Nearly a third of people don’t include holiday costs in their budget, according to the 2016 Cost of Holidays Survey by Care.com. Of those that do, nearly half spend more than they expect to. The holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving through Christmas — or beyond, depending on what holiday traditions you follow — can end up costing four figures or more. The average consumer doles out $1,226 for holiday spending, according to the 2017 holiday survey by Deloitte Research. The number increases by another $1,000 for households bringing in more than $100,000.
If you’ve been tempted to just skip it all this year, you might want to go with your gut. Check out how much the holidays really drain your wallet and what you could be doing instead.
Hosting Thanksgiving or Christmas Dinner
Cost: $160 for eight people
If you enjoy family holidays with an old-fashioned turkey dinner and all the fixings, you could make it yourself for about $50 for a group of 10, according to Farm Journal’s AgWeb. The price takes into account the traditional turkey, stuffing and dinner rolls with butter as well as traditional side dishes that include sweet potatoes, carrots and celery, peas, cranberries and pumpkin pie. If you don’t want to go through days of cooking and cleanup, only to be exhausted by the time you sit down to dinner, order a ready-made meal for eight people from Whole Foods for $160. The price includes 10 pounds of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, herb stuffing, cranberry orange sauce and creamed spinach and kale.
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Do This Instead: Have a Romantic Dinner for Two
Cost: $130 for two, plus tax and gratuity
Skip the uncomfortable interaction with distant relatives you only see once a year, and use the money you’d spend on buying Thanksgiving dinner for a special meal for just the two of you. For example, in Los Angeles, the Napa Valley Grille’s Thanksgiving dinner offers a prix fixe menu that includes things like fairytale pumpkin soup, butternut squash ravioli, and prime New York steak. Follow it up with jazz apple-cranberry cobbler, pecan cheesecake or pumpkin bread pudding.
Flying Home for the Holidays
Cost: $325 for a round-trip ticket
Take a plane home to see the folks and your holiday travel round trip ticket will cost you an average of $325 this year, according to Hopper Research’s Holiday Travel Index for 2017. The price is up from $288 last year. You’ll pay an average of $54 more if you want to fly the day before Thanksgiving rather than on the morning of the holiday itself, and returning home on Sunday is $161 more expensive than spending the whole week and returning the following Wednesday.
Do This Instead: Fly Away to Europe
Cost: $381 for a Chicago to London ticket
For about the same price that you’ll pay to fly cross-country to listen to the same stories Uncle Bob tells every Thanksgiving, you could be jetting off on a European getaway. Prices are amazingly cheap at the end of the month: Fly from Chicago to London for $381, head to Barcelona from Los Angeles for $410, or escape New York City bound for Rome for $463, according to FareCompare.com.
Buying Christmas Gifts
More than 81 percent of the respondents to Deloitte’s 2017 holiday survey report that their financial situation is as good or better than it was this time last year. As a result, significantly more shoppers are planning to buy holiday gifts like jewelry, fragrances and luxury health and beauty products. The Deloitte Holiday Insights report revealed that people plan to spend $430 this year on Christmas gifts, nearly a third of their total holiday budget.
Although 51 percent of Christmas shoppers don’t use money-saving tactics, according to the Care.com survey, where you shop when buying can make a difference in your wallet. Chicago’s magical Magnificent Mile, its vibrant neighborhood shopping districts and its numerous holiday markets provide the ultimate holiday shopping adventure, but you’ll pay extra for the experience. Kiwi.com’s Christmas Price Index shows Chicago is the most expensive place in the country to shop, followed by Los Angeles and New York City.
Do This Instead: See Beyoncé at Coachella
Cost: $429 for a weekend pass
Beyoncé canceled her appearance as the headline act at Coachella in 2017 after announcing that she was pregnant with twins, but she’s on tap as a headliner for the two-weekend music festival in April 2018. $429 will get you a general admission ticket for the weekend of your choice, making it a great alternative to forking out cash for obligatory gifts. And you can always raise extra dough for your trip by returning or selling the unwanted gifts you receive for the holidays.
Buying Holiday Decor and Outfits
Americans plan to spend about $95 decking out their homes with Christmas decorations, and another $134 on holiday clothing for themselves and their family.
While ugly sweater parties might have started with thrift store finds, today ugly sweaters are a retail genre of their own. Retailers offer classics like Christmas present and holiday lights sweaters, or more modern creations like an Obama Claus “Miss Me Yet?” sweater, Mermanta Santa and a customizable nativity scene, each for about $65. Fortunately, if you’re really into ugly Christmas sweaters, you can make your own for cheap.
Holiday ornaments to commemorate 2017 are also a must-have for holiday decor. This year you’ll find West Elm selections based on favorite Instagram pets like White Coffee Cat, Cleo the Bunny and Juniper Foxx for $9 each. Of course, you’ll need a tree to hang them on; in most areas you need to budget $51 for a live tree, or at least $69 for an artificial one, based on consumer survey results by the National Christmas Tree Association.
Do This Instead: Get a Smart TV
You could add just a bit of cash to the average decorating and holiday apparel budget, and buy something for your home that you’ll appreciate all year long, like the latest 32-40-inch smart TV. Amazon offers several smart TV models with energy-efficient features to save you money all year long, and smart features let you stream content from your smartphone or tablet. Once your new TV is installed, cue up a holiday classic on Netflix, or get all the holiday ambiance you need with the “Fireplace for Your Home” show. The “Crackling Yule Fireplace” episode even adds cheery Christmas tunes in the background. And forget about the wardrobe budget. Snuggle up in your bathrobe for the occasion or splurge on a new set of comfy holiday pajamas.
Throwing a Holiday Party
If you love seeing all your friends dressed up in ugly holiday sweaters or their fanciest holiday duds, you might be tempted to throw a Christmas bash. Deloitte holiday survey respondents reported that planning a party scoops an average of about $172 from their holiday budgets. The price can go up if you’re supplying an open bar, which will tack on another $200 or more.
Do This Instead: Stargaze at Death Valley National Park
Cost: Free + Hotel
Take the party to the skies when you head to Death Valley National Park, the largest Dark Sky National Park in the U.S. Check out star parties and viewing opportunities at the Oasis at Death Valley resort in the park for the Geminids Meteor Shower Dec. 17, or the Ursids Meteor Shower Dec. 17-25. The new moon and winter solstice on Dec. 21 create some of the most astounding skies of the year. Stand amazed as you witness the Milky Way glimmering overhead, or plan to visit just after New Year’s to see the Quadrantids meteor shower, an above-average display that will peak on Jan. 3. You might even get a chance to see Death Valley’s moving rocks — a must-see natural phenomenon.
Taking Christmas Week Off
Unless you’re taking paid vacation time, holiday pay or other paid time off to play hooky from work on Christmas week, you could be stealing a significant chunk from your bank account. That weeklong vacation to visit Grandma not only costs the price of travel, but time lost from work as well. At the median household income cited by the U.S. Census Bureau of $56,516, a 40-hour work week is equivalent to $1,087.
If your business is exceptionally busy during the holidays and you opt to work overtime, you could get paid up to 1.5 times for every hour you work, or about $41 per hour for the median worker. That adds up to $326 if you put in 8 hours of overtime Christmas week. Working Christmas Day could also mean double pay, adding up to a $435 day. Altogether, you might earn as much as $1,848 working over Christmas week and earning extra cash.
Do This Instead: Take a Hawaiian Vacation
Cost: $1,410 for two
Go ahead and work as much as you can during Christmas week, and save your vacation for after New Year’s when you can find all-inclusive travel deals that cost less than what you’d rake in during that single week. For instance, check out Delta Vacations’ Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach deal. The $705 per-person special includes flights from Los Angeles, two nights at a hotel, a rental car and all taxes. The resort is just across the street from the beach and less than a half-mile from Waikiki landmarks like the Honolulu Zoo and Kapiolani Regional Park.
Seeing Plays and Christmas Shows
Cost: $399 for two
Christmas is a season of extravagance, and it’s not unusual to find your bank account shrinking as the month progresses. Consider that a ticket to see the Nutcracker ballet can cost as much as $113 in San Francisco, according to Kiwi.com, over $20 more than the next most expensive city. Add on the costs of parking and dinner or drinks, and your entertainment budget will feel it.
Do This Instead: Buy Broadway in Chicago Season Tickets
Cost: $392 for two
For the price of just a few shows and other holiday revelry, you could become a season ticket holder for Broadway in Chicago. See Broadway blockbusters and original productions appearing on stages that include the Goodman Theater, Lookingglass Theatre, Victory Gardens and more. Catch matinees on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or evening shows on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Sundays for $196 per person for season tickets. Depending on where you choose to sit, you could save more than 50 percent on your show tickets.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Style
Cost: $1,800 for a table for two at Times Square
It won’t cost you a thing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Times Square to watch the famous ball drop. But if standing in place for nine hours or more without access to restrooms, food or midnight champagne isn’t your bottle of bubbly, you can end up digging deep into your pockets. Spend the night dancing, watching movies and noshing on hors d’oeuvres on six floors of fun at the AMC 42nd Street Times Square New Year’s Eve, and you’ll spend $1,800 for tickets for you and your sweetie. You’ll get access to festivities on all six floors and a private table for two with midnight champagne toast with the best views of the ball drop.
Do This Instead: Take a Four-Day Cruise to the Bahamas
Cost: $1,400 for two
For the cost of a glamorous New Year’s Eve out in Times Square, you can ring in the New Year for days on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas, and still have $400 left over. Trade the wall-to-wall crowds in New York City for lazy days swimming with the dolphins on Grand Bahama Island, snorkeling in Nassau, paddling a kayak in a Lucayan National Park, and parasailing in Great Stirrup Cay. Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship the Norwegian Sky sails from Miami on Dec. 29 and returns Jan. 2, 2018, and the price includes a free open bar.