Friday, November 30, 2007

How To Holiday On A Budget

More on How to Holiday on a Budget:

Encourage your kids to focus on what they are giving people, rather than what they want to receive. Have the kids make a list and give them a budget, say $20/$25 (which ideally they’ve earned themselves) and let them shop. I suggest the dollar store but you’ll be amazed at their creativity, even if you end up at the mall. If they are using their own money, they will be sensible and deeply satisfied that the gift truly came from them.

Drawing names for family gift exchanges is a sensible idea that most families embrace. Ours never did. To this day, extended family insist that we all exchange lavish gifts. One thing I do is to purchase brand new, still sealed items that I find at garage sales and thrift shops throughout the year, then I have a stash to draw from. Another rule I follow is that if I see you on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, you'll get a gift. If I don’t, you’ll get a card. This has eliminated gift giving for multiple nieces and nephews and their offspring.

If in spite of your best efforts, you do get roped into buying gifts for entire families, give one gift per household – such as a large box of candy or a board game or make a movie night basket with a couple of new CDs, a couple packets of popcorn, a 2 liter of soda and a few boxes of the kind of candy you buy at movie theaters.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that there are items you can buy used that appear to be brand new – Christmas mugs, books with intact sleeve jackets, that sort of thing. I’ll buy Christmas mugs throughout the year, if I can find them for a dollar or under. As long as they are not cracked or chipped, there’s no way to tell if they are new or used. At Christmas time I fill them with individually wrapped Christmas candies, wrap them in plastic with a bow and they make great little gifts for co-workers. Swap out ceramic mugs for holiday styrofoam cups-filled-with-candy for the kids to give to their friends.

Now let’s get down to the actual gift purchasing. One thing I’ve noted is that it doesn’t matter what the gift is, it’s where you buy it from that counts. Anything from The Gap or Old Navy is cool to a teen, even if it’s a scarf and gloves. Bath & Body Works items (any fragrance) are welcomed by all females. Men get jazzed about gifts from Sharper Image or Brookstone. Even low amounts on gift cards from these stores seem to please people. Readers LOVE cards for bookstores. Gift cards are way cooler than giving cash, everyone loves to tuck those in their wallet, knowing that they get to go out shopping for themselves. My daughter-in-law loved the 99 cent store near her work. I was really poor one August as her birthday approached, so gave her a $10 99 cent store gift card and she really enjoyed that.

The trouble with gift cards is that you'll probably spend more than if you actually purchased a gift. You can get away with purchasing things that look much more expensive than they are. You can't do that with gift cards.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Being a single mom at holiday time presents extraordinary challenges. No matter how or what well meaning relatives may contribute, it is still up to the person who has the kids on Christmas morning to provide the filled stockings and half a dozen gifts per kid under the tree. My ex and I split up when our girls were 12, 8 and 2 and so I spent a lot of years pulling it all together myself

Keep an eye on the prize as you navigate through the labyrinth of holiday obstacles. Don’t give out gifts early, no matter how tempting. Keep envisioning the tree, the gifts, the stockings on Christmas morning. That is mandatory, all else is expendable.

Artificial trees and wreaths are a single Mom’s best friend. If you store them carefully, they’ll last forever and believe me – most kids don’t give a hoot if the tree is real or not, as long as there is one. It doesn’t cost you a thing to get that tree out each year, dust it off, decorate it, put out the nativity scene, hang a wreath and stockings and voila … abundance! The house looks swell and the kids are happy. It’s amazing how much unneeded stress adults put on themselves and how little it really takes to satisfy the kids.

Beware of hidden holiday expenses! Those include new holiday outfits, gift & cookie exchanges, parties, traditional outings, etc. Very few single Mom’s budgets can handle all these December expenses. Be very careful about what you agree to and what traditions you establish. If it’s a yearly ritual to attend The Nutcracker at the ballet, suggest staying home instead popping popcorn and watching it on TV and see how that goes over.

On Christmas morning my Mom would always carefully budget a certain amount to be spent on each child. That led to some rather uneven gift giving. Someone getting something expensive might only get one or two items. Everyone else would get a whole bunch. I didn’t follow that with my kids. I tried to keep the number of gifts the same and give the big ticket items at birthdays. Most kids don’t have cash registers as brains. They don’t notice how much was spent on their siblings, but they do notice if one person runs out of gifts to open way before the others do.

Also remember – it’s all in the presentation. Wrap gifts as soon as you get them and make them look pretty. Put small items, like CDs, in bigger boxes. It makes the pile under the tree look bigger and disguises the item. Make the gift opening last as long as possible. Make everyone take turns, starting with the youngest. Stop periodically for refreshments or bathroom breaks. Save the stockings for last.

More holiday tips to follow …