The holiday season is in full swing and with that comes the joyous music, sweet smells of delicious food, and precious family time. The holidays are a great time to relax and prepare for the New Year.
However, this time of year has also turned into a consumerist frenzy, with many people stressing about money, running around trying to find the perfect gifts, and some even going into further debt to pay for all holiday expenditures.
But there’s a better way! You can say “no” to holiday spending without being a grinch. I know this because of my personal experience.
Several years ago, after leaving my hometown to pursue graduate school in New York, I was faced with the option of buying expensive plane tickets to visit home during the holidays. At the time, they were over $600 and as a broke graduate student already mired in debt, I really couldn’t afford it.
I had to break the news to my family and friends that we’d be spending our very first holiday apart. It was tough, but I gave them advanced warning. In addition to saying no to expensive travel, I have completely rejected the idea of traditional gift giving during the holidays. I’ve decided to show my family and friends that I care in other more valuable ways.
If you’re feeling stretched thin during the holidays, here are some tips to show your family and friends you care without spending money.
1. Focus on Spending Time Not Money
The holidays are meant for being with the people that matter most. Instead of spending money you don’t have, or risk buying a gift someone doesn’t like, commit to spending time and not money.
When I go home for the holidays, I make sure to spend a fun day with my loved ones. Maybe we go out for coffee, dinner, or happy hour — or even have a cheap potluck — but we spend time together, in an inexpensive, low-pressure way. We catch up, share stories, and enjoy each other’s company.
It is possible to have a meaningful holiday season without going into debt or breaking the bank. I’m lucky in that I have a small family and my friends are mostly in similar situations as me financially. If you have a large family, or a family with a lot of kids, consider getting something for the kids and a just a simple card (or cheap gift) for the adults. You can get affordable used items, or use coupons to get something small.
Remember, the holidays are about spending time, not money. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed or even worse, find yourself in debt because of the holidays.
2. Set Expectations Ahead of Time
One of the main reasons I stopped participating in holiday spending and gift giving is because I’m a minimalist. I personally don’t need anything else to clutter my home, and I don’t want to give items to someone they may or may not like.
I’m all about experiences and things we could do together, not stuff, which is why I prefer the getting together route. Several years ago when I decided I was going to go against the grain and not participate in holiday gift giving, I set expectations with my family and friends.
I made it clear that I wanted to spend time and not money on people. To make sure it wasn’t taken personally, I said that my current financial situation didn’t afford me much and that I valued our time together and conversation more. I planned something to do with them, rather than something in place of that.
In some cases, I sent handmade cards with heartfelt notes. It’s not that I don’t believe in the gesture of giving, it’s just that I prefer to do it in a minimalist, simple way that focuses on the essence of relationships. I think sending a handwritten card can be immensely powerful during the holidays.
If you’e creative, consider making or crafting something for the holidays. If you are good in the kitchen, then consider baking something for friends and family.
There are so many other things you can do during the holidays that require little to no money at all. Just be up-front with everyone, and set expectations head of time, if you have friends and family that are expecting something from you.
3. Remove the Guilt and Stay Strong
I remember the first holiday season that I received a gift and had nothing to give in return, I felt extremely guilty. It’s like some unwritten social code that if we receive a gift, that we should give one in return. But that’s not the point of this season is it?
A gift should come from the heart and should be given with no strings attached. If someone gives a gift to get a gift, it’s done in vain. I had to get over this guilty feeling and realize that if I was going to do things differently I’d have to accept all situations and stay strong — not give gifts because that’s what I thought I “should” do. Thinking about the times I’ve given gifts, I’ve never expected anything in return, so I realized my self-consciousness was purely manufactured.
In this case, though do always follow-up with a thank you card. Doing things differently can also make you feel uncomfortable or at the judgement of society. But if you feel strongly about not going into debt, or spending within a budget, then be strong and remember what the holidays are all about.
Say No to Buying and Spend Love Instead
In short, if you want to say “no” to holiday spending, or at least minimize it, here are some main takeaways:
- Spend time, not money
- Make something
- Offer to buy coffee, or something small instead
- Host a potluck
- Set expectations with loved ones
- Give thanks through words, cards, and services instead
My friend Stephanie, from the EmpoweredDollar.com sums it up perfectly in this video.
There are many ways to give during the holidays, that don’t require any money. I know many people look forward to gifts, but if your financial situation does not afford it, try something different. Your real friends and family love you for you, not what gifts you give them.
In my opinion, the best gift we can give, that is so limited and precious, is the gift of time. Let your budget be your guide and remember that the holidays are about spending time, not money!
What’s one way you show your friends and family you care about them without spending money? Do you have a tip for limiting holiday spending?