Many people would agree that the pandemic was the most challenging time of their life. This is especially true for those who have experienced illness, death, unemployment, and financial insecurity as a result of the ongoing pandemic. With impacts on many aspects of daily living, it is no surprise that COVID-19 is also affecting holiday planning, shopping, and celebrations.

A Creative, Consumer-Savvy, COVID-19-Centric Holiday. Maintain your personal well-being (both financially and otherwise) with these 12 recommendations for your COVID-19 holiday planning. #CentSai #financialplanning #personalfinancetips #frugality

I recently attended a virtual holiday party with former co-workers at Rutgers University, a #creditchat Twitter chat, and a webinar about safe, frugal, and fun ways to celebrate the holidays. Below are 12 key takeaways:

Meet Virtually

Celebrate the holidays within your immediate household “bubble” (i.e., people who live together) and connect with friends and family members “on the outside” via phone calls and online platforms. My family, for example, is holding a virtual get-together on Zoom complete with an ugly sweater cookie contest.

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Set a Virtual Meeting Agenda  

Formulate some key discussion topics to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in a large virtual family gathering. My family is using a “3-2-1” format for our agenda: three good things that happened during the pandemic, two things for which they are grateful, and one thing they plan to do over the holidays.

Limit Indoor Risks

Wear a mask indoors (except while eating/drinking) if you do interact with people outside your “bubble.” Admittedly, this could be very awkward and raise “issues” with others who have a different stance on mask-wearing.  Another option is to meet outdoors, but this is difficult in most of the United States now, even with heat lamps and fire pits.

Plan Fun Virtual Activities 

Examples include virtual singing/karaoke, an ugly sweater contest, a secret Santa drawing (to determine for whom to buy a virtual gift card), a talent showcase, a holiday toast, and watching the same movie/show (e.g., the Trans-Siberian Orchestra livestream) while texting or chatting commentary.

Know Your Spending Triggers

Determine what causes you to overspend so you can “check” yourself. Examples include advertising (e.g., television, newspapers, and social media), social pressure, guilt about keeping gifts “even” for everyone, using plastic (i.e., credit and debit cards) instead of cash, and getting caught up in holiday season euphoria.

Bestow Frugal Gifts 

Develop a holiday budget and stick to it.

Give frugal gifts if money is especially tight.

Examples include baked goods, crafts, masks, food baskets, and new or nearly new items purchased at thrift shops. Another option is anything that you can buy for free with cash-back rewards points (i.e., “free money”) earned on a credit card.

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Give Time and Experiences

Work around COVID-19 restrictions with “gift cards” for services and shared experiences. Examples include “socially distanced pizza and a movie,” home-cooked meal delivery, and free services including pet-walking, snow removal, and lawn mowing. Other examples are a special poem, video, or song for a gift recipient.

Find Holiday Sales 

Follow favorite retailers on social media for flash sale news and special promo codes. Some frequently recommended sites for online shopping that surface frequently in surveys include Amazon, Rakuten, Snapdeal, Dosh, and Ibotta. On December 26, buy marked-down holiday items for use in the future.

Regift Carefully 

Consider regifting holiday gifts if they are in good condition and you will be regifting in a different social circle than the original gift giver — otherwise, things could get awkward. Reasons to recycle a gift include something that does not fit or is the wrong style or something you won’t use, eat, or wear due to personal preferences.

Understand Persuasive Marketing Tactics

Beware of three common techniques that marketers use to persuade people to buy things: 

  1. Social Proof, aka, “groupthink” (e.g., “everyone is buying this so it must be great”)
  2. Scarcity (e.g., “only X left in stock” or “this offer expires in 10 minutes”)
  3. Authority (making references to well-known people).

Make COVID-19 Adjustments 

Consider shifting savings from events that won’t happen (e.g., holiday travel and office or organization holiday parties) and smaller meals to other holiday expenses (e.g., larger gifts for family members who are experiencing financial distress) and/or philanthropy.

Set Gifting Expectations 

Discuss realistic expectations for holiday gifts with children and other family members. Though television ads often equate expensive presents with love (e.g., couples buying each other cars), the best gift of all is love. Thoughtful gifts do not need to be expensive.

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