two huge zoos that make huge to-dos about the holidays. I have a very small human with an even smaller attention span. Rather than making the drive out to one of the zoos only to discover HP lost interest after 15 minutes, I found at least five parks in the area that also do winter light festivals. They’re much more toddler friendly. And they’re free!
3. Offer an Out
Here’s the thing about gift giving. It’s probably one of my favorite community activities, but I also see it as the hairy beast that it can be. Sometimes, we get trapped in acts of reciprocity without considering the meaning or the intent. Sometimes, we do things out of tradition or obligation.
It’s OK to stop. Or to at least talk about it.
Two Christmases ago, I realized that my in-laws and I were essentially swapping $100 gift cards. I mustered up the courage to text my sisters-in law and basically said, “Your brother and I would much prefer spending time with you than receiving a gift this year. Would anyone be up for grabbing dinner or drinks in the next couple of weeks?”
I would be lying if I said that wasn’t incredibly stressful to send that message. But the relief that pinged my phone made it all worthwhile.
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4. Using My Christmas Fund
I shopped on Black Friday. And Cyber Monday. I have zero regrets. Why? I planned my purchases in advance, and I also selected the slowest options possible or went with in-store pick up, as a way to try to mitigate a teeny bit of impact on the kind souls at Target and Carter’s. (I didn’t shop in store, and HP actually let us sleep in approximately 7 minutes later than usual, so I truly have no regrets.)
We will actually spend probably close to $500 this Christmas when it’s all said and done. The bulk of that spending is on our parents, who very generously help take care of our son during the week. Plus, and I can’t stress this enough, we like being able to buy them things. In fact, I know my mom will be so excited about the vacuum we bought her, I keep having to stop myself from throwing it in my trunk and driving it over to her early.
Because we know we are going to spend a lot of money on Christmas each year, we actually start planning for it in January. This year, we did something really significant. We decided to try to use money from apps and cashback cards to fund it. (You can read my harebrained plans here and my mid-year check-in here!) While Santa isn’t done checking his list twice, I think it’s safe to say that we are pretty darn close to having the entire Christmas budget covered.
(If you’re looking at your screen thinking that this is the least helpful thing you’re reading on the Internet, go back to my harebrained scheme and see how you can duplicate it for next year. Start now!)
5. Go With The Program
I’m lucky to have my dad for so many reasons. He’ll talk money with me until I’m blue in the face, and he always has. He shares ideas, he asks questions, and he listens. He also tells me in no uncertain terms to stuff it when I start to worry about other people’s money.
It’s really easy for me to get judgmental about money. Of course, I like to think that it comes from a place of love and caring. I think I found something that works, and I want to help. But unless someone asks for help, silence is usually the best policy. Ask me how I know.
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Thankfully, my dad can usually rein in that impulse with a single reminder: “Sometimes, you just have to go with the program.” It’s his way of reminding me that I have family and friends, neighbors and coworkers who spend money differently than I do. Sometimes, I can find a happy compromise. Other times, well, other times, I find myself entering my name into the adult grab bag on his side of the family yet again, knowing good and well we might not actually get a gift we want, but it’ll be a nice way to remember the tradition my grandpa started decades ago.
I draw the line at Trivial Pursuit, though, Dad. I won’t play with you cheaters, program or no program.
Final Thoughts on How I’m Saving This Season
It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle and the glitz and the glamour of the holidays. By planning ahead and continuously reminding myself that we all have more options than we think, I’ve managed to keep our spending in line with what we had budgeted.
And by heeding my dad’s advice, I’m not losing any sleep over holiday grab bags either.
So Tell Me…Are the holidays a spendy season for you? How do you keep things in line?