Do you find yourself planning your holiday season with fewer resources than last year? Or perhaps you’re tired of the excess that goes along with the season? Even though many families are making do with less this year, it doesn’t mean that your holiday season has to be any less special. With a little advance planning and good organization, it is possible to enjoy a wonderful holiday season on a budget.

Organization is the key when it comes to keeping your spending to a minimum. The first step is to create a budget. How much money do you have to work with and how do you want to divide it up? The five most common areas where our holiday dollars are spent are gifts, food, entertainment, decorations, and contributions. For some families, one or two of these categories will be the most important and the others almost irrelevant. You must decide which areas are most important to you, and then divide your money up accordingly. Most important, be sure you get it down on paper. A budget is something you should refer back to throughout the season, so set up a spreadsheet on your computer where the information can be easily accessed.

Gifts – For many households, gifts make up the largest part of the spending budget. It’s critical to make a list of each person you want to buy for and then assign a dollar limit for that person. Be sure to shop sales and use coupons whenever possible to get the most bang for your buck!

Food – Many memories are made around special meals at the holidays. The key here is to plan your menu and shop early. Many stores will feature certain food sales on a rotating basis, so if you’ve planned your menu in advance, you should be able to pick up most of your ingredients on sale. Another idea is to make your large family meal a potluck where everyone brings a different dish. Not only is it fun to sample everyone’s different recipes, but this really cuts down on the expense for the hostess.

Entertainment – Remember, you needn’t attend every event in your community or every holiday party you’re invited to. Pick and choose a few to attend in order to cut down on expenses. There are many other forms of family entertainment that don’t cost money, too. Consider sledding, ice skating, building a snowman, or free concerts or programs at your church or mall. Caroling is an enjoyable activity for the whole family, and it can be followed up with hot chocolate and cookies. Another enjoyable activity is to pack the kids in the car and take a drive through a well decorated neighborhood to look at the lights.

Decorations – The best way to save money on holiday decorations is to buy them after the holidays are over. That’s right, if you wait until December 26, you’ll find every holiday decoration imaginable on sale for half price or less. If you can keep a list of the items you’d like to have, then go shopping the day after Christmas and stock up. Pack everything away in designated storage containers and you’ll be ready to go next year!

Contributions – The holidays are an important time for us to help others who are less fortunate than we are. However, remember that a monetary gift isn’t the only way to give back. Volunteers are frequently needed to help at food banks or to fix meals at shelters. You could also sign up to ring a bell at a local store for your Salvation Army or Goodwill.

Remember, even though you may not have as much money to spend this year, it doesn’t mean that your holiday can’t be enjoyable and memorable for you and your family. Making a budget and sticking to it can be tough, but it’s also a good way of reminding ourselves and teaching our kids that the holidays aren’t about money. This season is for friends, family, and time spent together enjoying one another’s company and being thankful for our blessings.

Author: Ellen Bell