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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve already seen a few holiday ads, and Halloween has barely passed! But with Christmas less than two months away, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In that spirit, here are a half dozen tips to save money at the holidays.
If you think about these things now, you’ll have a much happier bank account when January rolls around.
1. Buy gifts all year long
Keep the holiday spirit in your mind all year, and whenever you come across a gift you think someone on your list would like — even if it’s the middle of July — buy it. You’ll probably buy much better gifts for less money. At least you’ll spread your holiday gift expenses throughout the year. Put ’em away until the big day… Or just give them whenever you buy them and really surprise your loved ones!
2. Not every gift requires cash
Here are a few gifts that cost very little: assemble the year’s worth of photos into an album, then toss in ticket stubs and other paper memorabilia to make a scrapbook; write a poem for every member of your family about something that happened that year; interview an elderly family member about a particular life event, or maybe about the holidays when she was young, write up the interview, and give a copy to everyone in the family.
3. Shop at thrift stores
Okay, this one’s not for everyone, but if your family is hip to the concept, buying gifts at thrift stores can be a cheap way to get some great stuff. Last year I bought everyone in my family a decent used tennis racket at Goodwill. Our local park district had just built new tennis courts near our home, so I figured the rackets would get us onto the courts. If no one wanted to play, no big deal, since I only paid a couple of bucks for each racket. (It turned out only my youngest son and I played, but we had fun!)
4. Holiday food can get costly
This year skip the beef tenderloin and lobster tail and serve what people really want anyway — fried chicken, lasagna, pickled herring. Well, OK, not everyone likes pickled herring, and it’s not really that cheap, but you get the idea: people come to holiday meals and parties to share in your company, not to eat a gourmet meal. So maximize the fun and minimize the expense.
Here’s something everyone will like: for your next holiday party, go totally 19th century and serve roasted chestnuts and mulled wine. Do it outside, sing carols, invite all the neighbors and passers by, and it will be a holiday night you’ll never forget. Trust me, we’ve done this the past three years, and it is now a solid tradition that we don’t dare stop. And my financial investment is under $30.
5. Travel is a serious drag
Yes, everyone wants to be with family at the holidays, but you know it’s going to cost you serious dough to fly during that time, and the highways are jammed. Lots of families dodge the rush by celebrating the holidays a week or two early, and then stay home on the actual holiday. This won’t work for everyone, of course, but it is a money-saving option. Plus, admit it, haven’t you spent many holidays sleeping on your in-laws’ couch when you would have much rather been in your own house? Your spouse and kids probably felt the same way, even if no one wanted to say it!
6. Is holiday decorating a new Olympic sport?
It seems that way in some neighborhoods around our house. I can’t imagine what some of these families are spending on decorations and the electricity to power them! It’s fun to get into the decorating spirit, but if you’re on a budget, here are some ideas:
- If a Christmas tree is part of your normal holiday routine, pick up a bunch of the trimmed branches of trees that are normally lying around the tree lot. Fashion them into garland or other decorations — they’ll look and smell better than the fake stuff you buy at the store;
- Remember my suggestion about Goodwill? They have tons of decorations that are just as beautiful as new ones, at a fraction of the cost;
- Go simple! If you look around your neighborhood, you’ll probably determine that the most beautiful decorations are the simplest — evergreens, strung cranberries, maybe a few gourds. Decorate with those classics and your house will be a welcome, peaceful contrast to the gaudily decorated homes of your neighbors.
The holidays should be a happy time, but for many the stress of the expense of the season overwhelms the joy. Try a few of these tips to ease that burden!
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