A few tips and creative ideas to celebrate the holidays while minimizing expenses and maximizing memories.

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Family time, holiday shopping, gift giving, and displays of bright lights are the many things that warm my heart during the holidays. The holiday season is one of the best opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends. While the holidays around my home state of Illinois can be very cold, many enjoy outdoor activities; playing with white fluffy snow, children making snowmen, ice-skating, or simply strolling around the neighborhood to appreciate your neighbors’ holiday decorations. There is nothing better than seeing the children’s eyes light up to dazzling light displays. Others enjoy the winter from the comfort of their home, drinking hot chocolate, covered with their fluffiest warm blanket watching their favorite holiday movies, cooking, and participating in arts and crafts activities. Also, my favorite!

Of course, the holiday season can bring with it a fair amount of stress—especially as it relates to its many demands—hosting or attending events, buying gifts, grocery shopping, cooking, and much more. To give yourself a bit of a break and to minimize expenses and maximize the memories, here are a few tips to consider:

Make a plan.

Decide whether you will be hosting family and friends for the holidays. Don’t overthink it. Make life simple for yourself and create an uncomplicated menu. Allow your guests to bring in a dish, potluck style, to enjoy a variety of foods.

Determine whether you will participate in a gift exchange or buy gifts for the whole family. Many adults enjoy participating in a gift exchange and use the rest of their budget to buy the children gifts.

Set a budget and stick to it.

This means analyzing your expenses for the year and determining how much you can really spend without getting into credit card debt. Many started shopping early in the year to beat the product shortages and shipping delays, while others waited for the holiday sales, especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While waiting for the sales seems like a great idea, it also gives an opportunity to overspend. This is why the next point below is going to be crucial.

Get creative with your gifts.

When selecting gifts, let your creativity flourish and put your many skills to work. Baking a person’s favorite dessert, creating a charcuterie board, or making a favorite beverage is super simple. Now, you can find recipes everywhere! Engage children in the kitchen or arts and crafts and help them create gifts for others. Meaningful gifts are the best! Learning to appreciate the small things in life can be taught at an early age.

Remember, gifts do not always need to be expensive or need to be purchased. You can take the easy and smart route. That is, gifting a 529 college savings account to your loved ones. Giving the gift of college during the holiday season is one that will last a lifetime. It’s easy for friends and family to open an account for others or help contribute to a child’s future education. States have made it simple through the use of their gifting platforms. Account owners can easily send out invitations to encourage friends and family to contribute online or by mail. Some states also have free holiday card templates available. Once the contribution is made, it is very easy to let your recipient know you contributed to their future education.

You may also consider combining the two. For example, if you’re visiting your sibling and her children for the holiday, why not bring a home-baked dessert for your sister and gift a contribution to your nephew’s college savings account?

With some advanced planning, some pre-set boundaries, and a splash of creativity, the holiday season can be less stressful and a bit more full of joy and cheer. Plan in advance and be realistic with what you can give and contribute. May this holiday season be one to remember, filled with love, happiness, and success. Have a Happy Holiday Season and a Prosperous New Year!


About the Author: Marlyn Flores is the Manager of College Savings in the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer, Michael Frerichs. Marlyn facilitates all marketing efforts and community outreach, with a focus on educating families across the state about Bright Start 529 College Savings, and the importance of saving little by little. Before joining the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer, Marlyn dedicated over eight years of experience to higher education, community outreach, and project management. She earned her B.S. in Bilingual Education and M.A. in Higher Education Administration with a focus in Educational Leadership from Chicago State University.