I get that the season can be hectic, and over scheduled, and expensive, but I hate seeing people miss out on the joy and excitement of the season because they are drowning in the pressure and anxiety.
So, here are some of the best ideas I have heard over the years for taking the pressure off, simplifying things and, just maybe, making the season cheaper and happier all around.
Talk honestly to your children, relatives and friends about gift expectations, especially if you have serious budgetary constraints. Now is the time to have that talk. If you are going to try to persuade some friends or relatives to stop exchanging gifts in favor of making a donation to a charity in each other’s name, for example, you better do it now before they do their shopping.
Buy an extra turkey or ham (or two) during the holiday season while the price is right and freeze for later use. It’s a good time to buy cranberries, too.
Keep every single receipt. If you decide to return something, you can get all of the money back, and if the recipient wants an exchange, you can make it easy for them.
Find a place to have your children’s picture taken with Santa for free. There is no point in paying big bucks for photos with some of these mall Santas when there are plenty of good ones who offer the service for free.
Make some hearty meals ahead of time (such as beef stew, chili or casseroles) and freeze them, or put your slow cooker to work on busy days. You won’t be as tempted to eat out.
Be creative with your gift giving. Consider family gifts, such as movies or games, instead of giving every person in the family a separate gift. Another great idea is to give a family a membership to an attraction, such as the Nashville Zoo, The Frist Center for the Visual Arts or Cheekwood.
If you are mailing items, especially heavy ones, consider using the U.S. Postal Service’s flat-rate boxes. Compare those prices with regular first-class mail or other delivery rates.
Buy items that come in multiples and divide them for stocking stuffers. This could be anything from packs of gum or candy to Matchbox cars or little toys to Sharpies, votive candles, hair accessories and emery boards.
If you are buying food to donate to the food bank, take advantage of the penny item on Wednesdays at Publix, or watch for specials and use your coupons to save money wherever you shop. You might as well stretch your dollar, whether it is for yourself or someone else.
For cheap decorations, take advantage of greenery from tree trimmings at a Christmas tree yard, or take cuttings from holly or nandina or other evergreens from your yard. And it really is OK to prune your neighbors’ bushes for some greenery, too — with permission, of course.
Turn the tables and put the family’s focus on giving instead of receiving. That may sound like it is going to cost you more, but I’m not necessarily talking about material giving, but rather the giving of time and talents.
With children, how you present the season to them makes a difference as to whether they see it as a time of consumption or a time of joy and giving. One smart mom told me that by simply asking children what they are “giving” people for Christmas instead of what they are “getting” can work wonders in shifting the focus.
Map out your holiday events and obligations on a calendar so that you can see the whole holiday picture. I know December is a busy month, but you have to be able to say no to some things. Cheapskate Monthly guru Mary Hunt once suggested that you mark off the two weeks before Christmas on your calendar as though you had a cruise or trip lined up. By the time you get to Dec. 10, you will be all ready for Christmas and then be able to leisurely enjoy the time leading up to Christmas Day.
Include some volunteering on your calendar. Not only will you be helping others, but you’ll also be too busy to go out spending money. I think it works best to get the whole family involved with ideas of things you could do together to help others during the holidays. You also could invite friends to join a project as a way to spend time together during the holidays. Hands On Nashville has just issued its Holiday Volunteer Guide (www.hon.org), where you can find dozens of volunteer opportunities.
Think about shopping at thrift stores and consignment stores for some of your gifts. There are lots of fun finds and you may be surprised at how many items still have tags on them. Even better, shop at Goodwill on the first Saturday of December, when everything in the stores is half-off all day. (Goodwill’s half-price days take place on the first Saturday of every month.)
If you are a senior, plan your serious shopping on the designated senior days, when there are special discounts at your favorite stores and groceries.
Use what you have as part of your gift giving. I don’t necessarily mean regifting, although I am not opposed to that when you have something that someone on your list actually wants. I’m talking about using gift cards that you might have sitting around. Dig through all of your drawers and wallets and other places where you might have put unused gift cards. Instead of letting these sit around, use them for some of your shopping this season.
Speaking of gift cards: If you intend to buy gift cards to give away, seek out ones that are worth more than face value. Lots of restaurants offer these during the holidays — for example, a $25 card for $20. (I will write more about this later, but if you hear of any, send me an email at email@example.com.)
Think about services you can offer as gifts, such as babysitting for a friend, running errands for an elderly neighbor or cooking once a month for a particularly busy family.
Take snacks and waters with you on your holiday shopping trips, so that you don’t cave in and waste your gift-buying money on fast food or other store-bought snacks.
Send e-Christmas cards and save the postage. Or, if you just can’t bring yourself to do that, scale back to Christmas postcards and get the cheaper postage.
If you’re considering a part-time job, find one at a retailer with a good employee discount.
Review your company’s benefits to see if there are employee discounts at any places you might want to shop. Big companies often have relationships with retailers and service providers where employees can get a little break.
Look for places that offer free gift wrap. This is definitely a perk for me, since I am a terrible wrapper! I am making a list of these, so again, if you run across some good ones, email me please. And if you are wrapping the gifts yourself, use newspaper or decorated paper grocery bags instead of buying all that expensive wrapping paper that gets wadded up and thrown away. Or go with gift bags, which can be used multiple times and store easily.
Another good gift presentation idea is to put your gifts in the reusable Publix bags (and other stores will have them, too) that come in red and green during the holidays and sell for $1 each. So many things fit perfectly in these versatile, tough bags, and the price is less than lots of bags that don’t hold up nearly as well.
If you are going to entertain, have a potluck with everyone bringing a dish. Or consider having a themed party, with people bringing canned goods for the food bank or toys for a toy drive, or maybe have the group go caroling for a good cause such as Fannie Battle. It’s fun and changes the focus of the gathering. The Ms. Cheap Penny Drive for Second Harvest is a good choice, too. Another entertaining tip is that if you are buying wine for the party, buy it by the case to take advantage of case discounts, which are often 10 percent or even 12 percent off at many wine stores.
Take advantage of all of the fun, free things to do during the holidays. My “Ms. Cheap’s Guide to the Holidays” will be featured in a special section on Dec. 1 and will include dozens of free holiday events that take place before the end of the year. If you know of some good ones, let me know ASAP so I can include them.
Blessings from all of us at
Coleman Real Estate Group
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