It’s almost the holiday season! Are you ready for it? Or are you feeling a little bit anxious about your holiday budget and how much you are about to spend this Christmas?
I remember vividly the Christmas my boys were very young. We were living in Northern California and my ex-husband was deployed. One night near Christmas, the First Sargent on base called me and told me that the unit had “adopted” my family for Christmas and they had a stack of presents for me to pick up for the kids. I hadn’t planned on giving them much of anything because they were too young to remember it anyway . . . but it had been eating at my heart. I was stressed and anxious because I had no idea how I was going to stretch the budget to cover the holidays, and I will forever be grateful to the military for helping me make that Christmas magical for the kids.
In the years since that Christmas, I’ve always remembered how it felt to have no Christmas budget, and I’ve tried to make the most of the budget we have now. There have been years when we have gone way over what I had planned to spend for the holidays (and paid for it in spades in the New Year) and years when I have done a great job spending what I thought I would spend.
In the years where I do a good job sticking to the holiday budget, I’ve done these things to stay on track:
Stick to the Four Gift Rule
We love to spoil our kids! Every year before we adopted the four gift rule in our home, we used to go way over the top with gifts. Many years I would end up spending our December 1st paycheck by December 2nd. I made excuses, and my husband and I would end up saying, “well, that’s just how the holidays are.”
The credit card would come out to pay for everything else, and I would try to not think about it until the New Year when the bill came and I had no choice but to look at just how much I spent.
Once we had Little Miss we realized that excuse wasn’t going to cut it anymore. The holidays don’t have to be about piling on more credit card debt.
That’s how we came to agree upon the four gift rule. Each Christmas, I buy the kids four gifts, and four gifts only. They each get something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. This rule worked out great for us because it encouraged us to throttle down our costs a bit, provided a little consistency in what everyone received on the holiday, and curbed expectations.
But we did find a loophole in the process, Santa always gets to bring a present too! I try to keep the gift from Santa a little conservative and meaningful for each child . . . but Santa always comes.
Give Experiences instead of Stuff
As homeschool parents we often find ourselves spending a significant portion of our homeschool budget on things like museum passes, zoo passes, gymnastics, hockey, other sports and community learning opportunities. As much as I try to find opportunities to homeschool for free, these experiences and memberships always add up.
One thing we like to do is to package some of these opportunities as part of our holiday gifting process.
For example, last year, Bug kept asking and asking to start playing hockey, so since it was already included in the physical education portion of our homeshool budget, we purchased his “learn to play hockey” lessons, and packaged them as his “something you need” Christmas gift. This year, he’s likely to find more hockey gear under the tree as well!
These lessons are something I would have purchased anyways, but that doesn’t diminish their value.
Many parents struggle giving experiences on Christmas because they aren’t sure how to package them and they don’t want their kids to miss out on the joy of unwrapping gifts Christmas morning. We always try to get creative with how we package things like vouchers by including colorful brochures to where the membership is, creating our own certificates, or pairing them with small trinkets (like a package of animals from the dollar store with a Zoo membership). Whatever we put together gets wrapped up in a box with some confetti or tissue paper to be unwrapped Christmas morning.
A great way to save money on your Christmas budget is to eliminate excess store-bought gifts for teachers, Sunday school volunteers, the mailman, neighbors (and others).
Every year my family dedicates one full Saturday to baking Christmas cookies. I’ve been doing this every year since I was a little girl and my Daddy was the chef in the house – it’s always my favorite tradition. We make more than a dozen varieties of cookies and package them up on paper plates with big bows. We spend the next few days delivering them to all of the special people in our lives to show we care during the holidays. Their gifts may not be expensive or store-bought, but when they see the giant smiles on my kid’s faces, they know they came from the heart.
This works out well for me because I always have a crazy amount of baking supplies in my house, so I am really only out the cost of the bows (and the time spent baking). If you aren’t a baker, consider having the kids spend some time hand-drawing cards for the special people in their lives, or creating other small crafts to pass out.
Eliminate the Excess
Now you can call me a grinch for this one, but my family stopped doing stockings. For me, stockings were a hundred dollar time suck that ate my soul each Christmas. Okay . . . maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I would finish holiday shopping and then I would think to myself “oh, I forgot to get stuff for the stockings” and then all of a sudden I was at WalMart spending way too much money on things like chapsticks and nail polish and toy cars and other small doo-dads that meant very little to anyone, but added up to a ton at the cash register.
So we stopped doing them. And I am not sure anyone missed them.
If there is anything in your life that you find to be “excessive” at the holidays, give yourself permission to cut it from the routine. You don’t need to continue doing something because it’s a “tradition” – you have the power to choose what you want to continue in your family and what you don’t. Maybe that thing is stockings. Maybe it’s going to see the Nutcracker every year. Maybe it’s spending the money on dinner out on Christmas Eve. Just let it go if it doesn’t bring you joy.
Enjoy the Season
Whatever you do, don’t let budget woes get you down. I know it can be hard to accept when you are the mom and you feel pressure to make everything magical, but at the end of the day, all your family really needs is each other. Give yourself some grace.