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?

Sincerely,

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!

Mom
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