By Rhonda Barfield
“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,” says the old English carol, and your pocketbook had better be getting fat, too. If you’re like most families, you’ll need plenty of cash to buy presents. The average family budget for Christmas in 2012 hovered around $750 in spending, and has probably increased since then. That’s a lot of money!
It doesn’t have to be this way. We should never let ourselves feel pressured into buying high-ticket gifts under the guise of showing our love for others.
On the other hand, exchanging meaningful, carefully planned presents with friends and relatives can be an important part of Christmas celebrating. So how do we strike a balance in our giving? One answer is to find lower-cost alternatives to higher-cost presents. Imagine, for example, three levels of giving: the most expensive, the middle-of-the-road, and the least costly. Here’s how to apply this template to a number of different gifts.
Level 1: a fancy fruit basket from a mail order company.
Level 2: a fruit basket assembled by a local supermarket, hand-delivered by you.
Level 3: a few specially chosen fruits and specialty items you hand pick, arranged in a basket you bought on sale at a craft store, and hand delivered while you sing a silly song.
Level 1: the very latest trendy toy.
Level 2: last year’s favorite toy, purchased from a children’s consignment store.
Level 3: a coupon explaining that you have organized a toy exchange with three neighborhood families. Once a month your children will be temporarily trading toys of their choice for “new” ones from friends, throughout the next year.
Level 1: an expensive name-brand handbag from a department store.
Level 2: the same handbag, bought on sale at a name-brand store in an outlet mall.
Level 3: an invitation to a clothing and accessories free-swap party you’re hosting for several friends.
Level 1: an antique vase purchased at an upscale antique store.
Level 2: a late twentieth-century replica of an antique vase, bought on sale at a flea market.
Level 3: an antique vase you currently own and pass down to a relative as a family heirloom.
Level 1: a one-year gift subscription to Astronomy magazine.
Level 2: a huge bundle of Astronomy magazines purchased at the library’s annual used book sale.
Level 3: an offer to download a slide show of astronomy.com’s Pictures of the Day onto a personal computer to be used as screen savers.
Level 1: a fancy pair of in-line skates purchased new.
Level 2: the same kind of skates purchased at a used sporting goods store.
Level 3: a similar pair of skates you found by calling a friend at church. A year earlier, you had offered to buy clothes and equipment your friend’s son had outgrown.
Level 1: an assortment of expensive candy in a fancy box, purchased at a store in the mall.
Level 2: an assortment of candy purchased at Walmart the day after Halloween (Hershey’s kisses wrapped in green and silver foil, for example) and placed in a pint-sized glass jar with a bow.
Level 3: homemade candy, placed in a Chinese food take-out box (available from Chinese restaurants or online for pennies), or another type of decorative box, wrapped in tissue and ribbons.
These examples should give you a good starting point for thinking through your own shopping list this year. What thoughtful presents would you like to buy? How can you achieve this goal while spending less? Brainstorm, and pick a level that fits both your comfort zone and your budget.
Then relax knowing that you have successfully stayed within your budget for the holidays while sharing low-cost, delightful gifts.
Rhonda Barfield is a professional homemaker, wife to Michael, former homeschool teacher, and mother of four adult children. She’s authored five books: Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home (Fireside/Simon & Schuster), and four on saving money on groceries, including Feed Your Family for $12 a Day. In addition, Rhonda coaches writing students for WriteAtHome.com and teaches piano.