Every holiday season brings the same wave of emotions: happiness mixed with a twinge of anxiety over how much money you're going to be spending. While it's great to watch your wallet, there is a fine line to be drawn between being frugal and being cheap. (To learn more, check out 5 Extreme Budget Makeovers.)
The good news is, you don't have to be Scrooge to save money for the festive season because there are plenty of ways to have a great holiday for less. Here are some ways to help you draw the line between shrewd fiscal management and selfish, inconsiderate saving.
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Frugal: Offering to host and invite your family and friends over for a dinner is a generous gesture, especially since everyone will be grateful for not having to host a lavish dinner themselves. Buying turkey(s) and having lots of frugal but filling sides can go a long way. Another frugal option would be to host a potluck holiday dinner to help cut back on the costs and to add variety to your feast.
Cheap: Not having enough food on hand to feed holiday grazers who expect to have to unbutton their pants afterward is out of line with the spirit of the holidays - no matter how much you can save. Even if it's a wonderful time, with lots of great holiday cheer, people will always remember how you didn't feed them enough on that one holiday dinner you hosted. A good dinner doesn't have to be expensive, only delicious and filling. (To learn more, see the Top Holiday Budget Busters.)
Traveling for the Holidays
Frugal: Starting early and searching for the best prices to buy a plane ticket to see your loved ones is a smart way to save money. You could also try taking trips with multiple stops rather than a direct flight, or consider taking the bus or the train.
Cheap: Arriving three days after the holiday season is over. The whole point is to see your friends and family before or during the holiday season, not after. So even if the ticket is $50 less after the holiday rush, find it in your budget to be there on time.
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Frugal: Re-using pieces of your wardrobe and adding in one new piece is a great way to have a different outfit every year. You could also just change things up by layering different pieces. Shop your wardrobe and mix-and-match instead of buying a new outfit every year.
Cheap: Wearing that exact reindeer sweater every single year. It's so predictable that people now call it your Standard Holiday Outfit. Go to the thrift store if your budget is really tight, or change it up with some accessories.
Frugal: Re-using your decorations and adding only one new piece rather than replacing everything each year is a smart way to save money. Arranging your decorations in different areas of your garden or in your house can make everything look - and feel - like brand new.
Cheap: Refusing to replace that broken star that wobbles on top of your tree and ignoring that half your lights need to be replaced. If you don't want to spend a lot of money but want to decorate, keep it simple. (For more, see 6 Tips For Last-Minute Christmas Budgeting.)
Frugal: One homemade option is to make a "recipe in a jar", where you measure and layer all the ingredients for a batch of chocolate chip cookies into a jar and attach the recipe's instructions. If you have a knack for baking, making those gourmet brownies by hand will save you a bundle of money and win you brownie points. Pun intended.
Cheap: Buying old cookies on sale, spreading icing on it and trying to pass it off as your own. You may think it constitutes as 'homemade', but people can taste and see the lack of effort.
Frugal: Buying your gifts on sale and spending time to find a thoughtful present that's on budget can be better than buying a glitzy gift. Add a little homemade touch to the card, or wrap the gift in a unique way to make the present extra special.
Cheap: Re-gifting items you know no one wants because you don't want them any longer. That massive scanner in its original box in your closet? It's probably outdated by now. If you don't want it, there's a good chance no one else does either. Remember, a bad present is worse than none at all. You might even be caught in your own web of deception if the recipient was the original gift-giver or if someone knows who the original gift-giver was.
The Bottom Line
Setting a reasonable level of expectation to be in line with your plan and budget will help keep your holiday spending under control. 'Tis the season to save and to be jolly - not cheap - because after all, Christmas comes but once a year. (For more, check out Holiday Spending Or Spending Holiday?)