Monday, November 10, 2014

Mondays with Martha: How to Spend Less This Christmas

It's just about that time. We're expecting our first polar vortex this week. The trees are bare, silhouetted skeletons against a grey sky. The red cups have made their appearance at that coffee place, what's it called again? Thanksgiving isn't here yet, but it's late this year, and if you look at the calendar you will see there are only two weekends between Thanksgiving vacation and Christmas vacation. All of which can only mean one thing: it's time to make some plans for how you're going to make this the best Christmas ever. Or, well, a good enough Christmas that you all have happy memories afterwards.

Every year I scrimp and save and say to myself, well, we don't have a lot of money this year, but next year we'll have more to spend on Christmas. And then every year we somehow seem to have less discretionary income. This year it is due to a Disney vacation and a move that cost more than we hoped and a kitchen remodel that cost a lot more than we hoped. So, how can we have all the most important parts of Christmas for less?

1) Make a list of what's really important. Ask the kids what traditions they can't live without. Figure out what makes you the most excited about the season. And then make three lists: The must-dos, the want-to-dos, and the do-withouts. Grandma's Kringle on Christmas morning makes the must-do list. So does looking at Christmas displays in fun stores with my mom. Seeing zoo lights with friends is another must-do. (Notice that those things are all basically free.) Driving around to look at ridiculous light displays set to music is on the want-to-dos. It's fun and basically free (other than the hot chocolate to make the drive even more fun), but if we don't get to it no one will have a conniption. The pictures at the mall in matching dresses is a do-without. It just makes everyone grumpy and really is quite expensive. Also not making the cut are the picture calendars. I just saved myself $200 and two days.

2) Plan ahead for your gift shopping. Ideally by this point in the year I'd be halfway done with my Christmas shopping. But this is the real world, and we are in chaos after a move and a remodel, so I have barely started. Making lists so I can shop sales and not overspend my budget is essential. Avoid those impulse buys!

3) Don't forget resale. Some items you want to buy new, of course, but especially when it comes to toys for young children, used is usually just as good as new, and a lot less expensive. Put a call out on Facebook for what you're looking for; maybe another mom has one she can sell you! Used books are also a great "extra" gift for people.

4) Think of experiences, not more "stuff." This probably works better with older children than younger children, but if you're thinking of paying for lessons or a special class, make it a gift rather than just one more thing your kids feel entitled to. Or have them open a CD (which seems more satisfying than a download, but maybe I'm just old-fashioned) with tickets to a concert. Family vacations can also be turned into gifts--money you were already going to spend that can help you spend less on other things.

5) Think of things you can make. Pinterest is your friend. There are some great ideas out there for games and toys and home decor you can make. My best Christmas as a child was the year my mom made all kinds of items for our Barbie dolls. She didn't spend much at all, but we were thrilled to pieces. Home-made granola, breads, and apple butter make wonderful gifts. Get the kids involved in making something for the grandparents and you kill two birds with one stone: making happy memories and crossing another item off your gift-giving list.

6) While you're getting crafty, think about whether you can make a little extra money at a craft sale or by taking a part-time job. I'm hoping to sell a little jewelry this season to have a little more spending money. And if none of it sells I can turn it into gifts for all the ladies in my life.

7) Think about family gifts--games or puzzles or memberships. It is much  more satisfying and saves you  money to buy a $40 game for your favorite nieces and nephews than to buy each one an individual gift that they probably won't like that much anyway. Puzzling families might like a puzzle they can put together during Christmas vacation.

8) Don't forget the dollar store and the dollar spot at Target. Sure, those things won't last forever. But they will bring a smile to a child's face.

9) Turn necessities into gifts. You can't only give socks and underwear, but you certainly can include them in a stocking. Or if there's an upcoming vacation, give a suitcase or sleeping bag. These are things you have to buy anyway, but turning them into a gift means you can spend less money over all.

10) Focus on what's truly important. Your children are better served by you making fun memories, not memories of mom stressed and dad griping about how much you overspent. Fewer presents teaches them to concentrate on giving more than receiving, to be content and grateful for what they have. And it helps them not be over-stimulated on the holiday itself. It also frees you up to focus on the together times you love the most, the feasting and game-playing and movie-watching that are the stuff of happy childhoods and cherished memories.

There you have it--my best ideas for saving a little money this Christmas. What are your favorite money-saving tips when it comes to the holidays?

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