Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on November 6, 2000. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Treat Yourself To Cash, Not Stress This Christmas
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Carols with altered lyrics such as "Deck the halls with bills from shopping" or "Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree. What should I get Aunt Sally?" may represent holiday feelings, but people can replace stress with cash if they plan and adjust their spending habits.
Jan Lukens, consumer management consultant with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the best way to keep within one's holiday budget is by planning. Begin by setting a total dollar figure of how much to spend early in the year and then make a list of gifts to buy.
"Estimate how much each item will cost and then total all the expenses. Inevitably, the total spending wish list will be higher than the dollar limit you set. However, by planning ahead you can make choices about spending that will keep you on budget," Lukens said.
Add the costs of cards, stamps, entertaining, house decorations, travel and other expenses, such as long-distance phone calls, into the budget as well.
"Include cash and credit spending in the budget. Pay off any holiday charges as soon as the bill comes in. Do not allow yourself to pay interest next year on this year's Christmas spending," Lukens said.
Perhaps the most stressful part of planning is choosing gifts to buy, but this task, if done efficiently and creatively, can leave extra cash in a gift-giver's pocket.
Before buying any gifts, decide if a purchased item is the best present.
"Are there some people you give to strictly out of habit or tradition? Would spending time with that person be just as rewarding as spending money on them?" Lukens asked. "For most adults, the thought is more important than the actual item. For children, expensive does not necessarily impress."
Some free gifts include service (mow lawns or babysit), skills (teach someone how to crochet or carve wood) and used gifts (puzzles, books).
If choosing to buy, do not waste money on gifts that will go unused or unappreciated.
"Most people would rather get an item they genuinely appreciate, rather than be surprised," Lukens said. "If you are not sure your gift idea will be appreciated, ask the recipient in advance or ask them to make a list for you."
Lukens said to avoid giving house decorations gifts, but giving family photos and holiday decorations are some exceptions to this rule.
"If you do not know what to give, select an expendable gift, such as food items, candles, lotions, toiletry or bath items, postage stamps, stationary, film and gift certificates. Theme baskets make pretty, as well as practical, gifts. These can be a good answer to the gifts for those who are hard to buy for," Lukens said.
Before spending big bucks on nieces, nephews or grandchildren, ask their parents what items they feel might be appropriate for the child. Though some balk at giving cash, teens almost always appreciate money.
Lukens said to avoid buying basic supplies to give as gifts, such as socks or dental floss, and recommended buying from catalogs to save money spent on gas to drive to malls.
"If you are a member of a large family, you can cut your holiday costs by trying new holiday traditions," Lukens said.
For example, instead of buying every family member a gift, a family of several households could take turns receiving donations from the others. In turn, the recipient household gives these donations to the charity of its choice.
Another alternative to buying every family member a gift is to draw names so each person buys only one gift.
Besides gifts, decorations and items such as wrapping paper add to the holiday costs, but shoppers can easily save money on these purchases at after-Christmas sales.
To save money, Lukens also suggested using reusable gift wrapping to save money, such as drawstring sacks, fabric wrapping paper or decorated boxes with removable tops. Those who own computers and scanners can use those items to create inexpensive and personalized Christmas letters and cards.
"Another inexpensive solution is to cut the front half off used cards and send them as postcards. Also, if you have children, get them to make cards out of construction paper, paint, crayons and glitter," Lukens said.
If choosing to use a real Christmas tree, make table and hearth arrangements from excess greenery. Instead of throwing the tree out after the holidays, cut it up and store the chopped pieces in a bag to later use as charcoal starter when grilling outdoors.
"When mailing gifts, it is cheaper to mail one large package than two or more smaller ones that equal the weight of the larger one," Lukens said.
Lukens offered other budgeting advice, such as saving money each month and putting it in an interest-paying savings account for next Christmas. She also suggested buying one gift each month.
"Work outside the home or on weekends to supplement income. Use the extra cash for Christmas," Lukens said.