I don’t spend much on Christmas gifts, but there are 5 holiday expenses I won’t compromise on

The author’s dogs, ready for the holidays. Courtesy Kelly Burch

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year – until you take an honest look at your bank account.

This year, Americans are expected to spend more than $US900 each on holiday gifts, and those who travel will spend nearly $US1,500 more. That can have a huge impact on your financial well-being.

That’s why I’ve taken steps to scale back my holiday spending. My husband and I buy fewer gifts for our children, and instead of buying gifts for extended family we’ve created a unique holiday tradition that also saves us money.

Still, I’m someone who absolutely adores Christmas. The lights, the songs, and the traditions bring me so much joy. Because of that, there are certain Christmas traditions that I gladly spend money on year after year.

Here are the holiday expenses that I won’t compromise on:


The author’s daughters. Courtesy Kelly Burch

One reason I love Christmas so much is because it’s the perfect excuse to spend time with friends and family. Unfortunately, that can be hard for me, since my extended family lives in many states and continents. I live in New Hampshire, but my mother’s large extended family lives in Illinois.

So, each year, I pack up my kids, kiss my husband goodbye, and fly to Illinois to participate in a Christmas weekend with the extended family. Usually, this happens in early December. This year, it will cost about $US700 for my two daughters and me to fly out for family Christmas.

That’s a lot of money. However, every single penny is worth it. My older daughter, who is 5, is already excited to get to Illinois to see her cousins. She gets to help my grandmother decorate her Christmas tree.

Enhancing my family relationships and seeing them blossom in the next generation is well worth the expense.

The tree

The cutest present under the tree. Courtesy Kelly Burch

You know how some people go nuts over Christmas presents? That’s the way I feel about the tree.

For the six weeks or so that I have a Christmas tree up, I smile each and every time I walk by. That amount of joy is worth investing in, I think.

Finding the Perfect Tree™ is a mission that I delve into with crisp specifications and a flexible budget. Since I live in the middle of the forest, I can get a great tree for under $US80.

If I had to spend more, however, I definitely would. When I lived in Australia, it was nearly impossible to find a live tree.

There was one store in the city that I lived in that sold fir frees. I trekked there and spent about $US150 on a tiny tree and stand. I knew that I was making an absurd indulgence, but that tree brought a little bit of my New England roots to my tropical Australian Christmas.


The author and her family on The Polar Express train trip. Courtesy Kelly Burch

I’m 30 years old and still adore Christmas. However, the holiday is especially magical for young kids. When you believe in the magic of Santa, the holidays are extra enchanted.

Right now, my daughters are 5 and 1. I know that I have precious few years where they will be squealing with delight at meeting the guy in the big red suit and wondering whether he is the real Santa.

That’s why I prioritise spending on Christmas experiences, especially while my kids are young. This year, I spent $US253 for myself, my daughter, my husband, and my mother-in-law to go on a Polar Express train ride.

That price tag stung. I left the tab open on my computer for a day, trying to convince myself that it was too much to spend on a silly train ride. And yet, it wasn’t.

When I buy experiences like The Polar Express, I’m investing in a fun day out for our family, but also in creating memories and traditions that we’ll appreciate for years to come.

Christmas baking

The author’s daughters hard at work. Courtesy Kelly Burch

Anyone who bakes a lot of Christmas cookies will tell you that this hobby can get pretty pricey. It’s not unusual for me to spend $US100 or more on ingredients that I’m only going to use once a year.

And yet, I don’t stop. I love the process of baking cookies with my children, and having the sweet smell of the holidays fill our house.

I love passing on bags of homemade cookies to friends, family, and coworkers. No one ever frowns when you hand them a bag of fresh holiday cookies, so making the treat is well worth the time and money invested.

Giving back

A visit with Santa. Courtesy Kelly Burch

My husband and I try not to spend much money on presents for our children, because really, they have everything they need. However, my extended family and I spend a few hundred dollars each year purchasing Christmas gifts for people in need.

I thoroughly enjoy knowing that we’re helping another family have a brighter Christmas. This is also a great way to get my daughters involved and teach them about the holiday spirit and giving back to others.

It’s easy to go wild with holiday spending. Then, you hit January and wonder where all that money went.

By taking a moment to be more mindful of your holiday spending, you can make sure you’re putting your money in the places that matter most to you. That’s a holiday wish worth pursuing.