(Yes, that’s me in the picture.)
With the Christmas holidays sneaking up on us, we’re very, very glad we saved ahead for the Christmas season around here. In fact, our Christmas shopping is in full swing and we have several people marked off already.
Isn’t that jumping the gun a little? I don’t see it that way at all. Instead, I see it as a recipe for saving money, giving thoughtful gifts, and creating a memorable Christmas holiday. Here are eleven tactics to do just that.
Decorate in a sentimental fashion. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without using a set of handmade Christmas tree ornaments that my mother made for me when I was young. She made a few a year for more than a decade, eventually making a very beautiful set that I remember fondly from my early years. Then, during the first Christmas I had in a home of my own, my mother gave the ornaments to me. They are the centerpiece of all of our decorations. Rather than buying cheap disposable decorations that you’ll toss out in a few years, make your own – high quality ones that will last for many, many years. There are lots of ways to do this – ceramics, wood, and so on. If you don’t have artistic ability, you can still simply seek decorations made by others that are well made, have personal meaning to you, and will last for many years.
Write thoughtful notes, not mindless cards. Several people I know send out about two hundred Christmas cards a year. They’re generic cards, merely signed and without a note – and thus I feel indifference when I look at them. Instead of plopping down money for a mass mailing of meaninglessness, spend some time writing notes to the people you genuinely care about. That way, you’ll reduce your cost (fewer “cards” sent out and less expensive “cards”) and provide something of value to the recipient.
Focus on thoughtful gifts, not showy or expensive. A ten dollar gift that actually matches a recipient well means far more than a thirty dollar gift that’s useless to the recipient. But how can you know what to get? If you’re stymied, make a list of the interests that the recipient has – think hard about it. Then, research one or two of those areas and find intriguing and useful gifts in that area. Know a golf fan? Get that person a box of the latest, greatest balls.
Make gifts for more casual exchanges. Make and can a batch of caramel pear butter, for example, and give away jars of this in an exchange. It’s a gift that most people will appreciate and if you make a large batch of it, it’s pretty cheap per jar. In fact, my wife and I are planning on giving many people gifts like this for Christmas.
Be selective about the gift exchanges you participate in. In the past, I’ve been encouraged to exchange gifts with as many as ten different groups at Christmastime, each one expecting a gift in the $20-30 range. That wound up being very, very expensive – and very time-consuming, too. Instead of just agreeing to be in every gift exchange that comes along, bow gracefully out of a few. Suggest to the people involved that they just skip the exchange and instead just have a pleasant potluck dinner instead, saving everyone some cash.
Set a strict dollar limit for what you will spend on each person. When you’re writing your list, set a dollar cap that you’ll spend on each person and literally write it next to that person’s name. This will help keep your focus – just like a shopping list.
Buy one nice gift instead of multiple less expensive gifts. When buying gifts for a spouse or a parent or a child, you may be tempted to buy a lot of gifts. The problem with buying a lot of gifts is that not only do you avoid putting as much thought into each one, you also end up restricting your gifts to inexpensive items. Instead, focus on one or two very nice gifts instead – ones that you can put a lot of thought into selecting the right thing.
Start shopping now for those gifts – the earlier the better. Right now is the best time to start that Christmas buying process – in fact, you’re better off starting even earlier. Think of ideas, write them down, and seek them out through comparison shopping. The longer in advance you plan a gift, the more time you have to wait for the perfect price on eBay or by comparison shopping.
Stagger gift purchases so that you’re not putting the purchases on credit. Many people go on a giant rush of buying right after Thanksgiving, then are hammered with a huge credit card bill in late December or early January. Don’t let that happen to you. Buy a few gifts now, a few more in a few weeks, and so on – and consider paying in cash, too. This way, you won’t face the mountain of purchases all on one bill (or set of bills that arrive at the same time).
Use newsprint for wrapping paper. Few things make better wrapping paper than newsprint. It looks distinctive, it can be colorful if you choose the right pieces (like the comic pages), and it’s basically free. Isn’t it better to spend an extra $10 on someone’s gift than wasting it on paper that just gets torn up on Christmas morning?
Start an automatic savings plan for NEXT Christmas NOW. Seriously. You have roughly 60 weeks until next Christmas. Start putting $5 a week away right now. Putting that in a savings account that returns 3% annually would give you $305 to spend on next year’s Christmas expenses – just $5 a week!