As the holidays approach, many people are making plans to take time off, spend quality time with family, and eat loads of delicious food. Sounds good, right? However, many college students and young professionals can often find themselves stranded during the holidays, unable to afford going back home for the holidays to be with family.
I know, I’ve been there. When I left Los Angeles to go to New York for graduate school, I experienced my first Christmas without my family. It was a little sad, but I made it work. Subsequently, I moved to Portland, Oregon and have now missed a few Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with my family.
If you find yourself in this situation, use these tips to have a fun and frugal holiday, even if you can’t make it home to be with your family.
Host a Potluck
It’s likely that you aren’t the only one in your friend group that is not going home for the holidays. Instead of spending the holidays alone, invite others in a similar situation over for a potluck. I’ve been invited to many “Friendsgiving” and it’s a great way to connect, share stories, and bond over food. Also, hosting a potluck is so much less stressful than attempting to cook everything yourself.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity because you are experiencing your first holiday without your family, take action and give back to those less fortunate. The holidays are a great time to volunteer at a homeless shelter, retirement home and more. For years, I volunteered at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving. There is nothing more rewarding than feeding a delicious, warm meal to someone who really needs it. Volunteering is so rewarding and is a great way to spend the holiday if you can’t be with your family.
Have a Skype Date
With the advances in technology, it’s easier than ever to stay connected to loved ones. You may be thousands of miles away, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t “see” each other on the holiday. Plan a Skype date and share stories of gratitude together. While Skyping is not the same as being there in person, it’s a nice alternative.
If you are stranded during the holidays, finding yourself alone and wanting something to do, I highly suggest finding some work to keep you busy. Bonus: people pay better to work on holidays.
When I was a broke graduate student in New York, I worked two gigs during the holidays. I was a pet sitter for two weeks, which afforded me some extra cash and access to the owner’s studio apartment (which was a delightful change from having 4 roommates). In addition to the pet sitting gig, I found a gig on Craigslist for a Christmas dinner helper. I met with the woman beforehand and we discussed my duties, which included heating up food, serving, and cleaning up. I worked on Christmas day and made $250 for a few hours of work. In a weird way, I got to spend time with this family on the holidays, but also enjoy having some extra cash in my pocket.
Hit the Reset Button
If you are stranded during the holidays and the other options don’t appeal to you, consider hitting the reset button on your life. What do I mean? Take time for yourself and do nothing. Read several books. Finally organize your paperwork that is piled up in the corner. Purge your closet of unnecessary items.
This year, I am not going home for Thanksgiving and my plan is to organize everything in my apartment and purge. I want to start with a fresh slate. During the year, many little things get thrown to the wayside, and before all the talk about New Year’s resolutions and goals, I want to be prepared now. So whatever little things that you know you need to do, but you have been avoiding like the plague, do now. I love working on my own stuff during the holidays. It’s quiet and still, which allows me to focus.
Are you going home for the holidays? What are your plans?
Melanie Lockert is a freelance wordsmith, a passionate debt fighter, and frugal lovin’ minimalist who writes at DearDebt.com. She devotes 50% of her income to student loan debt and is often dreaming of her next adventure.