A lot of people working toward financial freedom – however they define the phrase – run into trouble once they hit the end of November. All of a sudden, the money they’ve been working so hard to save disappears into the black hole that I affectionately (okay, not really) refer to as Christmas Consumerism.
No condemnation or judging if that’s you. Most of us Westerners have been brought up to believe that during the month of December, we are obligated to throw our hard-earned money away on people that don’t need it and events that will not matter to us in a year.
But if you’re serious about continuing to work on your financial freedom goals even as Christmas approaches, you need to wash your brain in the other direction. You need to come to the realization that spending money and celebrating do not arbitrarily go hand in hand.
You can have a lot of fun while spending a lot less money than you’ve been in the habit of doing.
You know the old saying, “The best things in life are free.” I would modify it to say, “The best gifts in life are free.” And one of the most important gifts you could give to yourself is financial freedom.
In order to give yourself that gift, you need to save money at Christmas. You need to take some time to reflect on what aspects of the celebration have, over the years, given you the joy and pleasures that the season is supposed to offer, and eliminate – or at least reduce – the other aspects as much as possible.
For example, as a child the biggest part of Christmas for me was the anticipation involved. Everybody thinks that has to do with getting presents. But does it really? Or does the anticipation simply have to do with knowing that the day is going to bring fun surprises that you normally don’t experience?
Hold on to that question while you read on for three ideas on how to save money at Christmas, so you can get closer to getting that precious gift of financial freedom.
#1: Give the gift of special experiences
If you’re married with children, why not take everyone to a fun place on Christmas Eve (or earlier, if it’s not open that day) and reduce or even eliminate gift-giving altogether? A family of four going to watch a movie, including purchasing snacks, will cost between $40 and $50 (middle-American prices, understand), which is well under the cost that most parents spend on gifts for just the children.
If you take them to a science museum or aquarium, you’ll pay more. But the experience – especially if they’ve never been before – is likely to be remembered and treasured much longer than most gifts of toys, which kids tend to get bored with after only a week or two of play.
Some fun and memorable experiences can be free. For example, touring a neighborhood that gets all decked out with lights and decorations for the holidays. Back when we lived in the suburbs, a lot of people in our neighborhood put up outdoor decorations, and our son delighted in taking a twenty minute walk to absorb all the light, colors, and – at some houses – sounds.
You might throw a potluck Christmas party, which can be geared to whatever age bracket you want. Tell all the guests to bring a Christmas treat to share, and plan to watch a Christmas movie or three (some are available for free on YouTube). You could also plan a few games that require few to no materials.
And what about free Christmas concerts? Get your head out of the “it has to cost something” box, and get creative!
#2: Talk to relatives about the adults not exchanging gifts.
You will get one of two responses. Some will resent the idea, but if they’re mature and really care about you, they will understand after you explain that you want Christmas to be about sharing in each other’s company, not giving things to each other that nobody needs or will probably care about.
Think twice about telling them that you’re trying to save money at Christmas in order to reach financial freedom. They may accuse you (mentally, if not verbally) of being selfish. Because of course it’s selfish to want a life with less stress and greater freedom, and not selfish at all to demand things that you don’t need for the sake of upholding tradition. (She said sarcastically.)
The other response you will get is relief. Your relatives may even admit that they’ve been wanting the adults to quit exchanging gifts for years, but didn’t want to rock the boat over the issue.
#3: Cut back on travel.
If you are married and have tried to please each set of parents and other relatives every Christmas by traveling to everybody’s place during December, that right there might be the major obstacle of the holiday that keeps you from rolling you toward financial freedom.
Visiting is a two-way street, so to speak. And then there is this modern mode of communication you may have heard of this thing called Skype.
Again, you may end up having to handle resentment and/or protests when you announce that you’re going to dial back from what has been your usual holiday travel plans. That decision may cause more hurt feelings or stress than you’re willing to deal with, so handle the situation with kid gloves.
Just remember – ultimately, if you want to achieve any goal in life, you’ll never achieve it by trying to please everyone.
Financial freedom, here I come!
There are other ways to save money at Christmas, of course.Those three are the biggies. You might brainstorm with a friend or spouse about other things you can do in order to focus on the best parts of the holiday celebration and reduce expenditures in the process.
“But, Emily, it’s too late for me to make changes this year!”
Probably so. So make plans to save money at Christmas next year. In the meantime, there are New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and probably several birthdays (at the very least). How can dialing back on those celebrations bring you closer to financial freedom?