Planning and Creativity Will Benefit Your Kids – And Your Wallet – This Season

The holidays are just about here, and there is excitement in the air.  From cooking elaborate family meals, to freshening up our home for visitors, to the seemingly endless list of gifts to buy and cards to send, there is a lot to get done!

Just like our kids, we tend to get excited and caught up in the frenzy of the holiday season.  We want to make it a special one for our children and other family members, creating memories to cherish.

But with so much on our minds, while we make holiday plans, there is one thing that we all need to think a little bit more about and perhaps make the center of our preparations.  Without this essential planning, we may find ourselves in a world of trouble come January.

No one likes to think about finances when there are so many more cheerful things to set our minds on this time of year, but most Americans get in way over their heads in a mountain of debt to pay for all of the festivities.

It is estimated that the typical American household will spend between $800 and $1,000 this holiday season – on gifts alone.  Then there are the decorations, food, and the electric bill for all those lights — the list goes on and on.  Thanksgiving dinner can set you back well over $100, and the cost of a live Christmas tree can range anywhere from $60 to $100!

It’s no wonder we go into debt this time of year.  We want to make all we can of the holidays each year, especially for our children.  But there are some ways to minimize the financial burden of the holidays – especially if you plan ahead.

Child Development Institute reported:

Start planning early

One of the simplest ways to save money is to start planning early. Make a list of everything you’ll need for the holidays a few months before the holiday season begins. Include everything you can think of, including small items like extra toilet paper. During the holidays, these tiny expenses can quickly add up and put you over budget. If you begin planning ahead of time, you’ll reduce your overall costs.

It is hard to think ahead of time when we are so busy with all of our other responsibilities, but financial experts recommend purchasing items throughout the year when you find a good sale.  And most banks, and some employers, offer a “Christmas Club,” where money can be deducted monthly from your paycheck or savings into an account specifically marked for holiday expenses.

There are also ways to minimize expenses by finding simpler ways to celebrate.  Instead of purchasing everyone a gift, have each family member pick a name and be responsible for that person’s gift only.  This can also be done with coworkers, your playgroup, or circle of friends.  Some families practice this tradition in the form of “Secret Santa,” and this can be a great way not to go overboard on gifts.

You can also make the celebration fun by being creative.  A “White Elephant” gift exchange is good for a few laughs as you choose a funny or “tacky” gift and make a game of the exchange.  Gifts can be wrapped in crazy, non-traditional ways, and you can wear your silliest holiday gear – like popular “ugly” Christmas sweaters.  Hold a contest for the tackiest gift, wrapping job, and outfit and present the winner with a homemade trophy.

Having fun together is the best way to create special memories, and finding creative alternatives may help to shift the focus from pricey gifts.  Kids, in particular, may not understand the cost of the latest and greatest holiday craze or may have friends who receive stacks of presents for Christmas.  But the best gift we can give our kids is the gift of our time and our talents.

Child Development Institute reported:

Get creative

Why not suggest some different ideas this year? You could host a kids-only gift exchange or ask family members to exchange gifts they made themselves. You could do a baked-goods only gift exchange. You could even try something like a books-only gift exchange where each family member gives and receives a new book. Another option would be to skip the gift exchange completely and instead participate in a local charity event or do some volunteer work as a family.

Focus on spending time together

For many families, the holiday season is a time filled with stress and greed. Maybe the children in your family are focused on how many gifts they’ll receive. Maybe the adults are. This year, try to emphasize the importance of spending time together, rather than receiving expensive gifts. When you have a family get-together, for example, plan several games your family members can play together. Focus on talking with one another and sharing memories. Take a walk or participate in a shared scavenger hunt around your neighborhood. If you live in a city, you could even visit a museum or historical site together. The options are endless, as long as you’re willing to spend time planning activities to do.

There are also many inexpensive or free options for holiday family fun.  Take a thermos of hot chocolate in the car and drive around the neighborhood to see the lights while you sing Christmas carols.  Or have a winter picnic in the park and talk about your favorite memories from the year.  Let each child choose and plan an activity each weekend beginning on Thanksgiving – they will love having a hand in planning the family fun.

And one of the best gifts you can give your family costs nothing at all.  Volunteer to serve meals at a shelter or have your kids make Christmas cards and cookies to deliver to a local hospital or nursing home.  There are many organizations looking to provide some holiday cheer to those who are less fortunate.  This not only becomes a cherished tradition but teaches your kids the true meaning of the season.

No matter what your plans entail, determine a reasonable budget well in advance and stick to it!  Your holidays will be just as sweet and you won’t face a mountain of bills at the beginning of the New Year.

What are your favorite things to do during the holiday season that don’t involve breaking the bank?  Do you stick to a budget and a plan for the holidays?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

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