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Face it, once you’re past Santa-believing age, Christmas gifts don’t hold quite the same thrill. The gift-giving aspects of the holidays are definitely for the kids. But that doesn’t mean your spouse doesn’t expect something — far from it!
But, especially if you’re on a tight budget that you are co-managing, your spouse may be happier with a gift that didn’t involve a major ATM withdrawal. Here are five gift ideas that will truly provide more holiday joy than Santa could bring:
Promise to do something: Imagine how thrilled you would be to find a gift-wrapped letter from your spouse saying that he promised to quit smoking cigars for a week, grow his hair long, visit your sister’s family without griping, or whatever else you’ve been nagging him to do for years? Or, men, how happy you would be to have the promise of a weekend with no honey-do list or 100 percent control of the remote one night per week? Even the most perfect couples have some gripes with each other, and they probably fester beneath the surface most of the year. Use the holidays to excise one of them — your spouse will be delighted, and your family finances will benefit from one less costly gift.
Family tree: Everyone’s curious, at least a little, about their past. Many people would love to get a detailed family tree that concludes with their own family. The tree could take the form of an actual drawn tree with all the appropriate branches (maybe one of your kids could paint a picture of a tree, and you could write in the names and glue in some photos), a photo album with family lineage noted, or some other depiction. Here’s how to make this gift better than your usual, sterile family tree: Add photos, newspaper clippings, letters, or any other family history items to the tree.
Tell me a story: This gift is related to the family tree idea. Instead of making a complete tree, research (or just remember) and write about one particular event in your family history. You don’t need to be Ernest Hemingway to write something worth reading — your spouse isn’t going to care if your grammar is imperfect. Do you have a favorite story from when your kids were little? Or some family lore (on your spouse’s side) that gets passed around? Take a couple of hours to write the story down as well as you know it, or even ask an in-law to add some details. Print it out and put it in one of those report folders your kids use in school. Guarantee: This gift will mean more than anything you could buy in a store, and it will be passed around your family and handed down. Imagine if you did this every year — eventually you’d have a priceless family history collection.
Take me out: Dates keep any romance alive, but when the budget is tight and life is busy, it’s tempting to skip dates altogether. A gift that would make any spouse happy is the promise of a weekly (or monthly) night out. But dodge the financial guilt of date night by stipulating that the date be free (or mostly free). A walk in a scenic area, a free concert, a visit to a municipal museum, a drive in the country… The possibilities of free dates are endless. After all, the purpose of a date is to spend time together, not spend money!
Write to me: When is the last time you wrote your spouse a love letter? Probably when you were dating. But guess what, she or he would still be moved by a love letter from you. Take some time to tell your spouse why you married her, tell her how much you have enjoyed your lives together, and how much you look forward to the future. Or reminisce about some shared events, with enough detail to show him that you’ve actually thought deeply about it. You’re not a great writer? So what — it’s the thought that counts. Your spouse will cherish this gift, and you’ll both be pleased that it didn’t cost a penny.
Holiday gift giving is a wonderful tradition that’s never going to end, but it can be a serious drag on your finances. When you discuss this issue with your spouse this holiday season, don’t believe her when she says she doesn’t want anything. She does want something, but she doesn’t need something that will break your budget. Try one of these five ideas instead.