by Sarah Welch
I’m struggling to figure out the best approach for gift giving this Holiday Season. I want to give my kids and family the world, but can’t afford to spend a lot of money this year because I have been out of a job since September. What are some good ways to make a little go a long way when it comes to presents?
The spirit of the Holidays is about giving, but that does not necessarily have to mean gift-giving. There are lots of ways, for little or no money, to celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or just the New Year, in a way that makes the people you love feel loved, appreciated, and special. Below are a few thought starters – we usually stick to three – but in this case once we started thinking of ways to get yourself organized to celebrate without spending too much, the ideas kept coming.
One of the best ways to give gifts without busting your budget is to use any credit card points you have accumulated all year long to get gifts for friends and family. Credit card companies, like American Express, have so many great things to choose from and they are free with those points you have earned but probably don't think about using.
Start Early and Shop Smart
With the economy in the doldrums, retailers are doing their best to entice buyers into stores. Be on the lookout for “BOGOs” – or buy one get one free offers, and discounts as much as 40% on brand new merchandise. In addition, be sure to look for deals online. Amazon.com, overstock, etc all usually have better deals on prices and periodically offer free shipping. Also considered gently used items on ebay. And if you’ve got gamers at home, try GameStop (in stores or online). They have a huge selection of used video games guaranteed to work. They are exactly the same as new ones, it’s just that the child who owned it before yours beat the game and has no use for it any more.
Rather than focusing on “what I got” – focus on giving something back. This Christmas morning, or the first day of Chanukah or Kwanzaa, consider volunteering as a family at a soup kitchen, a nursing home, or hospital. Your children (and you) will get to experience the true gift of the Holidays when you see another’s face light up because you have offered a helping hand.
Make Something in the Kitchen Together
Apple pie, pumpkin pie, ginger bread cookies, rugelach – no matter the dish – time spent in the kitchen making special treats creates memories that will last a lifetime. Before you put on your aprons, sit down together and read Truman Capote’s short story, called “A Christmas Memory” to set the mood.
Wrap Every, Little Thing
Kids like opening presents – the more the better. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy more. Simply wrap all of the items individually. A lot of toys come in packs with more than one item. Break them open and wrap each piece individually: lip gloss, mini-purse, socks, match-box cars, etc.
Wrap in Newspaper
A great way to save money on gift wrapping, which costs upwards of $4 per roll, is to use newspaper and comics instead. It can be fun, different and it also saves a few trees. Gifts wrapped in newsprint are also easily customized with drawings and/or ribbon – pick a different color theme for each child.
Sign Up for an Angel Tree
If you are truly financially unable to buy gifts for your family this year, consider signing up for an Angel Tree through your church or local Salvation Army. Those organizations decorate trees with numbered paper angel tags with the first name, age and gender of a child. Contributors remove one or more tags from the tree and purchase appropriate gifts for the child or children described on the tags.
Think Outside the Box
If you have older children who no longer believe in Santa, and who have been begging you for guitar lessons, dance classes, or some other exotic lesson, think about this. You could give them a month trial. How? Rent equipment, like a guitar, for around $20-40 per month, and then find a local college student who charges $10-15 per hour to teach them once a week for a month. If after their ‘trial’ they want to stick with it, they can earn money to pay for it by doing chores, allowance money, or shoveling snowy driveways.
Harness the Power in Numbers
If you child has his or her eye on a large gift, like a Wii or junior golf clubs, have everyone in the family – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles - pitch in. Put 75-85% of the budget towards the big-ticket item and the remaining amount towards one or two smaller gifts.