by Jean Chatzky
with reporting by Casandra Andrews
Maybe you are saving up for a big post pandemic vacation or a new home or both. Maybe you’re just done being — or at least feeling — broke every January. Whatever the reason, it’s possible to make it through the holiday season and live within your means so you can keep on stashing away cash for your short-term and long-term financial goals.
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Decking the halls and gathering those near and dear for fun festivities doesn’t have to bust your budget. There are plenty of low-cost things to do and see to celebrate the holidays that don’t involve maxing out your credit cards. Here are some fun yet frugal ideas to help with the merry making next year:
Have a trim-the-tree party
Instead of a traditional gift exchange, invite your friends and family over to help trim the tree or deck the halls. You could also create a new (and crafty) holiday tradition by setting up a table where your guests can make or paint ornaments to take home as a favor. Discount stores such as Dollar Tree offer a variety of unpainted wooden and ceramic ornaments and acrylic paints that are perfect for this kind of hands-on project that’s fun for kids and adults.
See the lights
For the cost of a few gallons of gas, you and yours can hop in the car and spend an evening listening to holiday tunes on the radio and seeing how creative your neighbors have been in the light decorating department. Some communities offer light displays in gardens and city parks that are free or just a few dollars per person. Don’t forget to check websites such as Groupon for deals on outdoor excursions close to home.
Meet for coffee and dessert
While a nice dinner out has never been exactly cheap, rising prices and labor shortages are making special occasion dining even more pricey right now. Instead of going out for dinner and drinks — and spending a small fortune — you and your friends can gather instead for coffee and desserts at a favorite coffee house or restaurant. Or leave work early to enjoy a happy hour that offers small plates and discounts on beverages as another low-cost option when you want to meet up but not break the bank. To extend your fun for less, order a glass of water between adult beverages.
Host a brunch or breakfast at home
When the champagne is flowing, it’s easy to lose track of your skyrocketing tab at brunch with friends. A less expensive alternative would be to host a brunch at home and ask everyone to bring a bottle of their favorite bubbly. You provide juices, sparkling waters and a few make-ahead breakfast dishes for a simple soiree that everyone can feel good about.
Plan a holiday-themed photo scavenger hunt
If you have tweens or teens and their friends hanging out at your home for several weeks in December, this is an activity that can stretch across an entire afternoon. Have your group meet at a central location such as a town square, outdoor shopping area or city park. Give everyone a list of the items they must take photos of and a set amount of time in which to accomplish the tasks. They can use cell phones or digital cameras to document items on their lists. Pinterest offers tons of ideas on different themed scavenger hunts to best suit your group. For younger children, you can use a nature theme and confine the scavenger hunt to your backyard or nearby park where they scour the area for different types of trees, plants, leaves, pinecones and rocks.