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Preparing for the Holidays Without Pulling Out Your Hair - Part 2

Financial Journey (featured column)
Submitted by Karen Kuebler

In last month’s column, I encouraged you to think more broadly about what things you will need to do to prepare for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Have you created lists of everything and anything that came to mind? If you didn’t make your lists yet, it isn’t too late. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but you can still save a lot of money over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s if you exercise your creative thinking and plan ahead.

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I’d like to restate two things from Part 1 of this article to help you stay calm and use resourcefulness to keep more money in your pocket book. The first is to adopt the mantra “Simplicity Saves Sanity.” The second is to remember that just because you have always done things a certain way does not mean that you have to continue doing them the same way. There really aren’t any written rules about the holidays!

Study your lists and think about what you could do differently this year to save money. Do you have friends on your Christmas gift list? Invite them for a potluck dinner instead and have a “white elephant” gift exchange. My favorite is to have everybody bring some item from their home that they want to get rid of – there are a variety of ways of doing this kind of exchange. Rather than going into the logistics of how I’ve done this in the past, I would suggest you ask others for their ideas. The gift exchanges we have had the most fun and laughed the hardest were the ones where we didn’t have to spend any money on a gift!

Depending on how many friends are on your list, you might decide to do this over one or more evenings. Ask somebody to bring their favorite movie on video or DVD; ask others to bring their favorite Christmas music; ask somebody else to come up with a favorite game for the group. The general idea here is to allow others to help you in creating a memorable evening. This is a great opportunity to create a new tradition, simplify your life, save money, and cut down tremendously on the stress. In fact, the social connections and laughter will be a huge stress reliever.

Maybe your friends or family would be interested in helping other families in need instead of exchanging gifts this year. By contacting local churches, homeless shelters, and other agencies that serve people in need – you won’t have any problem finding ways to help others. This is another opportunity to begin a new tradition.

I haven’t been Christmas caroling since I was in high school – but I would sure enjoy doing that again if I could find a group of friends or family that wanted to do that together!

Study the other things on your list such as decorations, wrapping paper, invitations, etc. What can you do differently this year to save money and time?

I collect everything and anything for wrapping paper! I use comics, old sheet music, end rolls from our local newspaper, recycled gift bags and wrapping paper, tissue paper, and old calendars. For small gifts you can use pages from the millions of catalogs you are probably receiving in the mail right now.

What can you do differently to simplify decorations? While you’re taking nature walks, and getting in some exercise to fend off weight gain before the holidays – look around for things you can bring home to use as decorations. We’re fortunate to live in an area where I can take baskets outside and fill them with branches of pine needles and pine cones. Collect autumn leaves, fallen branches with interesting shapes, unique and colorful rocks, old bird’s nests, etc. There are countless ways to arrange those to trim your porch and mantel, or to create a new centerpiece for the table.

You really don’t have to go all out with the decorations to enjoy the theme of the holidays and get into the holiday spirit. I have found that it is much simpler to decorate focal points in each room to give me the “warm, fuzzy feeling” of the holiday season. I concentrate on our entry way, our hearth and mantel in the family room, and a couple of other strategic spots that we see most often.

What about exchanging decorations with friends – that would provide several people an opportunity to enjoy some “new” holiday décor without having to spend any money. Visit Thrift Shops and garage sales to find some of the items on your list. We live in a colder climate and I am still finding lots and lots of garage sales. As a matter of fact, I am picking up next year’s gifts at garage sales now!

Look through your own stash of accumulated “stuff” for “regifting” opportunities. You might have many beautiful things in your collection that match another person’s interests. Some ideas might include puzzles, games, jewelry, kitchen appliances, books, magazine collections, videos, CD’s, etc. A couple of years ago our friends decided to do this as a way to simplify and declutter. They wrote a beautiful letter to give with the gift, and they personalized each gift to fit with the individual. Their friends and family were all very receptive and pleased with the gifts they had been given.

There is one thing that many of us fall prey to that runs up our gift giving expenditures. I know, because even as frugal as I am, I have been guilty of this.  I will see gift items while shopping and then start to second guess myself. Examples of my self talk – will  my friend like this better than the gift I already bought? I really haven’t purchased enough for this particular child. Oh, maybe I should make Christmas stockings and fill them with some little gifts (these are for my grown children who no longer live at home!) The cure for this syndrome is to QUIT shopping once you have something adequate for each person on your list.

I have also worked at ratcheting down expectations over the years by purchasing less, combining gifts for grandchildren in the same family, and making a lot of my gifts. I decided a couple of years ago that I would focus on my own theme of “Giving from the heart” and I have continued to stick with that. If we decide to spend extra and buy something special, we score extra brownie points! But, at least it isn’t expected any more, and the decision to spend extra is driven by us, not the recipient.

For simple recreation ideas, check your local newspaper and Chamber of Commerce for events around town that are available throughout the holidays. There are often a variety of free or low cost events that your family and friends could enjoy without the effort of putting together labor intensive affairs at your house.

If you are really stuck for ideas to create new and simplified traditions, try searching the internet. Check out Google or ask.com and type in key words such as simplify holidays, games, recipes, holiday traditions, international holiday ideas, holiday folklore, holiday stories, holiday inspiration, etc. Your possibilities are limitless if you let your imagination run free.

I realize that many of these ideas will not fit with each reader’s comfort level. My objective is to put some ideas out there for you to mull over and consider. If only one or two ideas work for you, then I will have accomplished my goal to help you simplify your holidays in some way!

I wish each of you a wonderful, safe, and peaceful Holiday Season – and most importantly, the opportunity to share it with the people you love. That is what the season is about – to be thankful and share love with those who fill our lives!

Read... Part 1
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Copyright © 2004 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.

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