Unaffordable 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 set to get pricier this year.

The 2022 holiday season is fast approaching as families grapple with persistently high inflation and start to run out of extra cash accumulated during the pandemic.

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

The latest consumer price index showed October inflation at 7.7% yoy.

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

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

Watch out for discounts

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

“Retailers come out and say, ‘We have so much stuff. We have to discount to get by,'” he said. “We’re going to get some serious discounts.”

Keeping an eye out for special offers is one way to top up vacation budgets, just as gasoline, groceries, utilities and activities for the kids add up to Utah households.

“Dining out is something we’ve definitely had to cut back on,” said Zoie Farmer of Riverton. “We’re just very careful about where we’re going and what we’re spending our money on.”

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

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

Focus on traditions

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

“For us, Christmas means serving. It means family. And all of these things can be accomplished without spending a ton 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 lived apart from relatives.

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

During the strenuous 148 weeks of chemotherapy, they were blessed by strangers.

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

Hyrum, now 17, has healed and is doing well. The family now recognizes Christmas as a time to pass on that generosity.

“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 benefiting Primary Children’s Hospital.

Create lasting memories with experiences

The farmers not only serve others during the holidays, but also create lasting memories by focusing on shared experiences.

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

Instead of expensive toys, they give away experiences that they find more rewarding with their children.

“It’s not just enjoyed this Christmas Day, it’s enjoyed all year long,” Farmer said.

She recommends finding activities that your kids already enjoy or want to try: classes, event passes, and sports tickets. With the right activity, you have a gift that passes on.

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

If you’re short on cash, you can spread the cost by creating your own stamp 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 still be very magical for everyone involved,” Farmer said. “So it depends on the kid. It depends on his interests.”

Make a list of vacation priorities

Melanie Jewkes, a professor at Utah State University Extension, advises families to start vacation planning by making a list of essentials.

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

“Rather than maybe having a big dinner, maybe this year it’s going to be a potluck dinner,” Jewkes said. “Or maybe it’s dessert night.”

Create a budget and stick to it

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

Once you’ve checked things off 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 the stores,” she said.

This is a good year to avoid debt as higher interest rates make credit cards harder to pay off.

Also, Jewkes reminded that you can free up some money for the next month by canceling subscriptions.

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

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

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

“During the holidays, it’s a perfect time to teach kids the principles of being frugal and prudent,” Wasden said.


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