Happy Holidays on a Humbug Budget

I’m embarrassed to admit how early I fling myself into readiness for the holidays. Along with all of that lovely anticipation, however, I get a feeling of panic. Christmas looms large in my mind. There’s so much to do, and I feel pressure to somehow create the most magical season ever. I inevitably buy too much and then regret my choices as the bills come rolling in. If thoughts of the season bring not only joy but also fear to your heart, here are a few ideas to soothe those worries and make this year’s festivities more pleasing than painful.

You can also get more tips from Housing and Credit Counseling, Inc. at the Money Matters: Holiday Spending event Tue, Nov 12, 6:30-7:30pm in the Learning Center.

Plan It

When my daughters were small, they went through a phase when they responded to every television toy commercial with an adamant shout of, “I want that!” As adults we may not be that extreme but the emotion is similar – that fear of missing out. Kimberly Palmer (Smart Mom, Rich Mom) says sales offer a false sense of control over our busy lives. We feel the item advertised might add that touch of magic we seek. She advises we avoid temptation by making a list of items we want to purchase for loved ones, and then seek bargains for specifically those items. In Real Money Answers for Every Woman Patrice C. Washington also advises us not to fall for the sale trap. She suggests we avoid online surfing and unsubscribe from the many mailers cluttering our inboxes. She recommends the app Unroll Me to ease that process.

Discuss It

In The $1000 Challenge Brian J. O’Connor suggests talking to loved ones to manage expectations. This worked well for our family a few years ago. We had traded kid gifts with several friends since our babies were born. As time passed we grew less familiar with the bigger kids’ wishes, had little idea of what they already owned and lamented the days when gift-giving was as simple as a cute stuffed giraffe or die-cast tractor. I worked up the courage to suggest that we limit purchases to unique events such as graduations and weddings. My sister-in-law responded immediately. She said she was so thankful as they really needed to stop as well. We all stopped and we are all still quite friendly. We have even traded a few of those unique event gifts by now.

Ideas to keep gift-giving affordable include drawing names from a hat and using the four-gift idea: give something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. Our family selects from wish lists but allows for a thoughtful surprise or two. It’s never too early to begin teaching children the value of living within one’s means.

Make It

My mom-in-law was an accomplished cook who, during the first year of our marriage, wrapped up a batch of her freshly made gingersnap cookies and sent them my way for Christmas. Until then she’d been an elegant and intimidating addition to my world. By sending a homemade treat she’d always made for family during the holidays, she helped me feel more connected. That gift will ever remain at the top of my list of favorites from her.

I’ve learned to be careful with this idea. A few years back I made everyone on my list a sewn rag basket. It was fun, but it took some time and quite a few trips to the sewing store for supplies. Then I couldn’t give everyone an empty basket. I filled them with items from a theme chosen for that person. I probably spent more that year than in all of the years before and since. The lesson: make it, but stay on budget. We have a wealth of books offering ideas and instructions for homemade gifts, including those rag baskets. Check out our Arts and Crafts and Cooking neighborhoods.

Experience It

A good part of the magic of holidays is the time spent together, so be sure to include some shared experiences in your plans. Our family loves game playing. We include time to play, chat and snack together. Steve Economides, author of America’s Cheapest Family suggests other ideas such as attending a concert at the neighborhood school, sampling a church holiday production or driving around looking at lights. You can even host a party on a budget by sharing a potluck meal and pulling out decorations you already own.

We once hosted a kids’ Halloween party that included several games requiring purchased items. We also played a game that required only the guests and the spaces in our house. You can guess which one was the hit. The game was Sardines. It’s like reverse hide-and-seek. Whoever is “It” quietly hides, and everyone else sneaks into the same hiding spot when they find him or her. I will never forget opening a large foyer closet to watch a half dozen giggling kids come spilling into the hallway. Young friends who visited afterward asked to play that one again and again. The library has a large selection of holiday books and materials with ideas for decorations, menus and games.

Happy holidays! May this season be your most magical, practical yet.

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My job as Circulation Assistant takes me around town delivering books and materials to the Smartlockers and TSCPL-at-work sites. I am a fiction reader with a fondness for romance, and I also enjoy gardening, cooking and watching my grown daughters navigate their lives.