The “most wonderful time of the year” is also one of the most stressful times for college students as they face finals and the financial pressures of the holiday season. 

Consumers said they expect to spend an average of $997.73 during the 2021 holiday season, according to an annual survey from the National Retail Federation. 

One of the biggest financial pressures college students face with the holidays is gift giving, Aurora Kenworthy, a money coach through Big Red Resilience & Well-Being, said. Even students who have been able to stick to a budget all year long, can still face financial struggles this time of year, Kenworthy said.

“I think it's hard just because it's the end of the year,” Kenworthy said. “Maybe you had a budget, and you stuck to it for most of the year. And now you just kind of ran out of money. It's hard to keep it up for 12 whole months, so I feel like that being in December is sometimes not ideal.” 

Jennifer Prue, a junior English and French double major, said she faces financial stress during the holiday season. She celebrates Christmas and likes to buy gifts for her immediate family. This will be her first Christmas in a relationship, so she said she will also buy her boyfriend a gift.

In past years, Prue lived on campus, so she was able to spend more on gifts. Now she has to juggle rent and a less disposable income. Prue says she needs to budget but has not yet. 

Kenworthy offered several tips for students to manage their finances but also enjoy the holiday season. 

The first step? Keep track of spending.

“If you don't have data, you can't make decisions,” Kenworthy said. “If you're just buying presents or seasonal Starbucks drinks because you want to, but you don't know how much you're spending on any presents or those drinks or holiday decorations, then you're not gonna be able to make decisions about what you're doing because you don't know how much you spent.”

Keeping track of your spending is not holiday specific, but given the pressures around holiday spending it is extra important, Kenworthy said. It is also important to differentiate between needs and wants. 

“I think it's important to understand that you're gonna have to make choices,” Kenworthy said. “And so just weighing, you know, do I really want this item now? Or can I wait and use this money for something more important to me?”

Lexi Soukup, a freshmen finance major, said her family does a secret santa gift exchange to make holiday gift giving easier. Using this method, Soukup said each family member spends about $50 for their secret santa gift exchange.

Will Parker, a senior hospitality major, said he also spends $50 per person, but he buys gifts for his family, boyfriend and roommate.

“Especially for college students, it's really acceptable to do things like secret santa or white elephant gifts, which help alleviate the necessity of providing every single person with a present,” Kenworthy said. 

Prue said that instead of buying expensive gifts for her friends, she prefers to make them food or buy them a coffee from Starbucks. Homemade gifts are also a way to keep things affordable, Kenworthy said. 

Kenworthy said one of the most important things is to be open and communicate with friends and family about your financial situation.

“I think it's easier if you communicate and tell people instead of being put in a situation where you feel uncomfortable because you're feeling pressured to spend a bunch of money that maybe you don't have,” Kenworthy said. “And I think it's important to speak up because there might be other people in your friend group that are also in the same situation as you but feel nervous about bringing it up.”

Kenworthy said she also suggests scheduling a money coaching appointment, which connects students with people who have templates and resources for creating a budget.