The holiday season is quickly approaching. For some, this is a wonderful and exciting time of the year.
But for others who can’t afford Christmas, it can be stressful and depressing.
For the last few years, my husband and I have basically skipped Christmas because we couldn’t afford it. Since we don’t have kids, it’s pretty easy for us to opt-out of celebrating. We don’t exchange gifts, we don’t entertain, and we don’t travel to see family.
Instead, my husband picks up extra shifts at work to take advantage of the bonus holiday pay. When I was working an hourly job, I did the same. (Now I get extra paid time off during the holidays! Yay new job!)
Although our finances have slightly improved, they are still in bad shape, overall.
So what can you do if you’re like me?
Here Are 7 Things To Do When You Can’t Afford Christmas
Having a small or non-existent budget probably means that you can’t afford to travel, buy gifts for everyone, and say yes to every Christmas party. But that doesn’t mean you have to opt out of the celebrations entirely.
Keep it simple: Who is most important to you? What traditions are you not willing to give up?
Once you determine that, spend your money accordingly.
I know that if I could afford it, I’d rather spend my money on a flight to see my family than on buying them all sweaters.
If giving is important to you, prioritize who is on your gift-giving list. Sure it’d be nice to include everyone in your life, but unfortunately, not everyone is going to make the cut.
Overspending at Christmas is extremely easy to do, which is why you need a budget. Regardless if you have a lot of money to spend, or only have a little.
If you haven’t already done so, figure out how much you can actually afford to spend on the holidays – without getting yourself into debt or financial trouble!
Consider all of the potential holiday related expenses: gifts, cards, gift wrap, shipping and postage, decorations, food and drinks, entertaining, travel, donations, family photos, etc.
Then taking your priorities into account, start assigning the amount you can spend on each category, person, or activity. Make sure your total doesn’t exceed what your budget allows. If it does, take another look at what’s important to you, and try again until you can make it work.
Stick to this budget!!!
Check where your budget stands before making any purchase, and update it afterward so that it stays up-to-date.
If you’re concerned about overspending during the holidays, take out what you can afford to spend in cash or use a pre-paid credit card for that set amount. Once it runs out, you’re done. No more spending!
3. Start Early
It’s not uncommon these days to walk into a store in October and see Christmas items on the shelves next to the Halloween items. There’s even a term for this, called the “Christmas Creep”.
Of course, companies start promoting Christmas early to try to get you to spend more. Especially on “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”.
Personally, I’m not a fan, but it works! As soon as you see those aisles of green and red, you start thinking about Christmas. Whether you want to or not.
It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though.
The more time you give yourself, the better you can find the right gift at the right price.
One year I started vigorously answering surveys (through Swagbucks, Opinion Outpost, and Leo) in October. My hope was to accumulate enough points to exchange for gift cards so that I could afford to give without actually spending money. I was able to make about $100.
(In hindsight, I should have taken my own advice and focused on the things that paid $10 each instead of only 10 cents each.)
If you can’t afford Christmas, making extra money – online or offline – is one option.
You can also browse the store’s clearance sections and stock up if they have what you need.
Sign up for newsletters from your favourite stores so you don’t miss a sale, or to take advantage of the 10% (or more) discounts they offer to new subscribers. (And then maybe unsubscribe in the new year to avoid any future temptations?)
Keep an eye open for deals and promotions that have already started popping up.
Maybe there is a great Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale that you can take advantage of.
Another bonus to starting early is that by spreading your spending out over the span of a few weeks or months, it becomes easier to manage.
4. Get Creative
Gift giving doesn’t have to include spending (a lot of) money. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
If you’re crafty, handy, or artistic in any way, why not put your skills to use and make your own gifts? Bake cookies, up-cycle those mason jars, knit a scarf, build a wooden bench, or put together a gift basket. Pinterest is a gold-mine for do-it-yourself ideas!
Or if you’re more like me and lack those DIY skills (or maybe you simply don’t have the time), why not offer to do something for your loved ones instead?
The good old coupon book of “one free massage” and “one breakfast in bed” is a tried and true gift idea for your significant other. But that same concept can work for the other people in your life as well. Instead of buying gifts, you could always offer to babysit your best friends kids on Friday night, or give your child a pass to stay up an hour later.
There are still some costs associated with any DIY gift, but they are often a more affordable option. And people will appreciate the personal touch.
5. Skip the Gifts
Not everyone in your life needs a gift.
Sending handwritten cards to friends, extended family members, and other important people in your life is an affordable way to show that you care and that you are thinking of them. If money is really tight, this can be done for free online.
Instead of buying gifts for everyone on your list, hold a Secret Santa or gift exchange with a set dollar limit. It will help reduce the stress and help keep your spending within your budget. Everyone still gives and receives, and you have an excuse to all get together.
After all, the holidays should be about spending time together, and not about material things, right?
There are also tons of cheap or free things you can do with your loved ones instead of exchanging gifts – especially around the holidays. Most communities host events like winter carnivals, parades, or Skate with Santa that are either free or by donation (usually a non-perishable item).
Or you could host a pot-luck dinner or a Christmas movie marathon. You could drive around looking at the lights with your loved ones, or go sledding. Or better yet, you could all get together and volunteer at a soup kitchen.
6. Celebrate Late
Going back to suggestions #3, some people start getting ready for Christmas as early as the day after Christmas.
And I can see why.
Since retailers want to sell as much as they can, not only do they start the Christmas Creep early, they also milk those after-Christmas sales, too.
Boxing Day (December 26) has become a “shopping holiday” for those of us living in the UK, Canada, and Australia. Similar to Black Friday, retailers offer significant discounts on Boxing Day that are often extended into Boxing Week.
Retailers will especially want to get rid of any Christmas items that didn’t sell. That makes the days right after Christmas a great time to stock up anything non-perishable to use next year, like decor, gift wrap and cards.
But if you’re struggling to afford Christmas this year, celebrating late will also give you the opportunity to take advantage of these sales, and stretch your budget further.
In general, people are also less busy in the days between Christmas and New Years, which makes it easier to entertain and get together.
7. Be Honest
The best piece of advice I can give to someone that can’t afford Christmas is simply to be honest about it.
You don’t have to share the details of your personal finances with everyone, but don’t put yourself into debt because you’re being polite, or you’re too shy to speak up.
Your loved ones should be understanding and respectful of your situation. Who knows, maybe money is tight for them as well, and you’re actually doing them a favour?
If you can’t afford Christmas, you absolutely can still enjoy the holidays without getting into debt.
Have a plan. Set a budget. Be creative. And focus on the non-material side of Christmas.
Do you have any advice on how to save more or spend less during the holidays? Please leave a comment and let us know!
A version of this post was originally published in November 2015. I spruced it up and made it better ;)
This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!