Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Homespun Christmas

Since the holidays are upon us, I decided to republish this post. I hope you benefit from the ideas here and reconsider what Christmas is really about.

Yes, I do know that it is merely June! Although, for those of us that would like to have a more simple Christmas including handmade gifts for all June is a late start. Planning Christmas had already been on my mind, but I kept knocking it down the priority list thinking it can wait. Well, in light of my previous post I've decided to give planning Christmas a higher priority.

With all the details involved in Christmas, decorating, cooking, shopping, gift giving, preparing can become rather expensive. Maybe now would be a good time to evaluate our current perception of how we celebrate Christmas. Is it possible that we have become just a little too commercially influenced? Do we celebrate in a manner that honors the true meaning of the holiday? According to Parent's Link, Volume 2, Issue 6, "The average American family will charge $1000 to the handy credit card for their Christmas shopping. If minimum payments are made toward that debt at 12% interest (this is low), it will take over 8 years to repay it with an additional $545 interest charge. Your fourth graders best Christmas ever won’t be paid off until they are graduating from high school."

The amount of debt that we can be willing to incur in the name of a good Christmas is rather disturbing. Would it be possible to have a good Christmas without all of the debt? With a little effort on our part I do believe that we can become memory makers instead of robbing ourselves of retirement or our children of college funds. I believe it is much more fun to create personal gifts to remind those we care about of our love for them than it is to spend hours at the mall looking for that ever so perfect, and co$tly, gift that will likely soon be forgotten.

When I think of Christmas, I think of Little House on the Prairie. Remember how much fun they had cooking, singing, playing music, dancing, and giving thoughtful, handmade gifts? I have slowly been progressing toward this idea of family and fun for our Christmas celebrations. With seven children, four grandchildren, and extended family members that we celebrate with every year things had gotten a little out of control. I was spending WAY too much money. See, my perspective was a little off, shall we say. I grew up poor. The only time we received ANYTHING was at Christmas, so we got a lot. My mom saved her change all year long to provide us with all the clothing and toys we would get for the year. It was the mother load of Christmas hauls! The problem became that I am no longer poor, but I was still living Christmas like I was. My children get what they need, when they need it. They don't have to wait until Christmas. Not keeping that in mind I was spending a ton of money on each child so that they would have A LOT of things to open on Christmas. I had a lot growing up, so my children should as well, right? WRONG! They already had a lot. What more did they need?

Now, our thinking has changed as a family. The Michigan economy further assists my efforts to tighten the belt on Christmas spending. Things are tough for everyone here. It's impossible to not be effected by rising gas prices. It seems that every visit to the grocery store delivers higher food prices. Times are tough, period. There is no reason to believe that everything will be miraculously better by Christmas, so here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Create a recipe box or cookbook with hand written recipes for a newlywed, college student, or someone just out on their own.

  • Cook a homemade meal for someone with a new baby, an illness, a single parent, or someone putting extra hours at work.

  • Offer to clean an elderly person's house once a month for a time, or even someone from the list above.

  • Give a themed gift basket that you put together yourself using items gathered from discount stores, flea markets, thrift stores, and even yard sales.

  • Host a cookie exchange to gain a variety of cookies. You can freeze them, give them as gifts, or serve them at gatherings.

  • Create a customized coupon book for a loved one offering to do things that they would appreciate upon the redemption of the coupon.

  • Offer to babysit for a few hours, a day, or a weekend so that a busy mom or a couple can get some alone time.

  • Start a simple tradition for grand kids by making a special ornament and pairing it with a quality book, or not. Then they will know what to look forward to each year, and you keep your expenses down as your family grows. (Think like this: $50/ea. x 10 grand kids = WAY TOO MUCH $$)

  • If you enjoy photography, frame a beautiful picture you have taken, and give as a gift.

  • What about canning? Did your tomato plants yield a bumper crop? Can you get a good deal on a bushel of anything? Get canning! Home canned foods are the greatest, and your benefactor will think of you every time they use your gift.

  • Make chocolate spoons for the coffee lover in your life.

  • Chocolate covered pretzel sticks are easy and can be embellished with any candy treat you can imagine.

  • Do you bead? Hand beaded jewelry and Christmas decorations are fun to make. I really enjoy making beaded snowflakes.

  • Make homemade bath salt or bath milk and pair with an homemade candle.

  • Make mixes for cocoa, cookies and dips. Include a recipe card.

  • For grand kids that live far away, you could record yourself reading them a story, and include the book for them to read "with" you.

  • If you have a canine friend homemade dog biscuits would be a great treat to share.

Another expense at Christmas time can be decorating. Here are some frugal solutions to beautify your home in the name of Christmas and create lasting family memories:

  • Cut old Christmas cards into strips and make an advent chain with your children or grandchildren to count down the days to Christmas.

  • String popcorn, cranberries, and/or beads to hang on the tree.

  • Gather nature's discards like pinecones, sticks, pine boughs, and use them to create decorations for the tree and house.

  • Gather the children in your family to create cookie cutter dough decorations.

  • Play Christmas music every time you are baking, creating, or decorating. Make it a family affair involving everyone in the planning and preparation.

  • Save dried baby's breath from flower arrangements to add to your Christmas tree as snow.

  • Put old bulbs in a bowl and display on table, piano, shelf, or mantel.

  • Make a rag wreath for the front door, or hang on interior door.

The possibilities are endless, so I plan to do a follow up post. I would also love it if you would post your ideas for a frugal Christmas. What have you done to trim back? Do you have a special tradition you would like to share? What about those creative gift giving ideas? Please, do tell!

Here are some added resources:

Get Rich Slowly

No Christmas Gift this Year

Buy Nothing Day

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