Holiday lights on the street in Madrid, purple and blue lights

Guest Author:

Melanie Musson

I met Melanie through a friend I made at #FinCon19. When our mutual connection offered to have Melanie write a post about holiday spending and holiday season debt, I jumped a the offer.

The holidays is always a time of year that I feel like a Scrooge. I rarely celebrate my birthday (because it’s in the middle of the holidays). I haven’t spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family in California for over 5 years. And I suck at making Halloween costumes.

I never thought about how my discomfort with the holidays is probably tied to money until I read Melanie’s draft post. It suddenly hit me that my Scroogeness towards the holidays is probably because I always feel anxiety over the extra spending that hits October – January.

Wendie V in front of a large Christmas tree
Here I am trying to enjoy the holiday season.

When I read Melanie’s suggestions, they really hit home. I do some of these things already- especially giving away home made gifts. But I never thought about saving money and intentionally finding ways not to spend during the holiday instead of giving myself permission to use credit cards or overspend just to buy gifts for people.

Luckily, with this post to inspire me, I’ll be talking holiday spending different in 2019!

Here’s Melanie with some fantastic suggestions on how to avoid debt this holiday season.

How to Avoid Debt and Regret this Holiday Season

On top of the expected financial stressors of the holidays (gifts, parties, decorations, etc.), there are unexpected expenses that can really blow your financial plan.

It’s always important to make sure you save money for the unexpected. Things go wrong all the time. If an ice storm caused a branch to fall on your car, do you have money saved up for your car insurance deductible? You never know what unexpected expenses will arise during the holiday season, but there will undoubtedly be something. 

This holiday season doesn’t have to include the typical stress that comes with being financially strapped. When your financial situation turns for the worse, your mental health is likely to follow. You can achieve financial wellness with just a bit of planning and discipline. And your holiday experience won’t need to suffer one bit.

Plan Now

Start your preparation by pulling out your calendar. Look at each holiday you’re going to face this season. I’m looking at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve and Day. Your holidays may look different, but figure out what you’re going to celebrate and how you’re going to do it.

Here’s my plan for this holiday season.

For Halloween, I’m making and purchasing used costumes for my four children, and buying a huge bag of candy for handing out to the neighborhood kids. I’m not spending money on decorations or anything else Halloween-related. 

Thanksgiving for our family includes a huge meal with friends. We all work together so no one is left with too much of a financial or preparation burden.

Christmas is where I have to plan the most to keep well financially. I love to buy gifts. I love to buy gifts for everyone I know, and if I find the perfect item, I tend to think it’s worth it no matter how much it costs. I can easily get carried away. That’s why planning ahead is the key. I make a list and start shopping year-round. Spreading out the cost for gifts can help you avoid December debt. 

Mistletoe in Madrid bundles with red tape.

For New Year’s festivities, I traditionally host a party for my friends and their families. Since it’s a party for families, I don’t have to hire a babysitter. I provide the main dish, and everyone brings a side dish. We play games and it’s one of my favorite nights of the year. And it doesn’t cost much.

Your priorities will be in different places and on different things than mine. My main place to focus and budget is Christmas. Your plans might involve a trip of a lifetime or even just avoiding chaos altogether. What matters is that you decide what you want and prepare for it. 

Write down your plan and include specifics to answer the questions of who, what, when, where, and how. Once you have a plan written down, you can base your budget on it.

Stick to a Strict Budget

After you decide how much you have available to spend, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to allocate it. You can’t allow yourself to spend more money than you have. 

The months surrounding the holiday season tend to have more costs than the other months of the year, but if you can plan your budget early and save intentionally, you won’t feel that drain.

Red poinsettia plants in planters.

Saving for gifts throughout the year is one way to maintain financial wellness through the holidays. My managing editor, Rory Chapman, shares what works for his family:

“Every single paycheck (bi-weekly), $50 is auto-drafted from my wife’s paycheck. That money goes into a credit union account with her work and we use that as our Christmas budget. It doesn’t exactly help in the short run, but it has kept us from hating Christmas spending every year.”

Remember that expensive doesn’t equal better. A well-thought-out gift that doesn’t cost much can be so much more perfect for the recipient than an impulse-buy, expensive gift that’s not quite right. Don’t go over your budget. You can always find something better that fits into your financial commitment.

One of the best gifts I’ve received was a DVD of my favorite childhood holiday movie. I talked about it all the time and how it was never on TV anymore and how it didn’t really feel like Christmas to me without watching it. Somehow, my husband found it on DVD. It probably cost $15, and I loved it better than any other gift that Christmas. 

Listen to your family and friends. Write down clues or ideas for gifts. 

My managing editor and fellow mom, Sara Routhier, says, “Don’t buy stuff for your kids they don’t need, especially toys that break or get old in a week even though your kids act like they need it to live.”

I agree whole-heartedly with that advice. The worst gifts I’ve gotten my kids were the toys they saw on commercials. Somehow the commercial just sucks them in and they want what is advertised so bad, but then it’s a flop. 

And speaking of commercials Sara also offers this advice: “Don’t get sucked into social media ads.” Let’s face it, we’re just as bad as our kids when it comes to the enticement in commercials. 

If it wasn’t important enough for you to budget for, you’ll survive without it, no matter how fabulous it looks online.

Look for Ways to Save

I promise you, there are ways you can save money and have the best holiday season with your family and friends. Here are some ways that fellow moms and I have found to save.

Construct Creations

Don’t underestimate how great homemade gifts can be. I make and can jelly, jam, and applesauce every year. Those make perfect gifts for just about anyone, except all your keto and paleo friends of course. 

Homemade cookies with red and green sprinkles.

I’ve made bread, caramel rolls, and meals for people as gifts for teachers and therapists in the past. Of course, you should always prioritize you own health and make sure you’re eating the right meals to keep yourself going strong during the holidays. Too much sweets is something we all struggle with during this time of year!

If you’re good at something, try using your talent to make gifts. Knit and crocheted items are always a hit. Hand-lettered, framed quotes are beautiful (if you’re good at that sort of thing) and something that I’ve received and loved. 

Before you dismiss the idea of making gifts yourself, spend five minutes on Pinterest looking up homemade gifts. You just might be surprised that there may be something that you’d love to make. 

Emphasize the Experience

Leslie Kiel, another writer and mom on my team, offers this brilliant way to not get carried away with gifts:

“We cap our spending by adhering to the ‘one thing you want, one thing you need, one thing to wear, one thing to read.’ Each kid gets four presents total. We make the rest of the morning about cooking together, jammie/movie/hot chocolate time, and playing with what we received. It’s helped with so much other than finances like decluttering and helping to cultivate thankfulness in the kids!”

That sounds like the kind of Christmas tradition your kids will love and remember forever.

Shop the Sales

Seasonal items have to get cleared off the shelf to make room for the next holiday. Don’t let those killer sales pass you by, but be careful to not overspend while Black Friday shopping! This is what works for my colleague, Rachel Brennan,

“To stay financially well this year I’m taking mad advantage of the after summer clearance sales. I have a giant bucket in my living room full of toys, stuffed animals, and other children’s gifts that were bought for less than $2 each, which means the slew of birthday parties and holiday gift exchanges my daughter will be invited to are covered for next to nothing. I’ll keep my eye out after Halloween for candy to go in Christmas stockings, and I will be watching for easy kids’ crafts and other artsy things on the 75 percent off rack after Thanksgiving, too!”

With all the activities and events, the holiday season can get stressful. Keeping a commitment to financial wellness can eliminate one major source of holiday stress. Plan for the holidays early and write down that plan. Make a budget that works for you and stick to it, and don’t forget to look for ways to save. That way, you’ll be calm and prepared for those inevitable, but unexpected expenses.

Avoid Debt and Regret this holiday season with these helpful tips!

Thank You!

A special thanks to Melanie Musson for her clear and easy to follow advice for the holiday season. Avoiding debt is a concrete goal we can all work towards. This holiday season, give genuine thanks and celebrate in a meaningful way with your loved ones.

Featured Guest Bio:

Melanie Musson is a writer for With four children, she’s had to buckle down and find ways to not let her spending get out of control. She hopes everyone can enjoy the holidays for what they’re supposed to be and not get caught up in the regretted spending.

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