Gift Giving on a Budget

By Connecticut Saves

As the holiday season approaches, do you find yourself looking forward to the festivities, but concerned about the impact on your wallet? You are not alone. By doing some planning now, you can simplify your gift giving. Here are ten ways you can enjoy this special time of year and keep spending in check:

  1. Food. Consumable items are very popular during the holidays. The recipients may enjoy the product themselves or share it with others when entertaining. Consider special bread, beverages, fruit baskets, snack items, regional favorites, and gourmet coffees and teas.
  2. Go green. Find locally grown plants, flowers, and dried wreaths. Another option might be to purchase colorful washable napkins, placemats, dishcloths, reusable bags, and lunch bags with individual containers for sandwiches and snacks.
  3. Set limits. This could be done by establishing a dollar amount per gift, completing your shopping in only one or two trips, purchasing one gift per family, or committing to doing all your shopping locally.
  4. Made by you. Make your own food specialty. Knit a scarf. Handcraft an item. Create an annual holiday ornament. Give a framed photo.
  5. Hobby-related gift or gift certificates. Consider the recipient’s hobbies and interests. Are there gardeners, chefs, woodworkers, knitters, readers and gamers on your list? Gift accordingly by providing them with the tools or materials to do what they enjoy.
  6. Agree on a gift challenge. Discuss this idea well in advance of the holidays with those whom you regularly exchange gifts, but make it fun. You might suggest handmade items only, gifts under $10, one gift for a whole family, limit shopping to consignment or thrift store finds or pick a theme such as useful or consumable items only.
  7. Purchase the same type of gift for everyone. It could be umbrellas, scarfs, journals, board games, puzzles, nice pens, throws, books, or flashlights and batteries.
  8. Recipe Book. You could make up a recipe book with family favorites or provide a blank recipe book for the great cooks in your life.
  9. Coupons for your services. Offer your time and abilities. You can create coupons related to your skills. Perhaps it is cooking a favorite meal, snow shoveling, home repair or an oil change, mending, guitar lessons and so on.
  10. Create a special memory. Look in newspapers or online for special events this holiday that are free or low cost. Instead of purchasing gifts, make a date with your family and friends to enjoy an event together and get together for desserts and coffee.

Most importantly: enjoy your holidays!

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5 Holiday Mistakes That Could Cost You

By America Saves

The holidays are just around the corner, which means it’s time to enjoy vacations, catch up with family and old friends, and eat great food. While the holidays are about quality time and making memories, it’s easy to get caught up with spending money. Here are five holiday mistakes to avoid this year so you can enjoy the season with your finances intact:

1. You’re shopping without a budget or list.
It’s incredibly kind to get each of your relatives, colleagues, and in-laws thoughtful presents and cards to show them your appreciation, but your wallet might be crying for help after your first few purchases. One of the biggest financial mistakes you can make during the holidays is shopping without a spending plan.

When you’re shopping for loved ones, you’re imagining how happy they’ll be when they receive your gift. But remember, financial responsibilities don’t go on vacation during the holidays. Create a budget for your holiday spending. Once you know how much you can afford to spend, create a list that fits your budget.

This way, you’ll be able to purchase the items you plan for and know for sure that you didn’t bust your budget. Here’s a free holiday budget printable to get you started.

2. You’re volunteering your home, food, and car to everyone.
If you’re the person that always offers food, transportation, and lodging to everyone, you might want to try a new approach this year. It’s thoughtful to go the extra mile during the holidays, but don’t stretch yourself or your pockets too thin.

Consider splitting the responsibilities with your friends and family. You might not think you’re overspending by being so accommodating, but the more people there are in your home, the more likely you are to receive a high utility bill at the end of the month. You’ll also be surprised at how many trips you might have to make to the grocery store to restock on food, drinks, and toiletries.

You can suggest hosting a potluck style gathering this year. With a potluck, each guest is responsible for bringing at least one dish, beverage, or party supply. At a minimum, you’ll save money on food and drinks. If you need napkins or disposable utensils and plates, you can make one guest responsible for those items as well.

If you have a ton of relatives who need to be picked up from the airport or train station, see if you can rope in other family members to help with pick-ups and drop-offs. This will help you save on gas, time, and energy.

Splitting responsibilities will help you enjoy the holidays without being completely stressed out.

3. You’re shopping too late.
So you’ve created your list and a tight budget, that’s great! Don’t wait until the last minute to actually make your purchases. By then, sales may be over and supplies will be limited.

Start your shopping early so you can snag deals while they’re still available. When you have ample time to cross items off your list, you’ll have time to compare prices and bargain hunt. Some stores offer price matching, so keep that in mind as you start shopping and placing your online orders.

Time is of the essence. Shopping early will give you time to figure out what you actually need and get those items at the best price. When you wait until the last minute, you’re much more likely to bust your budget because you’ll just be rushing to cross people off your list instead of specific items that fall within your budget. Here are some tips to help you save while you shop.

4. You’re relying on your credit cards.
Do your best NOT to rely on your credit cards during the holidays. If you can’t afford to buy it now, don’t create a bill for yourself later. Once the holidays are over, you’ll be faced with a potential mountain of debt that you’ve built.

The holidays are a great time to enjoy the company of your loved ones, but you shouldn’t feel like the only way to show your love is through expensive presents and festive decor. Enjoy the holidays in a way that doesn’t destroy your finances. This year, make it a goal to spend quality time.

If an unplanned expense does occur during the holidays and you have to use your credit, here are some tips for using your credit card.

5. You’re trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Don’t make the holidays a competition about who can wear the most expensive clothes, buy the flashiest gifts, or serve the swankiest dinner. Make the holidays about creating lasting memories and enjoying time with your loved ones, or simply yourself.

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Ask Chuck: Overcoming Holiday Comparison

By Chuck Bentley

Dear Chuck,

My husband and I have not been married very long. We grew up in homes where the holidays were celebrated in a grand way. I’m feeling pressure to do the same but my husband refuses to go into debt to do so. We have student loans and he wants those paid off as soon as possible. This has become a very emotional topic because our friends and family will likely be giving us very nice gifts at Christmas and we won’t be able to do much for them this year.

Holiday Stress Has Begun

Dear Holiday Stress,

I am so glad you wrote to me about this. Holiday stress is a terrible problem and can take the focus away from what truly matters. But you don’t have to live with it. There’s great hope for your family and I have some practical advice to help.

By the way, you are a very fortunate woman. In 2017, 74% of Americans admitted they failed to budget for the holidays and ended up an average $1,054 in debt. Give thanks for a husband who cares about eliminating debt. That will bless your marriage far more than you know right now.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are times for believers to celebrate the love and grace of God. It’s historically a time to be joyful, to savor favorite foods, to begin new traditions and keep the old, to give with no expectation of return. It’s truly a time to rejoice.

I grew up with a dog-eared Sears catalog that marked the pages of the things that my brother, sisters and I were dreaming would be under the tree. Even though Mom and Dad had a limited budget, they made sure we were able to get at least one thing we really wanted each Christmas.

Today, people both young and old have more than a catalog at their disposal. Magazines, social media, television, computer ads, radio, and billboards attempt to extract as much out of our budget between Thanksgiving and Christmas as possible. Many individuals suffer from self-induced pressure to decorate and make purchases to satisfy a longing to keep up or impress others. The fear of missing out plagues our society, plunging many into unnecessary debt, and even anxiety and depression.

To reduce or eliminate any pressure, give yourself a little margin by creating and sticking to a holiday budget. Ignore what the world says to do, and choose to honor your husband. You will experience peace and unity in your home, which is far better than expensive gifts under the tree. Ask God to unite your hearts and give you a common desire to observe the upcoming holidays.

Plan Ahead

  • Pray for discipline, creativity, and joy
  • Save money by eating at home
  • Cook inexpensive meals
  • Keep a holiday grocery list handy to buy items on sale
  • Practice hospitality
  • Make gifts and decorations
  • Shop thrift stores
  • Read a Christmas devotional together

Ask Yourself:

  • Am I coveting what I do not need?
  • Why do I want to buy or do this?
  • What benefit will it give me or others?
  • Does it have a lasting impact?
  • Does it glorify God?
  • Can I rejoice with others who have it without my needing to have it also?
  • Can I stay on budget?

Don’t Compare

One of the greatest threats to our walk with God is the trap of materialism. We must work at not being lured away from Him and spending money on our own desires so that we are no longer able to fulfill our primary purpose – to glorify God.

At first glance, the scriptural warnings about riches and their dangers might suggest that we should avoid all luxuries. But that’s simply not true. God does not prohibit us from enjoying the benefits of this world; after all, they are His.

The tenth commandment, Do not covet (Exodus 20:17) is an easy one to overlook because it happens in the heart. Rather than desiring what others have and are able to do, rejoice with them! Avoid judging them or feeling sorry for yourself. Give thanks and praise God for His mighty provision in your life and theirs.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

We can unintentionally get sucked into the grip of materialism and comparison in the midst of parties, pageants, and presents. We must choose to forego the notion of perfect families, decorations, and gifts. Nostalgia and media create expectations we cannot and should not strive for. It’s a matter of guarding our hearts and practicing what Paul told the Romans: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (12:2a)

The truth is that most of us can hardly remember what we received for Christmas last year or the year before. The most lasting of all gifts are those that convey true love and appreciation; even though they might not cost much money, the receiver will consider them priceless.

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