How to Stretch Your Budget for the 4 Most-Expensive Holidays

Creative strategies on how to celebrate without draining your wallet.

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“Not another holiday,” moaned a co-worker. “I just spent all my money on St. Patrick’s Day. I hope my next paycheck stretches far enough for some candy for the kids.”

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JP
It’s easy to forget about holidays when you put together a monthly budget, but if you take a look at a calendar, you’ll notice most months have them. Unfortunately, celebration is rarely cheap. Christmas can easily add up to hundreds of dollars. Even the meager corned beef, cabbage and pint of Irish stout for St. Patrick’s Day means a larger-than-average grocery bill.

Some holidays tend to cost more than others, and for different reasons. However, there are four that drain the wallet more than the others. Taming these celebration budgets requires an understanding of why they cost so much.

Christmas. Christmas is expensive for one reason: Santa Claus. He isn’t real. If he were, you wouldn’t be spending an average of nearly $550 on gifts and almost $750 total, according to a 2012 estimate by the National Retail Federation. The sad reality of a world without St. Nick makes Christmas the most expensive holiday by far.

How to rescue your Christmas budget. Saving money on Christmas is all about your skills at shopping for Christmas gifts. Gifts make up nearly three-quarters of the average budget, which means big savings on your overall spending if you know how to shop. Luckily, the golden rule to gift shopping is simple: start early. Those who start Christmas shopping months in advance tend to stick to their budgets. That’s because early-bird Christmas shoppers have time to wait for sales and coupons that can add up to big savings on such a large budget.

Mother’s Day. Mom is a big deal, and our budgets reflect our appreciation by making the second Sunday in May the second most-expensive holiday. The average budget for Mother’s Day is a little more than $150, with more than 85 percent of Americans who celebrate the holiday. Last year, more than $18 billion was spent on Mom, according to the National Retail Federation.

How to rescue your Mother’s Day budget. The holiday tends to be all about two large purchases: jewelry and brunch. Americans spend nearly an average total of $60 for these two items. Fathers and older children like to make Mom feel precious with precious metals and jewels. However, keeping your budget manageable will be about shopping the jewelry sales ahead of time and avoiding a full-price purchase. Years ago, families had few options on brunch prices. However, restaurants in recent years have been turning to coupon and group discounts for foot traffic. These discounts are viable solutions to the hefty price of most Mother’s Day brunches.

Easter. Empty plastic eggs aren’t expensive—that is, until you start filling them with money from your wallet. The upcoming Easter holiday takes third place on the list of most-expensive holidays. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American is budgeting more than $145 this year.

How to rescue your Easter budget. Most holidays have one or two items that tend to inflate the average budget. The Easter meal is clearly the biggest expense, at about $45. However, candy, gifts and clothing add up to nearly $70. While there are a lot of Easter traditions that can quickly drain your checkbook, there are a number of frugal ideas to keep costs down. You could try making your own candy this year, shop thrift stores for Easter dress accessories and make your own gifts. Homemade meals easily cost less than taking the family out.

Valentine’s Day. Money can’t buy you love, but that doesn’t mean love is cheap. With an average budget slightly more than $130, Valentine’s Day takes the fourth on the list of the most-expensive holidays. Cupid might be aiming while blindfolded, but he seemingly always hits people in the wallet.

How to rescue your Valentine’s Day budget. Valentine’s Day wouldn’t rate as an expensive holiday if it weren’t for the fact that many beaus are headed to the jewelry store. The average guy looking to purchase jewelry spends more than $120 on shiny gems and metal. Like Christmas, the secret to Valentine’s Day spending is an early start. The good news about Valentine’s Day is that it’s the first major consumer holiday after Christmas. Thanks to the large Christmas splurge, retailers usually turn into ghost towns in January. Holiday close-outs are the best opportunities for deal shopping. The only thing you need to do is plan early.

The bottom line: A holiday budget is only as good as how creative your savings strategies are.

JP is a writer for the money blog 20's Finances. He is an MBA and the financial officer for a nonprofit organization.