15 Innovative Ideas for Making the Holidays Less Financially Stressful

Your wallet and well-being don’t have to suffer. Use these tips to stay afloat on Black Friday and beyond.

cglade/Getty Images
cglade/Getty Images

With Black Friday comes the pressure to empty our wallets to buy the perfect gifts for everyone in our lives. The resulting financial anxiety can take a very real toll on both our budgets and our mental well-being.

That’s why we asked our Thrive Global contributor community to share how they alleviate money-related stress during the holidays. Their tips and tricks just might save you time, dollars, and your sanity.

Use this two-part method

“I used these two strategies while busy raising a family. 1) I bought as many of next year’s gifts during the January sales as possible. Many gifts that you buy will be just as loved in eleven months. 2) I bought Christmas presents all year long, and then hid them. You should also keep a loose sort of list. This way, I avoided a significant part of the pressure and expenses of last-minute buying.”

—Dr. Tian Dayton, author, senior fellow, New York, NY

Write personal letters

“There were years where I simply didn’t have money to lavish expensive gifts upon the people in my life. So I decided to write each person a letter, telling them what I loved about them, what they meant to me, and recounting a time or two that stuck out in my mind for why I felt that way.

Aside from the tears the letters elicited, the recipients kept them, and in most cases, still have them today. This was an important lesson for me. The gift of letting someone know they are valued and appreciated surpasses the momentary and monetary and leaves an imprint that deepens the relationship.”

—Ilene Angel, author, New York, NY

Invest in those in need

“It's so easy to overspend during the holidays. This year, we plan on giving fewer gifts, even though we don't necessarily have to budget. This is because I've noticed that many of the toys we stacked up under the Christmas tree over the last few years have simply gone unnoticed by our daughter almost the entire year. Last year, my little one played with her new doll twice before discarding it for the rest of the yearinto her toy bin. This year, we're going to do gifts differently: one big gift for the kid, and the rest of the money we'd put into gifts we're going to invest towards giving to others who need it. We're planning on buying and giving out food for the homeless in our city and donating to a toy drive for kids in need. My four-year-old will participate with us. She's already excited at the idea of giving to kids that don't have as much as her. I'm looking forward to a joyful season this holiday. Giving back can be the best gift of all!”

—Julia McCoy, CEO, Austin, TX

Avoid the hype and extend the fun

“Purchase Panic is real. From now until January is Black Friday. The deals get even better on the 26th. So, if you won’t be with certain friends and family on Christmas, buy afterwards unless you can get gift cards for discounts. Buy your kids the Santa essentials, but remember, they’ll already be bored by the end of the day. Tell them they get to pick the gifts from you tomorrow. Avoid the hype, extend the fun, and reduce the buying blues.”

—Todd Garrett, Marketing, Nashville, TN

Heed these three tips from a financial advisor

“Save all year long: Why wait until the holidays to start planning for them financially? If you add them into your budget all year long, you won’t stress right around this time each year and you can truly enjoy the holiday season. Now is the perfect time to add in 2019 holiday expenses to your monthly budget. I recommend planning out every expense for the month on paper, including holiday-related expenses, and then writing down each expenditure as it happens to stay on track.

Don’t rely on credit cards: When financial issues arise or extra expenses aren’t planned for, credit cards can seem like an easy solution. I warn my clients against this quick fix that can leave you buried under debt well past the holiday season. Credit cards are the most expensive way to obtain debt and very easy to abuse. Federal Reserve statistics show that the average US household credit card debt today stands at $15,863, counting only those households carrying debt. If you use credit cards to borrow money to pay for things you cannot afford, and you do not pay the balance off in full each month, it will take you many years to get out of debt. The credit card companies will get richer while you struggle to get ahead financially.

Don’t spend needlessly: It can be easy to overspend around the holidays, running from store to store and picking up a few items here and there. While a budget can help track all of this spending, it is also important to take stock in why you are spending. If you’re aware of the way your brain responds to shopping, it can help you make sense of the highs and lows of impulse shopping, avoid buyer’s remorse and lower your risk for overspending.”

—Emily G. Stroud, financial advisor, Fort Worth, TX

Channel your crafty side

“For some, gift-giving is a love language. It shows adoration and affection, but if you’re anything like me, it can sometimes be a burden — especially when you have 100 people on your nice list and only 10 dollars in your bank account. Over the years, I’ve found financial stress alleviation in making gifts. Pinterest has been my fairy godmother. I can buy all my crafts in bulk to create tons of small gifts, like quote jars, cork boards and picture frames. Besides, family members love when you make personal presents. It often shows you put thought into making their holiday season bright. The holidays aren’t about outrageous gifts and the newest technology, but about spending time with the people you love.”

—Sammi Sontag, journalism student and Thrive Global Campus Editor-at-Large at the University of Florida

Figure out why you’re buying each gift, then spend wisely

“I get rid of the ‘shoulds’ by taking time to be mindful of the gifts I’d like to buy during the holiday season. I ask myself why I am buying each one, and if receiving a gift is the way that person feels appreciated and loved. Sometimes a gift hits the spot, but at other times, I find a heartfelt letter, or a piece of photo art says more about our relationship than a sweater or impersonal gift card would. Of course, planning a per-person budget is part of what helps me stay on track, but I like to start out by asking myself ‘why.’ Why am I buying it? Do I feel obligated to purchase something because everyone else does? Is this just what we’ve always done? Noticing any guilt that I feel and deciding intentionally how I will proceed removes gift-giving stress for me. Then, I consider if there is a different way I can express my love, friendship or appreciation. Thinking about what each recipient might be touched by, I try to spend my time and dollars wisely with the intent of meeting that need, rather than simply checking another gift off my list.”

—Leila Ansart, success coach and speaker, Jacksonville, FL

Create experiences instead

“My husband, our son, and I all have birthdays during the week of Christmas: December 26th, 29th and 30th. That was unplanned! But it can be a costly, crazy week. This year, I've finally been able to convince my husband that we're not buying gifts, but creating experiences. We're going to spend two nights at an indoor waterpark and cabin that our four-year-old loves. We're going to take a four day trip to Montreal as a family, where we've never stayed. My anxiety about spending fades away when I see the smiles and pictures afterwards, knowing that we've created a memory and a moment, and not just money spent for the sake of giving and getting gifts.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist, Ontario, CA

Don’t ditch your budget

“I stay calm about my finances during the holidays by budgeting how much I have to spend on gifts for my loved ones and then stick to it. I always make sure to buy something within my price range from their wishlist and call it day. People are typically far more impressed by receiving one gift that they really want as opposed to man small gifts they didn't necessarily ask for. I also try to plan my meals around what's on sale and in season during the holidays. Trying to make sure my grocery cart is full of mostly sale items and then I meal plan around those items.”

—Tayler Silfverduk, nutrition and dietetics, Columbus, OH

Focus on an upcoming adventure

“Plan your next adventure! This may seem counterintuitive because adventures can sometimes mean making yet another financial commitment, but I've found that planning an adventure and having something to look forward to not only increases feelings of happiness, but it also forces you to be more mindful and intentional with your money. Instead of going Black Friday shopping and subjecting yourself to retail temptation, plan a low-key family activity instead, and keep your eyes on the prize for that upcoming adventure in the spring!”

—Amber Cox, Director of brand engagement, Chattanooga, TN

Donate and connect


“Because Thanksgiving is so closely followed by Christmas, our family decided to show our thanks by taking the money we would have spent on each other — we are thankful that none of us truly needs anything more — and donating the money to our local soup kitchen, which feeds the homeless. Doing so reminds us of that truism that it is truly better to give than to receive. We avoid the frantic shopping and gift-wrapping and instead use the time we save to be with each other, with hot cocoa to drink and a fireplace to gaze into.”

—Marlene Caroselli, author, Pittsford, NY

Get ahead of it

“I never stress during the holidays. Here’s what I do:

1. I keep a list throughout the year with those who I want to give gifts to.

2. I spend an average of $50 a month and get in on deals.

3. I put each purchase into a special container in a closet with a Post-It note featuring the recipient’s name.

4. When the holiday season arrives, I’m ready.

5. I don’t mail cards — instead, I email everyone a nice, personal wish.”

—Mariella Stockmal, finance/fraud executive, Santa Barbara, CA

Tap into your resourcefulness


“I find that the best way to work through financial stress is to be as resourceful as possible. By making lists and being prepared, I know the best times to shop and get the best deals. We've also been known to do one family gift such as a paddle board, tickets to a concert or a trip. Creating experiences, especially as our kids get older, is more meaningful. When it comes to family and friends, I like to give homemade baked goods and make pretty ornaments or photo keepsakes.”

—Krista Rizzo, transformational life coach, Brooklyn, NY

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