For many Oklahomans, getting through each month can be a financial struggle. With the holidays just a few weeks away, some families may be wondering how they can make their budget stretch to cover extra expenses.
The best way to budget for the holidays is to actually start the process in January, said Cindy Clampet, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension family resource management assistant specialist.
“Most people don’t think about holiday budgeting at the beginning of the year. However, if you’re just now starting to think about this upcoming holiday season, there are ways to celebrate while making your limited dollars stretch a bit further and still create lasting memories.”
To get in the holiday spirit, attend free or inexpensive events hosted in your community. Check with the local school to see if band, orchestra or choral groups will be putting on a holiday concert. Some schools or community theater groups may be putting on a play. Families also can participate in caroling, church events, driving through holiday light displays or taking part in community meals.
When it comes to giving gifts, think more along the practical line and do not splurge on frivolous items.
“If your family does exchange gifts, give things that are truly needed,” she said. “This type of gift is a better option than something trendy.”
Wrapping gifts can be a lot of fun, especially when children decorate plain paper to use for wrapping paper. Colored construction paper is perfect for making gift tags. Just a few sheets will be more than enough. If you are a saver, you probably have some gift bags left from the last holiday season that can be reused, as well.
Clampet also said a great way to cut back on expenses is to draw names for a family gift exchange.
“It can be quite costly to get gifts for everyone, especially in large families,” she said. “It’s a good idea to put a dollar limit on the gift. Keep in mind the holiday season isn’t just about gifts – it’s about creating lasting memories. If gifts simply aren’t in the budget, get the family together for a fun game night or movie night. Everyone can bring a snack to share. These are the things your family will remember – not the gifts.”
If you do opt for giving gifts, shop smart. You still have time to look for deals and compare prices. There are several websites available to help you compare prices from different stores. If shopping online, look for free shipping and free returns.
“Because we’re still several weeks out from the holidays, consider giving homemade gifts. Food gifts such as cookie mix or soup mix in a mason jar are always appreciated,” Clampet said. “Another option is to make a coupon book for services you can provide throughout the year. Services such as a car wash, lawn mowing, dog walking or babysitting could be very handy for the recipient.”
Preparing a holiday feast can be expensive when one family hosts everyone. Host a potluck instead. Ask guests to bring side dishes and desserts. This also is a great way to collect new recipes.
Some people may have special events to attend. Instead of buying a new outfit, check with family and friends to see if they have something you could borrow. Another option is to check local second-hand stores.
Families with children who need some help with holiday gifts can check into the community’s Angel Tree or similar program. Local churches, civic clubs, Salvation Army and other organizations have programs that can help families in financial needs. Some local businesses also support families with toy drives, food baskets or other programs such as a turkey giveaway.
“Keep in mind there are food banks and other resources available all year to help families in need, not just during the holidays,” Clampet said. “If you are in need of assistance, contact these resources soon. With some planning and some help, your family can have a wonderful holiday season.”