Let’s Not Spend (Much) Money for Christmas

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Five surefire tips to staying under your gift budget this holiday season.

Christmas is nigh and Natalie F. Reese, 46, is making her gift list.  It’s not the customary checklist of items from department stores, boutiques and retail establishments.  She’ll be making miniature sweet potato pies, pound cakes, pecan pies and peach cobblers for her family and friends.  To give her presents a festive look, Reese is going to the Dollar Tree to get cookie tins and package them with a bow.

“I decided to give them the homemade baked desserts for Christmas this year because I am on a budget,” says Reese.  “I love to cook for my family and know where to get the best prices.  I shop at Sam’s, Walmart and Kroger using coupons and their weekly sales paper.”

In past years, like many Americans, Reese would overspend on holiday gifts.  This year, Christmas does not have to be expensive if you can’t afford it.  So that you won’t go into debt this season, try one of these easy on the pocket, creative ideas for gifts to share with family and friends.  It can save hundreds of dollars while setting a tone of prudence for years to come.

1. The Homemade Gift Gallery.  If you are a great cook like Reese, make or bake some of your signature entrees, dishes or desserts.  Knit gloves, scarves or hats from yarn in your basket.  Make a personalized blanket or quilt with material or clothing you already have.  Like Reese, clip and download coupons from grocery stores and Michael’s, JoAnn and Hobby Lobby craft stores.  “Homemade gifts are more personal and let the receiver know that you’ve made an extra effort,” says Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche, financial educator and bestselling author of The One Week Budget (Amazon). 

2. The FREE Only Shopping Zone.  Give free magazine subscriptions from Freebizmag.com.  Struggling families can get toys from Toysfortots.org.  Check out free websites like Freebie-Depot.com which has scores of information on how to get free samples, free rebates, free photographs from Shutterfly and York Photo and more.  “Free health and beauty samples collected throughout the year can be made into a nice gift basket,” says Tim Pearsall, founder of Freebie-Depot.com.”  Free photo prints and personalized photo items are ideal gift items.  Grandparents love anything with a photo of their grandchildren on it.”

3. The $2 or $5 Christmas Gift Challenge.  To make gift giving exciting while saving money, encourage family and friends to set a low limit.  Have everyone bring their receipts and the person that saved the most money by shopping 75% to 90% off gets a prize.  Pearsall suggests adding the twist of “5 for $5” from the dollar store, a theme such as all gifts must start with the letter “D” or presents must be smaller than a baseball. “This is a great way to enjoy the spirit of giving without breaking the bank,” says The Budgetnista.

4. The Personal Service Certificate.  Specially design a certificate for a FREE days house cleaning, dog sitting, babysitting, home cooked meal, errand service or landscaping.  If you are a hair stylist, chef, barber, personal trainer or the like, this will also make a great gift.  Place it on your schedule to redeem your services personally.  “Make a handbook of coupons redeemable for time spent with a loved one,” says Pearsall.

5. The Art of Re-Gifting.  This is a great idea if done well.  Give gifts that are new and unused.  It is important not to re-gift to the same person or circle of family and friends.  “The best way to re-gift is to bundle gifts into a cute package for the new receiver,” says The Budgetnista.  “Consider adding the gift card you never used with the basket.” 

Sidebar 1 – Notable Quotables on the Real Meaning of Christmas

• “For me, the holiday season has always been a time for fellowship with family and friends,” says Natalie F. Reese.  “I would like to see my family go back to the tradition of giving love, time and heartfelt gifts instead of a store bought gift”.

• “It’s important that the purpose of Christmas isn’t forgotten,” says Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche.  “Christmas is about family and giving.  Spending a lot of money can actually detract from the intrinsic value of the season.”

• “The holidays are about the memories and family.  You, most likely, do not remember the toys that you received as gifts when you were young.  But the memories stand out.  You’ll remember the smell of your grandmother’s cooking Christmas dinner 25 years later.  You’ll remember seeing relatives from out of town and laughter of the day.  The memories are free,” says Tim Pearsall, founder of Freebie-Depot.com.

Sidebar 2 – Tim’s Trinity Gift Ideas of Time Well Spent

• Volunteer your time to a loved one’s favorite charity in their name.

• Go for a drive and view Christmas decorations and lights.

• Go for a long walk in the park or spend an afternoon sitting on the beach.

Sidebar 3 – The Budgetnista’s Top Five List of Spreading Christmas Cheer

1. Christmas Caroling

2. Volunteering at a local shelter or hospital

3. Hot chocolate for the mailman, crossing guard and homeless

4. Handwritten thank-you cards

5. Donating dollar store gifts to schools for kids during recess

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