Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Post Thanksgiving Musings - and thoughts on Holiday Giving

What constitutes a successful Thanksgiving?  Well, one good measurement is when there is a full five to ten minutes of silence after the grace has been said and the food distributed. That and seeing family around the holiday table makes the whole Thanksgiving experience worth while.

Now that the Thanksgiving break is over, I am moving into Christmas full force. In my world this means I decorate the day after (using a lifetime of things accumulated and items on hand in non traditional ways), begin to bake i earnest, use the phrase "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays", and plan for some holiday outings. Last but not least, I get into my Christmas giving mode-looking for ways to give gifts that are appreciated and needed, but easy on the pocketbook. 

One way to lower gift giving needs and expectations is to eliminate gifts.  I really hate to do that too much. On one side of the family, this year we have decided to draw names-gifts are given between individual family units, but in the greater family of twenty some, we draw a name with a maximum value of $80. This allows for one large, wanted gift-and makes it easy on the great grandparents in retirement apartments, as well as the six full time students some of whom work and some of whom do not.

For everyone else though, I give gifts-by choice. This includes my women's small group, my quilting group, my side of the family, two kids, and charity related giving. How do I deal with that?  Well first, I do not take advantage of much of the traditional advise in this area-and I say that as the ultimate cheapskate, get it free, coupon queen kind of gal. For example, I no longer shop year around (except for freebies that work as stocking stuffers). That worked great when there were multiple children in the family with fairly consistent hobbies and loves (Barbies or American Girl dolls, Lego lovers who would be happy with any new set, or a budding chef always happy for cooking tools), or young families who could always use more pans, kitchen towels or whatever.

At this point our families are made up with boomers, eighty something retirees, and twenty something college students - for the most part. Needs are either very small or very large, or unknown until the last minute. For example, my twenty something college student has lost weight. He now needs many long sleeved shirts in various colors-at a size completely different than in the summer. The game he wants came out only a month ago.

So in the end, my solutions for gifting without breaking my bank are simple. I give homemade gifts or gifts of service when appropriate. I save points earned and discounts year around and buy gift cards when appropriate, and I keep my eye out for every single discount and deal available this season.

Cases in point?  I received two different ten dollars off any amount coupons in the mail for Kohl's. My daughter wants one of those long cardigan sweaters with no buttons, the kind meant for layering. I also printed out two twenty five percent off anything (sale price or no) coupons.  This made her long gray layering sweater already on Christmas sale half off the sale price-and my second purchase was an "infinity scarf".

My homemade gifts are unique (based on those few things I am really good at and like to do) but for the most part are not time consuming. I do, as I said before, give one large quilt each year. Other homemade gifts are based on needs and wants and my skills. A long scarf knit in Washington Redskins colors done in the evening while watching football. Coasters that match my sister's mix and match fiesta ware style of four colors.  Homemade snacks and sauces for my sister in laws parents who need nothing but no longer like to cook. and of course, lots and lots of hand decorated cookies-I even have a new pourable frosting to check out this year.

All of my handmade gifts are made out of mainly items on hand (or the occasional sale yarn). Because I am a "stock up person" I always have fabric, yard, gift jars and food items purchased at loss leader prices. If I had to buy many items, homemade gifts would probably cost more. In my case my skills and what I have on hand mean that homemade gifts are food gifts (sundae sauces, cookies, jams and conserves), sewn gifts (heating pads for someone in a retirement home, matching coasters, e-reader covers), or scrapbook pages or frames-with the occasional scarf thrown in. My brother the computer geek downloads free concert videos and burns sets of Cd's for my son. My father in law uses scrap wood in his wood shop to make candle holders.

My one year around effort is earning points-through reward programs, using a specific survey site, and shopping online (which I do a great deal) through a portal. These rewards are then cashed in for gift cards-which I then spend on gifts-while there are exceptions, I prefer to give gifts over cards when possible. That said, every college student (including me) wants an Amazon gift card for textbooks, or gas cards. To that end, I do buy gift cards year around-mainly because it benefits me as well. Every time that the local grocery has four times the gas points for gift cards I buy them-some to turn around and use when shopping for myself, but many for gifts. This is a win win situation. This month I have earned fifty cents off each gallon of gas, while purchasing wanted Amazon gift cards.

Christmas gifts need not be expensive, nor do they need to be huge in number. In my little immediate family, we will gift each other three or four things, as well as do serious stockings, with all participating.  Tearing open Christmas wrap is a lovely thing at any age. Gifts don't need to be expensive or time consuming, necessarily. Gifts should, in my opinion, be something needed and/or wanted. Otherwise what's the point? Its possible do both give wanted gifts, and keep the budget intact-at least in my experience.

Two final thoughts. First, while I am not taking advantage this year, used gifts have a place, depending on tastes and desires.  The absolute best gift I ever gave my son was the year  I found a two gallon tub full of good Legos for a few dollars. I cleaned those Legos and put them in an ice box and wrapped them. They would have cost me a hundred dollars in boxes in a store.  For a few years I have put out the word-I would love some cream colored dishes. Unmatched and thrifted are fine-I have many kinds of dishes and pottery to bring them together.

Finally, giving to others, or Charity giving. I encourage all my readers NOT to make all their contributions at Christmas or even during the holiday season. I understand that this is the time the "reason for the season" comes to mind. It can be joyful, helpful and even educational for families to sponsor a family, buy a Christmas dinner, or choose an angel tree child. Still, as someone who volunteers with the working poor and the least fortunate, I encourage you do divide up your charity dollars and time and talent (however large or small that amount may be), throughout the year. Remember that during the summer children who are fed at school no longer have that outlet. While some schools open to continue that tradition, many poor parents are left providing twice the amount of meals as during the school year on the same amount of money. The biggest need for food bank food is generally in July. Remember that many kids need new shoes, school supplies and backpacks in September and October. Christmas is a time of giving, and a time of need. It's just not the only time.


  1. I'm not a huge fan of Thanksgiving (the weather's usually crummy; I don't like football; it's a terrible time to travel ... altho' I DO like turkey!) But I love Christmas, and I like your approach to gift giving -- b/c while it's nice to get presents it's really all about family and ... peace on earth and good will toward men.

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