Can you feel the tug? It’s the strong pull of the culture that works hard to get the best of us this time of year, to get us to spend more than we should.
The best way to counter that force is to have strategies in mind ahead of time, before we feel we have no choice but to give in one more time, one more season.
Consumable gifts. If your social circle is anything like mine, your gift list is a fairly long one and includes at least some people who are difficult to buy for. The problem with hard-to-buy-for people is that any gift will end up in a closet or the donation box, and that just makes the whole endeavor a big, fat, expensive waste of time and money.
The best solution is to give consumable gifts that are meant to be used up and enjoyed. That’s a gift that delivers a message of love and joy that will remain with the recipient long after the gift has been consumed. That’s a win-win. You lose the guilt and anxiety that insists you must come up with the “perfect” gift that each recipient will treasure for a lifetime, and your recipient loses the obligation to like it, use it, wear it or display it.
Some of my best gifts over the years have been homemade: Madagascar vanilla extract, bacon onion jam, sweet pepper onion relish and freshly roasted Costa Rican coffee beans. Each of these gifts is pretty inexpensive and, although some of them do take some time, most are ridiculously simple to make.
If making a gift isn’t your style, give an edible gift of some kind: a nice bottle of wine, a couple bars of delicious chocolate, summer sausage and cheeses, gourmet popcorn and seasonings. There are so many edible gifts that people will sincerely appreciate.
Decorate in 1, 2, 3. If you have little time and even less money to dress the house for the holidays, no problem! Use what you have and concentrate on just these three areas:
The front door: Drape a garland intertwined with twinkle lights, hang a wreath and you’re done.
The table: Start with a tablecloth, runner, place mats — anything festive and beautiful. Add a big centerpiece. Set the table with the best things you own. Get out the china and crystal. Go all out and reset after every meal.
The mantel: Remove everything. Start with any kind of greens like pine, juniper or magnolia. Step outdoors and look around. If it’s green, it works! Add candles, ornaments, ribbon, cards and something red: Christmas balls, apples, pomegranates, candles or fabric. Note: If you do not have a mantel but you have a staircase, make that your third area of concentration.
Cards are great. Not every occasion requires a gift. Sending a card with a well-thought-out handwritten message can perfectly convey the sentiment of the occasion. If you take the time and put out the effort, the message you write will be the gift. Caution: This tactic seldom works with individuals under the age of 16.
Secret Santa. At some family holiday celebrations, everyone is expected to give a gift to everyone else, so the end result is that everyone has several cheap gifts while also feeling financially tapped out because of all of the gifts they are obligated to buy.
A much better approach is to adopt a Secret Santa exchange. Have everyone draw a name out of a hat of someone else in the exchange (or one designated person can do this for the group), then assign a financial limit. The end result is a lot of fun, unique gifts. Everyone spends less overall and everyone winds up with just one gift that they may actually really like.
Holiday supplies. Wrapping paper, ribbon, bows and other holiday supplies are so stinking expensive starting late November and into December. Never pay full price again with this one trick: Buy those kinds of items right after Christmas, when the stores put their wrapping paper, bows, tags and other such holiday items on steep discount in order to clear their stock.
Buy plenty for the following year then store it with all of your holiday decorations. But do one more thing: Make a note and write it in your calendar for November 2022 that will remind you what you bought, how much you bought and exactly where it is.
You will bless the day you decided to adopt this strategy. It won’t be this year but next.
Final thoughts. There are so many clever little things you can do throughout December to save on the holiday season. These strategies, which only scratch the surface, are the ones I have used successfully to cut back on the costs of the holiday season without sacrificing the joy.
Hopefully, some of these moves will help you keep more of your money in your pocket or help you to direct it to areas that you find more fulfilling.
Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living.” Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.