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16 Ways to Celebrate a Budget Christmas

16 Ways to Celebrate a Budget Christmas

Decorations

1. Decorate with what is meaningful to you

When you think about the real meaning behind Christmas decorations, they are used to add a festive touch according to your tastes and based on what the holiday means for you. Whether you believe in the religious roots of Christmas, or just like the magic of the whole season, pick your decorations to express that, without feeling pressure for more. You can’t compete with Martha Stewart or the big shopping malls, but you can choose what is displayed at your home. Below are some easy ways:

(i) Pick children’s favorite ornaments or toys to add to the tree or hang in their rooms

(ii) Make simple handmade tree trimmings

(iii) Choose a string of lights

If your budget Christmas has minimal or no allowance for decorations, choose a string of lights only. They will instantly make any room look Christmas-y

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(iv) Use Fresh greenery you find while walking out in nature or garden

2. Set the right atmosphere

Christmas is one of the most atmospheric times, when memories are recalled, scents encourage thoughts, and there’s a feeling in the air that makes everything seems possible. To make sure you will have a beautiful celebration at home, set the right atmosphere, by including warm and festive smells, cozy corners and of course the right tunes. You can do these:

(i) Play a CD or YouTube videos

(ii) Take out cozy blankets

(iii) Put a few spices and fruit simmering on the stove

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Activities

3. Plan family activities ahead

Include board games or classic group activities during and/or after the Christmas meal, to have something to look forward to and shift the focus from the food or the gifts. No one remembers how many side dishes they had last year, but memories from funny times and inside jokes created over board games are more likely to stay forever. Start brainstorming ideas beforehand and ask for everyone’s opinion on what they’d like to do. This also teaches your kids that family time needs planning too, same as presents and food. If you’re not really fond of games, looking at family photo albums would be lovely and fun too.

4. Cook together as a family

What you are serving on your table doesn’t matter if everyone is grumpy and disappointed or rushing to get to a party afterwards. A happy meal is made of happy sharing. To encourage more interaction and fun in your family, try to involve everyone with the food preparations. Even toddlers can help wash vegetables or cut cheese. Having everyone work as a team will ensure a fun time; just remember to ignore the mess and be more open to things not being done your way. In the end, all of you will appreciate the labor of love sitting on the table and might even linger a bit more sitting around and talking to each other, instead of heading for the phone or TV.

5. Stretch the joy in the whole season

Being on a budget sometimes means less things to look forward to, compared to old times. This can lead to a moody feeling. To avoid this, spread out the little things on different days leading to Christmas and leave some for after. There’s no reason why you can’t watch a movie every single day of December instead of doing a marathon night or why you can’t have a festive brunch on other days besides Christmas morning. You can also write everything on a calendar or put it on your advent, so each member of the family can look forward to some fun. Focusing on a couple of activities you enjoy most will create meaningful memories for your children.

Gatherings and social interaction

6. Create your own traditions

Traveling to celebrate with family and friends equals great holidays, but sometimes the high cost of flights, the bad weather and the full houses you visit aren’t worth it. If you are used to visiting your big families every year, stay at home this Christmas for a change. You might even like this more, but you have to try it. Prepare your children, if they have been looking forward to meeting their cousins all year long, by telling them you will be on a different adventure this year. Mention things like discovering your town, visiting different festive events and celebrating your own magical way at home. If you think about it, you’ve been leaving home every year, to be part of big loud tables, when you don’t always have the opportunity to spend productive time with those you care about most, or avoid relatives you don’t get along with. When you celebrate with a big crowd, you are often following others’ traditions and way of doing Christmas. Why not sit down and think how you really want to spend this holiday? Write a few thoughts and ask everyone in the family for one thing they’d like to do. Limit it to one thing or you’ll create unwanted stress. Be sure to balance quiet time with some fun and eventually create your own version of Christmas. If you like it, next year you can start inviting people over to your house, or go back to traveling if you realize that’s what your ideal Christmas looks like.

7. Show people your way of doing Christmas

Don’t sit there stressing about what others might think of you, especially if it’s the first time you’re doing a budget Christmas. Instead, make the first move and let them know about your decision to celebrate differently this year and tell them what to expect. You might even make them want to adopt your way or join you for some of the new activities. By letting people know your intentions, you will have fewer of them judge you or express disappointment later. Learning to say no to anything that doesn’t align with your intentions is one of the most common pieces of advice that experts give for having a stress-free holiday season.

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Food

8. Use all you have in your pantry

Doing a budget Christmas is a great opportunity to take out every food item from your fridge and cupboards. Make a rule of buying no food unless you have used everything you already have at home. Plan your meals around them and incorporate some in the festive meal too. You might come up with interesting combinations and new flavors.

9. Serve finger food

If you are having guests over, serve meatless dishes and a lot of appetizer-style ones. Small bites and finger food are child-friendly, too. Anything that can be served cold or at room temperature will cut your time.

10. Put a theme on it

To add interest to a simple celebration with minimal spending, put a theme on it and pay attention to adding a couple of details. Everything will look more exciting if it’s part of the “Christmas at the English pub” or “Beach-cottage Christmas”. Pasta, pie, sparkling water with lemon, or wine with sliced apples will never look more fancy than on your thematic gathering. A Subtle Revelry magazine founder and book author Victoria Hudgins is a big advocate of making everyday food festive with a few details added. Here are a few ideas to get inspired.

11. Same food, different way

You can totally cook your usual dishes for Christmas, with a slight variation in presentation. If you normally cut your roasted veggies in big chunks, cube them or slice them diagonally this time. You won’t believe what a difference such small trick makes. Make sure there are two or more colors in there for visual interest. On the same note, slice the meat thinly if you normally serve it whole.

Gifts

12. Teach children the joy of giving

A sudden Christmas without presents for a child used to getting 10 wrapped packages under the tree will be disappointing and dramatic. Instead of making drastic changes, slowly introduce new traditions to your children, while dropping old ones you don’t want to continue. Assign one person for each child and help them make or buy a gift for them. It can be a relative, a senior, or a struggling neighbor, but it is more real and encouraging when the child knows that person. The joy in their eyes when unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree might be less with fewer gifts. However, your children will get to know a deeper and longer-lasting joy, that of giving and sharing, which often wins over the joy of getting. The younger they are when you introduce this tradition, the easier it will be for you to establish more meaningful and non-materialistic Christmas celebrations. Joy Cho has been doing this with her three-year-old daughter since she was born.

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13. Re-gifting done right

If you haven’t already, start to embrace re-gifting right now. Even experts give it a thumbs up, as long as it’s done right. Ditch the guilt and the social embarrassment fear by following these simple tips:

  • Make sure you know who gave the item to you
  • Don’t re-gift it to someone related to the person who gave it to you
  • The item should be new and functioning
  • The person who will get it will love it and use it

14. Spend your time instead of money

Don’t spend a dime on wrapping paper or gift tags, fancy bottled beverages or anything you can make yourself easily. If you really want to commit to spending less this year, consider every coin you can save and be ready to spend a little more time making things. Also, follow the rule of one present per person only. You’d be surprised, but studies have led to the conclusion that a second gift actually lowers the value of the whole experience. It’s actually called the “Presenter’s Paradox”.

Where to start

15. Make a bouncy budget

As with every other aspect of your life, there’s no reason not to make a budget for Christmas. To avoid feeling like a Scrooge about it, bounce your categories. Pay attention to each of them and choose where you want to spend more and where you wouldn’t mind cutting back. For example, after the initial equal division between all categories, feel free to bounce some money from the food category to the gifts one, if you don’t want your kids to get disappointed, while you enjoy making food from scratch. Alter whatever works for you and bounce everything according to your needs, so everyone is content even on a budget.

16. Be honest about it

If the whole Christmas-celebration thing still looks intimidating to you, follow none of the above tips. Simply be honest with yourself and go through the reasons you need to do a budget Christmas this year. Be it financial problems or just the need to establish a more simplified and meaningful life, tell everyone in your family why you are doing it and you can all speed up the process of getting where you want to be together. Experts like Leo Batuta always advice to dig through the reality of your current life, in order to be able to achieve the changes you want. Get started with these five questions.
If you manage to establish healthy habits, try to continue them after Christmas too. Especially with kids, consistency is the key to sticking with new behaviors.

Go on and enjoy Christmas your own way! Don’t stress too much about pleasing everyone or getting the best gifts. Only you know what is best for your family right now. After all, every single study agrees that it’s the experiences that make us happy on the long run, rather than material objects. Focus on spending time with those who matter for you, rather than anxiously waiting for a January full of debt to come.

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

The Average Retirement Savings and How to Save Wisely

Are you on track for retirement?

If not, don’t worry, I’m not sure either. I save each month and hope for the best.

Fortunately, I’m at an age where most people don’t save so I’m ahead of the curve.

But, what if you aren’t in your 20s? What if you’re near retirement and are looking to gauge where you stand?

If so, keep reading. Here’s how to prepare for retirement and save wisely during the process.

What Does the Average American Have Saved for Retirement?

Saving for retirement is tricky.

Tell someone straight out of college to save $10k a year for retirement and it’ll be next to impossible.

Make the same request to someone decades older and they’d be more likely to be able to save this amount. But, a 20-year old college student can be “financially ahead” of someone saving more than them. Why?

Age matters in your financial journey. The younger you are, the more time you have to save and put compound interest to work. As you get older and have more saving power, you’d have less time to put compound interest to work.

Here are the average savings Americans hold by age bracket:

20’s – $16,000

During this stage, most people are paying loans and moving up the corporate ladder. Your best bet during this stage is to focus on eliminating debt and increasing your income. Don’t focus only on getting a high-paying job neither.

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Instead, focus on learning via Podcasts, reading books, and taking specialized courses. Doing this will make you more valuable and give you more career options.

30’s – $45,000

At this stage, you’ve hopefully escaped your entry-level salary and work at a career you enjoy. Your earning power has increased but you now have more obligations. For example, marriage, kids, and a mortgage.

Set a plan to pay off all your debt and focus on eliminating unnecessary expenses. Leverage financial tools like Personal Capital to ensure you’re on track for retirement.

40’s – $63,000

This is the stage where you’re at the prime of your career. Top financial institutions recommend you have at least 2 to 4 times your salary saved up. If you’re falling behind, start maxing out your 401K and Roth IRA accounts.

50’s – $115,000

During your fifties, you’re close to retirement but still, have time to save. You may be helping your kids pay college tuition and other expenses. Since you’re at the peak of your earning power, max out all your retirement accounts.

60’s – $172,000

By this point, you should have about eight times your salary saved up. If not, you’ll depend primarily on social security benefits averaging $1400 per month. Max out all your retirement options as much as possible before retiring.

Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget

The sad reality is that most Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement.

Even high-earning power isn’t enough to secure one’s financial future. You need to have the discipline to save for retirement while time is in your favor. Don’t wait for you to have a high salary to save, start with having a small budget.

First, get a clear picture of where you stand. Write down a list of “needs” and “wants.” For example, Netflix and Amazon Prime are “wants” and a “cell-phone” is a need.

Use tools like Personal Capital to analyze your spending patterns. Personal Capital allows you to add all your financial data in one place–making it a powerful option to gauge where you stand.

Once you know all your expenses, organize them from highest to lowest expense. When you can’t cut more expenses, call your service providers to negotiate a lower price. If you’re not good at negotiating, use services like Trimm to lower your monthly expenses.

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How to Save Money Each Month

By this point, you know the average amount of money you should have saved for retirement based on your age.

But, breaking this down into monthly goals can be challenging. Here are some rule of thumbs to follow:

Aim to contribute 10%–15% of your salary each paycheck. Review your progress each week.

Why so often? The reality is that life gets in our way and you will have many financial setbacks. Your goal isn’t to be perfect but to get back on track instead.

Reviewing your finances weekly lets you know where you stand with your retirement. This doesn’t have to be a long process either. All it takes is login in Personal Capital to view your net worth and check how much you have saved for retirement.

Turn saving into a game and aim to save more each month. It will get challenging but you’ll get creative and find more ways to save.

Top Money Saving Challenge Tips

To prepare for your financial future and not be another statistic you need to be different.

How?

By adopting new habits that’ll help you become a saving machine. Here are some ways you can save more:

Automatically Contribute Towards Retirement

If you’re working for a company, you can automatically contribute towards your 401k. If you’re not currently contributing more than 10%, make this your goal. Contribute 1% more today and automatically increase this amount a year from now.

Odds are that you’re not going to be negatively affected by contributing 1% more. Many times we spend our money on things we don’t need. Contributing more towards retirement is a great way to secure your financial future.

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Use the Right Tools to Know Where You Stand

Once you’re contributing more towards your retirement accounts, gauge your progress. Make use of finance tracking apps to help you view the big picture of your retirement.

When I’d first signed up for the app Personal Capital, I didn’t know I had a negative net worth. Despite saving thousands of dollars, my debt brought my net worth to the negative. Knowing this motivated me to save more and spend less.

Now, I have a positive net worth. But, it was because I was able to view the big picture using the app. Find out what your net worth is using a finance tracking app and you may surprise yourself.

Bring in Experts to View Your Blind Spots

If you have too little or too much money saved, you should consider hiring financial experts.

Why?

You may need someone to hold you accountable to help you reach your financial goals. Or, you may need help managing your money as effective as possible.

Regardless of the reason, getting help may help improve your financial situation.

Before you hire an expert, find out which areas you need help the most. For example, if you’re constantly overspending, find a debt counselor. If you’re struggling with choosing the best investment options, hire a financial advisor.

Speed up Your Retirement Contribution

After learning how to manage your money well, the next best thing is to earn a higher income.

You’re capped at how much you can save but not much you can earn. Even if your employer isn’t giving you a promotion, you can still take charge of your financial future. How?

By starting a side-business.

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This will be something you’d work on after you’ve finished your day job. Once you start earning income from your side-business, you’ll be financially better off.

The best part is the more work you put into your side-business,[1] the more potential it has to earn more money.

So start a side-business in an area you’re familiar with. For example, if you enjoy writing, do freelance writing for small e-commerce businesses.

Once you’re earning a higher income, you can contribute more towards your retirement. Don’t wait for the right opportunity to secure your financial future, create one.

Reach Financial Freedom with Confidence

What if you were able to retire tomorrow with no problem, all because you’d have enough money saved up and little to no debt left to pay off? How would you feel?

My guess is that you’d feel happy and relieved.

Most Americans are falling behind their retirement goals for many reasons. They’re not prepared, they carry bad money-habits and are thinking short-term.

For you to retire successfully, you need to work backward and adopt better habits. Contribute more towards your 401K and focus on growing your income.

If you do, you’ll save money and pay debt faster.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re behind your retirement goals. Take the first step today towards a brighter financial future. Isn’t retirement worth the hard work and sacrifice to be at peace?

Featured photo credit: Huy Phan via unsplash.com

Reference

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