An Early Start on Christmas

Saving Money at Christmas

I am trying to find a way to save money on Christmas presents. When I combined my family and my friends, I end up spending way more than I can afford. Since I have so many people to buy for and hardly any money, I wondered if there was anyone who had ideas for saving money at Christmas. I'm asking now because if certain things are only on sale now then I want to get them. Can anyone help me?

A Better Idea

Last year, my family spent way too much on Christmas. I ended up giving gifts just to give gifts and it made me tired and resentful. This year, I decided I wasn't going to do that again. Instead, I wrote down the names of every single person we give gifts to. I also included those undetermined "name draws" that we get.

I then went through and made a detailed list of things they might like and hobbies they had. Since January, I've kept my eyes out for gifts. For example, I bought some collector items for my mother at half-price at a store that was going out of business. I have also planned to make some homemade goodies and homemade mixes. I will be making small gift baskets with baskets picked up at rummage sales for dirt cheap for couples and families. I also have made a few crafty-type things that EVERYONE on my list will get. So far, I estimate that I will be spending a fifth of what I spent last year, and most importantly, I feel better with what we will be giving. I am already a lot happier.

A good friend of mine has given edible gifts the past three years, and I would be disappointed if I didn't get some of her oatmeal raisin cookies this year. She says that most of her family is happy not to have to find a place to put the "stuff" they would have gotten for Christmas.

Ways to Save on Gifts

Between my three brothers, their significant others, thirteen aunts and uncles, all their children and significant others, my husband's three stepfathers and their subsequent large families, we have a lot of people to give to at Christmas.

Here are a few things we do:

  • Family Dinners - We do not exchange presents with siblings and their spouses of our immediate family. Instead we get together for a holiday dinner which is supported by other family members grandparents, parents) as their Christmas present to us. They each chip in $10 or so and we can have a really nice meal with the eight of us. This saves our parents/grandparents and us money. We get to get together with the "old adults" and share what's going on in our lives. Only really works if you are in the same area.
  • Secret Santa and Gift Exchange - This works with my husband's family. With one stepfather's family, extended family members put their names in a hat and each pick out one person and get a gift for that one person (Secret Santa). Then one person obviously has your name to get a gift for you. Married couples can count as "one person" for this. With another stepfather's family, we all get together a few days before Christmas and each bring a wrapped gift (Gift Exchange), and play various games where people open and select gifts so you go home with one gift.
  • Family Gifts - Instead of buying individual gifts for aunt/uncle/and three kids we buy one gift for the whole family to enjoy such as a board game.
  • Agree not to give - With some people (similar to example 1), this works fine. People understand that everyone can have money problems and they probably have their own. Get together to do something Christmasy like bake cookies instead.
  • Hand-made gifts - Give away those cookies you just baked!

Good luck! Besides, everyone knows that Christmas is about the people you're with and not the gifts you give or get.

Avoid the Rush

My advice is don't wait until the last minute to shop! I generally start buying Christmas gifts in June! You know who is on your list and how much you want to spend. Keep your eyes open for sales, bargains at garage sales, seasonal bargains at department stores.

Buy a great deal when you see it since it might very well be gone when you go back for it.

Have a box, drawer or closet where you keep these items. Having extra gifts on hand has come in handy many times for our family. Wrap the gifts as you go too because that saves a lot of time later on. I also buy Christmas and birthday cards ahead and keep them in a file. I just bought a gorgeous soup tureen, brand-new, for $11.50 that was originally $99.00! I didn't have the exact gift-giving event in mind when I bought it, but I knew that someone in the family would LOVE to get it for Christmas or a birthday.

Keep a list with everyone's name on it (on a spreadsheet page on the computer or on a piece of paper) and a column for how much you spent. When you get up to the dollar limit for each person, STOP! This list also helps you to keep track of the gifts you bought and what else you still need to get.

Plan the Buying for Each Month

My suggestion for saving money on Christmas presents is to take your list of people you want to buy for, divide that number by 10 and buy that many presents per month during the year. For example, I have 20 people to buy for in my family. So I would divide that number by 10 which means I would purchase 2 gifts per month. I would start in January when all the stores have some big sales. Hint: Go for the bigger presents then. I divide by 10 months because you want to be able to start wrapping and mailing in November. That way you are not strapped come Christmas time and all you will have to purchase will be wrapping paper, ribbon and postage.

Creative Alternatives to Spending

I have a few ideas for gifts when there are lots of people on your list and very little money to use.

Purchase a gift subscription to the local newspaper and donate it in friends and family member names to a local retirement home.

Start a small education fund for each child in the family with maybe $10.00 per child and invite family members to contribute annually to the funds for each child. Bank or credit union professionals should handle management and oversight of the funds.

Buy board games for families with children and begin a family game night tradition that everyone can enjoy. Include games such as checkers that the very young and the elderly alike can enjoy.

Combine your limited resources with other family members to secure a weekly cleaning or errand service for elderly family members.

Take a poll of family interest and then get everyone to commit to classes at community learning centers to learn more about a subject such as stained glass making or pottery. The cost is usually low and the fun and experience unlimited.

Invest in good quality shoes for everyone as gifts and then start a walking program for health and fitness. This is a gift that will last a lifetime.

Collect and assemble the recipes that have been enjoyed by family and friends over the years, type them up, have copies made and put into a booklet format at your local copy shop. Then give them to family and friends.

Give homemade, redeemable coupons for free services such as an evening of childcare, a meal cooked by you, a facial or manicure, a car wash, snow shoveling for the elderly, etc.

These are just a few of the things we have done help stretch our gift giving ability. I know that a brightly colored package means a lot to children and we usually try to give books or materials that encourage a hobby or interest of the child involved.

The Organized Approach

In a small spiral notebook that will fit in your purse, write down the name of each person that you exchange gifts with. Keep this notebook in your purse. When you go shopping and see a nice sale look at your gift list. If you see a great bargain for someone, purchase the item and write down the item in you notebook. When you get home, wrap the gift, put on the nametag, and store the gift(s).

By using the notebook, you will not buy more than one gift per person. Keep the notebook and write a list for the next year. Then you will have a list of what you bought each person last year so you do not buy the same or similar gift for the next time.

I start buying my Christmas gifts in January. If you buy throughout the year, you are not going in debt for the holidays. You buy a few gifts each month. If you are done shopping before December enables you to enjoy your holiday visits. No mad dashes to the crowded stores.

Ways to Stretch the Christmas Funds

I keep a box in my bedroom closet labeled "presents." Whenever my son's school, PTA, cub scouts, etc. are selling something or having a fund drive, I try to find fun, appropriate items that can become nice presents. For example, last year, the Scouts sold gourmet popcorn, so a few relatives got lovely tins of caramel/almond popcorn. The school has a huge book sale to support the library, so I found a "Clifford" book and stuffed animal for a nephew, several "build-it-yourself" robotic bugs for some older nephews, and so on. I've even ordered Smithsonian magazine subscription for an older relative so they have something to read in the colder months. I ordered it when they had a half-price special, of course! This is a great way to support your non-profits and buy presents throughout the year! Your dollars are working double for you!

I recently bought two binoculars for two other young relatives from a sporting goods store. They were $49 marked down to $15 on clearance. They are really nice! Only buy a gift for a particular person! Don't buy a sale item if you do not have someone in mind for that gift! Only buy an item you know the person will like!

Sales occur throughout the year, so take advantage of it at a variety of stores! A very inexpensive idea I used once during a very lean year was to put together homemade cookie recipe (except for the eggs and liquids, of course!), put it into a mason jar, with pretty ribbon and a recipe attached with Christmas ribbon! I've done similar presents with a variety of nuts. Just make the package pretty! Homemade pumpkin bread with an attached coffee company gift certificate is a thoughtful gift for a coffee lover who may like a bit of homemade goodness to go with their brew.

Don't forget the value of your "services", like a night of babysitting for a busy mom and dad, or a ride to the autumn leaves and a stop at a county farm stand for apple cider for a non-driving senior person! I think if you put your mind to it, you can think of resourceful ways to stretch those dollars to meet your budget needs! Think of the person who you want to please and use your imagination! It's true: "it's not how much you spend that counts! "

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