The Holiday Season is upon us.
For many people, the holiday season means gift giving and the good feeling one gets when giving someone special, something special. Unfortunately, this can also mean the trashing of already stretched budgets.
I love gift giving. The question is how to get through the season with as much good gift giving feeling as possible and yet have your budget still be intact.
The Answer: Planning.
Ideally, you began that planning on the day after last holiday season by going shopping for deep discounts. Wrapping paper, ornaments, decorations, artificial trees, and seasonal clothing, go on deep, deep discounts at the end of December when the stores are trying to make room for the next season’s stock. Snatch up what you need and store it away in a holiday papered box.
Shop all year long at clearance racks, yard sales, swaps and other deep discount sites for the gifts you will need. Bring your goodies home and stash them in a box awaiting rediscovery in November when you assess what you still need to buy.
If your planning was really good, by Thanksgiving you will be finished with your holiday shopping. All you have to do is set aside some time for baking, wrapping and delivering.
Of course, it is too late to follow the above strategy for this season, but think ahead to next year. Set a bit of money aside in this year’s budget to grab up those good sales. The Holidays WILL come again next year.
Even at this late stage of the game, you can still gain quite a bit from planning.
First of all, make a list of anyone and everyone that you need/want to give gifts to. Make the list long. Don’t think in terms of money. Think in terms of people that you want to thank for their help, friendship, inspiration, and just being-there-ness.
Break those names into categories. People you need/want to give something really special to and people you want to just give a bit of holiday thumbs up.
You’ll find that most of those names are in the thumbs up list.
Now, take a look at your skills. Do you draw, bake, sing, fix things, garden, babysit, dog walk, sew, make jewelry, brew the best cup of coffee in the world, etc.? Make a nice LONG list. Take a look at that list and see what you can make/do in quantity for a minimal amount of money.
For instance, we make chocolate covered pretzels. We make the very best chocolate covered pretzels. They are just delicious. We make these by the hundreds (see above picture), package them up with a custom made hang tag and then give them out to people who touch our lives.
Each family member has packaged pretzels with them as they go about their lives during the holidays and hand them out with a big “Thanks for being there.” Co-workers and acquaintances ask about these pretzels all year long and let us know they are looking forward to their next gift.
As a family, we enjoy the making and giving of these gifts. When I clear the table, bring out the pretzels and chocolate and start dipping, everyone knows that “The Season” has officially begun.
So, take a look at your talent list. Maybe you are a musician. Record some of your songs, burn some disks, create a label, package them up and hand them out. Not only is this a great promotion, it is a fabulous gift.
Many people take their abilities for granted. Maybe you don’t think that your ability to doodle is anything great, but someone else might treasure a piece of doodle art from you in a cute little frame.
My sister once told me that her friend gave her the gift of helping decorate her living room. It was a present that my sister got to appreciate for many years. Your take-it-for-granted-talent might be someone else’s This-is-the-best-present-ever.
Locate those talents and give them as gifts.
If it is too hard to get the gifts done by the holidays, give an IOU. An offer to babysit, to weed the garden, wash the car, sew a hat or teach the kids to yodel are sure to bring a smile and a big thank you.
If you feel like you need something less personal, I suggest that you buy some gift certificates from Restaurant.com. This site gives deep discount coupons on restaurants and gifts. Normally you can buy $25 worth toward your restaurant bill for $10. Until December 25, 2009, using the coupon code "SANTA" at check out will get you 80% off your total! If you are reading this after December 25, 2009, email me and I'll tell you the best coupon code I can find. Click here for Restaurant.com
If you are going to shop for items online, make sure you check for coupon codes before you place that order. Just search for “name of store”+“coupon codes”. You will end up with a list of sites that have possible codes that you can input during online checkout to get a discount and/or free shipping. One of the best sites for this is www.retailmenot.com. Finding a free shipping code or a percent discount code for a large item can mean a big savings – especially on high price-tag items.
If you are going to go to actual stores, make sure that you check out the current store flyer before you venture forth. You can find most chain store flyers for the current week at www.sundaysaver.com. There are links to JoAnn Fabric, Frys, Big Lots, Boston Market, Staples, CVS, Home Depot, Whole Foods, Target, Petco… the list goes on and on. The idea is to check out the current flyer and clip the coupons before you go to the store. You can also comparison shop. Taking in a flyer from a competing store will usually get you the same price on an item at a store that doesn’t have the item on sale. Make sure you read the fine print though. Sometimes the item on sale isn’t the EXACT item. This site also has advance links to Black Friday ads.
If you are looking to purchase a big item for someone special but don’t have all the money for it now, consider using a lay away plan. This staple from my childhood is making a comeback in the stores. You find the item you want. Put in a down payment and then pay some every week until you have it paid in full. Paying this way keeps you from paying interest. Watch out though, because this IS a contract and you WILL need to pay it as promised.
An interesting win-win gift could be to pay a reliable teenager (it could be your teenager) a set amount to do chores for someone. Inform the gift recipient that they now have a certain amount of prepaid hours of work coming to them. Give them a list of all the kinds of things the teen can do – yard work, sweeping, digging, errand running, etc. Not only will this put money into the pocket of the teen, but it might give that teen a job that will continue past the few prepaid hours.
Whatever you decide to do for your gift giving this year, remember that your best deals come when you aren’t in a hurry.
We are all so busy these days that the spirit of gift giving can get lost. One needs to remember that it IS the spirit in which the gift is given… not the gift itself which is important.
Sometimes just being there to celebrate the holidays with someone special and holding their hand and telling them that you appreciate that they are in your life is the very, very best present you can give. A smile, a laugh, a hug. These are the riches of this planet. Give generously.