Smiling woman embracing a young girl while sitting by a Christmas tree.

Spending time with family and friends this holiday season might just be the best gift of all.

After two years of pandemic-related disruptions, this year feels like the first normal holiday season in a long time. (I know I’m looking forward to seeing family again, after missing last Christmas because I had COVID!) It’s no surprise recent survey data by Ally shows that people are emphasizing gifts less this year, and time with family and friends more. Whether that means you get to play host, or get to travel and be the grateful guest, this year is all about togetherness.

Traveling to be with the ones you love?

While inflation is having an impact on holiday spending budgets, the price of travel is much less of a concern to many. We’ve all learned to value time with the people we love much more over the past few years. 65% of those surveyed say they value time with family and friends more this year, while nearly 50% say holiday shopping is less important to them. What a better time to live that belief to its fullest? A trip over the holidays gives us something to look forward to, too – that really can’t be underestimated after a couple of years of empty calendars and canceled plans.

The good news is gas prices are already coming down. If you’re driving to a holiday destination, your travel budget is already starting to look better. Lower fuel prices could also mean a drop in the price of plane tickets. In addition, hotel prices are showing declines, a trend that could potentially continue. If travel costs less, that could free up more room in your budget for gifts.

Of course, the early bird usually gets the worm when planning travel, so get started now. Set up alerts on your favorite travel sites and don’t forget to review any travel perks you might have. We’re all still getting used to traveling again. You’ll want to be ready to jump on a good deal when you see one.

Hostess with the most-est 

We can’t all be attendees to holiday parties, someone has to be the host! According to the Ally survey, about one-third of respondents said they were planning to host a holiday gathering, with the same amount saying it was their first-time hosting. Not surprisingly, given the trend in the housing market the past couple of years, many of these new hosts said they had just moved into a new home and wanted to share their space with family and friends.

While it’s expected to cost more to have the party, especially with more people expected to attend, bringing people together for good food and great conversations are more important than the cost for many hosts.

Planning earlier can work if you’re hosting for the holidays, too. If you know what you need to buy to get ready for a family gathering, you can start looking for deals now. And getting the stressful parts of planning out of the way early should leave you free to enjoy yourself when your guests arrive.

The bottom line

You might not hear this often, but the truth is, you don’t have to penny-pinch in every area of your life. Life is all about balance. Spending time with family and friends is meaningful. These are important moments that really matter, and many of us haven’t been able to have these kinds of moments for a few years. Stay focused on what matters most to you and enjoy this time together.

 

Expert Take with speech bubble icon

Headshot of Lindsey BellLindsey Bell, Ally’s chief markets & money strategist, is an award-winning investment professional with a passion for personal finance and more than 17 years of Wall Street experience. Bell’s unique ability to connect the dots between data and real life and craft bite-sized money ideas that people can use and apply stems from her deep background as an analyst, researcher and portfolio manager at organizations including J.P. Morgan and Deutsche Bank. She is known for demonstrating why and how an understanding of all things money improves a person’s finances and overall well-being. An ongoing CNBC contributor, Bell empowers consumers and investors across all walks of life and frequently shares her insights with the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Kiplinger’s, Forbes and Business Insider. She also serves on the board of Better Investing, a non-profit focused on investment education.

More content from Lindsey Bell.