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Holding the Line on Holiday Spending
The holidays are a time for getting together with friends and family, and for getting out your wallet. Even the Grinch would have a hard time resisting the pressure from TV ads and small children. But you can have the holiday you want without breaking the bank, if you have a plan.
The critical first step is to set a budget. Decide how much you feel comfortable spending this season. Then, lay out your expenses. Start by listing everyone for whom you want to buy a gift, and estimate the costs of those gifts. Then list all the holiday events to which you plan to go, including both events you will host and those to which you will go as a guest, and add those costs – which can range from food to a new outfit. Add in items such as holiday cards (and postage), travel costs, etc.
So what do you do if you find that your expenses are greater than your target amount? You can consider upping your projected spending, of course. But you don’t want to find yourself awash in bills after the holidays. Instead, look for ways you can cut back.
First, take another look at your list. Do you exchange presents with people you barely know any more? Could you suggest that, rather than exchanging gifts, you make a contribution to charity in their name? Do you exchange gifts with a group of friends or give gifts to all your nieces and nephews? Could you suggest that everyone draw names and give one nice gift instead of many cheaper ones?
Scale back. Sure you love your grandkids, but most children have many more gifts than they can possibly play with, much less appreciate. Consider a “less is more” approach. You even can involve other potential gift givers. For example, you might decide to give your granddaughter a doll house and then suggest that friends and relatives give furniture and other accessories. Or give a gift that brings you together. Take your family on a trip in lieu of gifts, or give your grandson a fishing pole and show him how to use it.
Once you have pared you list, assign a dollar amount to each person’s gifts. Then, shop wisely. Look for sales, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. You usually can find better prices if you wait until closer to the big day itself. However, you also run the risk that you won’t be able to find popular items. Layaway can help you spread the cost over time, which might make it more doable. And don’t forget additional costs, such as shipping, taxes, wrapping, etc.
Be crafty – make some gifts. (Admittedly, the value of a handmade gift is often more apparent to adults than it is to children.) Put together a photo album, make a small quilt out of favorite old T-shirts (asking first, of course), knit a scarf, copy family recipes onto cards and put them in an inexpensive box.
When it comes to hosting, consider a potluck approach. Most people ask if there is something they can bring to a holiday gathering, so say yes. They probably will bring something anyway, so wouldn’t it be better – for you and for your budget – if they brought a dessert or some wine or an appetizer rather than another pine-scented candle?
Consider emailing your holiday letter. You will save the cost of both postage and cards. If you feel you must send cards in the mail, pare your list. If you haven’t heard from someone for a few years or if you don’t really care whether you hear or not, don’t send a card this year.
Finally, hold firm. When you have spent the money you feel you can afford to spend, you are done. Be honest with yourself and, if necessary, with your recipients. With children, it can provide a good opportunity to talk about living within your means. And with adults, you might find they are happy someone has taken a stand.