After spending nearly $2,000 in gifts for her daughter’s first Christmas in 2017, Meg Nordmann knew her holiday strategy had to change.
“I totally blew it that first Christmas with her,” says the Florida-based author of “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas.” “I bought everything this child needed through the first five years of her life.”
Today, she is more intentional with holiday spending – a staple of the minimalist lifestyle she adopted. Minimalism eliminates distractions to free up room, time or money to do what you value. In Nordmann’s case, she avoids unnecessary spending to stay on course toward reaching early retirement with her husband.
You can use minimalist tips to keep your own financial goals on track, and still have a meaningful holiday season.
Review your holiday budget
This year, consumers plan to spend $998 on average on items such as gifts, food, decorations and other holiday-related purchases for themselves and their families, a National Retail Federation holiday survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics reports.
Your budget might differ, but it’s worth considering that $1,000 could cover a month’s rent, an unexpected car repair or vet bill. Even one-fifth of that would make a decent start on an emergency fund, ideal in an uncertain economy roiled by a pandemic.
You don’t need to sacrifice gift-giving entirely. But before you start your holiday shopping, prioritize your own financial goals before determining what to spend on others.
Let family members know ahead of time if you’re changing your holiday approach. Last year, Nordmann and her family decided months in advance that they were only exchanging books.
Joshua Becker, Arizona resident and founder of the Becoming Minimalist blog, has an understanding with his family.
“I have a brother and a sister, and we’ve stopped exchanging gifts,” he says. “We just pool our money together and get one nice gift for our parents.”
They also trade off on buying gifts for each others children. Becker’s teens have learned to expect gifts that include one thing they need, one thing they want and a shared family experience.
Marion Haberman, a YouTuber at the channel My Jewish Mommy Life, and her extended family have a strategy that doesn’t require a multiperson gift exchange with several people over eight nights of Hanukkah.
“We only do gifts for the kids – nieces, nephews, grandchildren – for their birthdays,” she says. “In our home, we do one present for each kid for each night.”
Craft your strategy
For Haberman’s family, presents aren’t necessarily wrapped. A present can be a voucher for a jelly doughnut or a night of building a fort and watching movies.
Nordmann’s children usually get a gift they want, a gift they need, clothes and a book. For other family members, Nordmann and her husband are making gifts.
“We had a really good harvest for our garden this year,” she says. “We’re going to make hot sauces and papaya jelly.”
By giving thoughtful gifts that don’t hurt their budget, they can continue replenishing the income they lost during the pandemic. The setback has delayed the couple’s early retirement goals. Her husband, an auto mechanic, was unemployed for two months, and their vacation rental properties were forced to close at the same time.
Improvise your holiday feast
Whether you’re planning a socially distanced holiday meal or a celebration with those in your household, look for opportunities to save.
See whether your credit card’s features have temporarily changed. For instance, to accommodate shifts in household spending, some credit card issuers have made it easier to earn or redeem rewards for groceries.
Nordmann saves on her grocery budget by visiting a local nonprofit that eliminates food waste. Some of these organizations in different cities give away soon-to-expire or dented items that are otherwise discarded.
She signs up in advance and waits in a long line, but she might find a free soon-to-expire holiday ham to freeze for later. “The savings are so worth it,” she says.
For Kim Lee, an Arizona-based minimalist and content creator at the lifestyle website Free to Family, a potluck saves money and stress. “It makes it a lot easier on the host,” she says.
Save on decorations, paper
Lee and her family enjoy the experience of crafting their own decorations. They make a banner out of popcorn and cranberries as they sip hot chocolate and listen to Christmas tunes or watch holiday movies.
“I’d rather have a small amount of decorations and make it a big activity, than a large amount of decorations and make it a dreadful experience,” Lee says. “It also makes it easier to clean up.”
Nordmann also makes her own decorations. Plus, she uses large rolls of general-purpose masking paper from home improvement stores to save money on gift wrapping. A branch of cedar or some evergreen adds a holiday touch.
“It looks beautiful and classic and everyone loves it, but it’s going to be drastically cheaper,” she says.
Melissa Lambarena is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lissalambarena.