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Unaffordable Utah: Keep the holiday magic alive without breaking the bank

Nov 10, 2022, 11:02 PM | Updated: Nov 11, 2022, 9:45 am

RIVERTON, Utah — From the Thanksgiving turkey to the presents under the tree, the holidays are expected to be more expensive this year.

The 2022 holiday season approaches just as families are struggling with persistently high inflation and starting to run out of extra cash accumulated during the pandemic.

“We have no savings—gathering a lot of consumer credit,” said Utah Valley University professor of finance Cary Wasden. “Our wages are not keeping up with inflation.”

The latest Consumer Price Index showed inflation for October clocking in at 7.7% compared to a year earlier.

Utah and other Mountain West states experienced an even higher inflation rate of 9.3% in October, which is more than four times the target of 2%.

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner will be about 13.5% more expensive than last year, according to analytics firm IRI’s Thanksgiving Tracker.

Watch for discounts

Even with dwindling savings and higher prices, Wasden said the good news is that shoppers can expect to see a lot of sales this holiday shopping season and that the discounts will come earlier in the season.

“Retailers are coming out saying, ‘We have got so much stuff. We’re going to have to discount to get through it,’” he said. “We’re going to get some serious discounting.”

Watching for sales is one way to stretch a holiday budget just as gas, groceries, utilities and activities for the kids are all adding up for Utah households.

“Eating out is something that we’ve definitely had to cut back on,” said Zoie Farmer, of Riverton. “We just are really careful about where we go and where we spend our money.”

With five kids, Farmer said her family is definitely feeling the weight of inflation.

“Probably about 25% to 30% more,” she said about the added expenses to her family’s budget. “That’s a big increase for a family of our size.”

Focus on traditions

Despite rising prices, Farmer said her family is ready for a season full of cherished memories thanks to a change in focus made years ago.

“Christmas, for us, it means serving. It means family. And all those things can be accomplished without spending a ton of money,” Farmer said.

Farmer said Christmas changed forever 10 years ago when her oldest son, Hyrum, was diagnosed with biphenotypic leukemia while the family lived away from relatives.

“He was diagnosed Dec. 20, so just a few days before Christmas,” Farmer said.

During the exhausting, 148 weeks of chemotherapy she said they were blessed by strangers.

“We had to rely a lot on just the community and the goodness of people,” Farmer recalled. “Provided us with gas cards. Provided us with groceries. People brought us Christmas presents. Just like amazing people that we didn’t know.”

Hyrum, now 17, is cured and doing great. The family now recognizes Christmas as a time to pay that generosity forward.

“My son is alive and I want to celebrate that,” Farmer said.

This year they are decorating and donating a tree for the Festival of Trees to benefit Primary Children’s Hospital.

Create lasting memories with experiences

In addition to serving others during the holidays, the Farmers also create lasting memories by focusing on shared experiences.

“If you sit back and think about the Christmases that you remember, it’s not the stuff you got,” Farmer said.

Instead of expensive toys, they gift experiences, which they find more rewarding with their children.

“It’s not just enjoyed that day of Christmas, it’s enjoyed throughout the year,” Farmer said.

She recommends finding activities that your kids already like or want to try: like lessons, event passes and sports tickets. With the right activity you’ll have a gift that keeps on giving.

“I get to have six dates with my son,” Farmer said. “Who gets to say that, right? That, to me, is a treasure.”

If you’re tight on cash right now you can spread out the cost by creating your own punch pass and paying each time you participate in the activity.

Of course, she said, there are still presents under the tree on Christmas morning.

“I want it to be still very magical for everyone involved,” Farmer said. “So it depends on the child. It depends on their interests.”

Make a list of holiday priorities

Utah State University Extension professor Melanie Jewkes advises families to start planning for the holidays by making a list of what’s most important.

After that, look for ways to reduce, simplify and save money.

“Instead of maybe hosting a big dinner, maybe it’s a potluck dinner this year,” Jewkes said. “Or maybe it’s a dessert night.”

Next, create a budget and stick to it.

“Don’t be so stressed about getting a good deal that you end up overspending,” Jewkes said.

Once you’ve checked off the things on your list, Jewkes recommends staying away from malls and even deleting shopping apps.

“When you feel like you’re done, stop looking, stop shopping, stop spending more time at the stores,” she said.

This is a good year to avoid going into debt since credit cards will be harder to pay off because of higher interest rates.

Also, Jewkes reminded that you can free up some cash to spend next month by canceling subscriptions.

“Do you really need five different streaming services,” she asked, “or can you do one for a few months and then change to another?”

Identify free activities like driving around to see Christmas lights, caroling, sledding, a hike or walk, hot chocolate with friends and free holiday concerts and pageants.

This year could also be a time to have important conversations about how families can adjust spending. Jewkes and Wasden said older children will benefit from the learning experience and that it will help them later in life.

“During the holidays, that’s a perfect time to be able to teach the principles to kids about what it means to frugal and prudent,” Wasden said.

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Unaffordable Utah: Keep the holiday magic alive without breaking the bank