Celebrating a Joyful Holiday on a Tight Budget

It is becoming a bit cliché to point out that too many people focus on the consumerist aspects of the holiday season at the expense of the actual joy that winter holidays can bring. Being with loved ones — even if that is through computer screens or over telephone lines — should take precedence, but it is so easy to get overwhelmed by the need to buy newer, bigger, better decorations, gifts, food and the like that many Americans find that the holiday season is tremendously taxing on their typical budget.

Some households find success in maintaining a different budget for the holidays to ensure maximum joy, and to do this, they work with money management software to better organize their finances and track their spending. However, it is possible to find joy without breaking the bank. Here are a few tips for maintaining holiday joy without interrupting financial plans.

Plan a Potluck Feast

Many a holiday celebrator plans to have huge feasts to celebrate the season — but few bother to calculate the costs of such an event. The average American spends over $150 on Christmas dinner, and that is just one of the potentially several feast opportunities over the coming weeks. Holiday-goers who also make special meals for Christmas Eve, Hannukah, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day should expect to pay several hundreds of dollars more.

Of course, a good way to cut back on the cost of food is to spread the responsibility of cooking around. This isn’t particularly feasible if one’s holiday only includes members of one household, but by opening up the holiday feast to more people, the feast becomes more affordable to everyone. It might be worthwhile to invite distant family members to celebrate the holidays, or neighborhoods could arrange a potluck. To keep bubbles safe during the pandemic, households can swap dishes without entering each other’s homes.

Swap Toys With Friends and Neighbors

Kids always want a big, expensive holiday season with piles and piles of presents under the tree. Households that can’t afford to buy every new gadget and gizmo might still stack their kids’ gifts by swapping toys and other treasures with family, friends and neighbors. Many households rapidly grow out of older toys, and instead of throwing them away or donating them to someone unknown, most people would prefer to see their old belongings go to a house they know and care about. It doesn’t hurt to ask loved ones for stuff they no longer use. In the future, you can pay forward the favor by giving your kids’ old toys to a friend or neighbor in need.

Find Free Activities Online and in-Person

The holidays should be a season of activity — not a time for being bored around the house. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and affordable things to do with loved ones. Here are some ideas to keep the family busy at home this season:

  • Hang lights and ornaments on the tree
  • Decorate the front door to look like a giant present
  • Bake gingerbread houses and decorate them together
  • Make a popcorn and cranberry garland to hang outside for birds and squirrels
  • Craft ornaments and other decorative items to hand out to friends and neighbors

Those who are tired of being cooped up might venture outside for the following socially distant holiday activities:

  • Go caroling in the neighborhood
  • Walk, bike or drive to find holiday light displays
  • Visit the library to find new holiday-themed books and movies
  • Find a drive-up photo op with Santa and his reindeer

For small towns or places where the weather outside is too frightening, there are plenty of free online activities to consider, such as:

  • Attend a free digital concert or live holiday production on YouTube or Twitch
  • Watch Santa visit different cities around the world thanks to NORAD

Perhaps these ideas will spark inspiration for more free activities to keep loved ones busy and joyful throughout the holiday season without breaking the holiday budget.

The original purpose of the holiday season was to encourage good will and high spirits during the darkest, coldest part of the year. Even in the time of the pandemic, when bank accounts are dwindling and hopes are low, it is possible to pull together and enjoy the holidays with loved ones.

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