I admit it! I was the one who suggested that NL post a blog on “How People Get in Money trouble with Holiday Shopping.” That’s not exactly what this is about! When I sat down to write, I realized that what I really know something about personally, without having to consult any “experts,” is how to avoid holiday debt. I’ve been doing it all my life!
First, I should say that I’m glad I’m not the mother of teens, tweens or even young children in 2013! I’m sure it was easier to spend less on my 5 children when they were growing up than it is for parents in today’s “electronic age.” However, I do have 12 grandchildren, ages 6 months to 20 years, a husband, 5 adult children and their spouses, along with assorted other family members and friends, who all expect Christmas gifts from me. The number of people on my gift list keeps growing, and gifts aren’t the only holiday expenses we have, but I still manage to pay off my credit cards when the bills comes in January.
As the oldest of 9 children, I have to give some of the credit for my judicious spending habits to the example set by my parents. If you come from a family where you got everything you asked for and more for Christmas, it might be more difficult for you to “buy in” to my tips. They are nothing new, but maybe you could use a reminder that a Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah doesn’t have to result in going into debt. Ask your kids if they can remember three gifts they got last year. Then ask them what they like to do with you during the holidays. Hopefully, they will have more to say about the time you spend together.
Make a Budget and Stick to It
I read that 68 percent of people have some kind of a holiday spending budget, but most of them forget to factor in many of the other things they’ll be tempted to spend money on, like wrapping paper, decorations, stocking stuffers and party food. If you’re part of the 32 percent of people who have no budget at all, you could get yourself into big trouble. A budget continues to be the most important factor that keeps my spending in check. From the time our children were little, we’ve decided on an amount that we could afford to spend on each one, and what we could spend on family members and friends, as well. When they got married, divided the amount in half. You could use one of your electronic devices to keep track of what you spend, but I simply use a 3 x 5 card for each person or family. When I’ve reached the limit, my shopping for the person on that card is done.
Shop with a List
I seldom go looking for “the perfect gift” for anyone. I decide ahead of time what I am going to get each child and adult. I ask for input on what they want or need, but I make the final decision based on needs vs. wants and what’s on sale. Armed with my lists, I only go in those stores so I won’t be tempted to deviate from my plan.
Start Shopping Early
Whenever possible, start shopping early. The day after Christmas is when I buy the wrapping paper or other holiday-related items that I will need next year. When it comes to gifts, this strategy works best for adults whose size and likes won’t change. Think about holiday gift giving when you are at a can’t-miss sale or at the factory outlets any time of year.
Shop at Thrift Stores
Earlier this year, I took 3 grandchildren whose dad was out of work shopping for school clothes. I gave each of them a certain amount of money to spend and said we were going to play a “shopping game” to see who could get more of their mother-determined needs without going over their budget. We started at a church-operated thrift store. At first they were skeptical, but when they were each able to find 2-3 either gently-used or even some new items for under $5.00, they were “sold.” Stores like our local “Kid to Kid” and other consignment stores can also be a treasure house of less-expensive gifts for people of all ages.
Give Gifts of Time, Service or Creativity
When our children were younger, we gave some homemade gifts, like a piece of plywood with a road and pictures of local buildings (store, church, library, etc.) glued on it as a track for their Hot Wheels cars. Today’s Pinterest has a wealth of ideas for gifts you can make yourself for little or no cost. A friend of mine gives gifts of her time, helping to make cookies or wrap gifts for someone busier than herself. One year she cleaned my oven while I was out and left a bow on it! Giving service during the holidays can be a big help to staving off holiday blues and can be a wonderful family activity that creates lasting memories. It’s amazing how little it takes to make someone happy who literally has nothing to give their children for Christmas. Anonymous giving, especially leaving packages on the doorstep in the dark, ringing the bell and then running for the car parked a couple of houses away is great fun for the whole family.
Draw Names for Extended Family
My six brothers, two sisters and I give only one gift a year to one of the nine families. We rotate in order of age, but our kids have worked out a system that includes their siblings and nieces and nephews. Everyone ends up getting one gift from someone else in the family. I have a friend who, at their annual family party, plays a game with food gifts. Everyone comes home with a yummy treat—that’s it.
Plan Family Holiday Activities that Are Free, or Cost Very Little
When our kids were growing up, we lived in Massachusetts, and every year at Christmas we went on an outing to Edaville Railroad. There, an old steam engine took passengers through cranberry bogs with Christmas displays that came into view every few minutes. There were also displays to walk to. We saved for the price of admission and then made it a rule that the gift shop was off limits. We took our own popcorn in brown lunch bags, rather than buying an expensive treat to eat on the train. Wherever you live, there are probably light displays, live nativities, free concerts or even just decorated neighborhoods to drive through. Family service projects fit under this category, too. Whatever you do with your family is something that they will remember for much longer than the gifts, and if you’re lucky, they will hand down the traditions to their children, too.
These are just a few tips from someone who has had lots of fun with lots of kids through lots of holiday seasons—and is still solvent, while living on a mostly-retired-couple’s income. If even one tip gives you a money-saving idea, then that’s my holiday gift to you!
By Marti Lythgoe, NL Editor