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5 steps to a better family holiday budget

Woman and child decorating holiday cookies

Want to get your family on the same page with holiday spending? Set expectations now!

Have your loved ones been dropping gift ideas into their Amazon wishlist since August? Or helpfully leaving earmarked copies of catalogs and store flyers where you’ll be sure to see them?

If you’re beginning to feel your family’s idea of a perfect holiday might not match up with your determination to keep your budget in check, it’s time to sit down and have “The Talk.”

Here’s a five-step plan that can make it nearly painless — and maybe even a little fun! Whip up mugs of hot chocolate, put on some holiday music and invite the gang to gather round.

Step 1: Have each person share a favorite holiday memory.

Sure, their best memory could be the time they found the Xbox under the tree, but we’ll go out on a limb and guess it won’t be. This is a fun way to set the mood for a more meaningful discussion and you can even add memories of your own childhood — or your parents’ or grandparents’.

Step 2: Introduce the idea of experiences vs. stuff.

Use the power of those memories to start a discussion about the real meaning of the holiday: getting together with people you love. We’re not saying getting or giving fancy gifts can’t be fun, but help your family appreciate the holidays on a deeper level. And maybe even ask them what they got for Christmas last year. Sure, there might have been a standout gift they remember immediately — but they could just as easily draw a blank.

Step 3: Talk about the importance of having a family budget.

How you tackle this will depend on your kids’ ages and how familiar they are with the concept of budgets. If they’re pretty young, you might need to say Santa’s sleigh can only hold so much. But if your kids are older, discuss how the holidays have to fit the budget, just like food and the phone bill. And how spending too much now might make it hard to pay your bills or mean your family can’t afford something else like a vacation or getting help with college. If your kids are old enough, consider including some real dollar figures to help them see what you’ll need to cover in the coming weeks.

Step 4: Have each person share a gift or two they’d really like and why.

Hopefully Steps 1-3 will help them keep your budget in mind!

Step 5: Brainstorm inexpensive or free ways to make the holidays fun.

End your discussion by having everyone share some fun ways they’d like to enjoy each other’s company over the coming weeks. Cookie making, sledding, checking out the neighborhood lights and binge watching Christmas specials are free or very inexpensive and are almost guaranteed to add to their holiday memory list.

Will this solve all your budget-related holiday challenges? We can’t promise that! But it’s a good place to start and, even better, you’ll be doing it with the people you love most.