How to Get Festive Without Hurting Your Finances


There’s nothing we don’t love about this time of year. Glittering lights adorn trees, shiny and sparkly merchandise peeks out of every store, and it feels like calories from endless hot chocolates and decorated sugar cookies definitely don’t count.

It feels like there’s always something festive going on every day of December, especially in the city where you can find tree lightings, holiday parties, and seasonal events on every corner. But as much as we don’t like to think about it, the holidays and all the festivities can make a serious financial impact (just like those cookie calories that, sadly, totally do count).

Yes, It’s Okay to Prioritize Your Budget - Even During the Holidays

If there’s anything to dislike about the holiday season, it’s that it’s tough to fit everything into a reasonable budget. Between the parties, the gifts, the get-togethers, the decorating, and more, your cash flow can take a serious hit between Thanksgiving and New Years.

What might be even worse is the fact that you might be afraid to even try to keep your spending under control, lest you get hit with labels like Grinch or Scrooge (we all know that awkward moment at dinner when someone doesn’t want to split the bill evenly...). So let’s get that out of the way first: it is absolutely okay to honor your budget this year.

You don’t have to spend more than you can afford (or even more than you want to spend!) in order to properly enjoy this time of year.Here’s what you can do instead to get festive without hurting your finances.

Get Creative with Gift-Giving

There are countless ways you can reduce your holiday spending by simply reducing the amount of stuff you buy for other people. Some of my favorite ways to change up the gift-giving include:

  • Taking my nieces to places and events around the city: They live in a rural community about an hour and a half outside of Boston, so picking them up and giving them a day on the town is something they love, and, I hope, will remember a whole lot more than another toy that ends up under the bed.

  • Offering to do errands or chores for older family members: Instead of buying my elders presents, I try to gift them my time. I can do errands, take care of their shopping, or even do projects around the house that they’ve been putting off or haven’t wanted to do.

  • Sharing my skills: I love to cook and bake, so I try to share that with others when it makes sense to do so. I make holiday cookies for the staff in my building (and I brought in baked treats for my coworkers before I left the corporate world for self-employment). Instead of doing gift swaps with friends, I invite everyone over for a holiday dinner party.

You can get as creative as you want here, but I find the general rule of thumb to follow is to give your time and your effort rather than spending your dollars to gift material stuff. And don’t forget the simplest way to spend less: opt out entirely when you can.

Instead of buying a little trinket for all your coworkers, can you offer to do them a small act of kindness instead? Instead of buying gifts for every adult in your family, can you suggest a Secret Santa or a White Elephant party?

Or, depending on your family dynamics, you might want to have a conversation about not giving presents at all. I know this doesn’t fly with everyone, but you might be surprised how receptive your relatives are to the idea (or at least to talk about alternatives to massive gift splurges).

It’s possible that by being honest with your family about the pressure and financial strain that gift-giving creates, you might find that your relatives feel the same way.


Swap Out Pricey Holiday Traditions with Ones That Cost Less

Changing up your gift-giving doesn’t have to mean you don’t do anything at all. The bottom line is to look for cheaper alternatives and less-costly swaps (thus, doing the White Elephant party instead of buying lots of individual gifts). You can apply the same idea to some other  holiday traditions.

Take advantage of free seasonal festivities instead of shelling out a lot of money for more pricey traditions (going to the ballet, paying for expensive holiday/NYE events at restaurants, etc). There are TONS of free options around the city this time of year from guided nature walks in the suburbs to First Night downtown.

Don’t Worry About Decor

Look, let’s get real: spending a bunch of money on stuff that you haul out of storage for one month out of the year is not practical.

If you want an easy way to free up cash in your budget, don’t blow it on wreaths, ornaments, trees, or other seasonal decor. I know it’s fun and festive, but there are lots of other ways to enjoy it:

  • Drive around and look at light displays.

  • Attend Christmas tree or menorah lightings.

  • Go caroling.

  • Check out seasonal (and free!) events like neighborhood strolls.

And remember that going decor-less yourself doesn’t have to be permanent. Go big when you have a bigger budget!

Keep Donations Reasonable

Another thing that might feel as integral to the whole holiday season as festive decor? Charitable donations. This is certainly a giving time of year, but flip the way you think about your donations just like you can do with your gift-giving. Instead of writing checks or handing over cash, spend a few days volunteering.

Whether that’s working to deliver or serve holiday meals for a single day or getting more actively involved in a program that will benefit from your efforts year-round, look at how you can gift an organization or nonprofit with your skills, energy, or time.

You’ll make a hugely meaningful impact -- without negatively impacting your finances as you do it.

What’s your holiday strategy? Share with us on twitter!

Kali Roberge is a personal finance writer who contributes to JUGs to explain how freelancers and entrepreneurs can make the most of their money, and writes about mindful living through intentional spending through her email series, LETTERS. You can find her @kaliRoberge