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Handling the Holiday Budget
You know that economic times are bad, and you probably have been feeling some pinch yourself. But the holidays are coming, and you don’t want to act like Scrooge. How can you spread the season’s cheer without breaking the bank?
Start with a budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend on gifts, entertaining, decorating, etc. Be realistic; this is not the time to put yourself deep in the hole. If it’s appropriate, you might want to talk to your children or other family or friends about your decision to cut back, so as to manage their expectations. For example, you could ask your siblings if they would like to draw names instead of giving everyone a gift this year. You might be surprised at the support you get for the idea.
Once you have a budget, look for ways to make that budget stretch. Since gifts are probably a big part of your budget, that is a good place to start. Make a list for everyone to whom you give gifts, and add up the cost. If it is over your budget, look for ways to cut back. Start by determining what is most important on the list and what you could eliminate altogether.
Look for bargains. The closer you get to Christmas, the lower the discounts are likely to be, although you also probably will have much less selection. Most stores start their holiday sales around Thanksgiving or even earlier, so spread out your shopping. That is easier on your budget and on your nerves.
Be creative. If you are handy with a pair of needles, knit a scarf instead of buying one. Put together a book of photos. In the case of older people, consider offering to clean out the basement or paint the living room instead of buying a gift.
Be practical. Your college kid might really appreciate a gift card to a local grocery store or electronics store. If your spouse needs a new coat, wrap it up for the holidays. Check out second-hand stores or rummage sales for good-as-new items.
Give group gifts. Upgrade your cable or buy a Blu-Ray disc player as a family gift. You and your spouse can buy something for your house instead of giving each other gifts. Take a trip with your spouse or with your whole family; the memories probably will last much longer than the gifts would have.
Be generous. Consider giving a charitable contribution rather than a traditional gift. Choose a charity that the recipient would want to support, of course. But giving to charity can be a good way to remember that, even in tough times, there are people in greater need.
Apply the same budget wisdom to holiday entertaining. If your budget doesn’t allow for you to host a formal dinner for your family, suggest a potluck in which everyone brings a favorite dish. Instead of serving expensive food and drinks at your holiday open house, go with wine and cheese. The important thing is to get together with the people you care about; what’s on the menu doesn’t really matter.
After all, the true spirit of the holiday involves sharing yourself with the people you love. That is the most important gift of all.