“What? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s only August.” That may be true but if you have heard the story of Santa then you know that his elves are already working. Delivery day is December 25 but all year long there has been busy activity in preparation for the day that we celebrate the birth of Christ by giving gifts to one another.
This year may be the first year ever that you are ready to consider creating a new tradition. No credit cards. No added debt. No paying for Christmas up until April. How about a new tradition of a cash only Christmas? You might have even said this to yourself every year right before you pull out the plastic.
“He’s making a list and checking it twice”. There’s our starting point. This is the most important part because it will be your guideline for what you will do for the next five months and I can tell you it might not be as easy as it sounds. It is hard to think about Christmas in August when we don’t have the store ads and commercials motivating us. “What? Oh, you mean the media is influencing us? Oh…..” Sure. They want to sell as much as they can and lay it on thick with all the best marketing, persuasive colors, lights, and sounds they can find. They have actually studied how to entice us to buy more. Just do it. Pull out the plastic.
This year is going to be different. This year we can plan early. Pay cash. And, have a wonderful holiday season that does not leave us with a strange sick feeling in the stomach when it’s over.
Back to the list making. If you can’t get enthusiastic then find a friend who will do this with you. Once the list is made figure out how much each item costs and write it on the side. Add up what you think might be the total cost. I know. It does take so much fun out of it to be so much like an accountant when thinking about Christmas. I totally get that. Spontaneous gift giving is very fun but it’s like dieting. We can’t enjoy the fact that we have passed up the donuts until we step on the scale and find that we have lost five pounds.
Here are some ideas to think about once the list is complete. You might want to revise your list after reading them.
1. Christmas cards. Almost everybody loves getting Christmas cards especially if they are from someone they have not heard from all year. To economize in this area consider reducing the price of the box of cards, not the number of people on your list. Discount and dollar stores often carry boxed cards year round at very cheap prices. Think about buying stamps now and setting them aside or stashing the money in your Christmas account if you want to wait for the seasonal stamps.
2. Christmas account. Set up a Christmas account at the bank and put a regular amount of money each paycheck that is building to the full amount of the list. With five months to go before Christmas and a list of $1,000 then you would need to put $200 per month in the account. What? Can’t afford that? Then it’s time to go back through the list. Here are more ideas to help cut it back.
3. Baking cookies and treats. We used to spend a few days in the kitchen baking, baking, and baking. Little cranberry and pumpkin loaves, cookies, and fudge. We would then deliver them to friends and neighbors with our personal Christmas greetings. Is there anyone on your list who would be just as happy with holiday treats as they would be with the gift you were planning to buy? In these tough economic times everyone knows about cutting back and understands. Sometimes it can even be a relief to them because they don’t feel like they need to reciprocate more than a hug if that is all they can afford.
4. Layaway. Before credit cards (yes, there was actually a time before credit cards) layaway was very popular with the department stores. Ask at each of the stores you frequent if they have layaway. If not suggest that Christmas is coming and they might want to get it in place. If yes, then watch for the best sale you can find on big-ticket items. Shop around so that you know the difference between the regular price and a sale. When you find the best deal put it on lay-away. You will need to make a regular payment so ask and make arrangements with the store to do so. This can be reduced from the money you are putting in the bank. Don’t miss a payment. The merchandize could go back on the rack and you could lose some or all of what was paid in. Another good reason to have your Christmas account. If you really are running short you have a back-up payment source.
5. Make your own gifts. Do you have a talent or craft that you enjoy? By starting early you can make many of your gifts. One of my favorite Christmas’ was when I was about five. My mom and dad bought me a doll. My grandpa made a wooden doll bed and painted it white. My grandma made some blankets, sheets, and a little pink pillow, and my great aunt made some doll clothes. It was a family effort and it was wonderful. Most was made from scrap lumber, fabric, and yarn. The cost was minimal but the gift was priceless.
6. More please. I am a firm believer that children under 12 would prefer to have a number of smaller gifts than one big gift. It’s more exciting. If income is limited by setting an amount per person you can select what will fit into this limit. Board games, books, articles of clothing can all add to their feeling of an abundant Christmas. Remember that kids do count so if Sally got five gifts then Mike wants five gifts also. If there is a more expensive item on the list is it something that could be a “family gift” instead of being designated for one person?
7. Practical Christmas gifts. It’s great to have picked the perfect gift for everyone on our list. How often does that really happen based on the returns? One of the ways I like to shop is to pick a practical gift and buy the same thing for almost everybody. Towels are my favorite item because everyone can use them and every couple years it’s nice to have some new. It’s very simple to go and buy seven sets of towels in colors to match their bathroom. For children there are Dora, Barbie, sports, and other things kids love. The price is about $12 to $20 per person to do this. Other gifts I have bought in this manner are sheets, digital cameras, and kitchen towel sets. You can structure your gift to the amount you have to spend per person that year.
8. What are your own favorite Christmas memories? What was most special? Can you incorporate any of these ideas in your planning?
9. Still short on having enough money planned? There is still time to do a Labor Day Garage sale to bring in part or the entire amount needed for your Christmas list.
10. Bonus tip. When shopping for others with a plan you will be less likely to impulsively buy things that are not needed just for recreation. You can still have the enjoyment of a day of shopping but are doing it with a purpose in mind.
Every year we remind ourselves that it is the thought that counts for Christmas and that thought flies out the window when we start shopping. Santa’s helpers have the right idea and we can learn from their experience by planning ahead. When the holidays arrive we can be ready and be able to relax and enjoy them. Oops, in December it’s to make all those cookies. So, we can be busy and enjoy them. When January comes we can walk to the mailbox with confidence knowing we have achieved our personal victory over the credit monster for another year.
Carol Schultz-Weil is the author of In The Trenches – Financial Survival During Times of Hardship and has a blog at http://inthetrenches2009.blogspot.com