How to set financial limits for holiday visits

For many, visiting family for the winter holidays is a question of “how” rather than “if.” But this year, higher costs may make travel less expensive, especially when combined with other life changes — such as moving across the country, going to school or getting married.

Best way to tame vacation travel costs? Set financial boundaries with your family and friends early on. Having these conversations can be intimidating, but there are ways to compromise that make vacations feel special without getting in the way of your goals.

Accept that travel is not always possible

As you add new commitments to your life, it can be difficult to maintain a routine while on vacation. Younger millennials may find themselves moving away from their families in search of job opportunities, like Audrey Beechkam, who moved to New York earlier this year from her hometown of Southern California to work for a nonprofit.

“For the first time, visiting my parents at Christmas would be a very big expense,” says Beshkam. “If I stay in New York for that long, I’ll have to justify the cost of a cross-country trip every year.” She hopes that the financial pressures will lessen as she advances in her career.

Antoinette Myers-Berry, who lives with her wife and two dogs in the Washington, D.C. area and currently holds her third degree for graduate studies, has been balancing these trade-offs for more than a decade.

“When I was in the early stages of my career, I couldn’t always afford to fly home,” Berry says. “Holidays also mean choosing one parent and sibling over the other, which has often been a heartbreaking choice.” (The Berry family is divided across states.)

“Now that I’ve grown up and established my family, it’s even more difficult,” she adds, explaining that she now has to take into account her wife’s family and her dogs’ travel restrictions as well.

As jobs, partners, pets, and children add complexity to vacation plans and inflate expenses, it’s essential to keep your expectations in check — and connect with them and your family.

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FILE – A passenger transits through Philadelphia International Airport before Independence Day weekend in Philadelphia, Friday, July 1, 2022. The concept of “coming home for the holidays” changes your whole life, and many millennials are going through it right now. transition. (AP Photo/Matt Roark, File)

Matt Rourke

set expectations

Finances and family events are often the most important aspects of adult life, which can cause conflict if they are not out of sync. To avoid misunderstanding, inform your restrictions in advance.

Berry says that for years, the conversation about being able to visit the house for the holidays was so difficult that she avoided having it. She would choose to vacation with faculty and the community during college and early adulthood rather than travel.

Now, she aims to reach a compromise, helping her family anticipate visits that fit within her budget and schedule.

Whatever your holiday travel restrictions, it’s better to be honest than to overburden 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 over a phone call or video chat. And in some cases, if loved ones know your financial situation in advance, they may be willing to cover some or all of your travel expenses.

Offer to host

For many, a major life transformation occurs when “home” moves from a place you visit to a place you host. Millennials are establishing their own homes, families, and vacation traditions, and they may find it right to start inviting retired parents to come to them. While hosting comes with certain expenses and time commitments, for some it may be more manageable than travel.

You may be able to convince your family to come to you instead by sharing your situation. Pets and children are an added inconvenience to driving or flying, and having a new home can be a good excuse to invite people over.

Get creative

If flights around the popular holidays are out of your budget, try Thanksgiving (or do nothing) to celebrate the same traditions during a less crowded 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 more about Christmas than Thanksgiving,” Bashkam says. “I can’t afford to go home to both of them, so they know I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with friends.”

If you can’t visit your family for major holidays, talk to friends, neighbors, or co-workers. You might be surprised at how willing people are to open their homes and share their holiday meals with additional guests, including their partners and children.

“Spending holidays with community members who were kind enough to host me in their homes broadened my definition of family,” Berry says. “And since I’ve shared these diverse experiences with my family, they have almost always forgiven me for not coming home.”

This column was provided to the Associated Press by personal finance site NerdWallet. Dalia Ramirez is a staff writer at NerdWallet. E-mail:

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