Thursday, November 19, 2009

No money for Christmas

Dear Mom:

Now that the semester is almost over, I have been thinking more about Christmas. The problem? I have little money to spend on my friends and family. I want the gifts to look cool, not cheap. What should I do?


Penny Pinched

Dear Pinched:

Here's my take on cheap Christmas gifts that don't necessarily look it.

1. Think before you buy. Make a list. You will spend your small wad very quickly without one. Call this material hunger-sort of like going to the grocery store when your belly is crying out for food. Your Christmas list will help you curb the spending you might otherwise do without one.

2. Take the list wherever you go so that you can pull it out and remember your plan. Often I find the most creative items when I'm not looking for them. Without the list, you will be scrambling to remember if this gift will go along with your initial idea.

3. Get Creative. Every Christmas I shop at thrift stores for baskets to hold theme gifts. And every year my loved ones are thrilled about the thought and energy that it must have taken me to put it together. They don't need to know how much it cost me, and it shouldn't matter anyhow. A themed gift for the "cook" in my family can drum up many wonderful things such as a cookbook from Barnes & Noble (I get these on the discount racks right within the store) and the Dollar Store (I have also found some pretty neat utensils at a buck a piece).

4. Think Smart. If you are stressed for time, don't run, thinking you will find all the items on your list in one or two hours. Plan your day. Allow for an enjoyable experience, which goes without saying, don't do all of your shopping on Christmas Eve.

5. Shop with a friend who is budget conscious and/or take only cash, and when the money is gone, it's gone. When I write my list I also include a budget amount for each person. If I spend too much on one person, I am obviously left with less for another. I find it's usually best to stick to my original plan. Friendships are great motivators in sticking to your budget. A good budget conscious friend can persuade you to put the item on hold until your check with other stores to find the cheapest price, or to put the "horrible" gift idea back on the shelf. There is nothing worse than taking a gift back during the holidays that initially appeared "wonderful."

Good luck! And Merry Christmas!



  1. I live in India. My parents had a toxic marriage and so they separated when I was 7. Even so, they dont keep in touch, they are hostile towards even the mention of the others' name. Its a very difficult relationship to maintain. Neither of them makes any good money, or really supports me emotionally or pays attention to my education because they;re so caught up in their own lives and their problems. I was sent to boarding school for 7 years. 4th grade through 10th. When I finally got out, I had a taste of the real world for the first time. The first time I went to the movies with my friends was when I was 16. This new life was overwhelming. I always payed attention to my academics. I scored in the top 90%ile. I was an honour student because I knew I always had so much more to lose. And I did.
    In the 12th Grade I had a boyfriend. He was my first boyfriend. At the beginning I didnt really care for him, he was a reason to get out of home and have a good time. But as things got worse at home I began to depend on him even more. I had to write my board exams (qualifying examinations for college admission) in March. We started getting physical in February after Valentines day. This really threw off my concentration. I dindt necessarily mess up my exams, but I didnt do as well as I should've. For a merit seat, I needed 90% of higher. I scored only 87%. which doesnt seem like a lot. But keep in mind, I come from a densely populated country which means that theres is that much higher competition for college. I was so distraught that I held onto the relationship even tighter. In May, we had sex. Several times. I stopped caring about college, I only wanted to be with him. I cut off contact with my parents too because they couldnt afford to send me to college. I fell into a spiral of self destructive methods. We would go drink together, get high and end up at his place to fool around and have sex. I would sometimes even stay over. It took time. But I realised what I was doing, and how it would affect me. I wasnt in college and he was rich. He would eventually get by, with his dad being a millionaire and everything.
    I broke up with him in June. We kept in touch for a while but then he began seeing someone else. I felt horrible. While things got even worse at home. My mom sued my dad, and I had to go to court with him. My dad lost a ton of money and ended up being broke by the end of the year. I wanted my boyfriend back, I needed him as a friend. I needed someone to lean on. My parents never stop being at each others necks. It gets tiring. Ive been staying home for the past 7 months. Depressed. Looking at everyone moving on with their lives. He has a new girlfriend now. All of my friends are caught up with college and work. I cant afford college, Im not allowed to work. I have the grades, but to what effect?
    I know its only going to get worse. I need a way out. I try studying everyday. Keeping up with my education. But there's only so much I can do on my own. I feel lost, helpless and incredibly stupid because I knew all along that I was playing with fire, betting against the odds and gambling with my future.
    I sicken myself. Even right now. I cant sleep eat or focus.
    I need a college education to get somewhere. I dont want ot be 40 something and broke and unable to support my family. I want to stop caring about this boy with the perfect life. He affected and took over so much of my time and I feel crappy or allowing him to do so. It bothers me that he could so easily move on to the next girl while I am stuck in this mud. I dont want these feelings.
    I cant talk to my parents anymore because Im so embarrassed of the situation ive put myself in. The worst part of this whole thing is that I knew I deserved better, I knew all along that I could do better than an 87 or even 90. I could just as easily get a 95 and go to one of the best institutes in the country.
    I feel like my life is over. There was a point in all of this when I was suicidal. I've officially hit my rock bottom. What should I do?

  2. Dhwani,

    I'm so sorry. I feel your pain and truly wish I could save you from all of this. Even when we know we're where we're at because we put ourselves there, that doesn't mean we don't deserve to get some help.

    I have some suggestions, some thoughts that might help.

    If you can't go to your parents, where else can you go? Consider the places where you can get help. When I struggle I go to God. Do you believe in God? Do you believe there is someone out there to help you?

    I would get help right away. I know you're reaching out to me, but you probably need a professional; someone to walk you through everything and weed out the bad so that you can move forward.

    It's really about forgiving yourself and forgiving others, too. And it's about not thinking less of yourself because you're not perfect. No one is perfect.

    Your life isn't over. Mistakes have been made, but looking forward your slate is clean. Don't take your life. Don't think that your life isn't worth living.

    You are important. All of God's children are important. You are loved.

    Get the help you need. Do whatever it takes to get back on track and then write back to me. I want to know how you're doing.


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