How to plan a festive party on a budget
By Rebecca Lake
Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter
Dec 13, 2023
Read time: 2 min
You've made your list and checked it twice. And what you've realized is that the holiday season you want to have and the one you can afford are two different things.
Does that mean you have to cancel the season altogether or resort to charging it all to a high-interest credit card?
Nope. You just might have to get a little creative when it comes to budgeting for the holidays.
We've got some tips to help you save money during the holidays without skimping on cheer.
DIY the decorations
Decking the halls can make you feel more festive at home, but let's face it, it can be really expensive. Having a picture-perfect home for the holidays isn't as important as filling it with the people you care about most.
Here are some simple ideas for sprucing up your home (sometimes, literally) for little to no money.
Collect pine cones from the yard, dry them out, and glue them to a garden frame from the dollar store to make a rustic wreath
Arrange dried pine cones, pine needle clippings, and some dried cranberries (which you can find at grocery stores for under $2) in a pretty bowl for a decorative centerpiece
Add fresh cranberries, orange slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and fresh rosemary to a crockpot with water or apple juice to make your home smell amazing without having to spend money on pricey scented plugins or candles
If you've got kids, they can help. A pile of dried pine cones, some pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and washable paint are all they'll need to make some fun ornaments or gifts to give away to loved ones.
Cut the list down by organizing a gift exchange
Buying gifts can wear out your wallet if you've got a long list of people to shop for. If you just can't do it this year, propose a gift exchange or swap with friends and family.
There are a couple of ways you can do it, depending on what kind of gathering you're planning.
With a White Elephant exchange, everyone brings a gift to the get-together. All the gifts are pooled together and guests take turns choosing one at random. Each person can either choose an unwrapped gift or “steal” one that someone else has already opened. There’s usually a limit on how many times a gift can be stolen (once or twice). The game ends when everybody has a present.
With a Secret Santa exchange, everyone who's participating puts their name into a hat (or bowl, or whatever you have). Each person draws a name and buys a present for that person only.
When it's time to get together, all the presents are put together and guests can look for the one that has their name on it. The goal is for them not to find out who bought it for them.
For both kinds of gift exchange, you can set a maximum dollar amount for buying gifts, say $20 or $30. That could cut your gift spending budget way down if you're used to buying presents for multiple people. The limit can also help curb impulse purchases.
Share the meal (and the effort)
Sharing a holiday meal with friends or family can help you create some great memories, but seeing your grocery bill can quickly kill your appetite.
There's an easy solution, though. You can ask everyone who's coming to dinner to chip in.
That might mean bringing a dish to share or picking up drinks and ice. Every contribution counts for something when you're trying to save money and spread the cost.
Here's a pro tip for making sure there's no overlap on the menu. Use an organization app like BringIt or Potluck Party that lets everyone sign up and note what they're planning to bring.
Saving money over the holidays can make the season more enjoyable and less stressful. These tips can help you keep the focus on what truly matters most.
Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.
Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.