Guidewell Financial Tells How to Celebrate a Meaningful Holiday Without Breaking the Bank

National nonprofit Guidewell Financial Solutions explores the lessons one family learned when they had to limit holiday expenses due to budgetary concerns. Their experience shows it is possible to spend less and still savor the holidays.

​​As an Administrative Support Representative at Guidewell Financial Solutions, Kate often talks with people who are behind on their bills.  She says, “They come to us feeling alone and fearful they’ll be judged, so my first goal is always to reassure. This time of year, they also worry they won’t be able to give their families a great holiday. That’s when I tell them, ‘it is possible.’  I know, because years ago when my husband was laid off, we survived several winters on a very tight budget. These hard times helped us recognize what the holidays are really about.”

Kate says, with thought and planning her family didn’t lose out.  They truly enjoyed the holiday.  What made the difference?  Here are secrets for celebrating a small holiday: 

"This time of year, we often worry we won't be able to give our families a great holiday and still stay on budget. However, it is possible. I know, because years ago when my husband was laid off, we survived several winters on a very limited income. These hard times helped us recognize what the holidays are really about."

Kate, Guidewell Financial Administrative Support Rep

Increase Income

One way to cover holiday expenses is to take a part-time job.  If members of the family are having trouble locating a full-time job, this also may provide extra money to help cover essential living costs. 

Kate says, “This time of year, retailers hire additional help, so I took on a seasonal part-time job (which lasted for three years).  This money not only paid for Christmas but other expenses as well.  It also taught me to be a better shopper.  Now when I enter a store, I immediately head for the back aisles. That’s where the best bargains are.”
Kate’s husband found jobs with friends who owned contracting businesses.  She notes, “We were so grateful for these opportunities.”

Trim Gift List

With two teenage children, a large extended family, and a lot of close friends, Kate and her husband knew they couldn’t afford to spend the amount they normally would on holiday gifts.  

She says, “After some discussion, we decided our kids were our only priority, so we contacted our family members and friends and told them we didn’t plan to purchase gifts for them, and we didn’t want any in return.  It was hard to make those calls, but we knew it had to be done. We also knew people would understand, and they did!  I think letting them know ahead of time made all the difference.”  Kate and her husband also decided to forego gifts for each other.

Manage Children’s Expectations

With that accomplished, Kate and her husband created a small gift budget for their children.  “We knew we only had so much to spend, so we sat them both down and told them Christmas would be smaller than usual.  Then we asked them to write down what they really wanted and needed.  They listed clothing and electronics.”

When it came time to shop, Kate and her husband stuck to their budget.  She says, “There are lots of deals to be had, but you have to do your homework. When it comes to cost comparing, the Internet is very useful.  Whether we were at home or in a store, we went on sites to see who was charging what.”

Kate believes difficult times require creative solutions: “Given both kids wanted a gaming system, we purchased one they could share.  We also asked friends and family members if they had extra coupons they weren’t using for the stores where we planned to shop.  When online sites required you to spend a certain amount to qualify for free shipping, we doubled up with them on orders to afford the offer.”

Strive to Find Meaning

When budgets are tight, it’s more important than ever to focus on the significance of the season.  “We decided this holiday is really about spending time with those you love. We actively involved our kids in holiday preparations, and we did our best to make these activities fun.  We put on holiday music while we baked cookies and decorated. We also encouraged them to go online and find simple, affordable DIY gifts we could all make for people who had gone the extra mile to help us that year.”

Since times have turned around, Kate and her family still follow this practice.  She says, “I think it’s important to teach children that gift giving isn’t based on how much you spend but what you have in your heart.”

Lessons Learned

When Kate talks with Guidewell Financial clients, she sometimes shares her own hard-fought experience:  “I want them to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.  That’s why we’re here.  We can show them how to budget or help them develop a strategy for getting out of debt.  We can give them the tools and skills they need to afford and find meaning in the season.”

Visit to learn more about Guidewell Financial’s services or call 1-800-642-2227 for a financial counseling or coaching appointment.  Financial awareness is a gift that will last many holidays to come.

Guidewell Financial Solutions (also known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware) is an accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that helps stabilize communities by creating hope and promoting economic self-sufficiency to individuals and families through financial education and counseling.   Maryland License #14-01 / Delaware License #07-01