Tips for the Holidays in a Tight Economy

Daily headlines, news reporters and breathless bloggers make it impossible to escape an all-too-gloomy reality: Financial crisis! Rising costs! Retail sales down! Recession!

It is enough to make you want to forget that the holidays, with all of the requisite spending that comes with them, are rapidly approaching. But just because belts are tightening doesn’t mean you have to turn into the Grinch. In fact, with just a little bit of organization and preparation in the next few weeks, you can make less go a lot further than you thought possible — and that holds for time as well as money.

Sarah on “Being honest with yourself”:

It’s hard not to lavish Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday gifts on the people we love. But, unfortunately, spending beyond your means is a choice that will always come back to haunt you. This year, set a realistic budget and stick to it. If you find the thought depressing or feel the urge to splurge beyond what you can afford, remember that while the holidays are about giving, they aren’t about giving what you don’t have. What really matters is sharing time with friends and family, not the material gifts we give or receive. We have become too caught up in the consumerism of the holidays — and now, more than ever, is the perfect time to spare our wallets by giving more of our hearts.

Alicia on “Adapting to a New Kind of Holiday”:

So how do you still have a great holiday without spending a fortune? Get creative! Instead of giving all of your office friends $20 Starbucks gift cards (which definitely adds up quickly), throw a company potluck drinks-and-dessert party. If you’ve got kids, think small. They’d rather have fewer little gifts than one big gift. This year, separately wrap up a box of crayons, coloring books and a yo-yo rather than one fancy, expensive gadget. Another tactic: Shift the focus from gifts to the people around you. You’ve probably forgotten about 95 percent of the gifts you’ve ever received on holidays, but I bet you remember, very vividly, experiences or other special moments you shared with your family members. Make memories again this year — go caroling, have Grandpa tell the story of Hanukkah by the fireside or play charades after dinner.

More tips:

# 1: Don’t Be Wrap-Happy
Instead of buying and using rolls and rolls of wrapping paper at $4 a roll, try using newspapers or recycled wrapping paper instead. You can dress it up by painting or coloring on the paper, or using inexpensive raffia ribbons. If you have multiple gifts for one person, get a box or solid-colored “Santa” sack for each person, and wrap only the large box in decorative wrapping paper. The large box will look pretty under the tree, but your use of old newspaper will reduce the amount of expensive paper that will be ripped open and tossed 30 seconds after opening anyhow.

# 2: Carpool
If you live in an area where you have to drive to get your presents, coordinate with family or good friends to go shopping on the same day, and carpool. You’ll save money on gas by sharing the cost, plus you’ll get the added benefit of more quality time with people you love.

# 3: Point to It
One of the best ways to give gifts without breaking the budget is to use credit-card points you have accumulated all year long. Credit-card companies have so many great point programs that you should have lots of interesting things to choose from.