Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's beginning to cost a lot like Christmas..........

Since Christmas is less than a week away, you're likely in over your head (and budget) and feel like you've been spending money right and left for weeks now. Even if you stick to a budget, there always seems to be "one more thing" to spend money on and many people find themselves spending money right up to the last minute. I know I still have a "few more things" I want to pick up before the holiday arrives, and every trip to the store seems to include a novelty item or two that relates to the holidays. I always promise myself I'll stick to a budget and not go overboard on Christmas and I always fail. Miserably. But there are SOME ways I find to save money during the holiday season. Here are some of my favorites:
- Skip the ribbons. Use yarn to tie up packages and make pom-poms to adorn them. It's super easy to make them - just wrap one, two, three or more colors of yarn around your hand or fingers 20-30 times. Slip the loop off and tie onto the package in the middle. Snip the loops and, voila! Instant pom-pom! These are cute, resist crushing (so they work well for mailing packages), and can actually be re-used (or re-purposed as a cat toy!)
- Most of us receive numerous Christmas cards. I have a few ways to recycle them. For traditional cards (non-photo cards), cut off the fronts and keep them in a shoebox. Over the years these come in handy as gift tags. Sometimes, I've used a template to cut out a smaller design so the tag is much smaller than the original card. Other times, I keep the card it's original size. This year, I found a cute new use for the cards: package homemade treats in regular brown paper lunch sacks. Fold the tops over 1 inch and hold a card front to the top edge. Using a hole punch, punch through both bag and card and use ribbon or yarn to tie the card onto the bag. Write your greeting on the card. Another fun project is to lay a card flat on a work surface. Using a craft knife, cut slits in the card lengthwise, leaving a 1/2 inch margin at top and bottom. Roll the card and staple the edges. Then, "scrunch" the card from end to end. This creates a fun "paper lantern" effect that you can hang from the ceiling or use as ornaments. Speaking of ornaments, here's another fun one. Using two cards, cut a square from each card. Fold like a fan, making small folds. Once you fan-fold both squares, attach them in the center using a stapler or pipe cleaner. Then, spread the fan-folds out from the center, making a beautiful butterfly. These look pretty set in the branches of trees.
- For photo cards, I often want to keep them. But I never know what to do with them. One year I purchased a holiday photo album on sale after Christmas. The next year, I just slipped in all the old photo cards. It's fun to take it out only at Christmas and see how much everyone has changed from year to year. Another year, I cut off the holiday greeting part and kept the photos to put in a regular album. Bonus: the holiday greeting part I cut off doubled as a gift tag.
- Gift-giving. Everyone loves treats at Christmas. Find something great and duplicate it for all your friends and neighbors. It doesn't have to be fancy, expensive or unique. A simple candy recipe or favorite cookie is fine. Or go with something non-sweet to offset all the holiday treats. One year a neighbor gave out homemade seasoned rice mixes. I've made bath salts, soap, and other non-food treats. If salsa is your specialty, whip up a big batch and give out a bowl with a bag of chips. My sister has made rum cakes assembly-line style and wraps them up for an impressive gift. I have a great homemade Bailey's recipe that everyone loves. I make double batches and bottle it in condiment bottles I get on sale at my local one-stop shopping store.
- Christmas cards. Many have stopped sending these holiday greetings. I think it's sad, because I really enjoy catching up with friends and seeing how much kids have grown in photos. While Costco has super cheap photo cards, you can go even cheaper by taking a great photo of your family and having it duplicated at a local drugstore (take advantage of coupon specials!), and mounting it on holiday-colored card stock. All you need is a glue stick and some scissors. If you want to get creative, add embellishments, but a simple greeting on the back is all you need. And you can send it like a postcard to save even more money on postage!
- Dollar stores! I can't say enough about dollar stores for great holiday gifts at bargain prices. I love the Dollar Tree, but you might have a favorite in your area. Every year since my kids were little, we did our annual "dollar store" shopping. Each child selected a gift for everyone in the family (sometimes adding in grandparents and friends), carried their own basket and paid for their purchases on their own. They also wrapped all the gifts themselves. Believe it or not, there are some very useful items at dollar stores that make great gifts. I've received candles, note pads, makeup and soap. My husband often gets tools, flashlights, sunglasses and candy. For each other, they've purchased stuffed animals, toys, art supplies, jewelry and other items. It was a great way for the kids to choose and take ownership of their own gift-giving at a price we could afford.
- Dinner. Unless you're hosting a huge dinner party, you don't need to spend a ton of money on Christmas dinner. One year, when I was pregnant and my friend had a baby on Christmas, we were so busy celebrating the new baby that I completely forgot to do anything about dinner. We had cereal. It was still a great Christmas. For years, one of my family traditions was to have appetizers and snack type foods for Christmas eve. My family loves to eat this way (we call it "feast") and we can usually make some pretty fun foods from things we have around the house. Sometimes we'll buy a tray of shrimp as a special treat and make chocolate fondue with fruit and cake for dipping as a dessert. Slaving over a fancy meal on Christmas day, after weeks of shopping, wrapping and preparing is a terrible way to spend the day. Go potluck for big family gatherings and skip the traditional dinner for smaller gatherings. "Feast" on what you love.
- Artificial trees. I know. I once was a traditionalist. I could not fathom anything other than a fresh-cut evergreen for the holidays. But after a few years of trees so dry all the needles fell off, animals dumping over or drinking from the water in the stand, and more than a few impossibly crooked trees, we finally bought a fake tree. It wasn't meant to be permanent - I bought it because I wanted my soon to be visiting parents to see how pretty my tree was. But all the needles fell off and I had to throw the tree out. I just happened to be at a drugstore one day and there was an artificial tree 90% off! It didn't even have the original box, and the store staff just put it in a big box for me to take home. Each branch had to be fitted into the correct slot by hand. The plastic base broke one year and the tree fell on my head. We fixed it with duct tape. Finally, this year, we bought a new, pre-lit tree from Costco. The overall savings has been about $640 in the years since we've had the artificial tree. We paid $250 for our new tree. The savings alone is astounding. And the evergreen scent? It comes in a bottle these days and is incredibly similar to the real thing.
- Just don't. Don't spend too much. Don't feel you need to buy the latest gadget or get everything on your kids' lists. Don't feel obligated to run out and buy that expensive electronic they suddenly ask for a week before Christmas. Don't try to do everything.

I'm still working on that last one. But even a little savings here and there adds up. And it's nice to go into the new year debt-free from the holidays. As much as I'd love to take my kids to see a show downtown, complete with dinner and holiday festivities, my two youngest just spent the last two hours constructing a fort to sleep in. It's a holiday tradition, started by them and continued by them. It's magical and fun and little-kiddish and doesn't cost a cent. I'm going to go see it now. Have fun saving money! :)

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