The holidays are an expensive time for everyone – holiday travel, gifts, food, booze and festive clothes can break the bank for even the most frugal. But December can be especially financially brutal for single people, says Carey Purcell, writing for the Washington Post. This is in large part because single people are generally shouldering their living expenses alone, rather than splitting them with a partner, which obviously reduces their disposable income at holiday-time. But, as Purcell points out, it’s also due to differing expectations for singles than for partnered people.
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If you’re unmarried you might, for example, be expected to travel to your siblings’ or parents’ homes rather than them coming to you. Couples with kids have an extra trump card in that they can claim travelling as a family is too expensive or difficult, and so shift that time-and-money burden on their single family members.
Now, not every single is a low earner and not every partnered person is a high earner (though on a macro level that is somewhat true; Purcell points out that on average single people make less than marrieds and rate themselves as less financially secure). But there are ways to protect your wallet if you’re single and don’t want to tap in to your January grocery budget to get through December. For some ideas on how to enjoy the season but stay in the black, I reached out to Bella DePaulo, the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.
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Think Togetherness, Not Gifts
“For people who live far away from each other, instead of buying the gifts, put the money into a fund that can be used to help pay for the travel expenses of the person who does the travelling,” she said via email. If the goal is for the whole family to get together, but that goal puts disproportionate strain on the person travelling, perhaps the plane ticket/rental car can be split among family members in lieu of gifts.
Give a Gift Per Family, Not Per Person
A single colleague here at Lifehacker laid out how many gifts she gives to her sibling and the sibling’s family, and she was giving about twice as many gifts as she was getting. (Part of this may be that couples tend to give gifts as a unit, because they have two families to give to.)
Now, while exchanging gifts is not about keeping score, if you’re trying to stick to a budget, consider giving one gift per family: Something consumable, or an experience that the whole family can enjoy. Or limit the exchange to gifts for kids only.
Share Hosting Duties
If you’ve wanted to host your own holiday parties but have been put off by the expense, try co-hosting a shindig. You and a pal can split the cost of booze and canapés and double the numbers of potential new friends in one fell swoop. At the very least you can make your annual Christmakkuh bash a potluck or a BYOB to reduce the chances of a financial hangover.
Chip in Equitably, Not Evenly
Say you’re a single person with two married siblings, and you’d all like to go in on a big gift for Mum and Dad this holiday season. Instead of splitting the gift three ways, split it five ways – divide the cost of the gift among the working adults in each household. That way the single sibling isn’t paying the same amount as his sisters, who share their expenses with their spouses and presumably have a little more scratch to spare. (Naturally, your mileage may vary depending on your family’s circumstances – if the single sibling is a hedge-fund manager and the married siblings are teachers, your calculation will shift.)
Give (Free) Experiences Instead of Things
Dr DePaulo suggests arranging free or low-cost experiences for your family during the holidays: “For example, I live near a seal sanctuary. An annual outing there could turn into a nice tradition and it doesn’t cost a thing. I bet there are possibilities like that in many (though perhaps not all) places.” I like to keep my eye out for free days at museums or free tickets to concerts and snag them as gifts – they cost me nothing but effort and still allow me to spend time with my family and friends doing something special. I’m still nominally the “host”. (I treat for hot chocolate.)
Ask Everyone to Come to You
If you don’t want to travel, you can offer to host, but that obviously comes with its own financial obligations – and you may find the plane ticket to be cheaper than champagne and dinner for everyone over the course of the celebration. In the long run, it’s probably best to have a frank conversation with your loved ones about what everyone can and can’t afford so that no one feels overly burdened. After all, you may find that that you prefer to travel, even if it costs you a bit more: If you don’t check a bag, you can’t bring too many gifts.