The holiday season is supposed to be merry and bright, but due to the high cost of the holidays and the interpersonal "politics" of things like gifting, shopping and entertaining, it can also be filled with friction between family, friends and loved ones.
A recent Bankrate survey found that 45% of Americans feel compelled to go beyond their comfort zones when buying holiday gifts, and it turns out women are significantly more likely to feel pressured to overspend—moms especially!
With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite tips to help manage the pressure and stress of the holidays so you can actually relax this holiday season without worrying about your finances.
1. Look for the best holiday travel deals—but avoid hidden fees.
Holiday travel can get expensive quickly, especially if you're traveling with kids. Plane tickets add up fast, and it can be hard to keep kids occupied for long periods of time. To get around this, always hunt for holiday travel deals.
Websites like Hipmunk or KAYAK search multiple airline and travel sites at once, making sure you're getting the best deal on all your holiday travel. Remember to be careful of fares that might have hidden fees, though—lots of airlines have "basic economy" tickets now that don't allow you carry-ons or for you to choose your seats, and the last thing you want is to end up having to spread your family out across an airplane.
2. Split the cost of travel whenever you can.
Whenever you can, split the cost of travel with family who live nearby—after all, if you're all going to Grandma's for the holidays you might as well all go together. Renting a minivan or even an RV and playing road trip games on the way is a way to save money and keep your kids occupied at the same time.
Instead of constantly passing money around throughout the trip, let one person pay the cost of gas money or rental car charges and then split the costs. Points junkies will rejoice and the money will be in their bank account before their credit card bill is due. Plus, you'll all save on ATM fees if you're not withdrawing money in towns where your bank doesn't have a branch.
3. Skip the travel, share the party.
If you can, skip the travel entirely and host a party together at someone's home. This year, team up with family to host a higher quality get-together without going broke when you share the responsibilities, and the costs, instead of going out for a big expensive group dinner or trying to cover the costs of everything solo.
Not everyone is an A+ party planner though, so let everyone take on the responsibilities that best suit them. Maybe your aunt makes a mean mulled wine and your cousin would rather just pay for a cleaning service the next day or a babysitter who can keep kids occupied while the adults stay up past their bedtime.
4. Trade competitive gifting for collaborative gifting.
When it comes to gifting, this year is your opportunity to trade competitive gifting for collaborative gifting. When family open gifts together, it can get competitive—who put the most thought into a gift, who gave the most expensive gift, who spent the most time on a gift, or which kid got the most. These competitive moments contribute to so many of the reasons holidays are stressful for lots of moms and families.
Instead of competitive gifting, come together and decide on one higher value gift for each person, then divvy up the cost throughout the family, this way everyone gets equal credit and you can all stick to your budgets. Maybe your mom just wants a day at the spa, and you and your siblings can split the cost of a massage upgrade together. Or you can get your kids a single big gift from the entire family instead of several smaller gifts.
As you're looking at ways to make it through the holiday season with your finances intact, don't forget that the New Year is coming up rapidly. Make sure you come up with a spending plan for the next year before it starts —after all, you can't blow a budget you don't have.
Just like experts recommend an "eating plan" as a more long-term approach to dieting, I recommend a "spending plan" instead of a crash money diet. A sustainable spending plan is broken down into the three E's: Essentials (70% of your overall monthly budget for basic expenses like rent or mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, insurances); Endgame (15% of your monthly budget for things for your future like savings accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts); and Extras (15% of your monthly budget for, well, whatever does it for you). Set this budget before the New Year starts and use whatever tools work for you to track your spending, and then set regular check-ins to make sure you're staying on track throughout the new year.