A new survey by Forbes Advisor found that 36% of Americans expect to spend more this holiday than last year. Consumers plan to spend $875 on gifts, decorations, food and other seasonal items this year according to survey conducted by the National Retail Federation.
Here are six holiday hacks I learned as a financial coach to help you spread joy without breaking the bank.
1) Prioritize your top 5 holiday wishes
As you think about how much you might spend this season, write down all the things you plan to do between now and the new year. For example, your list might include:
- Gifts for individuals.
- Favorite must-have foods this time of year.
- Parties you want to host or attend. and
- Traditions that are meaningful to you and your family.
Next, decide on the top five priorities and rank them from most to least important on your holiday wish list. So if you need to adjust your budget, you know what gets funded first.
For example, if visiting family is your priority, you might choose to limit your gift budget and spend that money on a New Year’s Eve trip to catch up with loved ones you haven’t seen in a while.
The important thing is to plan who is important to you before the holidays start.
2) Get feedback on past holiday spending
Ask your loved ones if they enjoyed all their gifts last year, or if there were any “one-and-done” gifts, the ones you give a gift and never feel obligated to do again. If someone says they don’t want anything, believe them. In fact, there are people who would rather not have more things to take care of or would be relieved not to receive a gift because they feel pressured to give back.
Also check with your family during the visit. About half of Americans (48%) plan to travel during the holidays, according to a Deloitte Survey 2023. That means half of Americans are also choosing not to travel, and it might be okay for your family to take a break this year if last year seemed too tiring.
Before you assume what people want, evaluate last year’s spending and whether or not you should celebrate the holidays the same way.
3) Buy gifts using the $1 rule
The $1 rule is easy to apply starting today. Try buying gifts as long as they work out to $1 or less per use. Let’s say you buy a toy or a piece of clothing for someone for $20. Ask yourself, will the gift recipient really use it 20 times?
If the answer is no, try to stick to items that you think will be truly loved and put to good use by your family members and friends as opposed to things that will gather dust in the future.
The $1 rule works well for items that are often impulse buys and forces me to stop and think about how often people will use something, and how long they will realistically keep it, before I buy it.
4) Challenge yourself to a zero-based decorating budget
In our social media obsessed world, it can be easy to go overboard trying to make your home look like a magazine cover. Here are some fun ideas that cost $0:
- Have a holiday decor swap with your neighbors so you can get something new for yourself.
- Get cozy with family and friends as a holiday activity and make homemade Christmas cards with supplies you already have.
- Take the kids on a pine tree scavenger hunt to make a beautiful centerpiece.
- Spread a roll of wrapping paper on the table with prompts such as “I am grateful for . . .” or “My highlight of 2023 was. . .” and place markers or crayons on the table for everyone to share their answers.
You can still make your home feel festive without spending more money on decorations that will gather dust the rest of the year.
5) Plan meals with bites instead of plates
I’m not knocking holiday leftovers, but how many years have you had all those extra containers in the fridge than you could go through?
I learned from working in the catering industry that 15 bites of food is enough for a nice dinner. That means just a few bites of protein, a few bites of sides, and about three bites of dessert. This helps you save money and helps your family avoid food coma and overeating guilt.
For example, if you have 10 people, you need about 150 bites of food. This can mean a total of five dishes with around 30 bites of food each.
You don’t have to serve whole slices of cake or pie, which can get expensive and even wasteful, as you can fill up on small bites of sugary treats.
You’ll save even more money if you take the time to think about how much food you really need—for the big Christmas meal and just the right amount of sandwich lunches for just a day or two afterward.
6) Hire your vacation budget partner today
If you’re with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday or in the weeks to come, find someone you trust who can be your holiday companion while keeping each other company financially.
Today, set a goal for how much money you want to spend and keep each other updated on where you are. Ask for your partner’s unbiased opinion. Enlist someone who won’t judge or shame you, but will also lovingly hold you accountable when you go overboard.
Having a partner who also tries to be financially savvy can make the holiday shopping experience a little less stressful and a little less lonely.