This is a guest post by Frugal Babe
Although the holidays are supposed to be a happy time, for many people they are also a time of stress, frazzled nerves and spending beyond our means. Do you find yourself snapping at your loved ones, worrying about your checking account balance (or how you’re going to pay both the credit card bill and the mortgage once January rolls around), or not enjoying the various holiday gatherings you attend because you’ve already been to three in the past week?
My husband and I have worked to simplify the holidays over the years, and there is nothing stressful at all for us about this time of year. Our older son is 3.5 now and absolutely thrilled with the Christmas lights he’s seeing around town. So we’re loving seeing the season through is eyes. But we know we won’t over-spend or over-extend ourselves, and that makes it even easier to enjoy the holidays.
I thought I’d share what we’ve done to make sure Christmas is 100% fun around here.
- We stopped buying presents almost entirely. Ten years ago, we would buy presents for about 20 people, including each other. This year we’ll send a gift to my husband’s mother (a scrapbook with pictures of her grandkids) and we’re giving our older son a wooden play kitchen that we found on Craigslist along with a bunch of play food that I’m making out of felt. That’s it. We’ll make donations to charities for some of our friends and family, and skip all of the gift-buying craziness that seems to go hand-in-hand with “peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist recently posted a list of 40 charities that you can browse around, and I’m also a big fan of Charity Navigator. It’s easy to “shop” for everyone you love based on what charity most closely matches their personality and values. You can donate from home on your computer, and it’s easy to stick to your price limit since you won’t be tempted by more expensive gifts.
- We send our Christmas greetings via email. I used to order photo Christmas cards and then address 50 envelopes to send them to all of our friends and family. Between the postage and the cards themselves it wasn’t a cheap process, and I would spend at least an hour addressing envelopes. A few years ago, I realized that I could put together a nice photo collage using PhotoShop (already on my computer, but Picmonkey is a free option that would probably work too). I do a quick Google search for free digital scrapbook embellishments and use a few of the holiday-themed embellishments together with our photos. Then I post the finished product on Facebook for our friends and family, and email it to the people who aren’t on Facebook. We have five older friends and relatives who don’t have email, and for them I still address an envelope and mail pictures at Christmas time. But five envelopes is a lot easier than 50.
- For several years now, we’ve volunteered to host Christmas dinner with my family. My three siblings and my parents all live within an hour of us, so they can come just for the day. Instead of driving myself crazy in the kitchen cooking a giant meal for everyone, I make it a pot-luck meal. I cook a few things and everybody brings something. Easy all around, and nobody has too much work to enjoy the day.
- We don’t commit to too many activities/parties/gatherings, etc. One commitment per week is plenty for us. Your maximum might be different, but make sure you honor it, whatever it is.
- Each year, we go as a family to the grocery store and fill a cart with non-perishable food for the food bank. Our town does a food drive the first weekend in December and we take the bags of groceries there as our donation. The grocery store might not be as exciting as the mall, but filling a cart for the food drive gives us a warm fuzzy feeling that lasts all day. It’s a good reminder that Christmas is about giving, and I strongly encourage you to do something tangible for those in need if you’re able to. It really is a gift for yourself too.
- We don’t decorate our house, other than a tree that we purchased secondhand for $30. A decade ago, we had lights all over the outside of our house. But we realized that it wasn’t worth it to us, and pared back to just the tree. For a few years, we skipped even the tree, but our son is old enough now to really appreciate it, so it’s in our living room right now. If you love decorating, by all means – go for it! But if you find that anything you’re doing for the holidays is causing stress and frustration, or becoming overly expensive, you don’t have to keep doing it just because you’ve always done it in the past. Make this the year for new, simpler traditions and see how it goes. You might find that you enjoy December a lot more.
Frugal Babe is a 33 year old married mother of two little boys. She works from home and is focused on making life as simple and enjoyable as possible, while also stretching the family budget as far as it will go.
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