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

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Riverton – From Thanksgiving turkey to gifts under the tree, the holidays are expected to be even more expensive this year.

The 2022 holiday season approaches as families grapple with persistently high inflation and are running out of extra money accumulated during the pandemic.

“We don’t have savings — we’ve collected a lot of consumer credit,” said Carrie Wasden, a professor of finance at Utah Valley University. “Our wages are not keeping pace with inflation.”

The latest Consumer Price Index showed that the inflation rate for October was 7.7% compared to the previous year.

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

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 as savings dwindle and prices rise, Wasden said the good news is that shoppers can expect to see plenty of sales in the holiday shopping season and that discounts will come early in the season.

“Retailers come out and say, ‘We’ve got a lot of stuff.’ We’re going to have to discount in order to get through,” he said. “We’re going to get some serious cuts.”

Monitoring sales is one way to expand the vacation budget just as gas, groceries, utilities, and activities for kids are added to Utah households.

“Eating out is something we definitely had to cut back on,” said Zoe Farmer of Riverton. “We’re just really careful about where we’re going and where we’re spending our money.”

Farmer, who has five children, said her family is definitely feeling the weight of inflation.

“It’s probably about 25% to 30% more,” she said of the extra expenses for her family budget. “This is a huge increase for a family our size.”

Focus on tradition

Despite the price hikes, Farmer said her family is ready for a season full of cherished memories thanks to the change in focus that took place years ago.

“Christmas, to us, means service. It means family. And all of these things can be accomplished without spending a lot of money,” Farmer said.

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

“He was diagnosed on December 20, a few days before Christmas,” Farmer said.

During her grueling 148-week period of chemotherapy, she said, strangers blessed them.

“We had to rely so much on society and only the good of the people,” Farmer recalls. “They gave us gas cards. They gave us groceries. People brought us Christmas presents. Just like the cool people we didn’t know.”

Hyrum, now 17, has been treated and is doing an amazing job. The family now recognizes Christmas as the time to push that generosity forward.

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

This year they decorate a tree and donate it to the Tree Festival for Children’s Primary Hospital.

Create lasting memories with experiences

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

“If you sit down and think about the birthdays you remember, they wouldn’t be the things you got,” Farmer said.

Instead of expensive toys, they offer experiences that they find most useful with their children.

“It’s not just about having fun this Christmas day, it’s being enjoyed year-round,” Farmer said.

She recommends finding activities that your kids really like or want to try: lessons, event tickets, and sports tickets. With the right activity you will get a gift that keeps on giving.

“I’m going to have six dates with my son,” Farmer said. “Who would say that, right? This is, to me, a treasure.”

If you are short on cash now, you can spread the cost by creating your own payment card and pay each time you participate in the activity.

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

“I want him to remain very charming for everyone involved,” Farmer said. “So it depends on the child. It depends on his interests.”

Make a list of vacation priorities

Melanie Geox, professor of counseling at Utah State University, advises families to start planning vacations by making a list of the most important ones.

Next, find ways to reduce, simplify, and save money.

“Instead of hosting maybe a big dinner, maybe dinner will be available this year,” said Geox. “Or maybe it’s candy night.”

Set a budget and stick to it

“Don’t worry about getting a good deal that you end up overspending,” Geox said.

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

“When you feel like you’re done, stop searching, stop shopping, stop spending more time in stores,” she said.

This is a good year to avoid getting into debt because credit cards will be difficult to pay off due to higher interest rates.

Also, Jewkes mentioned that you can save some cash to spend next month by canceling subscriptions.

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

Select free activities like driving to see the Christmas lights, carols, skating, picnicking or walking, hot chocolate with friends, concerts and free holiday processions.

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

“During the holidays, this is the perfect time to teach children the principles about what it means to be frugal and wise,” Wasden said.

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