Many of us are feeling that tightness and pressure that comes from the extra spending surge this time of year. Holiday activities/entertainment, Christmas cards, gifts, office parties, friends of friends’ parties, and gifting expectations galore, not to mention what the children hope to find under the tree.

For many of us, this kind of annual pressure doesn’t fit our budget, but also, doesn’t fit our lifestyles. You may prefer to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, without feeling like a “party pooper” or wrecking your annual budget.

When my husband and I adopted our daughters, we knew two things—they don’t have the expectation of mountains of presents under the tree, and most importantly, they simply need us—our presence, not our cash. We do very low-key Christmas gifts. Each child gets a Christmas stocking with a few items, usually a movie, mittens, a couple of candies, hair beads, and a small toy or accessory to a toy they already have. This reduces our stress, and prevents them from being overwhelmed. We also make a point to spend a lot of quality time together, talking about the real meaning of the holiday season.

To control your holiday budget, try implementing some of the following ideas:

  1. Manage expectations. Nobody needs piles of presents. Trust that “less is more.” It’s more time, more relief, and much less holiday anxiety.
  2. Make an effort to spend quality time. See a show (many churches offer free productions of classics like A Christmas Carol), my family especially loves to go see Langston Hughes “The Black Nativity” at a local theatre company. (My kids say it is a lot more fun than the Nutcracker)
  3. Be frank with extended family about expectations for travel, entertaining and gifts. Suggest family gifts or a gift exchange in lieu of piles of individual presents. (More on gift exchange ideas later this week). Our parents love to shower gifts on our children, but rather than stuff, they get experiences–we have been gifted tickets to live performances, and memberships to zoos, etc, which provides a year of fun and learning, rather than batteries and “some assembly required,” and for that out-of-town family that we just can’t afford to travel to visit, they are welcome to visit us here, but plane tickets aren’t in the budget–we try to do our out-of-state traveling in lower-cost months like March and September.
  4. Nix the office gift exchange and party if you can, or work to downsize it. Who really enjoys those anyhow? One company I worked for that used to throw a gigantic black-tie holiday party downtown and changed up plans with the economic downtown. After a few years of big holiday parties, they held an office party with goofy contests (ugliest holiday sweater) and we had a “regift” exchange, rather than a regular gift. It was a big laugh—quality relaxed time with colleagues without the dozens of uncomfortable spouses or the need to hire a babysitter.
  5. Make your own cards. If you haven’t tried Pinterest yet, there’s piles of great ideas for creative holiday cards.
  6. Give home-made gifts, practical, or charity gifts. (Start here for home made gift ideas.)

What does the holiday season look like at your house? How do you hope to change your family’s approach this year or in the future?