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How to have affordable family get-togethers

We consider ways to create festive family get-togethers that don’t leave you out of pocket for the holidays.

1 December 2022 · Fiona Zerbst

How to have affordable family get-togethers

The festive season is cherished as a time of relaxation, togetherness and celebration. However, it can be anything but, for those of us burdened by financial stress.

Family get-togethers can be especially trying if relatives spare no expense to create the "perfect" Christmas or New Year event, buying expensive gifts and serving lavish meals.

We consider ways to create memorable family get-togethers that don’t leave you out of pocket for the holidays.

Tip: If debt is taking all the fun out of the festive season, consider debt consolidation. Find out more here.  

Avoid psychological stress

“The simple act of giving a gift or hosting a Christmas meal can present psychological pitfalls, and cause a lot of stress,” says psychologist Quinton Williams.

“At this time of year, it’s important to have realistic expectations, and not be left with the anxiety of festive-season debt. There is no long-term benefit to overextending yourself to influence what others think of you.”

Manager and events planner Donya Kelly Maasdorp says social media can play a harmful role in this regard.

“We live more for likes and online recognition than creating happiness for the people who really matter,” she says. “Social pressure means we don’t want to be seen to have financial constraints.”

The best way to avoid stress, she says, is to ask each family member or household to make a small contribution to a gathering. “It’s simply no longer feasible for one family to cater for an entire get-together,” she says.

Williams says you don’t have to spend a fortune to show people you care about them. If you’re pressured to contribute more than you can, something is amiss.

“To realise your sense of self-worth, it’s important to accept you are more than your material or financial contribution,” he says. “Your worth is the culmination of contributions made over a lifetime, not the gifts you give on a single day.”

Focus on what really matters

Financial adviser Traci Porter says Christmas is a time for gratitude for her and her family, as they live distantly and don’t see each other often.

“After the main meal on Christmas Day, we all name the things we are grateful for, and focus on our faith,” she says.

“At the outset, we set boundaries and discuss how to share the costs of food, gifts, water, electricity and petrol so we can budget accordingly for our get-together. Each person buys one gift for an amount decided beforehand, so everyone receives something.

Last year, we made our own crackers with a little memento inside, along with a note of appreciation. We save money by not buying crackers, which usually just get discarded.”

How to save on food

Marketing and events consultant and single mum Venessa Lees says keeping costs low should be a priority during the festive season.

“If you’re catering for a lot of people, you don’t need to cook a big meal – burgers on the braai are inexpensive if you buy in bulk. Kids love them, and you can serve lots of healthy greens on the side,” she recommends.

Maasdorp says it’s a good idea to buy food items that are on special and plan a festive menu around those, rather than hunting for the perfect ingredients.

If you’re thinking of hiring a venue for a big family gathering, negotiate a per-head amount, rather than asking for a total cost for venue hire and catering. “Determine the minimum spend, and tip the staff if you receive great service,” she advises.

“Since the pandemic, people are very open to negotiating, as they need business. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for a discount.”

How to save on gifts

Lees recommends making a list and shopping online, so you’re not tempted to overspend on items you see in-store.

Maasdorp says a current trend is to give a hamper of small gifts that have personal appeal.

“It can be fun to look for little presents according to a list that includes your friend’s favourite colour, drink and snack, along with something useful, something to do together, or something that reminds you of each other,” she says.

Alternatively, make a gift – everyone loves baked goods, homemade art, or framed photos of family and friends.

“Above all, don’t take out loans to buy gifts and spend months paying them off,” she says. “It’s just not worth it.”

Tip: Festive-spending debt can hurt your credit score. Find out what your score is here.

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