I don't know about her financial circumstances, but in general holiday shopping can be a huge budget buster, no doubt about it. There is even more enormous pressure than usual to spend, spend, spend, and meet inflated expectations.
This is particularly true if you have children or a romantic partner to whom you (understandably) want to show your love.
My own personal thoughts on this are that you don’t need to spend a lot to express affection.
When my husband and I were first married, he was in school, and we were living on my very small salary in New York City. That $13,000 didn’t leave a lot of financial padding at all in one of the most expensive cities in the world, so we trimmed costs wherever we could.
One area was our grocery bill, of course. That meant that we had to forgo buying some of the foods my husband had grown up with as a normal part of his daily menu because they were expensive specialty items in this country.
Things like Greek olives, feta cheese, halloumi cheese, lountza sausage -- those all typically made up his regular diet in Cyprus, but we simply could not afford them here. They were also very difficult to find.
I would buy them in jars or deli containers wherever I could find them, and wrap them to put under the tree. I realize that this may sound completely odd and unromantic in this day and age of readily available foods from all over the globe, but to him, it was a very special treat that he thoroughly relished and enjoyed for weeks afterwards.
We kept our indulgences to a bare minimum, so that gifts of even simple items held very special meaning to us.
Even as we grew older and more financially stable, we tended to stick to more practical gifts, such as wool sweaters or clothing. And sometimes we would “gift” ourselves a much-needed household appliance instead of buying anything at all for each other beyond a small token under the tree.
It’s an approach that has worked very well and allowed us to avoid blowing our budget at Christmastime over the years.
This can lead to lapses in judgment about expenditures and behavior. We’ve all seen the videos of parents pushing and shoving each other in their efforts to grab the latest got-to-have toy of the current season.
And we all know people who dread the receipt of their credit card bill after the holidays.
The truth is there’s no need for this to be the case. For starters, let me say that you really don’t have to buy presents for small children at all.
Babies don’t have the developmental ability to notice them, other than the bright colors of the wrapping paper, which they proceed to try to eat, and toddlers are very happy to simply tear wrapping paper off large, empty boxes and then play in them. Seriously.
Simply wrap any used toys you want to give, and your child will still have the joy of the gift-opening and -receiving experience.
When I was growing up, we each got one single gift under the tree, and a small stocking that contained things like a tangerine or two --- a rare treat for us in those days – a handful of unshelled nuts, some chocolate, a few toiletries, and other simple items.
Nowadays, children and even adults receive stockings with several hundred dollars worth of gifts and doodads. I used to go overboard with my own kids until I discovered unopened toys in their personal underbed storage bins months after the holiday.
I realized then that I needed to change my ways, and I did so by restricting my stocking stuffers to consumables and edibles. I still follow that practice. It saves me huge stress and lots of money. And it restores some semblance of sanity to the whole gift part of Christmas.
Online retail is no different than bricks and mortar retail in its ability to encourage impulse purchases. In fact, I'd be inclined to say it's much worse because of the sheer volume of products it makes available.
Plus you have to pay the cost of shipping -- or membership fees to get free shipping – so you often don’t save any money at all shopping on line.
But even if you do shop online, I recommend putting the cash aside that you’ve budgeted for the holidays. When you make a purchase online, put that money into a separate envelope and deposit it back into your checking account when the credit card bill arrives.
That will keep you on track budget-wise and avoid any unpleasant post-holiday surprises.
SHOP WITH A LIST
I know I’ve said this many times already, but it bears repeating over and over again. You should never enter a store without a definite purpose and a list. Otherwise, you end up meandering aimlessly, wasting your precious time, and spending money unnecessarily.
I am always amazed to hear about families who spend an entire day or more shopping for Christmas. That’s really not necessary.
As long as you are relatively organized, know what you are looking for, and can avoid peak shopping times, there’s little reason you shouldn’t be able to finish your shopping in a few hours at most.
REDUCE YOUR GIFT PURCHASES BY PICKING NAMES FROM A HAT
My family is very large, and it eventually became a burden to try to buy gifts for everyone as we all reached adulthood. So, many years ago, we opted to draw names from a hat instead of everyone buying for everyone.
That meant we all received fewer gifts, but generally more substantial ones. Now my sons have opted to follow this approach to holiday gift buying among themselves as well.
I recommend it as a way to simplify your life and reduce your overall stress level. You won’t regret it.
My family has a substantial range of income levels. To reduce the sense of obligation and to keep things reasonable for everyone, we set a top price limit on any gift purchases.
I recommend doing this in your own family. Of course, the exact amount will vary from family to family, so set a budget that suits your particular circumstances and financial goals.
And in this era of consumerism, it’s perfectly okay to be conservative. It might challenge people to be more creative and to think outside the box in their gift choices.
USE HOLIDAY WISH LISTS
I was amazed to hear a friend tell me recently that she had never received anything she ever asked for under the tree. Her husband, who was also present at the time, responded that he wouldn't buy anything people directly requested because he felt that took away from the meaning of the holiday and the element of surprise that he held dear.
Here's a compromise to this situation. I recommend asking people to provide a list of things they’d like to receive. That way you know you are buying them things that they really need and want, but still have the pleasure of surprising them with the one you choose.
SET A CHALLENGE OF BUYING GIFTS ONLY AT THRIFT STORES OR CONSIGNMENT SHOPS
You would be amazed at how fun this can be. These stores can be veritable treasure troves for the budget conscious shopper.
MAKE GIFTS OF PRACTICAL ITEMS
I used to put things like toiletries, drug store gift cards, and socks in my teens’ stockings. It’s not the most exciting gift they received, for sure, but after the age of 12, they were expected to buy such necessities with money earned through chores, so it was something they noticed.
Now that they're adults and paying for everything on their own, practical everyday items and consumable are still very much appreciated, given the cost of things like shaving supplies and good wool socks.
When my kids asked for and eventually got cell phones in high school, my husband and I made the monthly bill part of their Christmas present. It was a substantial gift when all was said and done – one that saved them a considerable amount of money each year.
And when another son wanted disposable contact lenses in addition to his regular eyeglasses, we made those a major part of our gift to him. I wrapped them and put them under the tree just as I would any other present.
I can hear many readers cringing at the thought of such gifts, but you're not doing your kids any favors if you let them think that every gadget and amenity they have in life comes free. These are luxury goods that have substantial value and impact on a family's bottom line.
MAKE GIFTS OF CONSUMABLES OR EDIBLES
One of the most memorable gifts I ever received was also one of the simplest and least expensive. It was a bag of beans with a tiny bottle of hot sauce, a spice packet, and a recipe attached.
It probably contained no more than $2 worth of ingredients, but I was delighted to try the recipe. It has since become one of my mainstay meals, one I doubt I would ever have tried it if I had not received that gift.
You might have a favorite spice combination that you can package with a bow and/or festive ribbon to create a very attractive and welcome gift that costs pennies.
I used to make bottles of salad dressing as gifts for colleagues --- and lo and behold, Paul Newman was doing the same thing for his family and friends and ended up making a huge business out of it.
My efforts were much more humble, of course, but still very welcome by the recipients of my red-bowed bottles. It was a simple, but tasty and useful offering that they clearly enjoyed.
My sister is an expert seamstress, and one of the best gifts I ever received was a set of curtains she made for me. I paid for the material and she gifted me her time and talent. That was more than 20 years ago. I still think of her every time I look at my beautiful window treatments. (Yes, they've lasted that long, and still have years -- if not decades - of life left in them.)
Maybe you don't possess such talent. Few of us do. But there are still ways to make gifts that cost us only time. In fact, the desire to spend more time with loved ones is something you'll often hear older people express.
With that in mind, my oldest sister sometimes made attractive coupons for my Mom and my aunt -- who had no desire for any more stuff in their lives -- that were redeemable for helpful chores around the house, or for running errands, or for spending an evening or afternoon together playing a board or card game, or sharing a meal.
The coupons were a huge success, and the pleasure and anticipation Mom and Aunt MJ derived from setting the dates for the coupons to be redeemed were very real. I'm fairly certain our other material gifts paled by comparison.
These are just a few ideas that have worked for us and might also help you in reducing your holiday gift budget or keeping the one you have on track.
There is little doubt that in this era of out-of-control consumerism, it can be very tough to resist the seemingly inexorable pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, particularly at holiday time.
But more is not better, particularly when it contributes to creeping expenditures, less overall satisfaction, more stress, and reduced financial security.
Rest assured that you are not alone in fighting the good fight of fiscal responsibility.
Winning that fight will allow you to focus on the true meaning and spirit of the holiday, which we all know has nothing to do with the number or size of the packages found under the tree.