Budgeting your dollars doesn’t mean you need to cut back on fun this holiday season. With a little creativity and some financially savvy choices, you can make the most of your money.
Don’t go it alone
Hosting a party doesn’t mean you need to pay for all of the food, drinks and entertainment. Letting others take on some party related costs can actually lead to a more personal and unique experience.
“My wife and I love to host parties,” says Jacob Wade of Seattle, who blogs about budgeting on IHeartBudgets. “And we always have potlucks, but we try to do it thoughtfully: We ask each guest to bring a dish we know they love to make, and it’s usually something that comes with a great story.”
New Yorker Erin Lowry, founder of the blog BrokeMillennial, also knows how to throw a holiday party without busting her budget. “I love to host holiday parties,” Lowry says. “When I was a senior in college a couple of years ago, I hosted a big party in my dorm for about $75. I got the $75 by setting up recycling bins in several dorms for a weekend. Once I’d redeemed the bottles and cans, I went shopping.”
She bought graham crackers, icing and candies, as well as glass ornaments and paints at a discount store. Back in her dorm, she hung paper snowflakes. Guests arrived with their own beverages and made gingerbread-like houses and painted the ornaments. “Everyone got to take home the ornament they made,” Lowry says.
Travis Pizel of Rochester, Minn., who writes for the money management blog EnemyofDebt, says, “Exchanging gifts with immediate family is expensive, but doing so at extended family gatherings could drive a person broke—especially when your wife's family is huge.”
Instead, he says, the extended family plays a game called “dirty dice.”
“Anyone who wants to participate brings a gift that costs less than a predetermined limit—usually $10 to $15,” Pizel says.
“We sit in a circle, with the wrapped gifts in the middle,” he says. “We pass dice around and everyone tries to get doubles so they can choose a gift. Once everyone has a gift, we open the gifts one at a time. Then, we send the dice around again. Whenever anyone gets doubles, he or she can exchange a gift with anyone else. We keep going as long as everyone wants.”
“It’s a really fun way to exchange gifts, inexpensively,” Pizel says. “It encourages everyone to be really creative with their gift buying, but it also makes a holiday really memorable.”
Lowry suggests doing a secret gift exchange among friends, so you can spend a little more on one gift, rather than having to buy lots of presents. “Or, host a white elephant party, where each guest brings the silliest gift they can find for $10.”
Plan travel carefully
The expense of traveling across the country for holiday gatherings can limit your spending budget. By making plans early and shopping around for the best deals, you can save a lot on travel.
David Weliver, who is editor of the blog MoneyUnder30 from his home in Portland, Maine, says, “My wife and I decided a few years ago that we’d travel to our parents’ homes either on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but not both. We still get some time with our families, but with a lot less expense.”
Lowry recommends planning ahead for holiday travel. “Shop for airline tickets early to get the best deals, and sign up for every airline’s reward program. Even if you book travel through Kayak, you never know when you’ll be back on the same airline. Eventually, the miles add up.”
And, she adds, “Don’t forget about the Greyhound Bus. I’m signed up for their reward program, too.”
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