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Education Center » Lighter and brighter: Refreshing the holidays

Lighter and brighter: Refreshing the holidays


While we typically approach the holidays with happy anticipation, they can be all-consuming. In 2018, U.S. retail holiday sales in November and December were more than $707 billion, a staggering figure that is a testament to the huge effect that this time of year has both on our economy and on each of us.1

Yet, honoring our faith and family traditions doesn’t have to result in an experience that feels burdensome and off track. With our inclusive blueprint to help guide you through the season, you may be able to achieve a better perspective and find more joy during this most wonderful time of year.

All in the family

For many, time spent with family is a priority, especially during the holidays, but quality is the name of the game. Consider having a family meeting before Thanksgiving to allow everyone a voice in planning. Discuss traditions with an open mind toward change. Perhaps your annual all-day open house could be whittled down to a two-hour event and your traditional baking routine can be scaled down to include only those sweets that you can’t live without.

Think about eliminating expensive gifts and opting for an inclusive experience, like a family trip, instead. Ask everyone to share what is most meaningful for them — religious traditions, “coming home,” helping the less fortunate, creating memories, starting new traditions, etc. — and use that feedback as your guide.

Don’t forget about your health

With the “mad dash” upon you, it’s easy to give in to temptation. Planning ahead can reduce stress — so can lowering expectations for perfection, as in the perfect gift, the perfect party, and the storybook family experience. Instead, opt for what you can reasonably do and enjoy. Shopping online instead of at the mall or making an early exit from the office party may help you avoid impulsive purchases and bad food choices. It’s all about prioritization.

Like any race, the holiday sprint requires that you pace yourself, so try to avoid getting caught up in seasonal stress too early.

Look for ways to make holiday meals and treats healthier. You can reduce calories, fat and/or carbohydrates without sacrificing taste in many traditional recipes by substituting ingredients. Try eating a piece of fruit or other healthy snack before each social engagement so you’re not starving when you arrive and are better prepared to resist even the most tempting appetizers.

Leave time for leisure


There’s little reward in arriving at the finish line too exhausted to appreciate the glory. As you strive toward making the season perfect for everyone, try to allot time to relax along the way. Everyone can benefit from some down time, especially if you try to tie it together with seasonal traditions. Plan a family movie night to watch all your holiday favorites and munch on homemade snacks. End a busy shopping trip with a stop at the ice skating rink. Look for other breaks in the action that can serve to restore and refresh the spirit.

Like any race, this particular sprint requires that you pace yourself, so try to avoid getting caught up in seasonal stress too early. According to a 2018 report from the National Retail Federation, 39% of U.S. consumers plan to start their holiday shopping in October or earlier.2 Don’t sacrifice the opportunity to kick through the fall leaves or visit a pumpkin patch just to get a jump start on the craziness.

Home and hearth

Home is the heart of the holidays. Yet, staging elaborate yard displays and expensive decorations can tap your energy and your budget before the season has even begun. Think back to the work involved in boxing up the ornaments and lights the previous year and consider a new approach. Reducing the clutter by simplifying your household decorating efforts will save you time on the front and back end. Remember that your home is more than a place to celebrate; it’s also your recharging station, a place where you can unwind in front of the fireplace.

Make your holidays L-I-G-H-T


ess is more. You may find you have more fun and quality family time and save money when you take a more modest approach.


mpress with less. “Simple and meaningful” is often enough to wow friends and family.


ive more thought. Give more thought to what you really want this holiday season and plan ahead.


onor tradition. Honor your family traditions, but consider a lighter touch.


ake time for yourself. Make sure you rest and exercise, so you can bring your best to holiday occasions.

A shift in giving

Gifting is a time-honored tradition, yet it can easily get out of hand and become the sole focus of the holidays as you shop and spend more, more, more. A shift in thinking can lighten your load without dramatically lightening your savings. If you remember that gifts are given as gestures of love, respect and appreciation, you may feel less guilt about exchanging fewer, more meaningful gifts that aren’t as costly as what you might be used to. Frank conversations with loved ones about setting age or dollar limits on gift exchanges can go a long way in reducing stress all around.

You may also discover joy by giving to those who are truly in need. Visiting an elderly relative who would appreciate your company or volunteering at a local food kitchen can be as rewarding for you as it is for the people you are helping.

Working it out

Time — we never seem to have enough. And the demands of the season can make that even more obvious. If you have the benefit of paid vacation time, try to align it with your holiday plans. The luxury of hitting the shopping center during the week, when it might be less crowded, or baking while your household is less crazy should be balanced with using your vacation time to actually “take a vacation.” Align time off with friends and family members to enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed setting. And remember, celebrating with co-workers can be fun, too — so make sure you leave time for an activity like a pot-luck lunch or casual dinner.

Financing the festivities

Without a plan, the holidays can break the bank, leading to a “hangover” of large, looming credit card bills. Follow a plan that respects your budget while prioritizing what is important to you and your family, both short- and long-term. If you opt for saving time and energy by ordering a costly Thanksgiving meal from the local market, try to balance that with reducing money spent on gifts or travel.


Without a plan, the holidays can break the bank.

Smart shoppers can engage in strategies that save. While Black Friday sales offer great prices, popular items fly off the shelves so quickly that you can be left empty handed. Try shopping the night before — after 6 p.m., as many stores must program sale prices into their computers and cash registers ahead of time. Also try shopping the week after Thanksgiving, when retailers reassess inventories and often lower prices even further. Be sure to compare prices online before heading out to the malls.

Travel can also be a major expenditure during the holidays as we seek to fly the kids home from college or spend time with families afar. Flexibility is the key way to save on airfare. Review the rates and, when possible, select a travel day when more seats are available and fares are cheaper. Many travel websites can help you find the best prices. When traveling as a family, baggage fees can also add up quickly, so pack lightly using carry-on luggage and transport gift cards and small gift items only.

Financial goals and commitments should still rule the day, even during the holiday season. While a family cruise might be an inviting short-term splurge, it might not seem like as much fun when the mortgage is due or the tuition bill arrives in the mailbox, now or even 10 years from now.

Hit “refresh”

A Pew Research Center study found that what Americans like most about the holiday season is spending time with family and friends, while commercialism, spending too much money and shopping in overcrowded stores ranked as the most disliked aspects.3 The bottom line? You’re in control of your experience and can use your creativity and the tips shared here to lighten and brighten your holidays. Just hit the refresh button and begin!

Learn more and take action

Making a budget — and sticking to it — can be especially important during the holidays. Visit Better Money Habits for budgeting tips.


1 National Retail Federation, "2018 Holiday Sales Grew 2.9 Percent Amid Turmoil Over Trade Policy and Delay in Data Collection," February 2019.

2 National Retail Federation, "Consumers Will Spend 4.1 Percent More Than Last Year During Winter Holidays," October 2018.

3 Pew Research Center, "Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now," December 2013.


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