Surviving Christmas as a Paycheck to Paycheck Mom

I am a broke mom. I am typically robbing Peter to pay Paul, picking up odd jobs to bring in a little extra cash, and saying no when my kids ask for luxury items like Ugg boots and Hibachi dinners. For a log time, I felt a tremendous amount of self-pity. I wanted to keep up with the Joneses and allowed my finances to dictate my mom-worth. But oh, how I have grown over the years. I have adopted an attitude of gratitude for health, and happiness, and three teenagers who say I love you every single day to me, their broke mom.  So many Christmases were spent stressing over money, presents, and material things. I missed out on love, light and celebration because I was too busy trying to give my kids everything that could fit under the tree. 

I now focus more on the non-material aspects of the holiday, but I am still human and  a mom of 3. A mom who wants to make Christmas morning magical. But these years, I am committed to waking up on December 26th without a spending-hangover and debt that can’t be paid. 

Over the years (and there have been 19 of them to be exact!), I have learned a thing or two about beating the (gift-giving) system. If there is one thing I know about us broke moms, its that we are resourceful, resilient and oh-so creative. So, here are my holiday spending hacks. Follow one or follow all to ensure that you wake up on December 26th guilt-free:

Ask for (and Accept) Help

Some years when money was really, really tight or non-existent even. I have indeed asked for help—from family, from friends, and yes, even from social services. Its certainly humbling, but guess what? It’s also magical to see the generosity and selflessness of others. A little help can go a long way and there should be no shame in that game. A quick call to your local social services can let you know what resources are available—e.g., gift cards, groceries, presents for children, and even Christmas trees and decorations. It can lighten your overall burden and make you feel less alone. And, really, what says holiday spirit better than humans helping humans?

Buy Now, Pay Later

Proceed with caution here because anyone with good financial literacy will advise against spending money you don’t have— but omg these sites have saved me a million times. Afterpay is my personal favorite and allows me to splurge on things I couldn’t otherwise afford. This year, my girls are obsessed with every pair of flare leggings at Aerie and it must be their lucky day because—ding, ding, ding—they take Afterpay! As an extra bonus I got all three of us matching pajamas, so be on the lookout for that cute picture (as if my teens would ever pose with their mom). Afterpay (Affirm and Sezzle are similar) allows me to pay in convenient installments over a 6-week period and they only perform a soft credit check (if I can pass, anyone can!). The best part is that there is no interest if you make all of your payments on time. Just be sure to create a conservative budget for yourself and stick to it!

Be Creative

Some of the best gifts cost nothing at all (or less than $20). I have given my kids coupon books for things like breakfast-in-bed, a ten-minute massage (performed by me), or an extra hour of TV time. For less than $20, you can frame their artwork, turn their favorite photo into a poster, or turn your favorite photos into a calendar for grandparents. I am also a big fan of gifting magazine subscriptions and other monthly subscriptions as these allow me to break-up payments throughout the year. My oldest loved getting a sock of the month club subscription and my youngest is obsessed with I’m the Chef, too (they use stem based concepts to create cooking recipes for kids of all ages). Tap into your creative juices and spend less.

Give Now, Experience Later

Even if you cut every financial corner in December, money is sure to be tight. If you are fortunate enough to have a bonus in your near future or simply a few extra bucks come February, plan a trip to a sports game or museum for the Spring, but gift it on Christmas. It’ll give you ample time to plan and save and you can wrap-up brochures, pictures or an itinerary for your kids to open on Christmas morning. Let them get involved in the planning and enjoy the anticipation of “unwrapping” this gift after the holidays have passed.

Remember What You’ve Forgotten

Here’s the thing: Christmas isn’t about gifts, or the piles under the tree or the unwrapping. Every parent knows that and I am pretty sure most kids know it, too. Now that I’m a parent, I try to remind my kids and myself what the holiday is really about. But if I’m being honest, I also want to shop for them and to gift them with things they want and will love. My kids are so damn wonderful and patient and understanding all year long when they hear the words no, I just don’t have the money… So, on Christmas, I want to splurge. But I don’t want to raise kids who associate Christmas with money and gifts above anything else. And I don’t want my holiday to be full of anxiety or mounting debt. I simply want to make the tradition of opening gifts on Christmas morning as magical for my kids as the rest of the season is. I always have and I always will.


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