"What's the best Christmas present you ever got?" Mary asked the question almost absent-mindedly, but John knew that there was something behind that innocent question.
"Probably those old records you found for me one year. I listen to them all the time. Why do you ask?"
"Just thinking about our Christmas shopping list. We shouldn't spend so much this year and yet I don't want to feel like we're cheating our friends and relatives. Thought that maybe remembering our own best and worst gifts would put me in the right frame of mind to put a good list together."Since John hated shopping he was all for anything that would make Christmas shopping easier. If Mary could make it cheaper, too, she'd really have something! "I'll tell you one rule we should use this year. If someone already has one of something we shouldn't buy them a replacement. Take your Dad, for instance. Last year we bought him that new putter. After six rounds of missing puts with it he was ready to throw it into the lake. Don't think we bought any real happiness with that gift!"
Mary chuckled, but she knew that John was right. "Remember those shirts we got for your brothers? I was looking for something where I could buy two and give one to each. I ended up getting something that really wasn't right for either of them. This year, I'm just not going to buy the same gift for more than one person."
John hadn't told Mary, but one day last spring Bill had mentioned that he returned the shirt. "What we need to figure out is what to do with all of our friends. If we don't have enough time to see them regularly how are we supposed to find a gift that they really like?"
"Oh, I didn't tell you. Susie and I were talking on the phone the other day. We decided that instead of trading meaningless gifts that we would save the money and use it to go out to dinner together in January. It's set for the 9th. We thought that would be a good chance to catch up with what's going on in each other's lives."
"Great! Why don't we do that with Jim and Nancy, too?"
Mary responded to John by making a note on her list. But she was still concerned that there were too many people on the list where she just didn't have any good ideas. "What about Ellen and Tony? She always says that they don't need anything. But I can't just skip my own sister."
"How about this, Hon? With the three kids they never seem to have any time on their own. Why don't we babysit the kids while they go to dinner or a movie?"
Mary thought for a moment, then a frown crossed her face. "Even if they want to go out, Ellen will never call to ask. It'll be like giving them nothing."
"I can solve that. Do the same thing you did with Susie. Pick a date and then just remind Ellen about a week before. That way they have to do something specific to avoid going out."
Mary brightened. "Oh, I like that! I was thinking of something similar for Joannie. Since the divorce she never gets any time away from the kids. I thought that we could babysit while she goes to the mall or has lunch with some girl friends. Now I know how to get her to actually take me up on the offer!"
John joined Mary on the sofa and peeked at her list. "Oh, I've got an idea for your folks. Heard it on the radio. You always talk about how much they mean to you. Why don't you write it down. Sort of like a tribute to them. Include how they've helped you and why you love them. I'll use the computer to print it up fancy and we can frame it for them. The guy on the radio said that he's seen parents break down and cry when they get one." John wasn't too sure, but he thought that his bride's eyes were just a little bit teary at the thought.
"What'll we do about Aunt Edna? Guess we can't get by with a fruitcake, can we?"
Mary shot an elbow at John's ribs. He never missed an opportunity to poke some fun at her aunt. "I've got that one covered, wise guy. She's always saying how she wishes she could see more of the kids. So I'm going to get a little photo album and fill it with a bunch of family pictures. I can put it in the mail to her and it'll almost be like a visit. You know, you should be more respectful of your elders!"
John grinned and gave her hand a squeeze. "Ok, now all we've got to do is figure out what to do with all the kids. Is there something in the Christmas rule book that says that children's gifts all have to be electronic or cost over $20..." ?
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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