6 Ways to Shop for the Holidays
Without Breaking the Bank
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice, there is no avoiding the fact that for many of us, the winter holiday season is about giving. Of course, not all of that giving has to cost a fortune. In fact, some of the most valuable gifts can cost nothing at all -- or certainly very little in monetary terms. Here is a look at six ways to celebrate your holidays by giving generously to others without breaking your budget.
1. Make Your List... And Check It Twice.
The best way to save on your holiday budget is to plan ahead. Never walk into a store or surf an online retailer without a clear idea of what you are looking for. Your list should include the individual you are buying for, the item you want to purchase and an estimated purchase price. Now you are ready to go shopping -- just don't forget your lists.
If this is your first year making a list, it may seem stifling. But in time, you will come to appreciate the clarity that comes from planned shopping. Next year, you can start your list early. As loved ones mention something that peaks their fancy, put it on your list. Don't panic if the list is pages long by November: You can -- and should -- cull the list before you start your shopping.
2. Shop With Cash.
The second best way to save on your holiday gift-giving is to shop with cash, rather than credit card. Ever wonder why fast food chains like McDonald's started accepted credit cards? It's because research shows that the average patron spends more when they swipe their meal on a card rather than hand over the cold hard cash. Giving away the green can be painful -- it really makes you feel your purchases. But that's a good thing when you are pinching your pennies.
Remember that list you made? Tally up all your estimated purchase prices and then put that total amount into your envelope. Mark it "holiday shopping" and tuck it into your wallet. You might even put a copy of your list in there, so you can check it off as you go. If you find a great bargain and manage to save a few dollars, that doesn't mean you can go hog wild on your other purchases. If you finish your list and still have cash left over, why not treat yourself? Even Santa's helpers deserve a little treat.
3. Give to Fewer People.
This advice may sound Scrooge-like, but one sure-fire way to save money on your holiday gift buying is to buy for fewer people. And rest assured, you won't be the only person this holiday season considering cutting out her third cousin once removed from the list.
Instead of buying for everyone of your fifteen cousins or eight colleagues, consider a Secret Santa-type program. Rather than buying a $10 gift for each person in your large group, everyone picks one name and is responsible for buying a moderately priced present for that person. You might also want to have an honest talk with the people you are thinking of cutting from your list: Odds are they feel the same way -- especially this year.
4. Get Crafty.
Whether you are a gifted seamstress, knitter, woodworker or baker, everyone has some talent that can produce perfect holiday gifts. You don't have to be Martha Stewart to make holiday crafts. Even novice knitters can make a simple scarf, with tons of free patterns online. Homebaked goods never go out of fashion. Homemade clay ornaments are fun to make with little kids; start with one of the many free tutorials online. Even if you are not a master carpenter, you can still purchase a simple wooden box at a craft store and paint or decoupage it for a lovely keep-sake jewelry box.
To save even more money with your crafting, try making your holiday projects out of items you already have at home. Afterall, who among us does not have at least one drawer -- or closet -- full of well-intentioned, but never used crafting purchases?!
5. Go Green.
Save money and the environment by committing this holiday season to reduce, reuse and recycle. Do you have items at home that can be reused and repurposed for your holiday gift giving? This should be no problem if you are a crafter (see suggestion #4). Or what about an old sweater, which can be felted into a pair of wool leggings for a new baby?
Instead of buying multiple gifts for your kids, consider getting just one or two quality items. By reducing your consumption, you will also reduce your holiday budget and all that wasted packaging -- much of which cannot be recycled.
Speaking of packaging, why not make your own holiday gift wrap this year? If you have young children, you might already have a stack of art projects and coloring pages just begging to be turned into wrapping paper. If not, try sponge painting the inside of a paper grocery store bag. Even wrapping your gifts in an appropriate section of the newspaper is a great way to reduce costs and waste.
Finally, if you purchase a real Christmas tree, be sure to recycle it. Go to www.earth911.org and type in Christmas tree in the search function -- you will get a comprehensive list of Christmas tree recycling programs in your local area.
6. Be Charitable.
One of the best ways to honor the people in your life is by giving a charitable contribution. By blessing people truly in need, you connect with the spirit of the season. And by giving a charitable gift in your loved one's name, you honor that person far more than you ever could with yet another scented candle or DVD.
Why not make a charitable contribution to your local women's shelter in honor of your great Aunt Sally, the first woman in your family to attend college. Or give to the Human Society in honor of your boss Joe, the biggest dog lover you know.
If you do not have enough cash to make a charitable gift, just take a look around your home. At this time of year, shelters always welcome donations of used blankets, winter clothing, children's toys and unopened toiletries. Animal rescue groups appreciate second-hand blankets and towels with which to line cages. You might need to get a little creative, but if you are giving of yourself, the possibilities are endless.
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