Flexible Holidays Are Much Cheaper (And Less Stressful)

My family doesn't exactly respect the calendar. We've held Thanksgiving on a Friday, moved Mother's Day to the last week of April and moved around just about every other holiday to suit ourselves. This adaptability has saved us an unbelievable amount of money. For Thanksgiving alone, the savings can be in the hundreds of dollars — just because we're not flying on days that the rest of the U.S. is trying to cram itself on a plane.

Suggesting a more flexible schedule is often as simple as telling those relatives that you want to spend time with that you just can't figure out how to manage it on a specific day — so why not the day before, or the day after? If you've got a few frugal relatives, it's easy to argue the savings: if you hold your celebration after everyone else, traditional foods and decorations are often on sale. Big meals out (like a Mother's Day brunch) are cheaper when you aren't paying a holiday premium, either.

There's also a lot to be said for being flexible to cut the stress of the holidays. I spent my childhood shuttling between divorced parents — and endured plenty of bickering about who got what holiday. I often had to rush out of my dad's Thanksgiving get-together to make it to my mom's. Let's just say that a good time was not had by all. Convincing at least one part of my family to hold Thanksgiving on a different day cut my stress, and it might cut yours too.

While everyone else is off celebrating, you may need to fill some hours. Luckily, there are plenty of options:

  • Volunteer. Especially for big holidays like Christmas, just about everyone takes off to be with their families. That means a lot of vital services are understaffed — even hospitals can have a skeleton staff for the holidays.
  • Accept an invitation. Many years, we get far more invitations than we can accept. But if we're spending a different day with our families, we can accept invitations from friends. 
  • Work. I may be alone in enjoying working when everyone else is gone — but I can often get enough done to justify taking off at least the day I'm planning to celebrate (if not more).

Now, we don't move every holiday, every year. We're scattered over the country and may only get together for one or two big get-togethers each year. There is something to be said about observing many holidays along with the rest of the world. Getting out of sync for St. Patty's Day or New Year's Eve just gets you some odd looks. We tend to keep religious observances exactly where they're scheduled as well. But being flexible on just when you observe holidays can make them a bit easier to handle.


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Guest's picture

I understand what you are saying and I totally agree but the problem is that many people have a few days off for Christmas and specific holidays as opposed to random days. The weeks before Christmas are very busy and many people are not able to get time off. One way that we kind of save money is that we celebrate the holiday season with family on the 26th of December. Partly because it is my birthday and also because it just works out better for the people involved.

Guest's picture

This year my fiance and I are going to visit his parents in Ohio over New Years. We are going to DRIVE (yes, drive) from Florida to Ohio. It's saving us about $300 for plane fare. Driving will cost about $200 total for gas, tolls, and expenses. (Not to mention, we won't have to pay for parking at the airport)

Becoming The Marshmallow

Guest's picture

It's so sad when occasions that should be fun turn into an obligation. We spent many years trying to juggle our families during the holidays. It got the the point where I didn't enjoy the holidays anymore because of the push-pull and the guilt. For the past few years, my MIL has completely changed her tune. She has 3 sons, all with wives who want/need to spend the actual holiday with their own families. She decided that the important part is having the family together, regardless of what day it happens. We celebrate a month early, or a week late, and we still have a great time.

Guest's picture

This is great! And think how much you save if you don't travel to see family on peak holiday times. My family accidentally does this on the less serious holidays but never thought about it doing it throughout the year. Great advice!

Guest's picture

My family does this for Christmas every year. Our immediate family celebrates Christmas together on a day other than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Not only are there in laws that want to be visited with the grandkids but it's just so hectic on the actual Holiday. We have dinner together open gifts and enjoy each others company. Santa even makes a visit. This leaves Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to be less stressful. We've actually moved Easter egg hunts to Saturdays some years so that hopeful we (my immediate family) can be together. Works out great for us!

Guest's picture

We tried to convince my MIL that if she could deal with us not coming home for Thanksgiving or Christmas we would come back for a longer visit in the summer when there is not a holiday involved.

Driving across the midwest in the winter is not fun. It frequently involves ice storms or blizzards and flying is just too crazy over the holidays.

My siblings have been making a habit of heading home at random times in the summer to coordinate with birthdays, weddings or an impromptu family reunion. Everyone is far less stressed and the weather is better so the entire experience is more positive.

Guest's picture

I've been doing this almost all of my life and didn't even realize it was a big deal. Growing up, my family always spent Christmas at home so that we could be with my mom's family (they lived about 12 miles away) and then packed up and drove to visit my dad's family the day after Christmas. We did "Christmas" with that side of the family sometime after we arrived when it was convenient for everyone who lived there.

Now that my grandparents are all gone and my immediate family is spread between three different states, we all travel to be together for Christmas but we've started not doing so for Thanksgiving. We started that a couple of years ago when my parents were out of the country (discovering the joys of off-season vacations). I can honestly say that Thanksgiving has gone from being a stressful, too short time to visit with my family to being a great, relaxing long weekend that I can spend with my family that I'm not related to. And I couldn't be happier. I try to coordinate a visit to my sister's place when my parents go in the fall. The time is a little shorter, but it's also a lot less stressful. We also all get together sometime in May around when my nephews' birthdays are (conviently they're about two and a half weeks apart).

I am very fortunate to be blessed with a family that puts more importance on just spending time together rather than worrying about being together on a certain day.

Guest's picture
Susan J. Blubaugh

One thing to consider that an old Christian tradition celebrates Christmas as a season or a series of feast days that begin on December 25 and ends on January 5. Any one or more of those days is Christmas for my family. We stretch out the events--Christmas Eve celebration or observances one day, gift-giving or shopping on another day, family meal on another, and traveling to releatives houses on other days. Even though we may not have all of those days off work, we can plan evening activities around the events. The 12 Days of Christmas allow lots of flexibility.

Guest's picture

My family used to celebrate Christmas on Thanksgiving, because I had an older sister who was pregnant and due before Christmas. Driving was better/safer at Thanksgiving.

Now my family likes to celebrate Thanksgiving as a family. Unfortunately, I have a sister in retail, and she works that day (getting ready for Black Friday), so they moved it a week early.

I'm on the opposite coast, and we don't go back for Tgiving and Xmas. Every few years we forget why we don't, then we travel, and remember that it sucks.

We go back during the summer.

Guest's picture

One thing that I find I am blessed with is that my "Christmas" is a holiday called Ayyam-i-Ha (celebrated the end of Feb.) because I am a member of the Baha'i Faith. The best part for me is that I have more time and sales to shop for those meaningful gifts for my friends, husband and little boy. Also my husband and I always celebrate Valentines day a week later to save money on gifts by getting them half off. I know he loves me more if he waits and pays half price :)