The holiday season is here, but so is inflation.
For some, this is the most wonderful time of year. But if you’re like 89% of consumers polled by Numerator, you’re bracing for the impact inflation will have on your spending and gifting.
With soaring costs, worrying about how you’ll pay for presents or whether you’ll be able to afford a nice Christmas dinner can take the fun out of the holidays.
If you’re struggling to afford Christmas, there are a few things you can do to help ease the stress without ruining the holiday.
A small or non-existent budget probably means you can’t afford to travel, buy gifts for everyone, and say yes to every get-together this Christmas season. But that doesn’t mean you must entirely opt out of the celebrations.
Keep it simple. Who is most important to you? What traditions are you not willing to give up?
Once you determine that, spend your money accordingly.
“We are transitioning back into the meaning of Christmas, focusing on providing instead of receiving, and challenging the kids to brainstorm ways we can serve our community,” says Nicole Graber of Gracefully Abundant.
Overspending at Christmas is extremely easy and common. Whether you have a lot of money to spend or only a little, you need a budget. Figure out how much you can afford to spend on holiday shopping without getting into debt or financial trouble.
Consider all potential holiday-related expenses, such as gifts, cards, gift wrap, shipping, decorations, food and drinks, entertainment, travel, donations, family photos, etc. Then taking your priorities into account, start assigning the amount you can spend on each category, person, or activity.
Stick to this budget.
If you’re concerned about overspending, take out what you can afford to spend in cash or use a prepaid credit card for that set amount. Then, once it runs out, stop spending.
Companies promote Christmas as early as September to get you to spend more money. And it works. 38% of consumers surveyed in the 2022 Deloitte holiday study say they will be shopping earlier this year.
As soon as you see those aisles of green and red, you start thinking about Christmas, whether you want to or not. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. You have a better chance of finding the perfect gift at an affordable price if you have time to look.
Keep an eye on deals and promotions on the items on your Christmas list. Sign up for newsletters from your favorite stores to take advantage of the discounts they offer to new subscribers.
Another bonus is that it’s easier to manage your spending by spreading it out over a few weeks or months.
Starting early also gives you more time to make extra money if that’s what you need to do.
Skip The Gifts
It’s okay to have a giftless Christmas and not feel guilty about it. After all, the holidays should be about togetherness, not material things.
Sending handwritten cards to friends, family, and other important people is an affordable way to show that you care and are thinking of them. If money is tight, you can do this for free online.
Do fun, free things with your loved ones, like going to winter carnivals and parades or meeting Santa Claus. Host a pot-luck dinner or a Christmas movie marathon. Drive around looking at the lights with your loved ones. Go sledding. Volunteer together at a soup kitchen or food bank.
“Many museums and cultural institutions have special holiday programming or, at the very least, have festive decor,” suggests Monica Fish of Planner at Heart. “The best part? You can check out admission passes just like books from your library for a no-cost.”
If gifts are essential to your celebration, hold a Secret Santa or gift exchange with a set dollar limit. It will reduce stress and keep your spending within your budget.
“Due to increased inflation, we have decided to modify our family gift-buying tradition,” says John Dealbreuin of Financial Freedom Countdown. “We will only be buying gifts for children instead of buying gifts for everyone.”
Gift-giving doesn’t have to include spending money. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
If you’re crafty, handy, or artistic, why not put your skills to use and make handmade gifts? Bake cookies, knit a scarf, or put together a gift basket.
If you lack those DIY skills, why not offer to do something for your loved ones instead? Offer to babysit for your neighbor on a Friday night or give your child a coupon to go bowling together.
If you’re struggling to afford Christmas, celebrating late will allow you to stretch your budget further.
Retailers want to sell their leftover inventory and offer significant discounts in the days right after Christmas. Take advantage of these sales or stock up on anything non-perishable to use next year.
The holidays are also busy—90% of those surveyed by Deloitte plan to travel in November and December. Postponing your trip until January makes it easier to get together and avoid crowds. You can also take advantage of cheaper flights and accommodations.
According to Hopper’s 2022 Holiday Travel Outlook, airfares between Thanksgiving and Christmas will be the highest in the last five years. They suggest traveling on less popular dates, such as after the holidays, to save as much as $300 on domestic flights.
You don’t have to share the details of your finances, but don’t put yourself into debt because you’re being polite or too shy to speak up.
Deloitte found that more than a third (37%) of respondents say their finances are worse than last year. There’s a good chance that money is tight for your loved ones too. You’re doing them a favor by offering to celebrate differently.
No matter what you do, remember that Christmas is about more than just gifts and money. It’s about spending time with the people you love, creating memories, and feeling grateful for what you have.
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Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and more. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a free library of career & job search resources.