We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Less Gifts, More Cheer

Try these tips for trimming the holiday gift list without looking like Scrooge. ©Christy Thompson/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

In the last few years, my holiday gift list has multiplied exponentially. There are lots of little nieces and nephews to buy for now, and my siblings still insist on exchanging with each other and me.

I would be happy to not get a thing while trimming the list wherever possible. Any advice on how to scale back without coming across as Scrooge?

–Santa’s on a Budget

Amanda: I’m a big fan of the round robin method. Suzanne and I have done it with our group of friends from college and their kids and I’ve done it with my family. The important part of the round robin is that in order for it to work correctly, you need to set some parameters — how much will be spent per person (and people have to promise they will stick to that amount!), whether or not the children are a part of it (or maybe you have one round robin for the kids and one for the adults), will it be a secret process, etc.

In the gift exchanges I’ve done, every person buys for one other person. So if there are five members of your family, you buy five gifts (and will receive five in return). Deciding who gets to buy for who is part of the fun and there are many ways you can figure that out. I’ve employed a few:

  • Alphabetical — Anna buys for Craig who buys for Jennifer who buys for Sam who buys for Anna
  • Age — 2-year-old “buys” for 7-year-old who “buys” for 15-year-old who buys for 26-year-old who buys for 2-year-old
  • Random — pulling names from a hat or stocking
  • Use an online site like Elfster to handle the gift assignments

To really add to the fun, consider introducing a theme — maybe the gifts have to be a book or something that starts with the first letter of the person you are buying for.

Suzanne: Here’s how we did it in my family a few years back. My sister and I agreed that there was no need to exchange gifts among the adults when we each had a niece and nephew to buy for. So we focused on the kids and left it at that. My brother who is seven years younger than me and doesn’t have children wasn’t quite on board. Of course, I was still buying gifts for him and his wife since they didn’t have any little ones, which meant that he felt the need to reciprocate for me and my husband — in addition to buying gifts for my son and daughter. I think we finally got it straightened out last year and everyone is happy now.

Another idea for forgoing gifts is the tradition we started with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. Instead of waiting for them to catch up to us with children (we just made it even this year) we agreed to pick a date between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go to a really nice steakhouse — just the four of us — and enjoy a night of good food and conversation instead of exchanging token gifts.

So you might consider something along those lines to help in trimming your holiday gift list. And if all else fails, be brave and take the initiative to skip the gifts for a year even if there’s not a consensus. They’re bound to follow your lead next year.

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Has the gift-giving spun out of control at your holiday celebrations or is your thinking that more is better? How do you and your family handle gift exchanges?

Looking for advice two times over? Just drop us a note at advice@wearebothright and we will serve it right up.

Our Two Cents: Holiday Shopping on a Tight Budget

holiday shopping on a budget

There's still time to get creative when holiday shopping on a budget. ©Kym McLeod /stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m already thinking (and fretting) about Christmas shopping for the kids because our budget is tighter than ever this year.

My husband’s been out of work since the summer, so we’re just getting by with the basics. Still, I can’t imagine not being able to make the holidays special for our kids (ages 3, 4 and 7).

Obviously, there will be fewer presents under the tree this year, but I still want all three of them to have a memorable Christmas and at least get some of what is on their wish lists.

Any tips on how to do that on a budget?

–Christmas on a Shoestring

Suzanne: Seeing how far we can stretch a dollar is almost a prerequisite for parenting in this economy, so where Amanda and I leave off, I’m sure our readers will pick up with tips of their own.

For starters, I’ve found that a lot of planning goes a long way. I can say from experience that last minute shopping is what really does me (and my budget) in. This year, I took about ten minutes to brainstorm one day and jot down some ideas and how much each item would cost. I have my target range, and as I’ve been spotting sales and finding coupon matches for additional savings, I’ve been pouncing on the opportunity to cross another thing off the list.

My latest find is the Dora motorized toothbrush I scored as a stocking stuffer for my daughter (while she was sitting in the shopping cart in front of me) when it was on sale and before my coupon expired next week. And even though it’s just a toothbrush, it’s something she’s been wanting and will be excited to get — even though it’s a run-of-the-mill item I would have to buy for her anyway. And that can be another strategy that might work for you. If there’s an outfit or shoes your child really, really wants, maybe you can justify it as a Christmas gift and something that meets a basic need at the same time. This also works with gifts like “A Day with Mom” coupon where each child is promised a special day just with you doing their favorite thing (riding go-karts, ice skating or going to the movies — which means that it does triple duty, first as a Christmas present that doesn’t have to be paid for upfront, secondly as a special treat to look forward to over the winter, and also as a chance to do something that might otherwise not be in the budget).

Another favorite holiday shopping strategy I’ve been on top of this year (and again it requires some advance planning to accumulate items over time) is taking all of the $10 cash coupons that come in the mail from stores like Kohl’s and Bobs, and finding gift items in those stores — basically for free. I love crossing something off my list and writing a budget-friendly $1.97 price tag next to it. Just sign up for e-mails at any of those store’s web sites, and like the Facebook fan pages of shops on your hit list so that you can get deluged with special e-mail sales, coupons, and online codes that you can apply strategically as the holidays approach.

Of course, there’s more to life than shopping. So budget or no budget, the most important thing we can teach our children is the real meaning of the holidays we celebrate. Try to take some time in the weeks leading up to Christmas (or even on the holiday itself if you want to fill the time with something meaningful rather than focusing on what is or isn’t under the tree) and go with the family to a Ronald McDonald House or community center where you can all brighten the day of people who would want nothing more than to feel a little holiday spirit themselves. Have the kids bring a holiday book and read it to younger children or seniors. It might just be the most memorable holiday tradition of all.

Amanda: Suzanne’s got some great tips, some I already employ and some I’m going to have to start doing. Toothbrushes for everyone!

My big thing about shopping, aside from scouring the sales and using coupons is to see where I can get money back. It’s not a lot but it goes a long way, especially during the holiday time when I’m spending more than I normally would (even if it’s a little more). So whenever I use a credit card, I make sure it’s one that gives me cash back in some form. I always shop through sites like Upromise and ebates that give money back on every purchase (the former deposits the money in a 529 account for your kids, the latter sends you a check every quarter).

Keep track of what you spend too. If you shell out $19.99 for product A at store B and then a week later it’s $5 less, head over to their customer service desk and see if they’ll give you an adjustment. And don’t be afraid to ask if a store will honor competitors coupons and prices too.

Many stores now are offering layaway, a program that lets you pay off an item upfront for a small charge — usually around $5. If your child wants a toy that costs $30 and you just don’t have that to spend right now, you can give the store $6 a week for about a month — a lot easier on your weekly budget.

Good luck! I hope the new year brings you happiness and prosperity!

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What are your best tips for holiday shopping on a budget? We’d love to hear your advice, and if there’s an area where you could use double the help, let us know at advice@wearebothright.com.