5 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Without Breaking the Bank

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eHow Money Blog

Happy family at Christmas opening gifts together.Black Friday is still more than a week away, but many consumers have already begun their holiday shopping. Holiday traditions often center on exchanging mountains of presents, which only intensifies financial pressure as the younger generation starts bringing spouses and kids to the family celebration.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a look at five ways to celebrate the season without splurging on pricey gifts for everyone.

Host a swap. Swaps can be fun and take the pressure off of buying gifts for everyone. There are many different variations, such as cookie swaps, Yankee gift swaps (also called a white elephant gift exchange) or a beer and wine swap, in which everyone brings a bottle of their favorite beverage to exchange with someone else. A cookie swap is especially fun early in the season because guests each bake a batch of cookies and bring home an assortment of other goodies to share with office mates, friends or loved ones. Buy festive containers in bulk, or ask guests to bring their own. My friends and I have hosted a giant cookie swap for the past three years and always have a blast.

Focus on an activity. PwC and Strategy&’s 2014 Holiday Outlook predicts that 53 percent of Americans will attend an in-home holiday party, with out-of-home formal parties dropping to 32 percent (compared to 41 percent in 2013). Instead of making gifts the main event, choose an activity that you can all enjoy together, such as decorating cookies or a gingerbread house, singing carols, attending a holiday concert or going ice skating and sipping hot cocoa afterward. Snapping photos of the family and pets in silly holiday costumes can be fun, too (although, less so for your pets). Several free smartphone apps allow you to create funny videos or add festive borders to your photos.

Create a Secret Santa. Many families or offices conduct a Secret Santa, where each person pulls a name out of a hat and buys a gift just for that person instead of buying for everyone. This allows you to focus on choosing the right gift for one person instead of checking off a long list of gift recipients. I’ve also seen office mates get very creative about dropping clues or sleuthing out what the person wants most, which adds to the fun.

Agree to parameters. Groups of friends or family members can collectively decide that they’ll only buy gifts for the grandkids (does Uncle Dave really need another tie or bottle of cologne?), or they’ll set a dollar amount per person so no one feels pressured to spend beyond their budget. A few years ago, my family decided the gift-giving frenzy had gotten out of control, so we started exchanging homemade goodies (for instance, my cousin’s pickles or my apple butter) instead of store-bought gifts.

Celebrate after the official holiday. The days leading up to Christmas or Hanukkah are already hectic, so consider celebrating after the hubbub has died down. If you want to exchange gifts, this allows you and your guests to save up a little longer and take advantage of after-Christmas sales.

Photo credit: Getty Creative

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