The Millennial’s Guide to Holiday Budgeting When You Live Paycheck to Paycheck
I love the beginning of fall as much as the next girl (give me crazy leaf colors, scary movies and chili recipes and I’m a happy camper), but the second November 1 rolls around, I snap out of my autumnal haze. It’s like an alarm goes off that starts screeching “the holidays are coming and it’s time to start planning!”
The calendar fills up quickly, stresses loom and, more than anything, I start worrying about my holiday budget. How many people am I giving presents to this year? When are friends coming in from out of town and what will I plan for a night out? Do I get a tree or just skip it again this year? Do I have enough time to make treats for the office and DIY my own gift wrap? If you’re anything like me, it’s overwhelming, to put it lightly. But this year, it’s time for a change — the only headache I want this holiday season comes from boozy eggnog. It’s time to roll up your cozy turtleneck sleeves with me and bust out the calculator app on your phone: Let’s plan a budget.
As much as the thought of picking apart your paychecks from now ’til the new year seems as frustrating as trying to figure out what your picky partner wants for Xmas, planning ahead does pay off. As a millennial who currently lives from paycheck to paycheck, I know from experience that you scoop some serious savings by knowing what exactly you want to spend your money on — and when — but the likelihood of you overspending (or, let’s be honest, splurging) on something super shiny this holiday will be a lot less — you have numbers to answer to now. New Year’s resolution come early? Could be. Here are 14 tips for how every millennial could budget their spending this holiday season.
How to Budget for: Friendsgiving
Friendsgiving is a growing tradition for millennials — I mean, what better alternative to awkward family interactions than the fun that is friends + food? Friendsgiving should be stress free, as long as there are good drinks and delicious homemade treats to enjoy.
Save Reinterpreting the Pie: As tempting as it may be to buy a pumpkin pie and get it over with, resist! Try new takes on classic faves, like bringing a batch of pumpkin cheesecake brownies or other treats that use classic falls flavors in super unique ways. They’re sure to impress your squad, and who knows? You might even end up starting a new Friendsgiving tradition.
Splurge on Bringing *Two* Bottles of Booze: Pick up a nice bottle of wine or beer for the dinner and be sure to also grab a “thank you for having us” bottle for the host. For the table, try something unexpected like a port for after dinner or a coffee stout instead of the overplayed pumpkin beer. For the host, gift whatever they like most or something special that they’re missing from their home bar.
How to Budget for: Traveling Home for the Holidays
Heading back to the home base — no matter the distance — can break the bank if you don’t plan like a champ. Pack your bags and get ready to attack your mom’s fridge.
Save on the Mode Home + Mom’s Cooking: If you need to fly home, make a game plan early on to figure out the cheapest time to buy airfare or DL a handy app like Hoppr to let you know when fares are low while you’re on the go. If you’re traveling somewhere drivable, consider Megabus or, even better, road trip with friends and combine forces to pay for gas and food along the way. Once you’re home, minimize spending even more by raiding your parents’ pantry. Better yet, team up with your mom and make a one pot meal to snack on for the week.
Splurge on a Home Away from Home: The holidays typically mean a whole lot of family — not just your mom + pop, but appearances by your long lost relatives who haven’t seen you since you were this big are always in the cards. Treat yourself on your holiday *ahem* vacation and splurge on a cute Airbnb for a night or two for some much-deserved alone time.
How to Budget for: Sending Holiday Cards
We love filling fill up our fridge doors with holiday cards, but the process of getting your own done can be daunting. Your card will be on display for potentially an entire a calendar year, so you want to do it right. Make it pretty and super personal without taking a huge chunk of your budget.
Save on Photography: Sure, a professional photographer all but guarantees that your card will strike holiday gold, but why hire one for such a super seasonal event (reposting opps = slim, you guys)? Instead of dropping a ton of dough for one photo shoot, pick up some camera tools and photo apps to pimp out your iPhone. They’ll make you’re snaps look near pro for the holidays and beyond.
Splurge on Things That Will Make Your Handwriting Look Boss: You bought nice cards — or maybe even DIYed them yourself — so don’t let your handwriting drag ’em down. Invest in cool and colorful pens to make your scribbles pop, or even take a calligraphy class to get that handwriting up to snuff, because honestly, when was the last time you actually wrote out more than a few sentences?
How to Budget for: Decorating Your Apartment
This is the time of year where the whole neighborhood glows. Do you tend to have the one dark spot on the block because decorations are too pricey? Don’t let money or time restraints keep you from decking your own halls.
Save on Ornaments + Decor: Trimming your tree can be done on the cheap. Make DIY ornaments on cozy nights in — or make it an event and throw a party with your pals! Family heirlooms make another great (read: free!) decor option that’ll add a little nostalgia to your tannenbaum, too.
Splurge on *Real* Greenery: There’s nothing more authentically Christmas than bringing home your own tree, which if you ask us is worth the price for the smell alone. Try wreaths or trimmings if you live in a small space. Sick of the traditional? Get creative and pick up a live plant that will last year-round, like succulents that you can trim up Charlie Brown-style.
How to Budget for: Gifts for Co-Workers
Office grab bags on a tiny budget are hardly any fun. The alternative — something special for all your officemates — would be awesome if it weren’t so expensive. Your end-of-the-year bonus can come and go in a flash if you aren’t careful — here’s how to keep most of that hard earned cash.
Save With a Cookie Exchange for the Entire Team: Coordinating a cookie swap is not only easy on your wallet, but it’s a creative way to let *everyone* on your team feel like they’re included in the holiday cheer. Set some parameters like budget and the big day of the reveal, then let the bake-off begin.
Splurge on Something Personal for Your Direct Manager: Earn brownie points by going personal with your gift for your boss, like a gift certificate to their favorite local boutique or money toward a meal at fancy restaurant they’ve been dying to go to for months. See? You really are an ace when it comes to attention to detail.
How to Budget for Entertaining Out-of-Towners
Get your guests rooms (aka air mattresses) ready. There’s always one or two friends or family members that need a place to crash during the holidays, so use it as an excuse to have a quasi staycation, in and out of the apartment.
Save on Having an Indoor Morning: If you’re trying to do a brunch outing, expect a struggle (long line are one thing, but coordinating grumbling stomachs from different time zones is another). Instead, pick up goods ahead of time for everything you’d need for a fun AM in. DIY your own hot chocolate bar, have a brunch cookoff, line up your Netflix queue and have plenty of odds and end to pass the time, like board games, books and crafts.
Splurge on Your Perfect Night Out: Skip the touristy stuff and big-name, overcrowded restaurants. If you go all out showing your side of your city, whether that’s a tour of the city’s best brew pubs, showing off your secret outdoor hiking spot or hopping to a gallery full of local art your guests will have never seen before, their trip on your turf will feel way more special.
How to Budget for: Going Out on NYE
From the dress to the drink packages, the costs of New Year’s Eve partying can add up even before the confetti even hits the floor. Don’t wake up to an empty wallet come January 1; have fun, look cute and spend money on staying safe.
Save on Sparkly Clothes: Hit up budget-friendly haunts like Forever 21 or H&M for your head-to-toe look for ultra trendy pieces, like sequined skirts or fuzzy coats, that make a glitzy NYE look. If you want to save even more on glitter and shimmer, grab some bits and bobs to accessorize a go-to LBD for next to nothing!
Splurge on Transpo Home: Even though surge prices will be sky high (gulp), cabs and ride share apps will be worth the money spent. If you ask us, it’s way better to pay a little extra than experience the wrath of public transit on a major drinking holiday.
How do you plan on staying on budget this holiday season? Tell us about how you balance the save and splurge in the comments below!