Celebrating the Holidays When You Can’t Afford Them

Photo credit: Delphine Deneir, CC BY 2.0.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is all around. Whether it’s Christmas lights on houses, the radio holiday mix constantly on replay, or the December sale emails barricading my inbox, I can’t go outside—or stay inside—without being reminded that this is the most wonderful time of the year.

Then I check my bank account, and I am reminded this Christmas will be different. I was laid off from my job as an editorial assistant for an online publication in late January of 2017. It’s been 11 months, and I am still unemployed. While freelance work, nannying, and unemployment benefits have kept me afloat throughout the year, it seems my financial life jacket is having a hard time withstanding the waves of the holiday season.

When I was first laid off, I never imagined I would end up where I am right now. My last day as a full-time employee at my old job (which also just so happened to be Donald Trump’s inauguration day), I came home, shed a couple of tears, and started applying to jobs straight away. The first few weeks looked promising, as I had applied to a dozen or so jobs and already received a few replies.

I did all the things you are told to do when you are laid off. I applied for unemployment. I revised my resume and my LinkedIn page. I sent cold emails inquiring about jobs at organizations I was familiar with. I networked within my circle and let people know I was laid off and looking for work. I checked all the job boards daily and signed up for job notifications. I stayed busy and remained social, refusing to sulk or feel bad for myself. I got busy right away, hustling, working hard, grinding.

Eventually those first few days of unemployment turned into weeks. Then, those weeks turned into months. I started freelancing and thought that might be enough to sustain me, but now that we’re in the middle of the holiday season, I’m realizing that my freelance income isn’t going to cover the most wonderful time of the year. 

Since early November I have been trying to hustle for even more freelance gigs so I can make extra money. I was warned that at this time of year a dry spell hits the editorial world, making work nearly impossible to find. This means that as my expenses go up, my sources of income go down.

To be 100 percent honest, it has been hard. There are weeks when I dread looking at my bank account. But when I cannot change my situation, I have to change my perspective. I don’t have much this Christmas season, but I can choose to make the most with what I do have. I can laugh and revel in the holiday festivities. I can choose to believe that this low-income period is only temporary. I can choose to believe that not having a full-time job doesn’t define me. It doesn’t make me a failure.

This Christmas will be different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bad. I can’t afford to go home, but I can make the most of my time in Los Angeles. The City of Angels is quiet during the holiday season as most people travel or venture home. There is something so beautiful and serene about the stillness that overtakes the city. It is something to revel in and embrace.

I can’t afford a ton of gifts for family and friends, but Christmas has never been so much about big, pricey gifts. Having less money has forced me to be more intentional about my spending. I have gotten smaller, more meaningful gifts, like books, framed photos and handwritten notes. It isn’t much, but I am excited to give to be able to give to the people in my life, if only a little.

I have also had to turn down invites to big holiday parties or events with hefty price tags. Instead, I’ve opted for nights in with friends, with wine and movies. Last week, a friend and I drove around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music on the radio. It was free and so much fun. On Christmas morning, a few friends and I are going to get together and make a big holiday breakfast. It’ll be so much fun to do a potluck meal and it’ll save money to have everyone pitching in.

This holiday season I’ve had to say no to a lot of things—but it’s opened me up to say yes to other, more important things, like giving and quality time spent with friends. Yes, it is hard, but I have realized that unemployment during the holidays (and during any time of year) doesn’t have to crush me. It can be an opportunity to bring out one’s creativity, entrepreneurship, and grit. It certainly has brought out mine.

Stephanie Taylor, affectionately known as Stevie, is a two-year LA transplant who has lived in New York, Minnesota and Oklahoma. When she is not writing, you can likely find her in a yoga studio or training for a race.

This piece is part of The Billfold’s Holidays and Money series.

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