Not only that, but the onslaught of preparation and craziness that precedes the holidays can make even the most stalwart person want to hide under the covers until New Year's Day.
But never fear! Your dragon slaying hero is here! (You'll have to picture me in a superhero pose because that's just not happening today.)
During this wintery season, parties are inevitable. 'Tis the season for company, right? Entertaining doesn't have to break the budget or send you to the loony bin.
- If you're hosting a meal, go potluck! Offer to provide the main dish if everyone else will commit to bring a side or dessert to share. Even rolls or drinks go a long way in a crowd of hungry people. If you really want to take it a bit further (and spare your one friend from having to sheepishly set down a container of Walmart cookies because they can't bake worth a darn), ask someone to bring paper plates or plastic forks and spoons in lieu of a dish.
- Speaking of paper plates, stock up and avoid doing dishes. Seriously, who wants to be stuck at the kitchen sink when there's partying to do?
- Host an exchange party - cookies, cards, ornaments, etc. Everyone brings something to share or trade and leaves with something new.
- For smaller gatherings, consider meeting at a restaurant. While it may cost a bit more for the actual food, decor is included. It's also less stress for you. No one will see your boys' bathroom with the pee stains on the baseboard and you don't have to do the dishes afterward. That's worth a few extra bucks right there!
- Board games and other party games make for cheap entertainment. When was the last time you indulged in a robust game of Pictionary or Taboo? Apples to Apples, Scattergories, and Trivial Pursuit work well, too.
- Stream holiday music via Pandora. You will have to listen to the occasional commercial, but you can customize your station to meet your party's mood.
- Construction paper chains and popcorn strings are a great start and the kids will love helping out. You can make salt dough ornaments or snow globes with mason jars and glitter.
- Use kid-friendly decorations - stuffed animals, felt ornaments, anything you don't mind throwing away when the season is done. Just don't put real candy canes on your Christmas tree if you have a candy-pinching child like I do. You don't need that kind of mess. Trust me, you really don't.
- Check your nearest dollar store for stockings, garlands, and even wreaths. I like to hit the craft stores after Christmas to take advantage of savings as much as 75-90% off regular price. Granted, I have to wait a year to use them, but I don't mind when I'm getting such a great deal.
- Thrift stores and yard sales often have a plethora of holiday decorations for cheap. You may have to apply some elbow grease to clean them up, but sometimes you stumble upon a real treasure.
- Stick to a theme. Country cozy, snowman frenzy, Santa's workshop, nativity reverence... Choose what speaks most to you and stay with it. That way, if you see something in the store you absolutely adore, but it doesn't fit in with what you have, your brain has an excuse to tell your heart, "NO!"
- Keep it minimal. Do only what's most important to you. Christmas tree, wreath on the door, and a garland on the staircase? That's wonderful
Oh, yes. The biggie. This is where we tend to stretch our budget so much it needs to switch to yoga pants unless we rein in the spending.
- Limit the wish list. This week we sat down with our kids and gave each of them a copy of the following list. Five items. That's it. We chose one from us, one from their brothers, and one to ask Santa to bring. The other two are for grandparents to give (usually...that sometimes changes since grandparents are notorious for doing their own thing).
My 4yo asked for popcorn pj's this year. Really? Mama's gonna have to get creative...
- Determine a spending limit per person. Our limit depends on age, wish lists, year-end bonus, holiday savings, sales, and a bunch of other things, so it's hard to give a hard amount. We generally try to get everything on their lists since they're so short, but sometimes we have to substitute because an item or two is more money than we want to spend. Our kids don't usually mind.
- Go homemade. I'll admit this isn't always easy on the budget. Craft supplies can be expensive! But when your 4yo asks for popcorn pj's and the cheapest ones you can find in his size are $30+$13 shipping, you look for alternatives. Iron-on decal on a white t-shirt and a yard of popcorn fabric from the fabric store for the pants are an excellent solution (assuming I can find popcorn fabric...).
- Opt out of extended family gift exchanges. Once upon a time, we were spending almost the same amount of money on our siblings and their kids as we were our own kids. Sometimes more. It was a huge hassle, especially since I try to give meaningful gifts, not just what's on sale. I was stressed, our budget was stressed, and we (meaning I) began to dread the holidays. It just wasn't worth it. There were probably some hurt feelings when we insisted on backing out, but in the long run, it's been much better for us.
- Gift experiences rather than objects. Gift certificates for a weekend camping trip, tickets to a concert, coupon books for massages and nights off. There are hundreds of options for free or cheap. Check Groupon, KSL deals (if you live in Utah), or another of the dozens of sites offering deals for gift ideas.
- Watch for sales. This requires making your wish lists early, but if you're lucky, you'll walk away with a steal. Check Amazon regularly. Ask your friends to keep an eye out for that hard-to-find item (like a large purple stuffed dragon that's super soft and snuggly). Scour store ads. Check Etsy and Ebay. This isn't a once and done kind of thing, but it doesn't have to dominate your time, either. Once a week should be sufficient since most stores' sales last at least that long.
- Don't splurge on the Christmas cards. Honestly, I can't tell the difference between the cheap ones and the super spendy ones and I assume I'm not the only one. Photo cards from Sam's Club or Costco are generally cheap and they're extremely easy to do. You put the design together online using one of their existing templates, add a couple of photos, and BAM! You're done. I can usually knock ours out in an hour or less. Then all that's left is driving down to the store to pick them up.
- You can also make your own cards, if you're so inclined. Draw a basic design on a half-sheet of cardstock and have your kids color or paint them. That way it doubles as a fun holiday activity and a more personalized keepsake.
The holidays don't have to require you to take out a second or third mortgage on your house to be memorable or enjoyable. Your kids don't need the latest and greatest game system to be happy (unless it actually does fit into your budget). You don't need to slave hours over a fancy dinner. The most important part of the holidays is being with the people you love. So prioritize your holiday plans. Choose just a few things that mean the most and let the rest slide.
Make being with your friends and family one of your dreams and chase it with the biggest butterfly net you can find.
After all, isn't that what the holidays are all about?