The holidays are here! Christmas music has started playing in retail stores, light displays have begun to glow, and many of us have started to make our Christmas lists. But how do you enjoy the season without going into debt? We’ll go over everything you should consider and give tips on managing Christmas on a budget with your family.
How Do I Have Christmas on a Budget?
While the season is exciting, you’re not alone if your budget has tightened a bit this year. Considering all of the costs associated with the holiday, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But if you make a realistic budget and stick to it, the season will become more manageable, so you don’t start the new year in debt.
Thinking about how to do Christmas on a budget doesn’t mean you have to make all of your gifts or buy everything at the Dollar Store. Instead, a budget-friendly Christmas starts with making a plan for your total expenses. What do you think you’ll need to spend in terms of food, decorations, party outfits, and gifts? Think about what you want to prioritize. Maybe the $200 you usually spend on Christmas cards could be better spent on a fun family experience. Identify what really matters for your family, and invest your time and money there.
What Are Things to Consider for Your Budget?
Here are a few categories to consider when it comes to Christmas expenses. Remember– you don’t need to splurge on everything! Planning ahead allows you to spend and save in areas where you really want to.
Ahh, yes, the big cause of Christmas anxiety–gifts. According to Statista, Americans expect to spend, on average, $930 on Christmas gifts in 2022. That’s no small number. Whether you have kids asking for a new iPhone or don’t know how you’re going to afford ANY gifts this season without going into debt, don’t panic. The best way to approach gift-giving this season is with lots of planning, a realistic budget, comparison shopping, and an evaluation of your priorities. If you need to, vocalize expectations and boundaries.
2. Grocery Bills
Figuring out Christmas dinner on a budget is no easy feat. If money is tight, be extra conscious about choosing items on sale. Do comparison shopping whenever you can, use coupons, and only purchase things you absolutely need. If a big Christmas dinner for 25 people isn’t in the budget this year, suggest a potluck-style dinner or have everyone over for dessert instead!
3. Decorations on a Budget
One of the biggest money pits of the holidays is the shiny, new decorations. Whether you stroll the isles at Target or check out the seasonal goodies at TJ Maxx, the temptation to have a new “theme” each year is overwhelming.
One of my favorite ways to avoid this is by using natural materials to decorate. Turn it into a fun Christmas craft! I cut a few branches off a magnolia tree and adorn the edges with gold glitter. I use salt dough to make DIY ornaments or a cute garland. Popcorn, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, and cranberries all make festive garlands, too. Even better–you don’t have to worry about storage. Just toss them at the end of the season!
4. Christmas Cards
If you’re on a tight budget this year, Christmas cards may be one of the items on the chopping block. With stamps and printing, you can quickly rack up a three-figure bill. If you’re not ready to forgo the tradition, just buy a pack of regular, generic Christmas cards. Use a printing service to print as many photos as you need, then slip them into the cards. You can even buy photo paper and do this step at home with your printer! The cheapest option, of course, is to send out a digital Christmas card!
5. Christmas Trees
It may be tempting to update your usual Christmas tree, but this is one of the most expensive (and ecologically harmful) ways to spend your money year after year. Use what you have, or opt for the lower-priced live tree at the tree lot. If Charlie Brown taught us anything, it’s not the shape or size of the tree that matters, but the love and thought you put into decorating it. If you really need a new fake tree, wait until after Christmas and check out the markdowns.
6. Increased Energy Bills
It’s no secret that the electric bill can spike during the holidays. The energy bill can add up fast between the Christmas trees, endless string lights, and inflatable snowmen. If you’re not ready to scale things back, look at last year’s energy bill around December and factor in the cost as you build your budget. Remember that inflation could also mean a significant jump in your energy bill.
6 Tips for Christmas Shopping on a Budget
Still looking for more ways to cut extra Christmas expenses? Shopping is one of the season’s biggest stressors, so check out these helpful tips for navigating the season:
1. Use an App.
You’ve heard it time and time again–“there’s an app for that.” That’s right, managing Christmas on a budget is no exception. One of our top picks for managing money this season is Christmas Gift List (by engApps). If you’re looking for a more broad budgeting app that works year-round, check out Mint or EveryDollar.
2. Look for Discount Codes.
Start planning early if you’re buying Christmas gifts on a budget. Desktop and mobile apps like Honey can help find you discounts and deals before you make any purchase. Even a quick Google search for codes can yield results.
3. Join a Coupon/Discount-Sharing Community.
Lots of communities are built online for bargain-minded shoppers to share tips, coupon codes, and intel on where to find the best deals. Lots of buy-nothing groups even work to swap items with others! If you have some time, check out what they have to offer!
4. Research When Things Will Go on Sale.
We all know the draw of Black Friday deals–they’re often deeply discounted, and the best sales happen at midnight. But don’t be too quick to make that purchase–do some comparison shopping first. Another retail store may have a better deal.
5. Change Your Mindset.
Many people have had a challenging year financially. You’re not alone. If you feel comfortable, tell people who may be expecting gifts from you that you’re going “low-key” this year, and do not expect lavish gifts, as you won’t be able to reciprocate. If they respond negatively, don’t let it get under your skin. That’s more of a reflection of them than you. Christmas isn’t about going into debt.
First and foremost–remember why you celebrate. It may be religious, or it could just be about celebrating family and friends. No matter how or why you celebrate, keep that at the forefront of your mind.
6. Make Your Own Christmas Gifts on a Budget.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to raid the arts and crafts closet. Tasty holiday treats are one of the best parts of the season–and they always make great gifts. Make “Reindeer Chow,” gingerbread loaves, or cookies to hand out to neighbors, friends, and family. They’ll cost you only a few dollars! Turn on some Christmas jams and spend a Saturday making homemade goodies–you could even get the kiddos involved!
What are Some Low-Cost Activities to Celebrate Christmas on a Budget?
Theme parks, skating, concerts, plays, and markets can all run up a hefty price tag. Not ideal if you’re trying to do Christmas on a budget. These activities will cost you little to nothing! And they’re great ways to spend quality time with the people you love.
Look at Christmas Lights! Most cities or towns have at least one neighborhood known for its commitment to spectacular Christmas lights displays. Put on your jammies, pack into the car, crank up the Christmas tunes, and maybe even bring some cookies or hot chocolate for the drive. Be sure to look for displays with connected radio stations that match the blinking lights!
Play (Reindeer) Games! Host a Christmas-themed family game night and call it “Reindeer Games.” They could be minute-it-to-win-it style games like eating donuts on a string or a candy cane relay. But they could also just be your favorite board games!
Host a Cookie Exchange! Fortunately, there’s no shortage of Christmas cookie recipes. Host a cookie exchange where everyone brings a batch of their favorite recipe! To avoid duplicates, create an online spreadsheet so everyone knows which ones are already claimed. Everyone at the party gets a box, plate, or goodie bag to mix and match whichever cookies they want! Check out this article for some great recipe ideas!
Go caroling! Caroling is a fun way to spend Christmas cheer, and you also get to know other people in your area. You never know who may need Christmas cheer, and caroling is a small thing that could mean the world to them.
While these activities cost very little, you still should still consider making a thorough budget. This will help you prioritize what you DO need and want to spend money on.
‘Tis the Season for Celebrating What’s Important
No matter what your budget is this year, you can make this Christmas one to remember with a bit of extra planning and effort. What are your best tips for managing Christmas on a budget? Share your best tips and resources with your friends along with this article! Everyone could use a bit of extra cheer this season, so don’t forget to share that, too!