Budgeting Your Holiday Spending

The days are getting shorter and I am starting to get more and more creative with my Thanksgiving leftovers. For me, those are clear signs that we are getting into the height of the holiday season. Looking at my calendar for the next few weeks, there are gatherings with friends and family, gifts to buy, and special meals to plan. Unfortunately, all of these things can add up and stretch an already tight budget even tighter. So, I thought I would share some tips for staying on track with your budget this holiday season. 

Tip #1: Make sure you have an accurate budget

This may seem obvious to some, but I want to explain what I mean here. Many of us are feeling the pressures of inflation as prices rise for all kinds of things. What you may not realize is that many people also engage in “mental accounting.” This means that they try to keep track of their money in their mind. But when prices are rising and changing, your estimate of how much things cost might be off. Additionally, the busy holiday season can mean it is difficult to remember everything we will need to do and buy. This is a recipe for a budget shock. Essentially, it puts us in a position where things are likely to cost more than we expect and we are likely to forget about some things we need. Doing our best to get an accurate idea of what we will need and how much it will cost will give us a better idea of what we need to do to stay on budget. 

Tip #2: Consider modifying traditions, especially expensive ones

Tradition is a powerful force in many of our lives. It can feel comforting to know that some things will stay the same, even as time passes. Additionally, we may feel that others are relying on us to keep certain traditions alive. But if maintaining a holiday tradition means that you are going to have trouble affording things you need, then it makes sense to reconsider. Communication is key here. It can be difficult to talk about money, but it could help explain to family and friends why a particular tradition might need to change. For example, you might host a gathering with friends where you typically provide all the food. But you might be able to talk with friends and let them know that, especially with inflated food prices, that won’t be an option this year. Your friends might be willing to switch the tradition to a pot luck meal. That way, you can still spend time together without breaking the bank. I know thins year I will be thinking about why certain traditions are important to me and trying to get creative with finding ways to achieve the same goal, but at a lower cost. 

Tip #3: Manage impulse extras

This may not be true for everyone, but for me the holiday season encourages impulse spending. Since I am spending more time in stores where I am browsing for gifts, rather than shopping with a list, it makes it more likely that I will throw some extra things in my cart. But these small purchases can quickly throw my holiday budget out of whack. I have a few ideas for how I can limit this extra spending:

  • Know when I’m done shopping for each person. If I see something I think my dad would love, but I already have a gift for him, I need to encourage myself to leave it on the shelf. I could always take a picture and save it for his birthday or Father’s Day. 
  • Whenever possible, have a list. Instead of wandering from store to store and increasing the chances of buying random things, I am planning to go out when I have a list and an idea of what I really need. 
  • Avoid the “Buy Now” button. If I can give myself a day or two to consider purchases, it might help me avoid buying things I don’t really need. When I’m online shopping, adding something to my cart rather than buying it immediately will give me time to truly consider my purchases. 

Especially during the holiday season, there is pressure to spend money. We tend to feel like there are so many things we have to have so that we can make memories with family and friends. But I think there are ways to create memories and enjoy the holiday season without overspending and making life more difficult for ourselves in the New Year. So, this year I am going to give it my best shot and I hope you will too. 

Happy Holidays! 

Making Any Weekday Meal a Fun and Formal Occasion for Your Household

This blog post written by Samantha Benner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

I can remember when I was younger, during the major holidays, family would come over and I was always told to set the table, except I had no idea how to do it correctly. Knowing how to properly set the table used to be important during family meals to show etiquette and learn table manners, but with modern life, the family dinner and well-set table have taken a back seat to convenience meals and eating on the go. During major holidays and special events like weddings however, it is still standard to craft a nice dinner with the table set and looking pretty. 

Table setting has been around for as long as people have been sharing meals, beginning with the ancient Greeks. In American culture, there are several different ways to set the table but for this blog, only the basic and formal ways will be discussed. 

The most basic way to set the table starts with a placemat, napkin, fork, spoon, knife, and a glass for water. Now let’s start setting it up!

Basic Steps:

  1. Place the placemat down. 
  2. Put the dinner plate in the center of the placemat.
  3. Take the napkin and fold it diagonally in half so the corners meet and then lay the napkin on the left side of the dinner plate.
  4. Next, place the fork on the napkin.
  5. Place the knife on the right of the dinner plate with the sharp side on the inside.
  6. Lay the dinner spoon to the right of the knife.
  7. Lastly, place a water glass slightly above the plate to the right.

The formal way to set the table is commonly used for elegant dinner parties or when you’re really trying to impress someone.

What You’ll Need:

  • napkin  
  • tablecloth 
  • dinner fork 
  • salad fork 
  • soup spoon 
  • dinner knife 
  • dinner plate 
  • soup bowl 
  • bread plate 
  • butter knife 
  • dessert spoon 
  • water glass 
  • red wine glass 
  • white wine glass 
  • salt shaker 
  • pepper shaker 

Formal Steps:

  • Place the tablecloth over the table and a placemat at each seat.
  • Set a dinner plate down the table in front of each seat.
  • Place a soup bowl on top of the dinner plate.
  • Place a nicely folded napkin to the left of the dinner plate.
  • Lay the dinner fork on the napkin and the salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
  • Place the dinner knife to the right of the dinner plate with the sharp side facing the plate.
  • Next, place the soup spoon to the right of the dinner knife.
  • Then, place the dessert spoon right above the dinner plate and soup bowl.
  • Lay the bread plate slightly above the napkin and rest a butter knife horizontally over the plate with the sharp side on the bottom.
  •  Place the water glass slightly above the dinner knife, the red wine glass to the right of the water glass, and the white wine glass below the red wine glass.
  • Lastly, set the salt and pepper shakers above the dessert spoon. 

Get creative and try themed settings for seasonal or holiday dinners, or let your kids create a centerpiece. Knowing how to set the table is not only impressive, but it can make any meal feel special.

Celebrate the New Year with Lucky Foods

It is that time of year when people are eager to say goodbye to 2021 with wishes that the New Year will be filled with hope, health and spending more time with family and friends. Whether you are spending the New Year with a small group of close friends and family or having a larger event, think about adding some special foods to bring in the New Year in your celebration. Special foods have often been a part of our new year’s celebrations, promising to bring luck and good fortune in the year ahead.

One of the “luckiest” foods to eat on New Year’s Day is pork. The meaning behind this tradition is that a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground, always moving forward. People tend to look forward at the beginning of a new year with setting goals for themselves. Pigs are also associated with plumpness and eating plenty, which is characterized as a sign of good fortune in the year ahead. The tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut for a New Year’s meal came to the United States from Germany and became popular in New England and with the Pennsylvania Dutch. 

Fish is another common food choice for New Year celebrations. From eating sardines or herring at midnight for prosperity and wealth to other fish dishes served at New Year meals including salmon, cod and shrimp to bring good fortune in the coming year.

Cooked greens are often served on New Year’s Day. The green leaves, which look like folded money, are symbolic of wealth and good fortune. In some parts of the United States, these greens may be collard greens while sauerkraut, made from green cabbage, is from the German tradition. Whatever your choice of greens, some believe that the more greens you eat, the larger your fortune will be in the New Year.

Legumes are also supposed to bring you luck on New Year’s Day. Their small size are symbolic of money or coins. One of the most common American legume dishes is hoppin’ John, a black-eyed peas and rice dish eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck. Some believe in eating one “lucky” pea for every day in the New Year. Often served with the black-eyed peas are greens and cornbread. The cornbread represents gold, which is symbolic of good fortune in the year ahead.

Noodles are a traditional Japanese New Year’s food. The length of the noodle symbolizes a long life and the buckwheat flour used to make the noodles represents resiliency. The trick is to slurp the noodles and not chew them; because if you break the noodle, your luck runs out.

Spain has a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight with each grape representing a different month. The goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight. It is harder than it sounds and some people even practice week before the New Year. If you are successful, the belief is you will have a year of prosperity.

Try any of these traditions at your New Year celebration, or come up with one of your own!

Love For Leftovers

As many of us plan on what to eat this holiday season, it can be good to have the end in mind — leftovers!

Eating leftovers is an economical choice that reduces food waste and keeps the holiday memory alive for a few more days. However, there are a few tips to share to make sure your leftovers are safe for all to enjoy.

How long can I keep leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer?

You have the option to refrigerate leftovers or freeze them. If you keep your leftovers in the refrigerator, you want to consume them within 3 to 4 days. If you choose to freeze your leftovers, for quality we recommend keeping them in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Again, you can keep leftovers in the freezer longer, but the quality may decrease — think freezer burn.

Temperatures to remember:

  • Refrigerator: Keep at 32°F to 40°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at this range will prevent the growth of most foodborne pathogens.
  • Freezer: Keep at -20°F to 0°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at 0°F will prevent bacteria growth. However, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria. 
  • Reheating leftovers: Reheat leftovers to 165°F, buy an appliance thermometer
    • Why: This temperature will prevent growth of most foodborne pathogens

How do I store leftovers? Cool the foods quickly!

Have food storage containers in mind. Use shallow containers that are 4” or less in height to store leftovers. Shallow containers will help cool foods to 40°F and below faster.

Why: Temperatures at 40°F and below will reduce the risk of bacteria growing quickly (one bacteria can grow to over 16 million bacteria in 8 hours under the right conditions).

How: Slice large cuts into smaller portions to be refrigerated or frozen. Hot foods can be placed directly into the refrigerator or placed in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

Gifts are not the only thing that should be wrapped well!

Wrapping leftovers so they are airtight will help keep moisture, absorbing funky odors and help keep bacteria out.

Though this infographic shows how to thaw a frozen turkey, the same methods can be used for other frozen foods.

Thawing: Thaw frozen leftovers in the microwave, refrigerator, cold water method or cook frozen. The best method is thawing in the refrigerator because the food can always be refrozen if using a refrigerator thaw.

Why: These methods do not encourage bacteria growth.

Reheating leftovers: Whether you use the oven, stovetop or microwave, you will want to reheat leftovers until they reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F. If you use the microwave, cover the bowl or plate, and make sure you stir the food to prevent cold spots, where food many not heat up.

Helpful resources:

  1. Your local Extension office: Find here
  2. Free FoodKeeper App: Here
  3. USDA: Leftovers and food safety

This post written by Extension food safety specialist Shauna Henley, PhD.

Holiday Activities for Family and Friends Near and Far

With the holiday season now getting into full swing, many people are gathering online or virtually (or planning their gatherings). While this is fun, there can also be pressure for the holiday season and its gatherings to be extra fun and joyful. If you are looking for fun ways to engage with family and friends this season, we have some ideas! Before we get into the ideas, I want to mention that these are just suggestions. Every family is different and celebrates the holidays differently! However you choose to celebrate (on not), that is up to you. Also, I want to keep in mind that, although it may be easier to get together this year than it was in 2020, there are still challenges that might prevent people from gathering in person. So, there are both virtual and in person suggestions here!

Let’s start with some ideas for those who can get together in person!

  1. Have a chopped style cooking challenge. To do this, you need to split up into teams or compete individually. You need to assign each team (or person) a strange item they must use, although they can add whatever they want to it! It’s a great way to use up leftovers or random pantry items that end up leftover at the end of the year.
  2. Play the Dictionary Game. This is a favorite of my family and it is possible we made this up, but it only requires some pens or pencils and scraps of paper. To play, you gather a list of odd words (bonus points if they are holiday themed!). Read the word and give everyone a chance to guess (or make up) a definition for the word, which they write on a piece of paper. Then collect the papers, if anyone guesses the correct definition then put theirs to the side (they get a point for being correct). Read all the definitions and have people vote on which one they think is correct. Anyone who votes for the correct definition gets a point; the person who fools the most people also gets a point. For example, what does it mean to meggle? Find the answer and some strange Christmas words here!

For those meeting virtually, there are still fun options! Keep in mind that many online meeting platforms (like GoogleMeets, Zoom, Webex, and others) have free accounts you can use for your virtual get together if you don’t already have an account.

  1. Kahoot has fun games themed around the holidays and winter season! If you haven’t played before, you may need to practice with it to get the hang of how it works. Basically, you can set up a game (usually a trivia game of some kind) and people can participate from wherever they are using their phone.
  2. Have an online competition or showcase. If you family is super competitive like mine, you may or may not want to actually select a winner. But, you can still show off ugly sweaters, holiday jokes, talents, crafts, or anything else you could showcase online or via phone! If you make it a competition, you can select a judge (or panel of judges), or have everyone vote on whose was best!

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, we hope you have a fun holiday season and a happy and healthy new year! If you try any of our suggestions, leave us a comment and let us know how it went!

Giving Gifts with Health in Mind

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year! We get to see family and friends, celebrate traditions, and for many, give gifts. If you are someone who gives gifts during the holiday season, there can be pressure around finding that special something. If you need some creative ideas, consider finding gifts to support the health of friends and family this holiday season! 

Before I lose you right off the bat, I don’t necessarily mean giving people a basket of vegetables, a set of free weights, or a gym membership (unless they really want those things). Instead, I mean thinking about their interests. Then, asking yourself if there are any gifts you could give to help them have fun engaging in those interests in a way that supports their overall health and wellbeing. 

So what does that look like in practice? It could involve thinking outside the box and giving someone an experience. There are so many creative experiences out there to give as gifts like a walking tour of a museum, a tour of a local winery or distillery, or a creative experience like painting or making pottery. A few years ago, my Christmas gift from my sister was a day in Washington DC that included a walking tour of the National Portrait Gallery. It was a great way to experience the museum as an art novice who wouldn’t have known what I was looking at if the guide hadn’t been there! 

Another option is to consider gifts that help someone build a skill they have or would like to develop. Learning a new skill can be a wonderful experience that helps someone expand their horizons and build their confidence. But, the equipment needed, classes, or other resources can be things that people aren’t willing to buy for themselves. These could be things like subscriptions to apps or services that help people learn a language or online classes that teach people skills for photography, art, or even creative engineering. For my birthday, my mom once got me a cooking class. I was able to go to a commercial kitchen and learn how to bake bread from a trained chef. The class was wonderful and I have continued to build on those skills and bake different types of new breads whenever I get the chance. 

There are definitely other things that people might want or need this holiday season. So, this might not be an option for every person and that is ok! What I really want to do is to encourage people to think differently about the holiday season.  If you know that your friends or family members are attempting a health behavior change, get creative and see if you can find a gift that supports them in that journey! 

Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday season from all of us here at Breathing Room! 

Create a Holiday Spending Plan


The holiday shopping season is quickly arriving. It is a time where many spend hundreds of dollars buying gifts for their loved ones.  It is projected that in 2019, holiday spending will exceed 1 trillion dollars. For the average adult, that will be about $920 per person. As we enter the holiday season, I would like to offer a few financial tips to help you along the way.  

  1. Establish a spending plan.  You may or may not be living on a monthly spending plan or budget.  Regardless, you need a spending plan for the holidays. The starting point is prioritizing and finding out how much disposable income you have available. Once that is determined, know your limit and stick to it. 
  2. Make a list of who will receive a gift. Family, friends, co-workers — you can think of many people in your life that you would like to give gifts. Remember your spending limit and then make a list on how much money you plan to spend on each person. Keep in mind, you can always recognize someone without buying a gift. Some of the best gifts don’t cost anything at all.
  3. image-from-rawpixel-id-1231781-jpegSet limits on how much you will spend on gifts. It is the thought that counts. Some of my most precious gifts didn’t have a high dollar value. It was the thought and meaning behind the gift. When it comes to social gatherings and gift exchanges, set limits up front and stick to them.
  4. Talk about gift expectations/limitations. When I first graduated from college, I had a limited amount of money. Although I would have liked to buy more expensive gifts, it just wasn’t possible at the time.  Also, as the immediate family continued to grow with nieces and nephews the number of gifts also increased. Talking about gift expectations up front can help you and your friends and family.
  5. Consider home-cooked meals over eating out.  It is cheaper to eat at home.  Adding holiday shopping to your already busy schedule often means eating out, but it also costs more money.  A family of four can easily spend $60-$80 eating out at one meal. This adds up quickly. Make cooking at home a family bonding time by cooking everyone’s favorite meals together to save. 
  6. Don’t be fooled by the sale.  We are already seeing the special holiday sales. It is tempting to buy things you don’t need, just because you can get a good price. Remember to stick to your spending plan and set your limits. The specials can add up quickly.
  7. Compare prices. It is almost ironic to bring this up after being warned about sales. Keep in mind that stores try to lure you in with special savings. Take advantage of the discount offer, but also compare prices. Getting the best price is like putting money back into your pocket.

Hopefully, these strategies will take some of the stress out of the holiday season and keep money in your pocket at the same time. Enjoy time with your family, friends, and co-workers and stay financially fit in the process. If you are looking for more information, visit the CFPB website.