Decking the Halls Without Breaking the Bank

You know “stuff” isn’t what makes the holiday season truly fulfilling. Yet each year, despite your best intentions, you end up shopping too much, rushing too much, stressing too much…and savoring the moment too little. Here, financial adviser Donna Skeels Cygan offers suggestions to help you maximize your joy by making small, deliberate changes in the way you spend (or don’t spend) your money this holiday season:

Remember the reason for the season. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, the holidays are most fulfilling when you focus on your family, your spirituality, and your values. The hustle and bustle and materialism often serve to interfere with the true meaning of the holidays. Don’t let them. Together with your family, make a conscious decision to focus on quality time together. Remember, it’s okay to politely say “no” to things that have a negative impact on your time or money during the holidays.

Start some new, affordable traditions that reflect your family’s values. For instance, you may decide that during December you want to cook evening meals from different cultures or different religions. Perhaps you want to announce to your family that you’ll set aside several hours of each weekend day for rest and relaxation. “The Spanish and Italians take a siesta every day, and the concept of the Sabbath in many religions would be a wise addition to our hectic routines—especially during the holidays!” comments Cygan.

Replace gifts with experiences. Cygan insists experiences are much more memorable and fulfilling than “stuff.” Instead of participating in a gift exchange, you and your loved ones might:

Spend a morning baking cookies together. After baking, the cookies can be packaged with holiday ribbons, providing the added benefit that everyone goes home with several types of cookies to enjoy or give as gifts.

Together with family or friends, choose a local charity or “adopt” a family that is less fortunate. Spend a half-day shopping for food and/or gifts, then wrap them and deliver them. Neuroscience research has shown that reward centers light up in the brain when we give to charity. In essence, doing good feels good.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital, nursing home, or homeless shelter. Giving your time to others who are less fortunate will help you to focus on gratitude.

Organize a lunch or dinner together—either at an affordable restaurant or as a potluck at someone’s home.

Take a drive to look at holiday decorations, attend a concert, or visit a museum or nearby town. Get creative as you plan your experiences.

Understand that value often has nothing to do with price. Of course you want recipients to like, use, and value the gifts you give them. But Cygan reminds us that the most memorable, treasured gifts often don’t come with big price tags. For instance, Grandma might proudly hang framed artwork by your kids in her home and admire it for years to come.

Donna Skeels Cygan, author of The Joy of Financial Security: The art and science of becoming happier, managing your money wisely, and creating a secure financial future. (Sage Future Press, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-989-77844-2,