Only two days ago I read This Short Article regarding household credit card debt in the United States. I was shocked to find the average at a whopping $16,061 per household. That's nearly 27.9% of the 2016 median household income of $57,616! We must keep in mind that amount does not include any other debts such as mortgage, auto, student loans, etc. I find this mind-blowing, especially since the cost of living in the United States has increased approximately 30% in the past 15 years, while household incomes fall short with an increase of only 28%. How does a family cope with that kind of financial stress during an expensive Christmas season?
Anyone who has regularly read my blog knows that I've seen some excessively lean financial times during my life. With 5 children, we have a larger than average sized family, so it would be very easy to face financial disaster in January if we weren't disciplined with our spending and gift giving during the Christmas season. That is why, when the children were only babies, we chose to bless each of them with only 3 gifts each Christmas - 1 homemade, 1 book, 1 store bought - a tradition we continue to this day. During the leanest years we could only afford $5 or less per child for our entire Christmas budget. How did we do it?
"CASH ONLY" Christmas
1. We DO NOT use credit cards, or any other type of loan, for gifts.
2. Christmas is on Dec. 25th each and every year. This date never changes, allowing us an entire year to PLAN and SHOP or CREATE for Christmas gift giving.
3. Homemade / Handmade gifts have included a wide variety of items: Christmas ornaments, homemade cookies or candies, crocheted hats, scarfs & wool socks, crocheted afghans, Christmas stockings & other Christmas "trimmings", aprons, shirts, stationary, jams & jellies, qt. jars of Mom's pasta sauce aka "the sauce", zucchini or banana bread and/or muffins, quilts, neckerchiefs aka wild rags, calendars, handkerchiefs, cocoa mix, ... Many of our homemade / handmade gifts are created with left over scraps or a surplus of pantry items. I rarely purchase new supplies for "crafting".
4. A book as a gift. 30 years ago my finances were so lean, I borrowed the Christmas gift books from the local library on Dec. 23rd, wrapped them and made sure the children read the books before their due dates so I would avoid the 5 cents late fine. Although our household income has improved substantially since that Christmas 30 years ago, last year I hit a gold mine at our local thrift store - 7 "new" books with topics suited for each person, for less than $8.00.
5. ONE store bought gift. When the children were little, I tried very, very hard to get them a toy, game, puzzle, etc.. Unfortunately, some years did dictate underwear and socks. (My young in's were actually very happy to have underwear or socks that actually fit and didn't have any holes in them, until they went back to school and had to listen to all their mates brag about all the new toys they had received.) Our store bought gifts have been as small as a matchbox car or a pair of socks to as luxurious as heated towel warmers and heated shaving cream dispensers. The BUDGET and NEED have always dictated our store bought gift purchases. During our financially leanest years, I became a master at finding excellent treasures at thrift stores throughout the year, or picking up a nice toy, game or puzzle deeply discounted in the after Christmas sales. Now days, most of our children are grown, so I've been known to send them gift cards for local activities such as bowling, movies, plays, put-put golf, go carts, arcades, symphonies, ballets, dining out, etc.. "Trip Advisor.com" is a terrific resource for finding local attractions if your loved ones live in another city or state. This is also a very budget friendly option as one can often purchase gift cards for as little as $5 each. One year, it was painfully obvious that our children didn't need anything and all their wants were above our budget. So, we donated a goat to Heifer International in each of our children's names and wrapped a little farm animal goat for each child to open.
6. Gifts for extended family, close friends, teachers, pastors, etc.. Now, here is an area that can quickly destroy a gift budget - especially if one is generous by nature. Homemade / Handmade gifts are generally very budget friendly. However, my personal favorite budget friendly gift for extended family and friends: a donation to a loved one's favorite charity in the loved one's name (a donation can cost as little as $1 or be as generous as $1,000,000 or more), the amount donated will always align with ANY budget.
7. Gift Wrap ... another expense for those who are working with a small budget. I, of course, save and re-use gift bags. However, my favorite gift wrap is FREE packing paper. I iron it, fold it and store it away on my gift wrap shelf. Depending on my supply, I also pick up ribbon throughout the year from our local thrift shop for about twenty-five cents per roll. Most of the time very little has been removed from the rolls and often I find it brand new and inside the original cellophane wrapping.
8. Hostess gifts, did we forget about these? Two of my favorite hostess gifts costs less than seventy-five cents each. I fill small Christmas themed boxes, containers, or coffee mugs, always found at the thrift store, with hard candies or mixed nuts purchased on sale throughout the year. I keep a few at the end of my kitchen counter to give to departing guests or to grab as I go out the door when going for a visit to someone's home during the Christmas season. A lovely homemade gift is an inspiring Christmas prayer handwritten or printed in an elegant font on paper (plain, fancy or embellished) - roll the paper up like a scroll and tie it with ribbon.
I hope some of these tips and techniques that I've used for decades will help inspire you to be creative when looking for ways to stay on budget or reduce your expenses this Christmas season. And .... If you are one of the few who have already finished your Christmas list, then you are ready to write out next year's list and begin planning a "CASH ONLY" Christmas 2017!