I’m going to be honest right off the bat: There are probably a zillion bloggers out there who are better at this sort of thing than I am. Jennifer Derrick wrote an excellent article called “The Totally Free (or Nearly) Christmas” where she voiced some of my frustrations to a T.
My favorite part of Christmas has become my father’s family get-together. And the irony? When I was a kid, I would have probably faked appendicitis to get out of it. I couldn’t stand how all of my uncles would get together and just talk, talk, talk about crops, about sports, about … the weather! The women in the family weren’t much better – they talked as much as the men while my cousins and I tried to amuse ourselves while we looked forward to the main attraction of the evening: PRESENTS!
Now I’m 30. Christmas Eve is one of the only times that I get to see my girl cousins who are located in Chicago, Hawaii and Vermont, respectively. My chatty uncles? They are an absolute RIOT. And the women? Better cooks cannot be found anywhere in the Midwest. If I cannot fit into my wedding dress after the Christmas season, I am to blame first and foremost – but my Grandma’s cranberry bread was the culprit that did me in.
It’s official: I am now old. I appreciate the simple act of getting together with family and catching up with the people who’ve known me since I was a little girl in diapers. These people have to love me no matter what. And I love them.
But OK – enough about my family. What I’m getting at is that I have no clue what my four nephews (ages 16 to 4) think is “cool” anymore and I don’t need anything. The retail part of Christmas depresses and annoys me.
But since I do have nephews and since I do love to get presents for my folks, I do end up spending money during the holiday season. So here is my poor attempt at giving you all some holiday saving strategies:
1) Make a budget and stick with it. My goal is to ONLY spend $300 this year. That’s $20 for each nephew ($80); $25 for each of my folks (already exceeded that number for my ma, but I really like what I got her, so … Dad’s getting shorted this year); $50 for Future Husband (already bought his gift, it was $40 – it was a beautiful wool coat that I scored for about 65% off.); a $25 gift certificate for my brother and sister-in-law; $25 for my grandparents; $15 for the gift I have to bring to my father’s Christmas shindig and around $20 for each of my future in-laws.
If you do some quick math, I’ve already exceeded my budget. I also want to get a $20 gift certificate for my future maid of honor. I’m a college graduate and I work two jobs, hence I make more money than her, she’s also the sister that fate never provided for me and I just really love her. And she has a serious shopping addiction to a particular store in the mall. This line item is negotiable and might be forgotten once I realize that I’ve forgotten to procure said $25 gift for my grandparents and buy that at the last minute instead of my cousin/maid of honor.
2) Make a list and stick with it. (See Tip Number One to document my failure at this particular caveat.)
3) This nugget of wisdom comes from my co-worker Bill who is wise AND loves Christmas. His basic gist is “plan ahead,” but when we talk about Christmas what he usually tells me is this: “Christmas comes at the same time every year, just like Thanksgiving and just like your mom’s birthday. You can’t tell me that you can’t set a little money aside every week to prepare for it.” I fully admit that I don’t save for Christmas until the last week of November rolls around and I freak out thinking that I should start saving portions of my paycheck toward gifts.
3) Love coupons. They are your friend. I admit that I get annoyed from time to time when my mailbox has more advertisements than actual substance, but in this season where money is tight? They are a welcome tool to trim a few bucks off here and there for gifts. But there is a caveat – if you weren’t going to go to [insert name of store here], go to said store armed with 15% off coupon and end up buying a bunch of crap that you didn’t need, want or even know that you wanted, you’ve blown Tip Numbers One and Two.
Where should you find coupons? This weekend when I was shopping with the girls, we went online to specific stores where we thought we would find gifts for our respective lists. Denise found a whole listing of coupons for various stores on Coupon Album. Another blogger tipped me to this site for a list of stores and the coupons they are currently schilling. I’m also trying the eBay experiment and am finding a lot of specific retail coupons.
4) Haggle? My friend Denise scored a sweet pair of earrings this weekend from a major retail store when she went into the store, asked if the price was the best that the clerk could do and had a $25 off coupon on top of that. The $200 pair of earrings she was ogling were had for $50. I’m of about three different minds when it comes to haggling. The first side is influenced by my parents who are connoseiurs of the flea market world where you are SUPPOSED to haggle. The second side was in a marketplace in Old Jerusalem during college – there too, I was supposed to haggle and did a relatively decent job. The third side hates to haggle, feels sorry for salespeople who work for commission and would just rather buy stuff on clearance. If anyone has any concrete thoughts about haggling … let me know!
5) Look for alternative places to score gifts. My ma was up until the wee hours of the morning bidding on a popular gaming system for one of my nephews. She bid on the system and a fistful of games, scoring it for $180 when the retail price for the system alone is $299. In addition, don’t discount the power of DIY – Do It Yourself – Christmas-style! I have one group of friends in particular where we all are pretty comfortable when it comes to material things, but we still exchanged gifts. Well, we stopped doing that, but my friend Anne really likes dipped pretzels. Well, I don’t mind making them. Boom! Gift for Anne. I’m a little intimidated to make stuff for my friend Evan who is such a good cook, I feel pretty darn inferior, but I remind myself that the gesture of giving is part of the joy of the season. JD at Getting Rich Slowly offers this article for 34 do-it-yourself ideas.
6) Suggest a “free” holiday. OK – I’m getting a gift for my cousin/maid of honor and I’m going to bring a bottle of some sort of spirit for my aunt who gets stuck hosting the holidays with my mom’s side of the family, but we agreed over Thanksgiving that we’re not exchanging gifts on my mom’s side of the family. This is a good thing. All of us have a ton of crap, but at the end of the day, I would rather eat my uncle’s chili than ooh and ahh over a DVD that’s going to take space on my shelf.
7) Remember the reason for the season. I don’t care what persuasion you are when it comes to spirituality … this particular holiday season holds a lot of meaning for so many different people. And in olden days (I’m thinking back to reading “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and getting a little nostalgic), it truly was about the fellowship of families being together and small, token gifts exchanged in honor of the holiday. Nowadays, it’s a retail madhouse that retailers count upon to make or break their fiscal year and more people view it as a burden rather than the celebration it truly is. And I am one of them. But hopefully with my own family scaling back, I will find more joy in this season.