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The FI Heroes Holiday Survival Guide

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The holiday season is officially upon us. For many the holidays are an exciting time filled with giving and receiving gifts, eating out with friends and perhaps even traveling to be with loved ones. For others it’s a stressful time of figuring out what to buy, how much to spend and fighting the crowds in the malls and on the roads. “Bah humbug”… I know.

But the reality is the holidays can be filled with stressors especially if you are to trying to keep to a budget and not come off looking cheap or “Scrooge”-like.

Doesn’t it seem like every year the holidays are becoming more about how much people are getting instead of how much people are getting together with those they love? We’ve turned our focus from making memories to materialism. I remember my 15 year old cousin begging for a $900 iPhone and a friend’s son crying because he wanted the $300 pair of Dr. Dre Beats.

We spend loads of money on things no one really wants, just to be seen as “giving”. We buy pricey electronics and plastic everything that ultimately breaks or ends up getting lost under a coach for a few years… We’re always looking for the next shiny new thing to sit on the shelf, in the drawer or in the box never opened. And we complain about being stressed and strapped for cash. Wow! Now that is stressful.

Now before you whip out your wallet and get all stressed out over finding that perfect gift or get bent out of shape because you don’t have the budget to buy some fancy pants present for every one on your list…

Relax. Take a deep breath and read on…

Our gift to you this holiday season is our “FI Hero Holiday Survival Guide”. It’s our way of giving back. In it we share a few of our own tips and tricks for stealthily getting through the holidays without over stressing or breaking the bank.

Because of that whole FIRE thing we are working towards, we are usually a bit strapped for time and stressed about sticking to our budget around the holidays… but that doesn’t hold us back from finding some great gifts and maximizing our fun with family and friends and it shouldn’t stop you either!

We hope this little guide will provide you with some inspiration and ideas on how you can Stress Less and Do More with Less this holiday season, not to mention remember what the holidays are really all about.


The FI Heroes Holiday Survival Guide


Tip #1: Dare to be different:

Instead of focusing on gifts for your holiday celebrations, why not plan a day of activities. You can get as creative or elaborate as you want here. The idea is to focus on the fun factor and not on gifts or spending boat loads of money. Here are some ideas:

  • Bake and decorate holiday cookies or cupcakes together. Then enjoy eating them with your friends or family with coffee, tea or hot cocoa.
  • Get crafty and create something festive! The sky is the limit here. Host your own paint night, make ornaments, Christmas wreaths, jewelry, soap, candles, etc. Simply do a google search on holiday craft ideas for kids, adults, etc. and I promise, you won’t be short on ideas.
  • Have a competitive streak? Get your game on this holiday’s season by pulling out some board games, cards or holding a good old fashioned contest. (Ugly sweater contest anyone? Bonus points if you make the sweaters during your holiday event!)
  • Still want to play? If you are up for the challenge, there are so many inexpensive, and hilarious, games you can play right at home with things that you likely already have around the house. Just google “Minute to Win it” for some ideas and some laughs. With challenges like “Face the Cookie”, “Junk in the Trunk”, “This Blows” and “Bottle Necking” it’s sure to be one holiday gathering your family and friends won’t forget any time soon.
  • Who says you can only have scavenger hunts at Easter? Facilitate a festive scavenger hunt by hiding festive holiday cutouts or mini stockings around the house for friends and family to find. Give a prize to the person that finds the most hidden items. You can also draw a number on each item and have it correspond to a fun gift or treat (thinks small gifts like candy, jams, etc.)

Tip #2: Buy experiences not things (Like this article says…)

If you want to get out of the house for the holiday, why not buy an experience instead of things? We are big on finding fun / memorable experiences that the whole family can enjoy and look back on. The memories of the experiences you share with your loved ones will likely outlast any trinket or gift basket you give or get.

We will typically make a day out of it and head out for a nice lunch (it’s usually less expensive than going out for dinner) plus pick an activity or two. For example, you could:

  • Try your luck and logic at an escape room. We have done quite a few of these over the last few years and have always had a blast. True, we are paying someone to lock us up in a room together, but what better way to spend a solid hour with your loved ones.
  • Go to a murder mystery show. Everyone can partake in the mystery and you will have a blast trying to figure out “who done it.”
  • Get some exercise in and work up an appetite by going ice skating. Bonus points for going someplace scenic or out of the norm.
  • We kind of cheated on this last one here because this can double as a thing and an experience in our house hold. Buy a game the whole family can partake in and enjoy. We have bought several games over the years and have spent countless, memorable, weekends playing them together with friends and family. Now let’s do some math (Because FI Guy wouldn’t let me write an article without some math in it.) Let’s say you spend $40 on a quality game (and to make the math easy), you play it simultaneously with 4 people for an hour each time, and over the course of several years we play it 50 times. Cost per hour of that game is only .20 cents per person! Can’t beat that value!

Before you head out, be sure to check out sites like Groupon to find some great deals on local events / activities / items. We rarely pay full price for anything.

Tip #3: Minimize the damage on throw away items:

If you feel the need to buy holiday specific napkins, plates, cards, gift bags, wrapping paper, decorations, etc. please… Please….PLEASE don’t pay full price.

FI Guy would tell you not to buy any of these things at all because they will just end up in a landfill somewhere, but I get it… I do. So if you must buy these items, please check out the local Dollar store, Christmas Tree Shop and/or Job Lots first. You can find everything you need from candles, cards, gift bags, gift wrap, decorations, etc. for way less than you would find anywhere else.

With these types of stores, I don’t see the need for fancy pants decorations or $6 cards. Remember, most of this stuff is used once and thrown away. And while it still feels like throwing away money to me, at least it will only be $1 instead of $6.

Tip #4: Set Some Limits

Do you have friends, family or acquaintances that tend to go a bit overboard on gifts? Does this, in turn, make you feel like you have to buy something of equal or more value? I have been there. Seriously though. It’s time to stop the madness and set some limits. Here’s how:

  • Set limits on how much everyone can spend on gifts in advance.
  • Do a Yankee swap or Secret Santa rather than everyone buying gifts for each other. Remember to set a limit on how much you can spend.
  • Not only should you limit how much you spend on gifts, but you should also limit WHO you give gifts to. I’m serious on this one. If you don’t know someone that well or haven’t spoken to someone in ages, then it’s probably ok to take them off the gift exchange list.

Tip #5: Maximize Cash Back

If you are going to shop, not just for the holidays; you should look to get as much cash back as you possibly can. Here’s how:

    • We use cash back apps like Ebates on just about everything. Ebates offers cash back on thousands of stores including Amazon, Walmart, etc. Here’s our affiliate link which will give you $10 cash back after your first qualifying purchase.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

  • Combo up! Use a Rewards card in conjunction with a cash back app like Ebates to sweeten the deal.
  • Only use a credit card if you fully intend to pay off the balance each month. Otherwise you are negating the intention of the card and the reward that you would otherwise be receiving.

Tip #6: Maximize Value

Make your money go a long way by:

  • Seeking out sales, clearance items and holiday specials.
  • Don’t wait for the holidays to be upon us. Pick up things throughout the year as you see value. Other than the obvious Black Friday & Cyber Monday days, some of the best deals are right after a holiday or towards the end of a season when stores slash their prices to move old inventory out to make room for new inventory.
  • Shop around! Sure it’s ok to window shop but check online at places like to see if you can find that special something for less. They haven’t let us down yet.


Tip #6: Hostess with the “Mostess”:

If you are hosting, you know you don’t have to foot the bill for everything…right?

  • Let folks know you are hosting the holidays “Pot Luck” style. Ask everyone to pitch in and bring a dish (or two).
  • You can also rotate the responsibility for hosting so the responsibility and cost doesn’t always fall on you.
  • Going back to Tip #3, don’t break the bank on expensive decorations or holiday themed anything. Checking out discount stores can save you a bundle!


Tip #7: Travel Tips:

We all know traveling around the holidays can not only get expensive but can get a little crazy. To save some cash, and likely your sanity we suggest:

  • Minimizing travel around the holidays if you can. It’s usually the most expensive time to travel, not to mention the craziest time.
  • If you must travel, don’t leave / come back on the weekend. Try to stagger your travel during week days.
  • If you can, stay with friends or family to save on lodging.
  • If you can’t stay with someone you know, don’t limit yourself to hotels. Airbnb is a nice alternative and can often be cheaper. Use our affiliate link to get $40 in travel credit when you sign up towards your first trip.
  • Airline, hotel and/or travel rewards cards can come in handy this time of year to save you a bit extra, so long as they don’t have blackout dates / exclusion periods.
  • Who says you have to celebrate on the day? You might get more for less by celebrating with friends or family on a different day or week.

Remember, the amount of money you spend on a gift for someone does not equate to how much you love them and the number of decorations you have certainly doesn’t equal how much fun you will have. What should matter most is getting together to spend time with the people you care about, the experiences you have with them and the memories you make.

So don’t stress this holiday season. Seek out value, buy experiences and make memories with those you care about most.



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Disclaimer: FI Heroes contains affiliate links. If you click on a link for an advertisement, FI Heroes may earn a commission. This does not cost you anything but does help FI Heroes keep this site up and running.

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