It’s no secret that we’re in the midst of a recession, which is stressful enough. But now that the holidays are coming in the next few months, those tightened purse strings can feel like they’re choking you. However, just because this year’s celebration may have to cost less, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the holidays during a recession just as much as before. These low cost holiday ideas will help you stay in the spirit of things without breaking the bank, recession or not.
Create a Holiday Budget
The sights, sounds, and tastes of the holiday season seem to make us open our wallets more so than any other time of the year; sentimentality and feelings of good will override our common sense, and before we know it, our credit cards are maxed out and our bank accounts emptied in the name of peace and love to all. We all want to show those we love just how much they mean to us through thoughtful gifts and lavish gestures, but keeping a holiday budget in mind will curb your impulses and keep your money in check.
When you sit down to make your budget, list all of the people you buy gifts for, from your kids to the office secret Santa. First, determine if everyone on that list needs a gift from you. For instance, a few years ago my sister-in-law and I decided that in order to save our sanity and our budgets, we’d stop exchanging gifts amongst the adults and just give gifts to each other’s children. This took some of the stress out of trying to find the “perfect” gift, and now we’re spending less per family, which makes it more enjoyable all around.
Once you have your list, determine a set amount that you’ll spend on each person, and stick to it! This same sister-in-law and I agreed upon a set amount to spend on each child. This way, everyone gets roughly the same type of gift, and we don’t have the anxiety of wondering how much to spend. My husband and I started doing this for our kids as well. We determine a set amount per child, and simply deduct from their total as we shop. Once each limit is reached, we’re done shopping for that child. If they come up with another “list idea” after we’re done, we pass it on to another relative like Grandma, or put it on their list for a birthday or other special occasion.
Besides gifts, make sure you budget for other holiday activities as well, such as parties or special family outings. These things can add up, especially when you shop with your emotions. But if you plan ahead and stick to your budget, you’ll find that your anxiety is actually lessened, since you know you’ve accomplished something you can actually afford. Make sure you write out all of your budget information and share it with anyone who shares the shopping with you, like your spouse. It may be difficult at first to stick to your plan, since the holidays offer up all sorts of temptations, but you’ll breathe easier come January when there are no unexpected bills in the mailbox.
Ask For Help
The hallmark of the holiday season is certainly large meals and lavish parties, but they can cost a small fortune when all is said and done. You don’t want to give up spending time with family and friends, but that doesn’t mean that you have to foot the bill. Instead of buying and preparing all of the food, drinks, and decorations for your celebration, why not delegate and ask others to contribute? Chances are that others are also feeling the pinch this year and will be happy to help, and if you ask according to people’s talents and abilities (“Linda, you make the best chocolate cake! Could you bring one to the party? I know everyone would love it!”), they’ll usually be flattered you thought of them and be happy to help. In my large family, the host always provides the main course (like a turkey), and everyone else contributes side dishes, drinks, appetizers, and desserts. We’re all famous for certain dishes, so we all contribute them to each family gathering. This takes the pressure off of whoever’s hosting and makes the whole holiday less stressful and more enjoyable.
Be willing to reciprocate the gesture as well. If you’re always the first to ask, “What can I bring?” when being invited to someone else’s gathering, people will remember that and be even more willing to help you when you need it. Swapping goods for services with others is another great way to get things done on the cheap. If your friend is great at decorating, try bartering with her: she decorates your living room and dining room, and you offer her 2 nights of free babysitting in exchange. Or, if your buddy is knowledgeable about wine, offer to make some home repairs in exchange for him bringing a case. If you really start to think about how others can help and what your talents and abilities are, you’ll find that you can make everyone happy through the right trades.
Celebrate the Meaning of the Season, Not the Things
When it comes right down to it, the holiday season is about being with family and friends and celebrating what we cherish, not how many gifts we get. A recession is the perfect time to evaluate why we celebrate and put your spending into perspective. Once your focus is clear, pass this on to your children and others you celebrate with; don’t be afraid to simplify things, from the amount of gifts you buy to the various activities you attend throughout the season.
Some families I know have taken this to heart in the area of gift-giving. For Christmas, each child gets three gifts, just like Jesus received from the wise men. One is the small things in their stocking, one is a moderately-priced gift, and one is a big gift. The kids know what to expect every year, and instead of having lots of gifts, each person gets gifts that are truly meaningful to him, helping him appreciate what he has even more.
The holidays are also a great time to create new traditions with your family that don’t have to cost anything. One of our favorite traditions is snuggling in our pajamas, putting on a favorite holiday movie, making homemade popcorn, and having a family night in. My kids look forward to their favorite flicks year after year, complete with sugar cookies and hot cocoa, and we all have fun just being together.
Another fun and free activity is taking a walk or drive around a local neighborhood and looking at lights. Many communities have one house, street, or neighborhood that really gets into decorating and is a lot of fun to look at. Every year, we drive to one house that is covered in lights of every shape and color imaginable. The front lawn houses display after display, music plays, and Santa even makes a guest appearance at pre-announced times throughout the season. It’s a family tradition, as it is for many others in our town, and the kids get so excited to slowly drive up the street and take it all in. We always drive by at least twice to make sure we see it all, and it doesn’t cost us a thing.
Many communities also host special holiday events, such as luminary nightsand tree lighting ceremonies, as well as holiday concerts and festivals. Downtown areas in local cities are usually decorated, and taking a walk to look at store window displays and other décor is a fun way to get to know your unique town. Instead of dinner out, stop by a local café, get some coffee or hot chocolate and a cookie, and take a holiday walk. It’s a lot less expensive and a lot more festive. Just taking the time to be together is a great way to relax during this chaotic season and spend some quality time with the ones you love.
Feeling the pinch of dwindling finances is never fun, but it doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying the holiday season. In fact, spending less money and being more purposeful about what you choose to do can really help you focus on what’s important about this time of year and why we celebrate. Take advantage of this situation by spending time instead of money and showering those you love with thoughtful gestures instead of expensive gifts. You may find that instead of this being a tough holiday season, it turns out to be the best.