This is part of a series called How We Saved Enough Money to Change Our Lives and How You Can, Too. Click here to get all the posts delivered directly to your email inbox or feed reader. You’ll want the inside scoop on how we saved $75,000 for the adventure of a lifetime!
One thing that can easily throw you off track with your budget is a birthday or holiday. Guilt, habit, and social pressure make it harder to change our spending habits. I think this has to do more with the fact that it includes another person. After all, our budgeting largely affects only ourselves and immediate family, the same people who will benefit from the lifestyle change this money will bring. But this other person who is celebrating a birthday or expecting a holiday gift is neither part of the sacrifice or part of the windfall at the end.
One thing I’ve learned during our savings plan is that the people who love and support you will understand. In fact, when your friends and family see you making big strides in your savings plan (and getting rid of your junk) it will inspire them to do the same. There is not a week that goes by that a friend, reader or family member doesn’t comment on how our activities are inspiring them to make changes in their lives.
People really do want you to succeed (and if they don’t, you need some new friends).
So take some time now to decide how you will handle birthdays and holidays. Below is how we handle ours.
Birthdays: We call our friends and family on their birthdays and even occasionally sing to them. For close friends who are nearby (our family all live far away), we get together for a birthday lunch or small party with several friends. The gift is in the celebration – the gathering of friends, sharing of homemade food and community-sponsored drink, and spending time together. The cost is minimal, but the memories are far stronger than any item you could buy.
If you want to give gifts to your children, partner, parents, or others you can. Remember, this is YOUR budget. Just make sure you add those expenses in when you plan your budget.
New Year’s Eve: This is a biggie, isn’t it? For those who like to celebrate this holiday, it often means a new outfit, tickets to a great party, and plenty of booze and food until midnight (and possibly a big breakfast out afterward). If you want to go out, you can do it on a budget. Wear something you already own, or shop at a consignment shop or Goodwill to find a great outfit. Better yet, trade closets with a friend so you both find something fun. Save a little bit out of your entertainment budget in October and November to add to December, and you can enjoy a night out without any guilt.
Last year we took overnight bags and our dog to visit some good friends. We made a potluck dinner, combined resources for beverages, and after we watched the ball drop we had a Wii tournament. The next morning our hosts made a delicious breakfast of eggs benedict, and we were home by noon. For us, it was a perfect low-cost, high-value option to the typical New Year’s Eve outing.
Valentine’s Day: I’ve written about this before. Setting aside one day a year for an overpriced romantic meal and a trinket is just plain crazy. I want love and romance all year long! So we decided early on not to celebrate February 14 but to infuse more attention and affection in our relationship every day. I don’t care what you got for Valentine’s Day last year – it cannot beat what we’ve done for our relationship throughout the year. I hope you’ll consider boycotting Valentine’s Day this year in favor of 365 days of love and appreciation.
Mother’s and Father’s Days: Most of us have been making gifts for one or both of these holidays since we were small children. Remember the homemade cards, ashtrays (I’m dating myself), and flower pots you made as a budding little artist? I’ll bet your mom and dad still have them. If you live near your parents, consider cooking them a fabulous meal at your home instead of going out. You’ll be able to have a better conversation, and you can take time to look at old pictures or talk about some of your favorite times together without worrying that you are overstaying your welcome at a restaurant.
If you live far away from your parents like I do, consider going old-school and make your parents cards again. A personal note from you, even via email, that reminds your parent of a special memory, your appreciation of something they have done for you, or your wishes about future plans together would be just as valuable as those old flower pots and ashtrays used to be. Trust me. Wouldn’t you love to get a card or letter like that?
Independence Day: I love this holiday. Not only is a BBQ the cheapest kind of party, the casual nature of it means you don’t really have to sweat too many details. Whether you are going to a party or having one yourself, potluck is the way to go. Almost every party I attend these days includes a small contribution of food, drink, or cash from the guests, and it makes it easy on everyone to get together and have fun. If you can view the fireworks instead of buying them yourself, you get the view without the hassle and the cost. What a great way to celebrate!
Labor Day: Most of the expense of this holiday is travel, and if you plan it in advance you can easily fit it into your budget. Otherwise, Labor Day is just as easy as Independence Day in terms of planning, except that you don’t have to worry about fireworks. You can also think about small home projects or creative endeavors. Last year I participated in the 3-day Novel Contest and wrote a book! Three days is a great boundary for trying something new. After all, it is just 3 days!
Halloween: We live in a neighborhood with very few children and have none of our own, so I’m not an expert at saving money on Halloween. We do it by default. But I do know that there are many resources online for low-cost Halloween outfits you can make yourself. You can also find candy on sale if you will be home to hand it out.
Check out your city calendar for free Halloween events. In our neighborhood we have a large troll statue (he’s quite famous!) and there is an annual “Troll-o-ween” parade that draws a few hundred people each year. Festivities like this are usually free and a fun way to celebrate the holiday.
Thanksgiving: I remember as a child wondering how my mom could enjoy a holiday that was so much damn work for her. After toiling for a couple of days on a delicious meal, it was then enjoyed with gusto by our family and then we all turned into couch potatoes to take a nap or watch a football game while she cleaned up. What a horrible way to spend a holiday!
Thanksgiving is another great potluck opportunity, whether you are hosting or guesting. It allows each person to show off their “specialty,” no one works too hard, and everyone helps with the cleanup. When everyone takes part in making the day successful it seems like attitudes are better and people try harder to make the day special.
A tradition that I love is to go around the table and have each person state one thing they are grateful for. It brings the thanks back into Thanksgiving and doesn’t cost a dime.
Black Friday/Christmas: This is the biggie, isn’t it? Some people love the excitement of shopping for big deals the day after Thanksgiving, and other people dread it but do it anyway to save a few bucks.
Guess what? You can save more money by having a smart strategy. I used to spend hours shopping for the perfect gift for everyone on my list. I was usually tired, cranky, and over budget by the time I finished each shopping trip.
The Christmas holidays are meant to celebrate your connections with family and friends, not to send yourself into further debt. Would you want someone to worry about paying their bills in January because of a gift they bought you in December? Then why would you do that to yourself?
Set up boundaries with your family and friends before Thanksgiving so everyone is on the same page. When I moved away from my family we decided that my visits home and their visits to me would be far more valuable than any trinkets we could buy for each other. We do not exchange gifts with anyone but our parents, but you may come up with an idea that includes a dollar limit, drawing names, or buying one large gift for the entire family.
During this season we spend the time seeing our friends at holiday gatherings, calling and sending cards/emails to those far away, and enjoying our tradition of Chinese food on Christmas day followed by a movie. I do not venture into a retail store between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and my sanity and bank account remain in balance. It is a lovely way to enjoy the holiday season, and I have no fear that January’s bills will send me over the edge.
Remember, it’s your budget
My way of celebrating may not work for you, and that’s okay. My point is to demonstrate that you can enjoy the holidays without breaking the bank if you do a little planning. When you make out your budget, think about how you want to spend the holidays and what it will cost to do it, and then factor that in.
Having a plan is half the battle, and knowing you have control of your finances will allow you to relax and enjoy your time with family and friends. And isn’t that what it’s all about?