A lean holiday budget doesn't have to equal disappointment

Financial difficulties have far-reaching impacts that are even harder felt during the holiday season. It is understandable why so many people—particularly those with children— push thoughts about their financial issues aside during the holiday season. Unfortunately, ignoring your finances even for a few short months can have implications that last far into the New Year. But sticking with a budget means that you and your family may have to face some changes and, as we all know, change can be scary.

So how do you tell your children that this holiday season will have to be leaner?

Set expectations. Communicate openly with kids about money, in simple terms that they can comprehend. While a young child doesn’t need to know all of the details about your financial situation, they should understand basic benefits of budgeting and saving money. Don’t forget to talk about all the ways your family is fortunate. After all, one secret of financial success is to appreciate the things that you already have (so dust off those old forgotten favorite toys from holidays past!)

Focus on activities that foster holiday spirit. Take the focus off the gifts and on to experiences. There are a lot of inexpensive ways to celebrate the holidays such as caroling, taking a drive to see your town’s holiday lights, watching a favorite holiday movie, spending time with friends, and volunteering to wrap gifts or participate in other religious or charitable events. Even something as simple as sipping hot cocoa by the fire can make the holidays feel special.

Pick quality over quantity. Many people feel that the number of gifts is important, but that mentality could cause you to waste money on things that won’t last past the New Year. A restricted budget requires you to make thoughtful choices. Remember that one treasured gift is worth more than five less-than-great gifts.

Have fun. If you’re worried that the kids won’t have enough to unwrap, gift wrap needed everyday items like new toothbrushes and slippers. Eat candy canes before breakfast. Putting a Santa hat on a (patient) pet is sure to be rewarded with giggles. After all, the holidays are supposed to be fun!

Give them some control. Let the kids decide what the family will have for breakfast Christmas morning or choose an afternoon board game. Giving children control lets them know that you respect their opinions and that is a wonderful gift in and of itself.

Finally, make sure to examine your own attitudes about money and resolve not to feel guilty for not giving your children everything they want. Instead, be proud that you are teaching them a valuable lesson about money management that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.