A Positively Present reader sent me an email a few weeks ago: her husband had been laid off, and she was worrying about the financial aspect of the holiday season. She asked if I might write about how to enjoy the holidays while struggling financially, and I thought that was a wonderful idea — especially because I’ve been struggling financially for years.
It might seem like things are great — lots of books being published, new products being launched — but working for yourself in a creative field is no joke financially. Some people, I know, have the good fortune of doing what they love and being well-off while doing it, but most creatives — designers, authors, bloggers, freelancers — struggle financially. And I’m no different. Since starting this business, I’ve learned how to give up a lot (for more on that, check out my Positive Penny Pinching e-book), and I actually think it’s been a great thing for me, learning to live without excess, to focus on what really matters.
That being said, not having excess funds during the holidays can be especially rough. I love nothing more than giving gifts to those I love, and it’s hard when I can’t afford the gifts I want to give or I can’t attend certain events because they’re too expensive or I can’t donate to all of the many, many causes I’d like to support because, first and foremost, I have to pay my rent. This isn’t meant to sound whiny or like I’m complaining — I have chosen this path and I truly believe someday I will be financially successful while doing it — but it is meant to say that, if you’re struggling financially, I get it. It, quite frankly, sucks.
So I decided to spend some time rounding up the best ideas I could think of to make the most of the holiday season without spending a lot of money. Because, no matter what holiday you celebrate, it really isn’t about spending money.
CUT BACK ON GIFT-GIVING
One of the best ways to save (or not spend) money during the holidays is to cut back on the gift-giving. If your family is anything like mine (and like a lot of families in America), big piles of gifts under the tree are an essential part of the holiday season. But they don’t have to be. This year, my family is doing gift-giving a bit differently. Rather than buying lots of gifts for each person, we’re each giving each other one special gift. A friend of mine as cut out gift-giving altogether in her family; instead they are donating the amount they’d spend on gifts to a worthy cause. If giving gifts is essential to your holiday experience, try setting a spending limit or limiting the number of gifts you give. You probably want to give your immediate family members a gift, but do you really need to give gifts to all of your friends? Tell them ahead of time that, instead of gifts this year, you’d rather do something special together instead.
FIND NEW PLACES TO SHOP
One thing I’ve learned over the past few years of pinching pennies is that you don’t have to shop where you’ve always shopped. When I was younger (and richer), high end brands were my go-to. So much so, that that’s what I was remembered for in my high school yearbook (major eye roll!). Brand names were of the utmost importance to me, but since then I’ve shifted the way I think about shopping and products. There are plenty of places to shop for good deals — TJ Maxx, Home Goods, etc. — and there are also surprisingly interesting things at shops like Dollar Tree and Five Below. (It is important, however, to keep in mind how things are made. If something really cool is selling for $1, you’ve got to wonder how much the person making it was paid…). The key is: keeping an open mind. If you’re used to spending a lot on a gift, it might not even occur to you that you could spend a fraction of the cost by simply checking out different stores, searching online for deals, or looking out for coupons.
GIVE TIME, NOT THINGS
I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this piece of advice, but it’s an important one. What the people in your life really want from you is your time, attention, and love. (And, if the people in your life don’t just want those things from you, you might want to rethink why those people are in your life!) If possible, getting rid of the gift giving can be a great way to save money and to reconnect with the true meaning of the holiday season: love and togetherness. Instead of spending money on gifts, find a fun, free activity (there are usually lots around this time of year!) and take part with your family or friends. And, if you don’t have enough money to give back to charities you’d like to support, you can also give your time to them as well. (I know you might be thinking, “But I don’t have any time!” but, honestly, you do. We all spend time on things that aren’t adding positive value to our lives, and we can, at least for the holiday season, cut out some of those things in favor of spending time with loved ones or donating your time to a local charity.)
MAKE YOUR OWN DECOR
I love decorating my place for the holidays, and each year, the stores fill with beautiful new items that I long to buy and use to decorate my apartment. And most of these beautiful new things are not at all in my budget. However, I’ve learned over the past few years that you can make a lot of really great decor to brighten your home without spending a lot (or, in some cases, any!) money. Not only is this a great way to save money, but it can also be one of the fun activities you do with friends and family. There are tons of great resources online for creative, inexpensive holiday decor, but you can see a lot of my favorite DIYs on my Christmas Cheer, Creative Crafts, and Perfect Printables Pinterest boards. (An additional tip: try to limit the time you spend in shops trying to sell you holiday decor to reduce temptation to buy things you don’t need or could make yourself.)
CUT OUT THE COMPARISONS
All year long, we’re granted access to friends and family members’ lives through social media, and these sneak peeks at peoples’ lives gets amped up at the end of the year. It can seem like everyone is getting amazing gifts, decorating their homes in picture perfect decor, and doing fun (and expensive!) festive things. But comparing your life to others’ lives never does any good, and will only make you feel like you’re not spending, doing, or being enough. And anything that makes you feel that way has no positive purpose in your life. If comparisons are getting you down, try disconnecting from social media for a bit or unfollow people, brands, or celebrities that are making you wish you had more than you currently have.
AMP UP YOUR GRATITUDE
When you’re feeling down about not having enough money to spend on the things you’d like to purchase during the holidays, turning your attention to gratitude can be tough. You might feel stressed, anxious, or despondent about your financial situation, and that can make it really hard to focus on what you have. But when you turn your attention to what you have, rather than what you lack, everything changes. Everything. Whenever you feel down about your finances, take out a piece of paper and start listing all the things you do have: friends, family, a place to live, your health, a clear mind, a pet you love, unique talents, etc. It’s not always easy to see these things when we’re blinded by the festive “buy this!!!” lights of the holidays, but most of us truly have what we need, even if we can’t afford what we want. Remembering this is the most important thing you can do for yourself when you’re struggling financially.
BONUS: IF YOU DO HAVE EXTRA MONEY . . .
If you’re flush with funds this year, yay! This is a great time of year to give back to causes, brands, and people who have positively impacted your year. Consider shopping at small business, buying from local stores, and giving back to those who provide free content for you year ’round. If you’re not running a small business, working as a freelancer, or in a creative field, you might not realize how difficult it is for most of these creators financially. On the surface — the beautiful Instagram layouts, the uplifting blog posts, the inspiring tweets — it’s not always evident how these creators are doing financially. And, as online consumers, most of us (including me!) have come to expect content for free — we listen to songs on Spotify, read news articles without paying for a newspaper, visit websites where all of images and words are free for our perusal — and few of us really think about how that content is made (and paid for). So, if you do have extra money, consider buying things from the creators who produce free content that you enjoy. You have no idea how much that support could mean to one small business owner.