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Creativity and planning will stretch your Christmas budget
Q. I just graduated from college this year. It took me a while to find a job, but I was lucky and found one. However, I have a limited budget for Christmas. How can I stretch money but still give gifts to my entire family?
A. It’s good that you recognize your budget is limited, and that you want to stick to it. For someone who is living on a budget, planning is the most important thing you can do. Make a list of all the people you want to give gifts to. Next to each person’s name, write down things they like, their interests and/or what they appreciate. For example: Mom likes to read and garden, Dad likes to fish, your brother loves candy, Grandma loves plants and flowers, etc. A list will help you focus on giving gifts that the people in your life will want, use or appreciate. Without a list, you may find yourself frustrated and spending your hard-earned money on “stuff” just so you can give something to everyone on your list.
When your list of gift recipients is complete, look at your budget. After paying all your bills, how much do you have to spend for the holidays? Going into debt for the holidays isn’t something I recommend. It’s better to put extra effort upfront into really thinking about what your family and friends like and coming up with creative gift ideas than to go into debt and feel regretful in January. Your challenge is to use the money you have available and spread it out to cover all the people on your list. Here are some ideas that might help you.
Some people truly enjoy gifts of service - as long as the gifts match your skills and your gift recipient’s wants and needs. For example, painting a room might be a great gift. Offering to wash windows or clean out a garage or closet may be well-appreciated gifts, as long as those are things you’re willing to do and that you will follow through and get done. For a gift of service to be most effective, assign a date to accomplish it and be sure you get it done. If you give a gift of service this Christmas and carry it through, you will probably find your family and friends coming up with suggestions for you next year. It is your responsibility, not the gift recipient’s, to see the service is carried out.
Parents often appreciate pictures. Consider giving a mug or a calendar with pictures of your family or friends. Grandparents often appreciate the gift of your time or a service they need accomplished but can no longer do themselves, such as some household chores or waxing their car. Your parents and grandparents won’t want you to spend your money on useless gifts, but they do like to be remembered during the holidays. Thoughtful gifts that meet their needs will be greatly appreciated.
Gift cards are another good option, especially if they match a person’s interests. Consider a gift card to a book store for an avid reader, a gift card to an office supply store for someone who loves to organize, or a gift card to a coffee shop for someone who loves coffee. Thinking about what people appreciate will make your gift meaningful, regardless of how much you spend. Spending time with your sister making or repairing jewelry, or babysitting for your brother and his wife so they can enjoy an evening out on New Year’s Eve, may be the perfect gifts.
With a little planning and creative thinking, you can have a memorable Christmas on a budget.
Bonnie Spain is the executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills, a United Way member agency. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2013 Consumer Credit Counseling of the Black Hills