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Playing Santa While Playing Smart

By Lavender November 6, 2008

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Home & Yard Blvd. Section

No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus. And, guess what? Reindeer can’t fly, and money doesn’t grow on trees, either. Yes, these stark reminders of actuality may be hard to swallow, especially if you’re a wide-eyed, innocent, 7-year-old girl, but come this holiday season, reality may be the only thing filling the heads of consumers after they dig into their now-barren wallets.

With an economic crisis large and depressing enough to trigger imaginary elfish layoffs at the Clauses’s North Pole workshop, the average consumer may be dreading the upcoming shopping-palooza otherwise known as Christmas.

Instead of merely resigning yourself to a holiday season full of maxed-out credit cards, plus shopping and spending beyond your means, take some time to consider the multitude of ways around that stressful and detrimental path before charging wildly ahead.

First things first: Make a gift-giving list, and stick to it. Compile a list of those you truly need to shop for, then stay strong. The urge to add more and more people, at greater and greater distances from your inner circle, may feel natural. But when the joyful euphoria surrounding the holiday season is over, all you’ll be left with is the glow of a credit card statement with your name on it. No amount of holiday spirit or cheer will help you pay those bills.

Narrowing any prospective gift-giving list is not a play out of the Grinch’s handbook—it’s a lesson in self-control. Besides, the shorter any given list, the more you may be able to afford to spend on the select few you leave on it, which is where your budget will come into play.

After setting a concrete budget, that prospective list of gift-receivers may need a few alterations. If you’re focused on giving high-quality gifts to a few important people in your life, then chopping off a few stragglers may be required in order to stick to the budget plan.

If quantity is more important than quality, painstakingly crossing out the names of your family and friends can be avoided, but bargain shopping may be on your list of things to do. That’s right—bargain shopping. Before you gasp in horror, though, realize that utilizing bargains and saving money on Christmas shopping doesn’t demote you to spending an entire night making homemade picture frames and gaudy tree ornaments no one wants in the first place.

You can find plenty of ways to shop frugally, while giving gifts that truly mean something at the same time. Cheesy as it sounds, giving someone a gift that feels like it took time to produce or create, without it actually being homemade, can make a world of difference come present-opening time.

For instance, take any retail-purchased item, wrap it in some old newspaper or magazine pages, and voilà: instant creativity. Use one of the gift recipient’s favorite magazines, or wrap it in his or her favorite section of the newspaper. Not only will you save money on wrapping paper, but also, if done with a professional-looking fine touch, the gift will seem personal and creative, standing out from the rest.

The more personal a gift, the better, which is all the more reason to narrow your gift-giving list down to only those closest to you. You’ll be saving money while doing so, and, as we all know, absolutely nothing’s wrong with giving and receiving at the same time.

Other personal and money-saving gift ideas include buying a small photo album, and filling the first few pages with pictures of the two of you and friends. This is a gift that will keep on giving, because not only will the photos rekindle memories of great times, but also the recipient can continue to add photos and memories to the album as time goes on. As well, printing a few 4 x 6 photos at a local retail store is extremely inexpensive. Creativity: check. Saving money: check.

Continuing with the personal-gifting trend, depending on how well you know the person you’re buying gifts for, come up with a list of his or her favorite things from all categories: movies, food, drinks, magazines, etc. Then, depending on the predetermined budget you’ve set aside for that individual, buy a number of small items from his or her list of favorites.

The items should be cheap to buy, but the person receiving the gift certainly won’t feel cheated. In fact, digging through a basket, pulling out one item after the other, may feel like 10 presents in one for him or her. Once again, both creativity and frugality have been utilized to their full extent.

You may have heard it all before, but saving money this Christmas is really not that hard to do. Plus, bargain shopping or shopping on a budget doesn’t mean buying items at the 99¢ store. In fact, setting a budget and sticking to it forces you to be creative, while at the same time spending time and effort on gifts that suddenly will seem a lot more personal than any hastily purchased retail item ever could be.

So, engage your creativity, save some money, and enjoy your holiday season…maxed-out-credit-card-free.

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