With the holiday season just around the corner, it can seem nearly impossible to balance the day-to-day cost of living with the added expenses of trying to create perfect memories. As in many other situations, a lack of financial planning can result in over-spending and add unnecessary stress to an already tight budget, but, with proper planning, you can create the perfect, stress-free holiday on a budget!
Holiday on a budget
Set realistic expectations. Before you begin planning holiday meals or shopping for the perfect gift, review your current financial situation and determine how much money you can realistically spend without going into debt or throwing your regular budget out the window.
Set limits. Regardless of the amount of money that you have available within that holiday budget, set limits for the amount that you will spend on food, travel, and decorating as well as gifts.
The best way to create a stress-free holiday on a budget is to simply plan ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to begin your holiday preparations. Very little throws a budget off faster than having to rush around and make decisions at the last minute. Before you spend a dime, create a list of people you will shop for, the meals you plan to host, any traveling (including road travel – gas costs can add up), and any seasonal home decorations that you want to add or replace. Once your list is complete, set a realistic dollar figure per line item and then stick to it.
Once you've decided what type of holiday decorations you want to liven up your space, consider non-traditional or lower-cost venues before heading to the local big-box store. Like full-price stores, in October, thrift stores will begin stocking their shelves with a wide selection of decorations at a fraction of the price of new. Similarly, most discount or dollar stores feature a wide selection of attractive, low-cost decorations at prices that won't break the bank. Don't have a dollar store in your area? Check out the Dollar Tree online and have them shipped straight to your house!
Togetherness is an important part of most holiday plans, but the expense of hosting a nice dinner or brunch can quickly add up, especially if you are lucky enough to have a large family or circle of friends. Instead of hosting a sit-down meal, consider having a cookie decorating party or a potluck with everyone contributing their favorite holiday dish.
If traveling is in your holiday plans, consider all of the available options as soon as you know that the trip is in your future. Depending on the distance that you are traveling, taking a train or a bus might be significantly less expensive than flying. If the distance or available time makes flying a necessity, try to purchase a refundable ticket for your flight as far in advance as possible and then continue to watch the prices. Occasionally, the cost can drop by quite a bit at the last minute, allowing you to cancel your initial ticket for a refund and buy the lower-priced ticket without having to worry about losing your travel plans.
Think outside the retail box. The more personalized the gift, the more it will be appreciated. Have a wine lover on your list, but can't afford a high-priced vintage? Fill a wine glass with Godiva dark chocolate or add a selection of wrapped cheeses and a box of crackers to a small basket. Need a gift for a child? Print off the instructions to make slime, laminate the page, and add it to a gift bag with all of the necessary ingredients. From homemade gift baskets to soup or cookie gift jars, you can turn a few dollars into meaningful gifts that show you care.
While it's all too easy to overspend during the holiday season, if you plan ahead and stick to it, you can enjoy a peaceful, stress-free holiday on a budget and, you never know, you might find that you enjoyed the challenge!