Check your bank balance and find less money than expected for the holidays? You’re not alone. The National Retail Federation is projecting average household spending for the holidays will drop to $935 this year from the record-breaking $952 in 2015. But there’s no need to pull a Scrooge to stay on top of your finances. Here are 10 ways to celebrate the holidays without losing your shirt:
1. Focus on experiences, not things.
Let’s remember what the holidays are really about: spending time with your loved ones, showing generosity and being grateful for what you have. Research shows that experiences bring you more happiness than things, so focus on communal, low-cost activities such as potluck dinners and free community events.
2. Use the Secret Santa approach.
For those with large families, financial expert Lauren Greutman of IAmThatLady.com recommends the Secret Santa approach, where each family member picks a name out of a hat and only has to buy one nice gift for that person. “It helps us stay within our budget and each kid gets a nice toy that will last,” Greutman explains.
3. Keep an eye on credit card spending.
If you plan on using your credit card, set a limit. Using the CardNav by CO-OP app, you can set a hard spending limit so you won’t go overboard, and if you find yourself nearing your budget you can even turn your credit card off.
4. Give your most valuable gift – your time.
By volunteering, you can get even more in touch with the spirit of generosity that the holidays are all about – and it can even improve your health. You can find an organization to volunteer with through Idealist or VolunteerMatch. For the charitable-mined people in your life, sites such as TisBest or JustGive offer gift cards for charities. You can also make a donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through Credit Unions for Kids fundraisers at your local credit union.
5. Get creative.
Do you have a green thumb? Make terrariums for your loved ones. Are you a songbird? Write and record a holiday song and upload it on SoundCloud or Bandcamp. Using your talents and creativity to create a gift will save you money and also adds a personalized touch. You can also support the creative community by purchasing handmade or vintage gifts on Etsy.
6. Don’t overdo holiday parties.
Be selective about the parties you RSVP to. There’s no shame in wearing something you already own. Or throw a potluck party and do a white elephant gift exchange, where you can bring out (and get rid of) those oddities you were gifted years ago.
7. Make time to personally connect with your loved ones.
If your loved ones are all across the country, choose a location that is centrally located or a city that is cheaper to travel to. If you can’t afford to travel this year for the holidays, schedule a Skype meeting or Snapchat session for some quality virtual face-to-face time. Although it doesn’t replace the experience of being with your loved ones during the holidays, setting some time aside to catch up shows how important they are to you.
8. Give future presents.
Doing this will help spread out your expenses and stay within budget. Make it personalized by creating a handmade coupon for dinner at their favorite restaurant or a spa date. Set a date range for when they can redeem it or a max value to help you plan accordingly.
9. Skip the seasonal gift wrap.
Instead of spending money on expensive gift wrap, wrap items in craft paper and use holiday ribbon, pine cones, or twigs to add a festive touch. You can use the craft paper to wrap gifts for other occasions throughout the year. Inspiration for DIY ideas can be found on Pinterest and Brit + Co.
10. Set a budget.
Setting a budget is essential to prevent overspending. There are also many tempting ways to spend more during the holiday season. Make a gift list with a budget for each person you’re buying a gift for and stick to it. Personal finance blogger Lee Huff of BaldFinance.com suggests setting a max limit on how much to spend on each person depending on how close you are to them.
Although it can be challenging, don’t let consumerism or societal pressure push you to spend more than you can afford this holiday season. By sticking to a budget and finding creative ways to celebrate the holidays, you’ll create a much more meaningful and fulfilling experience this year, and your finances will thank you for it.
Editor’s note: This post was previously published on December 4, 2014 and has been updated.