How To Afford the Holidays When You’re Single

Woman ordering Christmas gifts using smartphone and credit card. Online shopping during holidays stock photo
Poike / iStock.com

Every psychologist in America knows that the holidays have a way of reminding single people that they’re single. And, trudging through the celebrations stag can tax your finances as much as your emotions.

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One person means one income, and your holiday expenses don’t magically drop by 50% just because you have half as much money coming in as a working couple.

“The holiday season is the time of year when people are generally more stressed than usual,” said financial planner Lauren Flanagan of Zynergy Retirement Planning. “As a single individual navigating the holidays on one income, there are many things to think about and plan for, because if you’re not careful, you’ll overspend fast.”

You don’t have to, though. Going into the season with the right frame of mind and the right strategies can leave you in a better spot than if your RSVPs were plus-one. Here are some tips to save if your single during the holidays.

Keep This in Mind: It Can Pay To Be Single

Whether you’re single by choice or by circumstance, rolling solo offers plenty of upside when it comes to holiday spending. So before you sulk, remember that couples — and especially couples with kids — face financial stresses of all sorts during the winter celebrations that you don’t have to worry about.

Make Your Money Work for You

“One of the big advantages that you have as a single person around the holidays is that your baseline costs are lower,” said Melanie Hanson, editor-in-chief of EDI Refinance. “You probably have fewer people on your gift list, you’re unlikely to be hosting any parties, and if you are traveling, you can more easily stay with relatives instead of paying for accommodations. Maximizing these advantages can be a key to surviving the holidays on a tight budget.”

Map Out Your Expenses Before You Start Spending

“Holiday spending” is a big concept that’s easy to lose track of when you’re the only one keeping tabs. The trick is to break it down into manageable chunks that you can monitor at a glance.

“Break down your categories, set budgets for each, and stick to those limits,” said Anthony Martin, founder and CEO of Choice Mutual. “You will likely have many categories on your holiday list — gifts, cards, decorations, food, etc. It’s essential that you set limits on what you want to spend on each category and then stick to that limit. You should track all your categories and keep each of them within a set budget. If you do this, you will be much more successful and keep your spending within your budget in every area.”

Make Your Money Work for You

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So, when you’re working with only one income, what, exactly, should that spending limit be?

“A good rule of thumb: Spend no more than 1% of your total annual income on holiday-related expenses,” said Jason Vissers, a financial analyst with MerchantMaverick.com.

Have Open and Honest Conversations

The people you’re close to are probably aware that you’re going it alone. If they’re worth celebrating with, then they surely want to help you get through it. So, before the group starts solidifying plans and buying presents, have a talk about your situation and the limitations it imposes.

“Get together with your family, friends and colleagues and agree on a limit to be spent on gifts,” said Colin Palfrey, chief marketing officer of Crediful. “Remember that you are not expected to get a gift for everyone you know and that no one expects you to go into debt buying them a gift.”

Several experts also suggest buying a single gift for a family instead of one for each person.

Make Your Money Work for You

It’s not just the presents, though. Everything about the season is more expensive for singles. So if you’re an individual, don’t feel obligated to spend like you’re a couple. For example, if you go out to dinner with two married siblings, ask to split the bill five ways, not three.

Leverage Your Talents

Kids want toys from a store, but in other cases, you can take the price of a gift all the way down to zero with a bit of imagination and creativity.

“Use your talents,” said Lauren Keys, founder of Trip of a Lifestyle. “Whether that’s baking desserts, recording music, painting, photography, or even just curating an awesome playlist of new music, giving a meaningful gift can help you show your loved ones just how much you care without maxing out your credit cards to prove it.”

Keep Things in Perspective

Whether you love being single or loathe it, the financial stress that comes with surviving the season alone can make you long for spring — but don’t lose sight of why we have holidays in the first place. 

“Finally, try to enjoy the season,” said Flanagan. “Don’t get too caught up in the materialistic aspects of gift-giving. The holidays are about spending time with loved ones and creating memories, not about how much money you spend on presents.”

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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