Despite a very limited budget, I am able to pay my bills... but what's this I hear about the holidays approaching? Where's all that present/giftwrap/travel/mulled wine money going to come from? Let's figure out how we're going to be able to afford the next two months:
Here are a few suggestions for navigating the obligations, familial expectations, social situations, and budget crises the winter months can bring:
Alternative Holiday Days: Look, nothing says you have to celebrate Thanksgiving on November 27th, right? If it's ridiculously cheaper to travel right before or right after a major holiday, encourage your loved ones to shift the celebrations accordingly. And if you can make double-pay working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, consider it. Pie will still taste delicious on November 28th, and your friends might still be up for Hungover Brunch on January 2nd.
Be Upbeat But Firm About Your Plans: Whatever you decide to do for the holidays, whether it's traveling to see every single member of your family or working overtime or finally watching Sherlock, let everyone know with confidence. Exclamations can help, as can repetition and "we're done here" type closing statements. "We'll be staying in town this year but we can't wait to hear all about the festivities. Please send photos!" Or, "this is an exciting time of year at [Employer] so I'm unable to get away in December— have a fabulous party!"
Holiday Office Hours: Announce to friends and families something like "We'll be home on New Year's Day if anyone would like to stop by!" This makes it clear to one and all that: 1) You would love to see them and are available to do so; 2) The holiday visiting ball is firmly in their court; 3) They shouldn't expect a formal spread. If you're making muffins for breakfast or chili for dinner, maybe make a double batch, but if I took friends up on such an offer, I wouldn't really expect to be served anything. I'd probably bring homemade treats and a bottle of something, and feel incredibly grateful for their company.
Be The Spokesperson For Your Generation: This is a tricky one, but it can be done. Sometimes things are done in families because they've "always" been done that way, but the generation that put those traditions in place might have been very different than your own. If your aunts and uncles always gave gifts to all of the kids but it's not feasible for you and your peers, institute a name-drawing system, or eliminate gifts altogether and focus on games and crafts. Similar changes can be made with regards to travel, venue, level of opulence, and luxuriousness of the feast. Did your aunts always drive themselves crazy making huge meals, but you all would love Christmas Eve takeout burritos? Do it and don't look back.
Create A New, (Nearly) Free Tradition: A friend told me a sweet story about how her friend's dad didn't have a lot of money so he would take the girls on weekly winter Christmas Light Patrols. They'd drive slowly and cozily around the neighborhoods complimenting and critiquing all of the lights, for the low price of not-much-gas. Winter Walks and Holiday Hikes are free!
Be Prepared For A Guilt Trip— But Stay Strong! No matter how gracefully you handle matters, there's always going to be someone who gives you a hard time for having to work through the holidays, not being able to afford plane tickets, and/or wanting to stay home. Take it as a sign that they love you, but don't let their bad manners get you down. It's wonderful to be able to spend the holidays with loved ones, but if you can't handle it for whatever reason, that's okay, and it's nobody's business but your own.
Eat & Drink On Your Company's Dime: I know company holiday parties get a bad rap, but sometimes they're so fun! And if you like your coworkers, so much the better: you might not all figure out another time to get together and celebrate (who has the time or money?) so why not feast, dance, and drink top-shelf liquor for free? Get festive, focus on your friends, and leave when it's not fun anymore. Pro tip: some companies allow you to bring a guest, thus doubling your friend-fun potential!
If You Only Have $5 To Spend On Decor, Spend It On String Lights: Seriously, whatever else is going on in your life/budget, sparkliness will help. Plug those babies in every evening from now until whenever the sun comes back, and let them help your heart be light.
Make Do With What You Have: As the Christmas Squid taught us last year, you don't need fancy, holiday-specific accessories to have festive fun— and I hope you have lots of fun.
Please share your tips for making it through the holidays with enough money left over for food, shelter, heat, and medicine!