Surviving the Holidays With Your Sanity Intact

The holiday season is a special time. With Charlie Brown on TV and carols on the radio, Image of cookies in the shape of a sleighand an ever-growing list of people to shop for, it’s easy to get carried away.  The pressure to over-shop and overspend when you’re rushing to buy everything on your list can be overwhelming. No worries, though; we’ve got you covered! Read on for fantastic pre-and post-holiday tips to ensure you’ll have a holly, jolly December without breaking the bank.

6 Pre-Holidays Tips

Revise your gift list

Gift giving is a treasured tradition, but chances are, lots of the people you exchange gifts with would be as relieved as you’d be to be taken off your list. Narrow down your gift list. Talk to coworkers and acquaintances about just exchanging cards this year, or make a deal to only exchange homemade or inexpensive gifts.

This way, you can focus on buying special gifts for those closest to you instead of generic gifts for everyone you’ve ever met and their cousins, too.

 Organize a Yankee Swap or Secret Santa

Still got a list that’s a mile long? Try one of these creative solutions! A Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa activity not only saves money and stress, it adds a bit of intrigue and playfulness to the holiday. These swaps are great for family gatherings, office parties and neighborhood get-togethers.  Everyone involved only needs to bring a single gift – and it’s always fun.

Set a reasonable price cap on gifts so no one ends up leaving with a candy cane while the person next to them hauls off a flat-screen TV.  You can check out online tips for organizing a fun and affordable Yankee Swap or Secret Santa.

Bake holiday treats

Another great way to reduce the financial weight of your gift list is to break out the baking supplies and start whipping up your own holiday treats instead of buying gifts.

It’s hard to know exactly what your friend will like as a gift, but no one turns down a tin of homemade holiday cookies! Use your favorite traditional recipes, or try something new and different.

 Make a budget and stick to it

This tip sounds a bit obvious.  After all, we all plan to stick to a budget, right?  But make this the year it really happens!

Don’t set yourself a ballpark budget.  Set an absolute limit to how much you will spend on the holidays this season.  This will encourage you to plan your spending rather than grabbing impulse items as you move through a store.  It will also encourage you to look for great deals, which brings us to our next tip.

 Make use of holiday deals….but don’t get distracted

It’s easy to become hypnotized by deals. Prices drop and we go wild, spending more than we originally intended because we don’t want to miss out on those “crazy, low holiday prices.”

Take a deep breath.  Make use of these deals wisely by buying items on your list at a discounted price.  But don’t be tantalized by the deals to the point that you buy things you don’t really need….or even want.

 Rethink giving

We know that the holidays are all about giving – but giving doesn’t need to mean spending money.  Instead of running to the mall again, think of other ways you can give that will help improve your community, make the world a better place, and truly brighten someone’s holiday.

It’s the perfect time of year to volunteer at local soup kitchens, homeless shelters and charity organizations. This kind of giving doesn’t cost a dime, but can be a memorable and significant experience for all involved.

To find local volunteer opportunities, click here.

Post-Holiday Tips

Use those gift cards

Gift cards are a typical holiday gift, but many people forget they have them, and they go unused.

Put all of your gift cards in your wallet and spend them creatively.  Maybe you don’t care for coffee on the go, but you can buy a package of ground coffee beans at Starbucks and use it at home.  Use that iTunes gift card to rent a movie instead of taking the family out.  Whatever it might be, use these gift cards and appreciate them for what they are – money in your wallet.

Invest in next year’s regifting effort

In addition to gift cards, you’ll probably find yourself with a bunch of gifts you don’t really want.  Some of these can be saved and re-gifted next year or used as birthday gifts throughout the year – scented candles, bottles of wine, bath products, etc.  Even if you don’t actually want it, you can find someone else who does!

Mother’s Day On A Budget

Along with the blooming flowers and blazing sunshine comes the plans for celebrating Mother’s Day. Our moms are always there for us, and now is when we show them how much we appreciate all they do.
However, between flowers, gifts, and dining out, Mother’s Day costs can quickly add up. How do you keep within a reasonable budget while still showing Mom how much she means to you?
Fortunately, it’s easy to save big while celebrating Mother’s Day in style. Here’s how:
1.) Frugal flowers
Nothing says “I love you” like a vibrantly colored bouquet, but those beautiful blossoms can cost a bundle. Save on Mom’s flowers by doing some of the work yourself. Don’t rely on the florist to provide the perfect base for the bouquet – bring your own basket from home or pick up a cheap but pretty vase at a craft or thrift store.
Also, consider shopping your local grocery store or sidewalk stand before visiting a florist. Significant savings – like a bouquet for as little as $10 – can be had by cutting out the middleman.
Lastly, if you are shopping at a florist, call first to find out when their flowers are delivered so you get the freshest of the bunch.
2.) Gift it right
Get creative! Mom would love something personally crafted by you, like a decorated framed photo of a shared memorable moment or a scrapbook of your best childhood memories.
If you’d rather purchase a gift, shop early so you don’t feel pressured into buying something you can’t afford. Also, carefully mine coupon sites like RetailMeNot, Coupons.com and Couponcabin to see if you can snag a deal.
3.) Dining out (or in) for less
Of course, celebrating Mom’s special day isn’t complete without sharing a wonderful meal. But restaurants can be expensive, so don’t make reservations just yet! Maybe Mom would enjoy a home-cooked meal more than an evening out. You can whip up her favorite dishes, set the table royally and enjoy a delicious dinner at home.
Or throw together a family barbecue. Get the grill going for a delectable dinner that’s fun to prepare and even more fun to eat!
If you’ve got your heart set on taking mom out to a restaurant, though, shop around for the best Mother’s Day deals. And, of course, check sites like Groupon or LivingSocial before making reservations.
4.) Plan ahead
It’s not too early to start thinking about next year’s Mother’s Day. Shop the post-Mother’s-Day sales for fantastic deals on greeting cards, wrapping paper, and gifts for Mom.
It’s worth the extra effort to save money on Mother’s Day expenses. After all, no one will be happier to see you saving money than dear sweet Mom!
Your Turn: How do you celebrate Mother’s Day on a budget? Share your best tips with us in the comments!

How To Be The Host With The Most Without Draining Your Account


Hosting a holiday meal is one of the stressful parts of any holiday. Sure, it’s great to help everyone get together under one roof as part of a fantastic tradition. On the other, though, feeding many people can put a serious strain on your budget. With holiday gifts to buy, a strain like that really can’t come at a worse time! 

Fortunately, it’s possible to be a great host and a great saver at the same time. It’s not easy, but you can put on a great holiday meal without breaking the budget. Try these 3 handy tips to save this year!
 

1.) Plan
If there’s a law written in a personal finance stone tablet, it’s “always make a plan.” It doesn’t need to be detailed, but it should identify your needs for a project and how you intend to meet them. For a meal, that should include both what you intend to put on the table and anything else you need to make your guests comfortable.
Obviously, the earlier you start making your plan, the better off you’ll be. Having a plan in place lets you take advantage of the rotating grocery specials. You can incorporate more seasonal produce, meaning you’ll cook a better tasting and more nutritious meal at a better price. The plan also lets you make a budget for your holiday meal spending while not having to put big shopping trips on credit cards. The memories of a wonderful family meal should stick around for years; a debt to pay for it all should not!
2.) Delegate
The sheer volume of tasks that go along with hosting a holiday meal can quickly get overwhelming. Beyond the meal, you need to clean and tidy up, decorate, and make sure your house is stocked with essentials, like hand soap and toilet paper. Even listing all the steps involved can get exhausting!
That’s why it’s important to recognize the tasks that need your individual attention and separate them from the tasks that can be done by someone else. While you may be doing most of the cooking, outsource the meal planning to a family member. Give them the guest list and ask them to help you come up with recipes that will satisfy the crowd. You can also get kids involved in making and placing decorations, which may help get them in the holiday spirit as well. While it’s likely too imposing to ask guests to bring toiletries as part of a potluck, you may be able to fold that shopping into your ordinary shopping and avoid extra last-minute trips.
By delegating responsibilities, you make the task of putting together a wonderful time more manageable. This decreases the temptation to find a quick, easy and potentially expensive, solution at the last minute. Budgets tend to explode most often when there’s a serious time or energy crunch. Avoid that crunch by getting help wherever you can.
3.) Substitute
While everyone loves a nice holiday roast, cuts of beef big enough to serve an entire family can easily cost $200 or more. Instead, look for seasonal specialties, like spiral cut ham. You can also get good prices on turkey breast or whole chicken, both of which can easily feed an army without draining your checking account. If you have the time, slow-cooking cheap cuts of pork (belly or shoulder) can make ham or bacon that’s tastier than what you get at the supermarket, but for a lower price. It will cure in the fridge for several days, and then needs to be cooked. A smoker is best for this process, but a standard grill can work in a pinch.
You can use the same home cooking ingenuity to save on side dishes. One of the best ways to feed lots of people without breaking the bank is to use root vegetables, which are cheap and filling. Rubbing parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes or carrots with salt and pepper before throwing them in the oven for 40 minutes on medium heat can turn ordinary produce into delicious sides. Serve these instead of more expensive, less nutritious, canned or frozen vegetables.
Finally, don’t forget to substitute other people’s cooking for your own. Guests like to feel included in the preparation process. Ask your guests to bring desserts or sides, while you focus on getting your main dishes ready. This will save you both time and money.
Don’t forget that the best things about the holiday are free. Time spent with friends and family, telling stories and making memories, is more important than how much food you put on the table. Your guests will remember the shared experience of the holidays more than what was on their plates, so focus on being gracious and calm while making your guests feel welcome.
Happy holidays!
Your Turn: What’s your best holiday budget survival tip? Do you have any go-to tips or tricks that saves on costs? Let us know how you host with the most (without spending the most) in the comments!