We've survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Now, during the first full week of December, the Holidays are in full swing. Depending on your faith, we've got Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's to make it through!
The past couple have years have been lean ones for me but I've tried not to let a lack of funds hinder my enjoyment of the holidays. I've tried to remind myself that it isn't about the gifts, it's about family and friends. As a Christian, I try to remember the reason for the season has nothing to do with decorated trees, festive lights and how many gifts I get or give.
Yet, although I'm going into this season a little more financially sound, I'm also going to try to use some of the lessons I've learned through several years of belt-tightening, to remain financially grounded.
Here are a few of my lessons learned:
The Little List: I scaled back on the gift-giving and do you know what? No one that was left off of my revised list was offended or upset. In fact, when I brought up the idea of passing on the gift exchange most of them were relieved. A dreaded sense of obligation is definitely a downer when it comes to spreading holiday cheer.
Fabulous Friends: A dinner out with friends or better yet a day of shopping together for our families is a great way to spend time, create memories and not break the bank.
Calling Cards: In the evenings on my way home from work, I started calling distant friends and families and wishing them Happy Holidays. We got to laugh and joke and catch up. A personal call beats a generic holiday letter any day. If I send cards, then I do a few every evening and make sure each one contains a personalized message from me to the person I'm sending it to.
Cash is King: This one is easy for me because I don't have kids. If I can't pay for it in cash, I don't get it. This goes for gifts I give to others and gifts I give to myself. If I was going to use credit, I would only use it after I had exhausted all of my cash and I would try not to spend more than I could pay off in two months. If you can't have an all-cash Christmas this year, work towards it for next year. Starting in January, open a Christmas account and start squirreling away a little bit every month so next year Cash can be King, and credit cards can be banished.
Give Back: Try at some point this holiday season to do something good for someone else. I go through my house and I get rid of old clothes, unused kitchen appliances and anything else I can find that is in good shape and I take it over to Crisis Assistance Ministry. Here in Charlotte, they have a free store where people in need can get clothing and basic household supplies.
Donating gently used toys is also wonderful at the holidays ... no child should have to go without a toy on Christmas!