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Holiday Budgeting

Holiday Gift Giving

Give the Gift of an Experience

The pink bunny suit. If you’ve ever watched the movie “A Christmas Story,” you know the scene well. Ralphie receives a gift from his great aunt Clara – the dreaded pink bunny costume. We’ve all experienced it – a gift that we don’t really need (or want). Many of us have probably given a similar gift. Finding the perfect gift for family and friends is challenging and stressful, especially for those people in your life who have everything. So, how can you shake up your gift? Consider giving an experience.

Many studies have shown that material possessions do not equal happiness, and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling than things. Researcher Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University has spent more than a decade trying to understand why experiences could contribute to happiness more than material purchases. Another researcher, Matthew Killingsworth, who published an article in the Journal of Psychological Science found that experiences provide more lasting happiness than material possessions. They concluded that people tend to be less happy with material purchases over time, and happier with experiences. They note that this is likely because we adapt to physical things, so even the nicest car or newest phone becomes commonplace after time, while we tend to grow fonder of memories over time.”

To help create those memories, consider giving the gift of an experience. Maybe it’s a golf lesson or a gym membership. Gifts could include cooking classes or a stained glass-making course. If the person you are buying for is adventurous, you might purchase a scuba diving class or whitewater trip. Perhaps you want to give a gift to new parents; consider a night of babysitting so that the couple can enjoy a night out. There are so many great options to consider. And, they will remember these gifts for years to come.

Gift Ideas

  • Learn a new skill: Painting, stained glass-making, pottery, cooking, flower arranging or dance classes
  • Sports: Golf lessons, gym membership, tickets to a game, time at the batting cage
  • Spa day: Manicure/pedicure, massage, hair treatment, wine and cheese tasting
  • Music/Arts: Orchestra tickets, guitar/piano lessons, subscription to Pandora or iTunes
  • Educational: Passes to art or history museums, science/nature center, trip to the zoo
  • Family fun: Tickets to an escape room, theatre, sporting event, local attractions or movie; night out bowling, ice skating, vacation
  • Outdoor adventure: Rock climbing, horseback riding, boating course, ski pass
  • For fun: Beer or wine making kit 
  • Adventure: Scuba diving class, skydiving, mountain biking pass
  • Memberships: Amazon Prime, gaming, or anything they like to do online (gaming)
  • Gift of help: Meal delivery service, house cleaning service, offer to babysit
  • Gift Cards: Gas, groceries, a new restaurant, Amazon, Xbox

By Andrea Hoover, WVU Extension Service Family & Community Development Agent – Greenbrier County

Reviewed: November 2020 


A dinner table set to receive holiday guests.

Navigating Holiday Gatherings & Traditions in the Midst of a Pandemic

The holiday season is looking different for many people this year. What should be a happy, joyous time of celebration with friends and family is being met with challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. How can you navigate your dinners and celebrations, while focusing on safety? You will need a positive attitude and some great planning to make the most of your holiday celebrations.

Tips for Bringing People Together

  • Thinking about your Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s dinner? Guess what? We all still need to eat. We just need to do it safely. Keep your gatherings small and limit your celebration to local family members who don’t have to travel far to be with you. Limit contact with the public (when possible), wash your hands and wear a mask in the weeks leading up to the meal.”
  • If the weather cooperates, consider an outdoor dinner this year. Even if it’s a little chilly, make it fun with blankets and a fire pit. Whether your dinner is inside or out, be sure to maintain at least a six feet social distance between people. Masks are important to mitigate the spread, especially indoors.

  • Avoid potlucks or multiple cooks and have one person serve the food (with masks and gloves). Consider supporting a local restaurant by ordering dinner for takeout.

  • If you really want to include other family members and friends that aren’t local, Zoom is offering free, extended family sessions for the holiday this year. Set up a device at your dinner table and enjoy the meal, a blessing, or a toast together virtually.

Baking Tips

  • If you're missing your traditional cookie exchange this year, consider a virtual baking contest.
  • Use a virtual platform to decorate your holiday goodies together then show them off to one another and vote for a winner. Everybody wins when you eat the cookies! 
  • Make it even more fun by exchanging the recipes you use. 
  • If you still miss giving and receiving goodies, consider having a local bakery ship directly to your family and friends. You still get to ‘exchange’ goodies, plus you support a local business.

Enjoy Black Friday Shopping Online

  • If you are a shopper who is bummed about Black Friday shopping, check out all of the amazing discounts and specials offered online. 
  • Facetime your friends and shop together, basking in the joy of all the money you saved. You can even split up your shopping duties to be sure you all get the best deals available that day.
  • Don’t forget, many companies will ship your gifts directly to the person you are buying for, so be sure to fill out the shipping section correctly. Many local businesses even offer curbside pickup for your shopping needs.

Tips for Connecting

  • So many people feel isolated and lonely due to the pandemic. Be sure to reach out to our friends and family, especially those who are at risk for experiencing these feelings. We can still safely call people, text people and even make short, outdoor visits with social distancing and wearing masks. Instead of visiting people in their homes, consider taking a walk together. This allows for a visit and an opportunity for some physical activity, which is also good for our mental health. 
  • Let’s not forget all of the activities that are safe. Decorating for the holidays is still on, and this year people seem to be starting early, so there is plenty of holiday spirit out there. We can still drive around safely with our family/household members and look at light displays. That pesky elf on the shelf might be your new best friend this year if you miss normalcy.”
  • And, perhaps even more important this year, we can still support local organizations and volunteering in our communities to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable holiday season. Food banks are still accepting donations, angel trees are still going up for gift giving, and charities still rely heavily on our financial contributions.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers additional tips and helpful information to help you safely prepare for the upcoming holidays.

By  Ami Cook, Family & Community Development agent, Braxton and Clay counties

Reviewed November 2020


Budgeting for the Holidays

The holiday deals arrive much earlier than in years past. Major retailers like Amazon and Walmart offer holiday deals as early as mid-October. Shoppers don't have to wait for Black Friday deals and can get a much earlier head start on holiday shopping. Great deals may provide a little normalcy and joy during challenging times, but shoppers should be aware of emotional spending and do a little planning.

Let Your Budget Determine Your Needs

  • A lot or a little, identify how much you have to spend. This is important before you start shopping. Make a “gift” list to help you prioritize what you need to buy and set limits on how much you will spend on each person. 
  • If your budget doesn’t stretch to cover everyone, that’s ok. Homemade cards and gifts are personal and have been shown to have more value than mass produced items.

Plan How to Shop

  • In addition to watching your wallet, safety can be a huge factor for many shoppers who are concerned about flu season or other diseases. Many stores have increased online shopping opportunities or provide curbside pickup. 
  • Plan where and when to do your shopping. Start early and do your research. Holiday sales and Black Friday flyers start much earlier. 
  • Be sure to update your apps, as many stores may offer discounts through apps, and discount or rebate sites can help you find great deals.  

Be Honest and Respectful of Family & Friends

  • Whether this is flush year or a lean year, it may not be the same for those you love. Ask if you can change traditions to help each other out. Instead of buying gifts for everyone, create Secret Santa traditions, set spending limits, agree to make homemade gifts, make donations in each other’s names or pass down precious heirlooms.
  • Have fun creating new traditions while reducing holiday stress for everyone. Find ways to make the gifts less about the amount, and more about the meaning.

Expect the Unexpected

  • Online shopping offers many benefits, but sometimes there are shortages or delays. Supply chain issues for "in demand products" may cause shipping delays or even availability of items. 
  • Try to go with the flow, plan as best you can and move to Plan B if that doesn’t work out.

Buy Local and Support Community Organizations

  • Shopping local can support jobs and benefit your community. Many local retail shops may offer curbside pick up or delivery, so you can avoid shipping costs and delays.  You also can find unique and customized gifts at local retailers . 
  • Consider celebrating the season by making donations to local charities or volunteering your time to support those in your community who are struggling this season.

Avoiding Holiday Debt

The spirit of the holidays can be full of joy, but it can also be full of stress and pressure. Avoiding overspending can make things easier and allow you to enjoy the season – and the months after. 

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers plan to spend on average $1,048 during the 2019 holiday season, a 4% increase from 2018 and up from an average of $783 in 2009. Approximately one-third of those using credit cards will still be paying them off in December of the following year. Making a plan to avoid overspending can make all the difference, saving you stress and anxiety this year and helping ease financial burdens as you start a new year.

What are some of the holiday overspending pitfalls? Knowing what to avoid can help avoid busting your budget.

  • Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Providing a bigger and better Christmas for your loved ones may be the dream, but keeping things within your means can be more fun and relaxing far beyond the holidays.
  • Avoid emotional shopping and holiday guilt. Token gifts and last-minute purchases are tempting, but often put you over your own limits. As well, roughly one-third of consumers plan to give to charity during the season. It’s important to know how much you have to give and when to stop.
  • Avoid last minute shopping. Stores are just waiting for last minute shoppers. It is easy to go overboard when you know you are facing a deadline.

Here are some tips for making a holiday spending plan to help you enjoy the holidays and avoid the financial hangover.

  • Track your holiday spending. Not just on gifts, but be sure to add wrapping, decorations, special food, travel and any other expenses.
  • Make a holiday budget. Once you know how much you regularly spend, you can set that money aside well in advance. Be careful to stick to it.
  • Have a holiday savings plan. This could mean putting money aside throughout the year or getting an extra job in the late fall to accommodate the extra spending.
  • Make a list for gift giving, including spending limits. Having a list ahead of time can also help you to locate holiday bargains. Finding gifts on sale well before the holiday season can make it easier to afford as well as save money and time.
  • Use cash, avoid credit cards. When you go to the store with a fixed amount you are more likely to stay within your plan. Credit cards are very tempting to use well beyond what you intended to spend.
  • Shop online. You are more likely to find the discounts and comparison shop when looking through a screen. It’s harder to say no to a salesperson or an incentive when in the store.

Save some money for after season sales. Decorations, wrapping and more can be found at discounts of 50% or higher after Christmas. Buying at these greatly reduced prices, can save a lot of time and money for next year’s holidays.

Lastly, think of alternatives to traditional gift giving, parties and time spent with loved ones. Also consider those who may not have the means to give as much as others. Ideas like asking everyone to bring items for a family scrapbook can create new family traditions and memories for a lifetime.

We wish you a stress-free holiday season.


By Lauren Weatherford, WVU Extension Service Agent – Fayette & Nicholas Counties 

Reviewed: October 2020

A person holds a shopping bag.