How to set financial limits for holiday visits

For many, visiting family for the winter holidays is a matter of “how,” not “if.” But this year, rising costs may make travel less affordable, especially when paired with other life changes — say, moving cross-country, going to school or getting married.

The best way to curb holiday travel costs? Set financial boundaries with your family and friends early. These conversations can be intimidating, but there are ways to make compromises that keep the holidays feeling special without derailing your goals.

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Accept that travel is not always possible

When you add new commitments to your life, it can be difficult to maintain the same holiday travel routine. Younger millennials may find themselves moving further away from their families for work opportunities, like Audrey Peshkam, who moved to New York earlier this year from her hometown in Southern California to work for a nonprofit organization.

“For the first time, visiting my parents for Christmas will be a pretty significant expense,” says Peshkam. “If I stay in New York long term, I’ll have to justify the cost of a cross-country flight every year.” She hopes that as she progresses in her career, the financial strain will lessen.

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Antoinette Myers Perry, who lives with her wife and dogs in the Washington, DC, area and is currently earning her third graduate degree, has been balancing these trade-offs for over a decade.

“When I was in the early parts of my career, I couldn’t always afford to fly home,” Perry says. “Holidays also mean choosing one parent and sibling over another, which is often a heartbreaking choice.” (Perry’s family is split between states.)

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“Now that I’ve gotten older and started my own family, it’s even harder,” she added, explaining that she now also has to take into account her wife’s family and her dog’s travel restrictions.

As jobs, partners, pets and kids add complexity to holiday plans and increase expenses, it’s essential to keep your expectations in check – and communicate them with your family.


FILE – A traveler moves through the Philadelphia International Airport ahead of the Independence Day holiday weekend in Philadelphia, Friday, July 1, 2022. The concept of “going home for the holidays” changes throughout your life, and many millennials are currently going through this. Transition. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

Matt Rourke

Set expectations

Finances and family times are often two of the most important aspects of adult life, which can cause conflict if they are not in sync. To avoid misunderstandings, communicate your limitations in advance.

Perry says the conversation about her ability to visit home for the holidays was so difficult that she would just avoid it. She would opt to spend holidays with faculty and community members during college and early adulthood instead of traveling.

Now, she aims for compromise, helping her family plan visits that work with her budget and schedule.

Whatever your holiday travel limitations are, it’s better to be honest than overextend your finances to avoid letting people down. Even if you can’t afford a plane ticket, you can still make plans to catch up with friends and family members over a phone call or video chat. And in some cases, if your loved ones know about your financial situation in advance, they may be willing to cover some or all of your travel expenses.

Offer to host

For many, a significant shift in life is when “home” shifts from somewhere you visit to somewhere you host. Millennials are establishing their own homes, families and holiday traditions, and they may find that it feels right to start inviting retired parents to join them. Although hosting comes with certain expenses and time commitments, it can be more manageable than traveling for some.

You may be able to convince your family to come to you instead by sharing your situation. Pets and kids are an extra hassle to drive or fly with, and a new home can be a good excuse to invite people over.

Get creative

If flights around popular holidays are out of your budget, try a non-Thanksgiving (or non-Thanksgiving) to celebrate the same traditions during a less busy week. Another option is to prioritize one essential holiday, whether it’s a religious occasion, a seasonal favorite, or a family member’s birthday.

“My family cares a lot more about Christmas than Thanksgiving,” Peshkam says. “I can’t afford to go home for both, so they know I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with friends.”

If you can’t visit your own family for major holidays, talk to friends, neighbors or coworkers. You might be surprised how willing people are to open their homes and share their holiday meals with extra guests, including their partners and kids.

“Spending holidays with community members who were kind enough to host me in their homes expanded my definition of family,” Perry says. “And as I’ve shared these diverse experiences with my own family, they’ve almost always forgiven me for not making it home.”

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Dalia Ramirez is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]


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