This will be my 12th holiday season as a single mom. The first few were rough and oddly, I think it was the third that was the hardest emotionally. Financially, I made it a lot harder on myself than necessary. These past few Christmases have been easier on me both financially and emotionally because I budget for them appropriately.
After twelve years, I’ve finally learned how to do the holidays right as a single mom.
1. Do not incur debt: I can’t stress this enough. I tried to overcompensate for the “missing” parent in presents those first couple of years by plunking down the credit card.
First of all, that doesn’t work. Those first few years especially, no amount of presents will make up for not having Daddy around.
Secondly, you and your kids will be worse off if you go into debt by trying to create an illusion.
Finally, you will create a vicious cycle by incurring new debt and having to pay it off, and next thing you know, it’s the holidays again and your credit card is maxed out. Stop the madness by not incurring new debt this holiday season. You have a few months still, so start creating your holiday fund now.
2. Save all year long: If you’re on a weekly or bi-weekly pay schedule, you may have an “extra” paycheck coming up. Sock that away (or as much as you can) for the holidays. And every month from now on, you should have a “holidays” line item in your budget (you should also have “birthdays” and “gifts” – or just lump them all together in a “gifts” category).
Holidays are a great reminder that there is no such thing as a normal month, but you can ‘normalize’ the budget by remembering all these annual/bi-annual/semi-annual expenditures and dividing them by twelve to create a realistic budget year-round.
3. Create free/cheap traditions: We open one present on Christmas Eve, and my dad makes popovers on Christmas Day. Keep in mind the ease and cost while creating these traditions so you know you can repeat them year after year. Kids love holiday traditions and even though my girls are teenagers now, they still like decorating cookies with my dad on Christmas Eve!
4. Minimize the gift-giving: Tell family members in advance to only buy for the kids, or do a Secret Santa for the adults in the family. If you’re so inclined, make gifts for friends or co-workers, or just skip the gift-giving altogether with them (and let them know in advance that you don’t expect any gifts from them, either).
We do a Secret Santa at work and have a spending maximum to keep things from getting out of hand! If you really feel you must give a gift to the teachers, a $5 – $10 gift card is plenty, but I only gave gifts to teachers I felt really went out of their way.
I know some may disagree, but I think in this area, families have to do what’s right for them, and most teachers will understand. In some cases, my daughters would make cards for their teachers, and I think those were more appreciated than any Starbucks gift card. Another idea: donate supplies for the classroom instead.
5. Minimize holiday events: The holidays can be a very stressful time for families who are trying to do anything and everything holiday-related. Not every event has to be a yearly tradition.
Sometimes, we’d go see holiday lights…and sometimes, we wouldn’t. Some years, we see a movie on Christmas Day (if it’s a movie we’re really excited about), and some years, we don’t. You can say “no, thank you” to some holiday party invitations. And certainly, check your budget before you say yes.
6. Get one really great present per child: My oldest daughter really, really wanted a laptop but didn’t expect she’d get one. I think I only got her one other present that year, but she didn’t care because she was so happy that she got what she really wanted. Again, quality over quantity. They will remember that a lot more.
7. Gifts on the cheap: The internet is full of ideas for making instead of buying gifts, from cookie dough recipes to ornaments and everything in between. Crafts aren’t my thing, but if they’re yours, start getting your supplies together now so that you’re not overwhelmed right after Thanksgiving.
8. Give yourself and your kids the gift of time: As single parents, time is our most precious resource. Last year, the girls and I watched two movies at home on Christmas day (singing along, because we’re musical theater freaks).
It cost us nothing and we were all together, simply being, and having a great time together. Watch a movie, throw a dance party in your living room, break out the Monopoly game. Just be sure to carve out some time to just be together this holiday season. Those memories end up being the most enduring of all.
For more budgeting tips, please check out my new e-Book, Balancing the Single Mom Budget.
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