By Nancy Twigg
The other day I heard something that surprised me. A recent nationwide study showed that 70% of those polled planned to spend the same amount or even more this Christmas than they did last year. When I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder who the pollsters talked to when they did their poll.
They must not have talked to my friends, Chuck and Melinda, who were both downsized from their jobs a few months ago. They couldn’t have contacted Mike and Faye, a single-income family struggling since Mike lost his job. The survey surely didn’t include input from my friends Sarah or Rachel, both of whom have been laid off for close to a year. Maybe someone, somewhere is planning to spend more at Christmas, but certainly not anyone I know.
The truth is that many Americans are facing the challenge of celebrating the holidays this year on limited budgets due to cutbacks and downsizing. This prospect can be both discouraging and unnerving for those who have always done Christmas in a big way. Even families who normally celebrate rather simply are looking to simplify even more during these tight economic times.
Unfortunately, most Christmas traditions involve spending. Just think about all the dollars each year that go for gifts, wrapping paper, live trees, decorations, greeting cards and traditional meals with all the trimmings. But for those experiencing layoffs this year, spending a small fortune or charging up the credit cards for these things is not a prudent option.
Are there ways to enjoy the holiday season without all the spending? Thankfully the answer to this question is, "Yes." Here are some ideas for keeping the celebration simple, yet meaningful for your family.
Handcrafted gifts and decorations – Experience the joy of giving something made with your own two hands. Handmade gifts are not only unique but they also show you care enough to invest time and energy into your giving. Check out library books containing homemade gift ideas or use Yahoo.com or Google.com to do an Internet search. The same goes for decorating your home. Instead of buying decorations, use your creative abilities plus things you already have on hand to give your home a festive look and feel.
Electronic Season’s Greetings - Sending Christmas cards instead of gifts is a great way to save money, but the cost of store-bought cards adds up quickly. Even if you make your own, the cost of postage can be restrictive for those on a tight budget. For friends and relatives who use email, consider sending electronic Christmas cards instead. Many websites send e-cards for free, and they offer a wide variety of cards from which to choose. Visit Gcards.com or 123greetings.com or do an Internet search for other free greeting card sites.
Free family activities – When cutting corners, don’t cut out all the fun. Look for ways your family can enjoy quality time together without spending. Check your newspaper’s community calendar for free church programs, musicals or community events. Just driving around looking at Christmas lights while sipping homemade hot cocoa can be great fun when you do it together.
Focus on giving rather than receiving – Instead of moaning about what you can’t afford this year, why not focus on how you can give of yourself? Many non-profit organizations need extra helping hands during the holiday season. Contact your local Volunteer Center or United Way office to inquire about opportunities for service in your area. Volunteering together allows family members to experience the joy of giving without expecting anything in return.
Low-cost or no-cost gift giving – Rather than exchanging gifts with extended family members and friends, plan a special evening together with each family during the holiday season. Enjoy a simple meal and then watch a favorite holiday movie or do a giant jigsaw puzzle together while munching on popcorn and snacks. Another option is to give gifts of time or service such as free babysitting, housecleaning, cooking, etc., to those on your gift list. Look for ways to give meaningfully instead of materially.
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