Surviving the Holidays as a Single Parent with Debt

Concerned woman in front of Christmas tree.

This article offers advice to single parents dealing with financial challenges and debt during the holidays. It provides practical strategies, including setting boundaries on spending, establishing family priorities, and creating a realistic budget.

Even though the holidays are supposed to be a joyous time, it’s that expectation of joy that can add stress, especially if you’re a single parent. Of course, you want to make the holidays special and festive for your kids — who doesn’t? — but the added cost of gifts, holiday meals, and other expenses can make balancing your bank account and paying your credit card bills incredible difficult.

Holiday Financial Tips

You may feel isolated in your worries as a solo parent on a tight budget. One paycheck means less financial and emotional support than in dual-income households, and it can amplify the challenges of holiday expenses. Add in the challenge of paying down debt at the same time and it can be tough to balance this long-term goal with the satisfaction of short-term holiday splurging. You’re definitely not alone if you’re feeling stressed about it.

Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce the worries about increased costs.  

Create boundaries around spending on gifts

As a starting point, help your kids understand your financial limitations and the importance of budgeting for your family. They may already know, but it’s still useful to establish clear and realistic expectations about holiday spending—without going deep on the nitty-gritty of your budget.

Develop family priorities

In a family conversation, help your kids develop their own priorities for the holiday and focus on creating what is most important to all of you, like together time, outdoor fun, and making favorite holiday recipes. By understanding what makes the holidays special for each member of your family you'll be better equipped to put the focus where it matters most and you can make things festive without spending a lot of money.

Create a budget

Figure out what you have to spend, create a realistic budget, and then stick to it. Prioritize the things you’ve identified as a family as being most important to you (more on budgeting below). Set boundaries with your friend and family groups, too, and let them know what you can and can’t afford this year. Be firm. Suggest alternative ways to celebrate, such as a potluck dinner or a simple get-together.

Go heavy on shared experiences

Emphasize the importance of experiences over material gifts with your kids. Plan activities with them like decorating the house together, building a gingerbread house, making latkes, doing a new puzzle together, or inviting their friends for a holiday movie and cocoa. Maybe your town has a neighborhood that goes all in on holiday lights that you can tour. Look for free or low-cost community events and activities.

Get your DIY on

No money for Christmas? Encourage your kids to create handmade gifts or cards for relatives. Consider organizing a family crafting session to make decorations or gifts together. Hitting the craft store isn’t cheap, but if you get creative about where you pick up supplies, you can save. Try your local Buy Nothing Facebook page, hit the thrift stores, and use coupons.

Strategies to Set a Holiday Budget

Sticking to a budget isn’t easy when people around you have pulled out all the stops on spending. But to stay on track, it’s important to take a detailed look at your current financial situation, including income, monthly expenses, and existing debt obligations. Here’s how:

  • Determine the amount of money you can realistically allocate to holiday spending without compromising your financial stability.
  • Establish a total spending limit that includes gifts, decorations, food, and any other holiday-related expenses.
  • Make a list of people you plan to buy or make gifts for, set a spending limit for each person, and stick to the list. Consider creative and cost-effective gift options. Kids could make special coupons to give the gift of labor and time to a relative, such as spring lawn care for nearby grandparents.
  • Create a tracking system for yourself with your spending limit. Add to it every purchase so you can see a real-time account of what you’ve spent and how much you have left.
  • Take advantage of sales, discounts, and promotions when shopping.

How to Manage Debt Payments During the Holidays

To stay on track with paying down debt, making payments will need to be part of your holiday budget. Here’s what to keep in mind during the season:

  • If at all possible, avoid creating new debt.
  • If you do need to add on debts from the holidays, make sure you have a plan for integrating those new debt payments into your post-holiday spending plan.
  • Focus on paying off high-interest debts first—like a high-interest credit card—to minimize interest costs.

It’s so easy as a single parent to feel pressure to keep up with the Jones during the holiday season. While it’s totally understandable to want to make the holidays special for your kids, don’t lose sight of the rest of the year. Focus on making happy memories that don’t turn into years of debt.

If you need to, talk to a financial counselor to discuss affordable ways to repay debt, like a debt management plan. The discussion might also give you ideas for how to stay on track with holiday spending. MMI offer free financial counseling 24/7, online and over the phone.

Tagged in Debt strategies, Holidays, Christmas

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • Better Business Bureau A+ rating Better Business Bureau
    MMI is proud to have achieved an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a nonprofit organization focused on promoting and improving marketplace trust. The BBB investigates charges of fraud against both consumers and businesses, sets standards for truthfulness in advertising, and evaluates the trustworthiness of businesses and charities, providing a score from A+ (highest) to F (lowest).
  • Financial Counseling Association of America Financial Counseling Association of America
    MMI is a proud member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), a national association representing financial counseling companies that provide consumer credit counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, bankruptcy counseling, debt management, and various financial education services.
  • Trustpilot Trustpilot
    MMI is rated as “Excellent” (4.9/5) by reviewers on Trustpilot, a global, online consumer review platform dedicated to openness and transparency. Since 2007, Trustpilot has received over 116 million customer reviews for nearly 500,000 different websites and businesses. See what others are saying about the work we do.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development - Equal Housing Opportunity Department of Housing and Urban Development
    MMI is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide consumer housing counseling. The mission of HUD is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD provides support services directly and through approved, local agencies like MMI.
  • Council on Accreditation Council On Accreditation
    MMI is proudly accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. COA’s thorough, peer-reviewed accreditation process is designed to ensure that organizations like MMI are providing the highest standard of service and support for clients and employees alike.
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling National Foundation for Credit Counseling
    MMI is a longstanding member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), the nation’s largest nonprofit financial counseling organization. Founded in 1951, the NFCC’s mission is to promote financially responsible behavior and help member organizations like MMI deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.