How to save money and avoid holiday stress this year


Julie Mitchell

Julie Mitchell

Blog author Julie Mitchell

Julie is a producer of blogs, films and children in Los Angeles.

Published November 6, 2015|6 min read

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I know. Listen to me. I. Know. Part of you dreads the holidays. You love the idea of holidays but the plane tickets are so expensive. You look forward to sitting down for an hour at the family meal but you kind of regret that it took eight hours and hundreds of dollars to make it.And, of course, you really dread January when the fun is over and the bills roll in. It’s such a terrible way to start a new year with regret and debt and five extra pounds. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Well, the five pounds kinda has to be that way. Or, at least, I can’t help you with that part. But I do have some thoughts on the regret and debt portion of the holidays.

All it takes is a little bit of forethought and a little change in thinking to make this holiday less stressful financially and mentally. (By the way, this is a pep talk for myself as much as it is for you.)First, pick a theme (or tone or mind set) for your holidays. Finish this sentence:I want this holiday to be about: ___Maybe you want to spend quiet time with your immediate family or take your kids on adventures. Maybe you want to reconnect with your extended family or friends. Maybe you want to help others or you know, get as far away as you possibly can from anyone you’ve ever known.Whatever you want this holiday to be, write it down. Put it on the fridge or tape it inside your wallet so that you see it every time you go to make a purchase.

Assuming your goals are not: I want this holiday season to be about buying everyone a gift with the money I don’t have and then spend January wondering how I’m going to pay my heating bill. Or, I want this holiday to be about scrambling from one event to the next and never be fully mentally present for any of it. Here are some ideas to help you save time and money, and avoid holiday stress.

1. Order your meal from a local restaurant or store.

My family has been doing this for years and it means we have a lot more time to spend together and a lot less clean up. Plus (if you order from the right place), it really does not cost much more than buying all the ingredients to cook it all yourself.

2. Stock up on all of your wrapping paper, bags and boxes, tape, bows and tags at a dollar store now (or wrap with newspaper or paper bags).

Save yourself from last minute money and trips just to cover a gift up and watch it get torn apart. Also look for stocking stuffers and decorations (no, seriously) at a dollar store.

3. Think less Griswald and more Charlie Brown.

Your decorations can be warm and made of love instead of money. Candy canes still look great hanging on a Christmas tree and they cost about 10 cents a piece. A $30 little tree on a table is charming, costs a whole lot less to buy and decorate, and is easier to keep out of the reach of animals and children who act like animals. (I also recommend looking into buying a tree from a charity.) And for outside decorations, it doesn’t have to look like Christmas exploded in your yard. It can just look like "The tasteful Christmas Spirit marked its territory here."

4. Don’t wine about it.

Peruse the wine aisle over the next couple of weeks when you go to the grocery store. When there’s a good deal on a good wine, buy a case. Many stores offer bigger discounts if you buy a whole case. This will easily save you fifty bucks over stopping to buy individual bottles every time you have a holiday event to attend or a last minute gift to purchase. But don’t do this if you can’t be trusted with multiple bottles of wine in the house.

5. Buy your plane tickets now.

They’re just going to keep going up from here on out. Remember to factor in baggage fees and put a price on your comfort. Is it worth saving $100 to take the midnight flight when you have a toddler in tow? Probably not. Is it worth saving $300? Maybe. Consider spending a nice, quiet holiday where you are and traveling before or after the holiday rush.

6. Give the gift of you.

If you are traveling to be with family or friends, YOU are the gift. Your effort and the hundreds you spent on gas or plane tickets is your gift. Let go of the idea that you have to bring objects for people to unwrap.

7. Embrace hands-off gift giving.

If you need to give gifts to people out of town, consider buying them online (the gifts, not the people) and having them shipped directly. There will be lots of free shipping offers between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it saves you the hassle of shipping it yourself.

8. Don’t over commit.

Can you make it to three different Thanksgiving celebrations or holiday parties in one day? Sure. Will you get to relax and enjoy any of them? Probably not. If your goal is to have a holiday focused on family time, only commit your family to a small number of family fun events.

9. Make a gift plan and stick to it.

Next week’s blog is about gifting on a budget (which means in large part - not gifting). But, if you feel sure that some people in your life need an object from you, make a list of who, what, and where (so you can just make one trip to each store) and start shopping now. Do not allow yourself to panic shop at the last minute and buy random stuff because it doesn’t look like enough gifts are under the tree.

10. Stock up on easy treat making supplies.

Buy a few bags of the kind of cookie dough where you just add eggs and butter. Then buy some eggs and butter – maybe some cookie decorating supplies (we just do milk mixed with powered sugar for icing). Whatever the amount of effort you wish to put into the visual appeal, the point is to have on hand some treats that you could produce in an hour or less. People LOVE (partially) home made treats. Kids love to help make (partially) home made treats. Oh, and chips and salsa work well too.

11. Let go of what other people may think of your holiday plans, skills, or priorities.

So another mom in your kid’s class stayed up all night to produce animated cookies that act out the entire story of the Nightmare Before Christmas while you got some sleep. So your son’s friend is getting an iPhone 6 and your son is getting Trivial Pursuit because your theme is family time and you can play Trivial Pursuit as a family. So Aunt Gladys is giving you the guilt trip about the family reunion you are not dragging your children to.So you have the holiday you want to have focusing on the things you want to focus on. What’s the worst that can come of that? Let go of the guilt, the pressure and the stress. After all, it’s the holiday season.

Photo credit: David Goehring