Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Having a Happy Holiday When You Don't Have a Pay Day

It's official - the Holidays are here. We stuffed ourselves on Thanksgiving, enjoyed the insanity that ensued nationwide on Black Friday through viral YouTube videos of people literally throwing other people out of their way so they could get a good deal on a Smartphone or flat screen and then cyber shopped for deals on Monday - a LOT of cyber shopping as The Huffington Post revealed that sales from Cyber Monday jumped 30.3 % since last year, suggesting that many people either cybershopped at the office or even played hooky to stay home and scroll through endless webpages full of 'must have', 'one time only' deals.

With all of that hullabaloo over, we can focus on what is about to take place during the next few weeks before Christmas. Families make plans on where to go and when; You sift through a constant stream of invites to attend holiday gatherings and reply to them in triage-like fashion according to where you absolutely have to go because you skipped it last year, etc, etc.

Navigating your way through post-turkey to New Year's Day can be a daunting task and even more so when you are under tight fiscal constraints. We have been struggling for the better part of three years but up until September, at least one of us had a job and could pull off a small Christmas miracle. This year, both my husband and I are out of work. I've compiled some simple ideas on how NOT to make your holiday's horrible in 2012 simply because you don't have a ton of $. Of course, these are my ideas and opinions based on my current financial/work/family situation - everyone is different but there are somethings that apply to everyone regardless of your place in life.


  • If you have a large or extended family, you may feel as though your entire holiday shopping budget will disappear in an attempt to buy something for every single member of your family. For the past 3 years, my family has had very little disposable income. Our current rule is we only buy gifts for the kids (Age 10 and under). Everyone else gets a card (which, they will no doubt open  and expect a gift card to fall out) and that's it. We don't buy for our parents, siblings, cousins or even each other. Some offices do Secret Santa so you may have to participate but if not, a card with some homemade cookies works just fine. Christmas is about kids so if you only have a little budget, make the most of it and use it to give them a Merry Christmas. If you are in a situation like ours, they get it... they already know you are struggling so no major feuds should arise from a lack of gift giving
  • My sister recently told me that her sons (both under 10 years old) asked for their own iPad for Christmas and when she tried to explain why they would not be getting them, their reply was 'Santa doesn't have to buy them - he makes the iPads so don't worry about it'. My response would have been carefully plotted after consuming a few goblets of wine and involve budget cuts at the Elf factory, but if you are faced with a similar scenario, this might be a prime opportunity to have 'the Santa doesn't exist and we are bleeding our savings dry to make Christmas happen' talk

  • If you absolutely must buy something for all 10 cousins, secretary, mailman, etc - some frugal ideas that won't leave them thinking you despise them would be:
    • An ornament
    • A picture frame with a recent family photo in it
    • Lottery Scratch tickets
    • Starbucks/Dunkins $5 Gift Card
    • ITunes Gift Card
    • Bottle of local wine (Farnum Hill Cider is AMAZING and less than $10)

 Holiday Parties

Regardless of your financial situation, DO plan on going to a few holiday parties. After all, it is a season to celebrate and if you hyper-focus on what you don't have, you'll come off acting like the Grinch. It's hard not to be resentful watching others shop worry-free while you count pennies BUT PLEASE, put your worries aside for a few nights and ENJOY... but choose your parties wisely.

  • Stick to parties hosted by family and really good friends. Being surrounded by people who know and care for you will ensure a stress free environment where you will actually enjoy your time, not worry about awkward small talk and you can be who they love - the REAL you!

  • I've always been taught that you never show up to a party without something (bottle of wine, dessert, etc). Spend a Saturday baking up Christmas Cookies, find some inexpensive decorative tins at Target and keep a pile of them in the trunk of your car... instant guest contribution!
  • If you work for a large company who is hosting a holiday party, you may be obligated to attend. Hopefully, they'll have an open bar but if not, make sure you are seen by a few key people and then head out.
Cheesy as it may sound, the holidays really are all about family and friends. It is easy to see why there is a spike in people who get depressed during the holidays - if you don't have a ton of money, if you are not close to your family or can't afford to go visit - they are all downers. Without going into the gritty details, this has been the worst year of my life. I left a job I loved to follow my husband to Kansas after he had been unemployed for almost two years. Six months in Kansas and he was laid off. We lost everything. 

BUT we have 3 little kids who need only know that regardless of our financial situation or geographic location that  THEY will have a memorable and Merry Christmas. Don't dwell on what you don't have and focus on the wonderful things you do have and you'll make it through the holiday season, without someone calling you the Grinch or uttering 'Bah Hum Bug' once.

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