The holidays are a time for celebrating with family and friends. But the joy of the season often comes with its share of stress. Namely, you may be worried about how you’ll afford all this holiday spending.
Budgeting for the holidays is no easy task, and unfortunately there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach for handling money during this time of year. There are so many factors to take into account: who should you buy gifts for, how much should you spend, and how should you factor in spending without going into debt. Since money is such a taboo subject and you may want to buy whatever you want, it can be hard to cap your holiday spending.
Although we don’t recommend comparing yourself to others, it can sometimes be helpful to learn from those who find themselves in a similar spending quandary. So, we asked five millennials to discuss how they spend and budget during the holidays. Their answers may surprise you:
Sami Lynn, 32
Annual Holiday Budget: $0
While most people find themselves with a spending hangover after the holidays, this isn’t the case for Lynn, a medical consultant from Oklahoma City. She generally doesn’t celebrate the holidays at all, opting instead to either work or take vacation during that time. She budgets 10 percent of her income for travel, and uses it during the holidays. While she may buy presents for a few close friends, she takes that out of her regular budget rather than saving up for months in advance. She wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I’m not in touch with my family so it’s mostly about myself, my critters and my friends,” says Lynn.
Meghan O’Dea, 31
Annual Holiday Budget: $200
Instead of going all out in December, O’Dea of Chattanooga, Tennessee keeps her holidays low key with immediate family and then celebrates Christmas in July with extended family. A scholarship program coordinator, O’Dea admits that neither of these approaches is considered “traditional.”
Her immediate family members exchange books and stockings on Christmas. In July, her extended family takes a beach vacation. During this time, each relative picks a Secret Santa and buys a gift for one person.
When it comes to spending for Christmas, O’Dea sets aside $200 to buy gifts. She picks out presents that she knows her family will love throughout the year. This way the cost is spread out and she can work within her budget to buy meaningful gifts.
“We love focusing on books and food. It makes the nebulous week in-between Christmas and New Year’s extra cozy. Eating leftover Yorkshire pudding and cracking open a new book with some eggnog is the best part of Christmas.”
Lisa Bryant, 23
Annual Holiday Budget: $500
Bryant, an engineer from Sparks, Nevada, typically spends the holidays with either her family or her fiance’s family. She focuses on spending time together over everything else. She spends around $500, mostly on gifts with some money left over for decorations. Since her IRA company allows her to skip a monthly contribution, she skips December and uses this extra cash for the holidays.
Generally, this frees up enough money to buy one big gift for her fiance, plus presents for her her parents and a few close friends. She also tries to give one hand-made gift per year, and uses her holiday budget to pay for supplies.
“I’m usually pretty good at spending within my means.”
Alaina Leary, 24
Annual Holiday Budget: $800-$1000
Leary, a freelance editor from Boston, saves up for Christmas all year long, but ramps up those savings starting each summer. Between family gatherings, “Friendsmas”, and lots of winter-themed fun, there is a lot to take into account when budgeting. Generally, Leary uses about $500 of her holiday funds to buy gifts for her partner, close friends, dad, and cousins. The remaining $300-$500 in her budget is earmarked for experiences. Some of Leary’s favorite holiday experiences include a weekend away with her partner in Maine, a long sleigh ride, and dining out after watching Boston’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
“I budget my money for experiences over gifts, because I’d rather spend time with people than spend money on them.”
Colleen Stinchcombe, 26
Annual Holiday Budget: No limit but $75 per person cap
Stinchcombe, a writer and editor from Phoenix, usually spends the holidays at her house with her family. She asks everyone to agree to a $75 spending cap. While that cap may seem high, this works for Stinchcombe as she budgets for this annual gathering and only buys for her immediate family and maybe a couple of close friends. Instead of saving throughout the year, she sets aside money that she would ordinarily spend on herself for things like eating out, new clothes and other unnecessary items.
She says her gifting style is to give as she would like to receive. With this in mind, Stinchcombe chooses gifts that her family and friend would otherwise buy for themselves.
“I’m not a fan of holiday gift-giving as something extravagant.”
How Should You Budget For The Holidays?
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for how you should spend money during the holidays. The most important thing is to take stock of your priorities and your bank account, and find a happy medium this holiday season.