How I Told The Grinch to F*%$ OFF!!
2010 will be another tough holiday season to get through, financially speaking. It’s been like this for the past three or four years. So by now I’ve developed a few tricks to get through the season without going broke. Believe me I don’t want to be paying for the 2010 holidays well into 2011. I know you don’t either. So here are some of my ways to ensure that the Grinch doesn’t steal Christmas!
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The first thing I do every holiday season is sit down with Mr. Patterson and come up with up a gift giving budget. This step is crucial to making sure we don’t get in over our heads. Too many times I see friends and family members make a list of everyone they need to buy a present for and then head off to the mall to find gifts. WRONG! If you do your holiday shopping this way you are almost guaranteed to spend more than you want to. Your first step is deciding how much you can spend. Once you’ve established that monetary figure divvy it up evenly between all the people on your list. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of your budget with you when you shop. This way you can record what you spend on each person as you spend it. When you spend less than budgeted on one person you can move the excess to another person. If you know a gift you want to get someone on your list but it’s more than what you’ve budgeted, take that amount out of the total budget then redistribute what’s left evenly between everyone. You
might find that once you do that you don’t have enough money for everyone else. That’s why it’s important to budget so you can look at the figures before you head off to the mall!
Setting a budget is one thing, sticking to it is another. That’s why I find it especially helpful to pay in cash each holiday season. Nothing ruins the new year quicker than getting a scarily high credit card bill in January and wondering how in the heck you spent so much. Last week I told you that Americans are expected to spend $688.87 this holiday season. If you charge that much on a credit card that has an 18% interest rate, it would take you four years and an additional $225 in interest to pay off if you’re making the minimum payment. And that’s only if you don’t add any additional charges over the next four years! You’d be paying off 2010’s holiday bills through 2014! When you pay in cash you carry a finite amount of paper bills on you at one time so you can’t overspend. Commit to only buying what you can pay for in cash.
If you have brothers or sisters a perfect way to cut down on the amount of money you spend this holiday season is to negotiate a truce with them. After a few years of giving everyone in my family a gift I said enough is enough. I can’t do this every year, it’s too expensive. I phoned my brother Jeff and called a gift giving truce. We had both struggled for several years to find the perfect gift for each other, which usually resulted in a gift card. I felt like we were just exchanging gift cards each year. Among adults it’s easier to establish such a truce. We’ve had enough years of getting gifts to know what it’s like so we don’t feel cheated when we stop getting as many gifts. Instead you could opt to go Dutch for a nice meal out together. Spending time and having great conversation for an hour or two with loved ones will stay in your memory longer than it takes you to spend another gift card.
Speaking of memorable gifts, how about giving the gift of education this year. Setting up a 529 tax sheltered college savings account for a grandchild or child is a great gift. College costs have risen dramatically over the last 30 years. They’ve grown six times faster than middle class income. Ouch. So unless mommy and daddy’s last name is Trump or Gates this is the type of gift that will really count. It’s most appropriate to give this to a young child who does not yet understand the concept of unwrapping presents. 529 plans are fantastic gifts to give because depending on what state you live in you might be able to write off the contributions against your taxable income. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! To find out more about 529 plans refer back to the September 15th edition of Easy Street in which I talk about this and other legal tax shelters.
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To spend the least amount of cash this holiday season you’re going to have to make more of an investment of your time. The idea behind the gift is to show how much you love and appreciate the person you’re giving it to. Nothing screams love and appreciation like a homemade gift. Don’t wrinkle your nose at me! You’re thinking to narrow, homemade gifts don’t have to be kitschy or made by Martha Stewart. If you make one dish really well, make that as a gift. Just make sure it’s a unique dish and not an everyday dinner item. Every year I make homemade buckeyes. It’s a peanut butter ball dipped in chocolate that is made to look like the nut from an Ohio buckeye tree. I hand them out to my closest friends as gifts in cutely wrapped tins and platters. Any kind of baked good is a great holiday gift; cookies, small cakes, candy, etc.
If cooking isn’t for you try making a nice flower arrangement in a hip vase. You can get flowers cheap at grocery stores, flower markets or warehouse clubs. The hip gift this year is small herb gardens. Buy three or four seeds of common herbs you cook with like rosemary, thyme, parsley, or basil and plant them in a shallow rectangular flower pot. Put small markers inside to indicate which plant is which. Or if you have a special person in your family like I do that has a funny saying, he says ALL THE TIME, you can get it printed on a cotton t-shirt very inexpensively. Trust me that gift will get laughs from the entire family the whole day long and every day afterwards that they wear it.
Good luck in this gift giving season!
Keeping money in your pocket,