Christmas decorations are already out in full force and the season of spending is upon us. You have a choice to make. You can be prepared, remain calm, stay within your budget and have a happy holiday, or you can become a raving lunatic, throw your money away on thoughtless gifts and end up broke, resolving to finally get out of debt next year.
I choose to stay sane. Here’s how:
DECIDE HOW MUCH TO SPEND
I don’t know why planning things out has such a bad rap. I can’t tell you how many of my friends roll their eyes when I talk about how important it is to write things down! It’s not hard, doesn’t take much time and in the long run can save you tons of grief.
All you have to do is set a budget for how much you want to spend on gifts and other holiday expenditures like food, alcohol, decorations and gift wrap. Then, assign each person and category with a dollar amount. Make sure you get it down on paper or print it out. Put that piece of paper in your wallet, purse or briefcase and do not go shopping without it. The key is to stick to what you’ve budgeted.
ASK WHAT PEOPLE WANT
Do you know what the people on your list want to receive? Is it within your budget? If so, you are lucky. If not, ask them what they’d like to have and tell them how much you have to spend.
Some people think this approach is tacky. There is something to be said for being able to pick out a thoughtful gift you can afford that the recipient is not expecting and will absolutely love. But, when that doesn’t happen, why waste time and money and risk giving an unwanted gift that will end up at Goodwill?
I am willing to bet than many people you know would be thrilled to be asked what they want. There are plenty of inexpensive ways to make someone happy that you may have never thought of. For example, I love a certain brand of wool sock, but each pair is around $12. I find it hard to spend that much money on socks, but as far as a gift goes, that’s a bargain.
I’ve found that most retailers offer friends and family deals in November. So, each year I wait for my email from Origins, offering 25% off my entire order and free shipping. They usually run this deal again in May, before Mother’s Day. I also have a friend who gives me an Eddie Bauer discount the week before Thanksgiving. I’m sure whichever major retailer you like to buy from runs similar deals.
I’m one of those annoying people who shops for Christmas presents year-round and stocks them in my closet. My number one reason for doing this that I absolutely HATE to shop on a deadline. So, if I come across a good sale in April or find something perfect for my mom in February, I go ahead and buy it then.
Note: I do not stock up on random gifts, just to have them on hand for when I’m invited over somewhere. It’s easy enough to pick up a reasonable bottle of wine, which will probably be more appreciated than another scented candle or body lotion.
Believe it or not, anyone can be creative. You don’t need to know how to paint or draw or knit or weld to make something special. Take things you already have and turn them into something new. Compile your recipes into a family cookbook, burn a mix CD or turn your photos into an album. There are resources on the web to help you create just about anything.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Of course, you’ll need to give yourself time to do anything crafty, but something as simple as framing a favorite photo can be done on short notice.
KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Remind yourself every day why the holidays are special. The answer isn’t stuff. If you forget to pick up a present for someone, it’s ok. Give them a hug instead and tell them how much they mean to you. Most people aren’t expecting to be blown away with expensive gifts, so don’t sweat it if you can’t afford to give your wife that Lexus with the big bow on it.
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