How to make the most of your holidays without breaking the bank!

How to make the most of your holidays without breaking the bank!

December 12, 2019
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Hi everyone! Welcome back to Melissa Making Cents!

With the holidays quickly approaching, I’d like to build on last week's blog about having money conversations with your family. As you read last week, talking to your family about money is important for the mental health of your family, and establishing good financial habits for your children. 

Recently we have started reading our daughter books about Christmas.. T'is the Season!  This morning we were reading The Story of Christmas, and the book says we give presents during this time of year out of love. It really made me wonder....Did the author really mean "Presence", as in being available and present for our loved ones?   Before you run out in your last minute dash to finish your shopping list.... Let's think about the true meaning behind this season.

Today I am sharing some of my favorite holiday memories and traditions.  Christmas is very personal to me, and some of you may see a different side of me through reading this blog!  I hope I can inspire you and your family to make the most of your holidays together. My wish for you this year is that you make this season about love and less about putting an unnecessary strain on your bank account. 

Do not go into debt trying to make everyone’s wishes come true.

During the holidays it’s important to establish healthy expectations when it comes to giving and receiving Christmas gifts. All too often I hear people talking about having to work extra to afford all the gifts for the family.  Let me gently remind you at this time that you DO NOT need to go into debt in order to make Christmas magical.  

I will not go into a lecture about how commercial Christmas and the holiday season has become. But if you turn on the TV, chances are you are going to catch a car commercial telling you to “make this a December to Remember”.  These commercials always make me laugh, because I know that a good majority of our population has no business going out and buying someone a brand new car as a present. These commercials add to the misguided financial habit to “keep up with the Jones”.

Memories are not financial. Memories are set ad triggered through feelings and emotions. Please do not put undue stress on yourself by trying to make expensive purchases this holiday season. 

What is your most magical holiday memory?

If I stop and think about my favorite holiday memories, I have a couple that specifically come into mind. The first being the first memory I have of the morning after Santa stopped by.  I’m not even sure I could remember how old I was at the time, but the smell of the fresh cut evergreen tree still lingers in my mind. I remember my parents waking me up that morning and taking me into the dining room where Christmas had literally exploded over every single inch of the floor. I can’t tell you every item that was in the hoard, but the sight and the smiles on my parents faces is unforgettable.. 

My second favorite memory is watching my parents work so hard to purchase two original Cabbage Patch dolls for my sister and me. Of course, we were not supposed to know or see them (apparently Santa had contracted out my parents to procure his gifts that year).  The memory of mom calling around and then waiting in line at Toy-R-Us really made me appreciate getting my beloved Carey doll. At that age, I didn’t fully understand or recognize my appreciation of the effort they put in, but that adorable bald baby doll went everywhere with me.

Think about your favorite memory, and what makes it so special. Is it a feeling or emotion that the holidays bring?  Is it the smell of the pine trees or the smoke of wood in the fireplace? Use the holidays to continue to create memories. Memories don’t cost a lot, and they don’t require a lot of space for storage. 

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

Every family is different and celebrates the holidays in their own special ways.  For some it's gathering together to trim the tree. For others it is the daily opening of the annual Advent Calendar.  In case you haven’t heard, the wine edition of the Advent Calendars are now at a store near you! This may be a great new tradition as many of you have adult children now! 

As children, we helped my grandmother decorate the Jesse tree and listened to the story behind each day.  My grandmother was a deeply religious woman, and took great pride in the true meaning behind Christmas and gathering the family. The care she took in wrapping her packages and tying them with her trademark yarn ribbons would put Martha Stewart to shame. Of all the presents my grandmother had given me, my favorite is a simple card I keep in my closet.  It simply says “To my granddaughter Melissa - With Love, Grandmother Semmes”, and while it may not seem like a lot to some people… To me it reminds me of how much she loved me, and how lucky I was to have such a wonderful role model in my life. I keep her note in my closet as a daily reminder to be the woman she was.

As we got older, my sister and I began our holiday baking adventures. We would spend the entire month baking cookies and brownies as gifts for the family. Truth be told we likely ate more dough than came out of the oven. It’s a wonder we didn’t get salmonella from all the raw eggs! This tradition was special to me because we got to spend quality time together baking and watching movies while we were eating dough… I mean waiting for the oven timer.  This year we picked up the cookie tradition with my best friend and her amazing girls! Our hearts burst as we watched our girls working together to make cookie magic!

If you do not have a tradition that brings you together as a family, I suggest forming one!  Here are a couple of options! I’d love to hear your traditions. Send me an email to give me more suggestions!

  • Baking Cookies and Treats
  • Stringing Popcorn for decorations
  • Selecting a Cutting a Family Tree from a Tree Farm
  • Decorating the Tree
  • Holiday Movie Marathons
  • Holiday Game Nights
  • Family Puzzles
  • Volunteering
  • Traveling
  • Visiting with Friends
  • Talking a ride to look at the holiday lights
  • Christmas Caroling! (I’d really love this one to come back!)

Talk to your loved ones and ask what they truly need or want

Sometimes what we think people want, turns out to be completely wrong.  I can personally tell you that I’ve committed this crime many times through the years.  This likely happens when you are struggling to think of something to give but just can’t think of the perfect gift. In a last minute effort you buy something, that ends up being completely useless to that person. Only to be disappointed they were not thrilled to get it, because… it may have cost you quite a bit of money!  

The year I landed my first real job, I gave my mom an expensive gift certificate to a luxury spa experience at The Crescent Court Spa. I figured as hard as she worked she could take the day to relax and have a little pampering time. Months later she gave it back to me because it wasn’t something she was into at the time. That was the time I actually learned to listen to her when she said she didn’t want us spending money on her.

When you simply ask what someone needs or wants, it can save you money and heartache.  It could be that they really need a new coat, or help with college tuition. It also might be they really could use a little financial assistance, because cash flow is a little tight.  If someone says that they don’t want or need anything….take their words to heart. Find another way to celebrate them for the holidays. Maybe a donation to a favorite charity in their honor?

Or perhaps when you ask what someone truly wants… They simply say time with you.

Asking children what they want may surprise you!

I’ve seen so many articles and posts lately about kids throwing fits in stores wanting to buy toys and such. My favorite suggestion I’ve seen said to take the child’s picture with the toy so it can be sent to Santa. Brilliant! All the flashy packaging and advertising definitely does it’s job of attracting the eyes and desires of kids. In the store everything they see is a NEED!  Hence the emotional uproar when they anticipate a “No”. Truth be told, once the craze of that “special” toy is faded, the toy becomes obsolete.

Sit down with your kids at home with the TV off.  Set a family budget for gifts. If they want that new PlayStation… awesome! But they also need to recognize how much the games cost in addition to the gaming system.  They may be interested in the games because it allows them to spend time with family and friends enjoying a common interest. 

A new, yet old  trend is to allow three gifts.  Two Needs, and Want. I’ve heard people say the needs are gifts from the parents and the “Want” comes from Santa. Let’s face it… very few kids are going to be thrilled with getting underwear for Christmas. But a lot of families simply can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on gifts each year. Nor should you even try.

Don’t discount “Experiences” as holiday gifts

Material things are fun to open, but after awhile people can become hard to shop for.  Don’t discount giving someone a gift that involves an experience! Traveling to Disney, tickets to a sporting event, or even a concert can create memories that last a lifetime.  According to a recent article in Travel and Leisure Magazine, Giving Children Vacations Instead of Toys Can Lead to Advanced Brain Development. It's worth a read!

The Christmas John and I met, he gave me the book Les Miserables.  Inside the book were tickets to the New Year’s Eve performance at the performing arts venue in Dallas. I had honestly never seen the musical, so I spent countless hours captivated by the story of Eponine and Cosette and their arduous journeys.  It really made seeing the musical much more magical as the characters sprang to life in song and dance before me.

Experiences lead to lifelong memories together. Experiences never go out of style, nor will they need to be packed or discarded in the future. Experiences vary in costs, but the memories created are priceless.

The absolute best gift you can give someone, is the gift of you.

I’m fully aware that saying “The best gift you can give someone is yourself”, is very cliche and rosy. Especially in our modern world, where nearly everything is available at the click of a mouse.  I challenge you to find a movie in which a dying character says “I wish I had more (money, cars, clothing, stuff)”.  Because in every movie I have ever seen, the characters always wish they had more TIME.  In the end each dying character wishes they had spent more time with their loved ones.  

I fully acknowledge that not every family unit has a healthy supportive group dynamic. Sometimes it is better to distance yourself from the toxicity for your personal mental health. The best gift you can give yourself.. Is also yourself!  

Until next time... this is Melissa Making Cents!

Melissa Anne Cox


College Funding and Student Loan Advisor

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