As the days get a little shorter and colder, you may be mulling over - or even fretting about – how to have a fun holiday season without having to pay for it in 2017. Decorating your house, feeding friends and family, special meals and buying gifts can cause financial frustration from November through January, but with a little planning you can stick to your budget.
Fill your calendar with freebies
A little advance planning can help you make the holiday season full of memories, from concerts of holiday music to Santa sightings for the kids and art shows where you can find unusual gifts or learn to make your own crafts. Keeping track of your options for activities can be a challenge in this busy time of year, so consider making your own special holiday calendar to map your plans. For instance, you can go to the annual arts and crafts show at the Mattawoman Creek Art Center in Marbury or spend a little on tickets to the Port Tobacco Players production of the Irving Berlin classic musical "White Christmas." Community centers, libraries, schools and houses of worship have holiday-themed events and activities, too. Or you can make your own memories with a nature hike or a simple cookie exchange party with friends and neighbors.
Get creative with decorations
You don’t even have to go on a nature hike to find potential decorations – just open your front door and trim a few pieces of holly, magnolia leaves or pine boughs or gather a handful of pinecones. You can wrap them in ribbon or put them in a bowl with an ornament or a strand of white lights for a festive look. Your local craft store has countless items to use for inspiration at this time of year.
One way to make your decorations more glamorous is to be consistent in your color scheme and carry it throughout your home. If you like cranberry and silver together, then wrap your gifts in those colors, tie ribbons around your chairs or light fixtures, find candles in those tones, use ornaments in those colors and wrap some pine boughs in ribbon to add to your front door.
Buy a small mirror or two at the local craft store to put under your candles or under a bowl of ornaments to increase their impact or line up some ornaments you already own, a pinecone and a couple of candles on a runner on your dining room table.
Don’t forget that wine bottles, gourds and fruit make pretty table settings and are cost-effective if you’ll drink from and/or eat them later.
Don’t forget about the wealth of items you can find in thrift stores or consignment stores. Or take your own tired ornaments and perk them up with fresh spray paint, a ribbon or just by using them in a different, unexpected place.
Shop the sales or host a white elephant exchange
Black Friday isn’t the only day you’ll find good sales on gifts – stores have sales frequently beginning as early as October. Just make sure you have a good list of what you intend to buy – and don’t forget to pay attention to grocery store sales so you can stock up when items with a long shelf life are marked down.
Do you have a collection of unwanted gift items or things you always thought you would use but didn’t? Consider getting together with friends to exchange these items so everyone has some new household or decorative items to enjoy. You can even hold a book exchange or a clothes exchange or a toy exchange with your kids and their friends – it’s a good time of year to get rid of unwanted items, find some new ones and to have an excuse to gather with friends. If you’d rather make some cash, consider organizing an indoor yard sale.
Involve the family
Whether you want to decorate your home with nature or try your own craft projects, it’s important to remember that the holiday season is about spending time with family and friends, not money. Consider creative gifts like an actual printed photo album instead of always looking at photos online or a certificate for doing something your loved ones enjoy such as ice skating or a promise to bake their favorite cake on a day of their choice or to babysit or … you get the idea. The old saying “It’s the thought that counts” is really true, so take the time to think about an inexpensive thing that each person you know would appreciate the most and, if you have kids old enough to participate, ask them to do the same.