The holidays are stressful enough without your loved ones expecting you to spring for a Sonos this year. Here’s how to survive the season of giving without breaking your budget.
‘Tis the hap-happiest season of all, etc. But, let’s be honest: we all quietly get super anxious about a lot of things around the holidays. Family brings out all their baggage, shipping costs skyrocket, and you have to figure out how to bring presents back home without some major overweight baggage fees.
First things first: Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in your duress; the season of “Santa Baby” also happens to the most stressful time of year—especially for women (but of course it is).
Below, we’ve compiled six of the most stress-inducing holiday scenarios for those of us with a tight budget this holiday season, and found some answers on how to approach them with grace (and without running out of $$ come the new year).
When you need to buy a present for a friend…or five
A common piece of financial advice for the holiday season comes straight from your fave childhood Christmas carol: Make a list (and check it twice if you feel like it).
This may sound silly, but write down who you want to buy gifts for in order of priority. Then, next to their name, figure out how much you’re willing to spend. That small task will immediately help alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with just not knowing.
Then, mitigate stress and overspending by shopping online. Octavia Faith, a financial coach and Girlbosscontributor, suggests shopping BOGO sales so you can “kill two birds with one stone.”
Another bright idea? Go in with a friend, Faith suggests. “This gives you more wiggle room in your budget, but [you can] still get them something nice.”
Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief ofPsychology Todayand a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, pointed out in USA Todaythat shopping online reduces emotional stress as well:
“Try to arrange things so that you never even encounter the actual stressors,” he says. “That can mean buying things well in advance of the deadlines, shopping only when the crowds are small, buying over the Internet with a cocktail in your hand—doing whatever it takes so that you never have to fight for a parking space or deal with a rude cashier. Fight stress before it starts.”
And if you can’t avoid all those stressors and end up in a super busy store come December 24, try using cash to buy your gifts. Handing over you hard-earned paper money might help you keep yourself in check.
If that’s just too scary, Faith recommends you “supplement inexpensive gift purchases with something that you’ve made. It can be a baked good, something crafty, or anything that you’ve put some sweat equity into. Sometimes those are the most meaningful gifts of all.”
When you need to travel
Luckily, traveling over the holidays doesn’t have to be completely unattainable. With the help of a little internet sleuthing, you can secure a pretty great vacation without wrecking your budget.
It’s kind of stressful that for optimal travel budgeting, you either have to budget really far in advance or totally last minute. But, as Faith points out, we should know better by now: “The holidays come at the same time every year, so it should never come as surprise.”
She recommends slowly putting some money aside in a holiday travel fund in the months leading up. “This way, you can even take advantage of deals before the holiday season for those special people on your list.”
If that isn’t something that you did this year, don’t sweat it. We’ve got you covered.
Nick Trend, commissioning editor of Telegraph Travel, recommends using SkyScanner for your travel needs. There, you can compare prices for how much your flight back home will take depending on date and time. And heads up that prices can vary a lot,so use price comparison websites with care, Trend says.
If you’re traveling last-minute, check out Hotel Tonight. Hotels give the site their unsold rooms, and they’re up for grabs at some pretty unreal prices if you strike at the right time.
When you need to attend a pricey party
This is probably the trickiest one. WTF are you supposed to do when your friends expect you to shell out way more than you can? If you’re at a bar, return to that cash payment method. Way less of a slippery slope than an open tab behind the bar.
If gifts are expected, buy some white wine and turn it into some bubbly, or bring something openly goofy. Nobody will know, either, if you’re regifting something you didn’t want from last year. Just sayin’. That’s the most environmentally friendly way to go.
Pro tip: You also don’t need to to go to every party you’re invited to. “Being able draw boundaries with yourself and with others,” Faith reminds us, “is a sign of maturity. If just ordering an appetizer with water is out of the picture, then there will be other dinners to be had and other invitations you can accept another time.”
♪ Tis the season to be picky, fa la la la la, la la la la ♪
When your friends want to do something seasonal
All those winter wonderlands actually get kind of expensive. Rather than going into credit card debt so you can go snowboarding, keep it simple: Looking at Christmas lights? Super free. Volunteering? Extremely free, and it’ll make someone else’s holiday season a little brighter. Keep an eye out for free concerts and free movie screenings as well.
Try finding a local charity with holiday activities to donate your time with friends. Loaves & Fishes is always a good option, of course, with branches all over the country. Plus, you’ll be primed for that New Year’s resolution of volunteering more.
When your office wants to do a gift exchange
Don’t be shy about making your voice heard when your office starts to get a little tooexcited about the holiday gift exchange. For the party, instead of gifts, suggest doing a White Elephant. And instead of setting a spending limit, you can even make a rule of re-gifting things you already have at home that you don’t want or need. Think: weird toys, decorative napkins, soaps, and that candle.
When you want to host a party
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you should have to give up your calling as a hostess extraordinaire. There are a ton of ways to host the perfect holiday party without spending way more money than you anticipated.
First, there are some pretty unreal places to bargain shop for decor—especially this time of the year. Everywhere from TJ Maxx to your local antique mall is bound to have a plethora of super cute goodies to deck the halls with.
Decide how much you want to spend in advance, and make an outing out of it. And don’t be afraid to ask people to chip in, Faith says “Trying to make a variety of different dishes yourself can add up quickly, regardless of how many people you are hosting for,” she says, so turn your evening into a potluck.
“The best way to not seem like a cheap host is to ask your trusty friends to bring side dishes, and then you make the main part of the meal. Ask other friends to bring drinks—inexpensive additions to the meal that won’t be too much of a hassle for them.”
For the main course, whip out your slow cooker. A one-pot meal is time and pocket-friendly when you’re cooking for a group—and they don’t haveto be “dump meals” (y tho).
Check out these chef-ified tips on Bon Appetit. The time the food spends in the pot can be spent putting up all those amazing antique store finds.