By Denise Michaels
Can you stick to your budget this month and make Christmas 2008 more fun than ever?В Yes, itвЂ™s possible.В All you need is a little ingenuity and a return to some of the old-fashioned fun that used to be a staple in December for generations but seems to have gotten lost in this era of hyper-commercialism.
Many people have decided to cut back on what they spend this Christmas and I applaud that decision. You might be thinking youвЂ™ll have to slog through a rather Scrooge-like season.В But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The last few years I’ve kept to a very close budget for the holiday season just because I didnвЂ™t want to stress over it. I don’t use credit cards or go into debt. Somehow we always have a great time and certainly FEEL the holiday spirit. Just go back to some of the traditions of yesteryear before Christmas became all about the money. Here are a few suggestions to make your Holiday season bright:
Start playing Christmas music around the house now.В Set your car radio to the вЂњall Christmas music all the timeвЂќ radio station.
Sing while you’re cleaning up the kitchen or dusting. My husband and I can now sing harmony together on “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and вЂњDeck the Halls.вЂќ
Make lots of Christmas cookies together with the kids. Let them do the icing and decorating. You’ll use ’em later when company comes over. Cookies freeze well in ZipLoc bags.
Bake Pumpkin-Nut bread. Or, Cranberry-Orange bread.В Or both.В These old-fashioned holiday treats make a great money-saving gift or are an easy addition to a buffet or brunch table. They freeze well, too. Wrap in a red and green plaid bow from a crafts store with a card that includes the recipe. Give to your kids’ teachers, neighbors, the UPS guy – whoever matters – but you want to keep your gift simple and inexpensive.
Get a special holiday coffee or tea and drink it all month. I love Celestial Seasoning Sugar Plum Fairy tea – only available this time of year.В Starbucks has a special Christmas Blend, too.В Put eggnog in your coffee or tea.В There are low-fat and low-sugar varieties available.
If you already own holiday dishes and serving pieces – put them in the cupboard and store away your regular dishes for the month of December. Use your Christmas dishes every day, all month long. I have “Christmas Memories” by Spode I bought on ebay several years ago.
Wear red. Or green. As much as you can this month. I avoid Christmas clothing that screams “Ho-ho-ho!” but I’ll wear a red sweater with a Christmas pin or scarf.В After December 25th put away the Christmas-y accessories and youвЂ™ll have a nice sweater or dress to wear until spring.
If you paint your nails anyway – do ’em in red this month.
Bunk political correctness and say a cheery, “Merry Christmas!” to everyone you meet. *wink*
Teach your kids how to sing Christmas carols – it will remind you of Christmas as a kid.
Don’t visit the mall to get you in the Christmas spirit. ItвЂ™ll just put you in the mood to spend.
Avoid buying more decorations just because they catch your eye.В TheyвЂ™re designed to do that.В Besides, you have to store that stuff the other 11 months of the year. Yes, the decorations are tempting but you probably have enough already.
When I was younger and couldn’t afford real decorations for a tree, I baked gingerbread cookies (a little thicker than usual so they’re sturdy) shaped like gingerbread men, stars, hearts and trees. I trimmed them with red cinnamon candies before baking and white Royal icing (it gets rock hard) after they cooled. I hot glued a metal ornament hook to the back and shellacked the front. A couple dozen “ornaments” for the cost of ingredients. I went to a craft store like Michaels and bought a few rolls of Christmas-y ribbon and tied bows on the tree branches.В I got peppermint canes to hang, too. I also strung popcorn with cranberries while watching a Christmas movie one evening and hung it like garland. The whole enchilada probably costs about $15-20 rather than that much for one or two Victorian ornaments. Cookie and Candyland was my Yule Tree вЂњthemeвЂќ the first few years I was on my own until I gradually bought the decorations I wanted. Those same gingerbread cookies held up for several years stored in a dry place.
Take stock of decorations that need to be replaced as you unpack them. Buy them early the morning of December 26th when they’re marked down 75 percent.
As you gradually purchase decorations вЂ“ focus on creating a collection of items that aren’t fragile.В This way they’ll last year after year. I especially avoid delicate glass bulbs and buy items made of plastic, fabrics or other more sturdy materials.
Make an important celebration of decorating your Christmas tree. Play holiday music and pop a big bowl of popcorn as your children hang ornaments around the tree. (You can always re-arrange them after they go to bed. *wink*)
One decoration every family who truly celebrates Christmas should have is a Nativity scene or Creche. After all – it’s the reason for the season. Let the kids place the figures one evening after dinner while telling them the story of the Baby Jesus in the manger and what it means to you. (If you don’t have one – go out early December 26th and get one on sale for next Christmas.)
Keep your outdoor holiday decorations basic. A welcoming wreath is simple and easy. Who needs a massive electric bill in January from all the lights?
Limit your Christmas decorating to the common living spaces in your home. Generally the foyer, living room and dining room. After all, do you really need Christmas sheets and comforters? Christmas bath towels? It’s silly. Focus your holiday decorating on the main rooms and make a bigger impact with less cash. Less time taking it all down, too.
Hang mistletoe under a doorway or entrance to a room thatвЂ™s in a high traffic area.В Remember, any time you meet the one you love under the mistletoe youвЂ™re supposed to kiss!
Plan on a fun caroling outing in your neighborhood with friends, young and old. Print out the words to the holiday songs everyone loves from online.В Let the grownups carry a lit candle if you can do so safely.В DonвЂ™t forget your reading glasses if you need them.
Celebrate afterwards at your house with cookies, Pumpkin-Nut or Cranberry-Orange bread and hot cocoa or hot apple cider (coffee for adults). Keep it simple.
If you come from a large family of adults suggest drawing names from a hat and agree to only buy a gift for the person whose name you pull. Set a price limit of $30-40. You can save a huge amount of money and time and each person gets one nice gift.В Remember, Christmas isnвЂ™t about quantity or even quality.В ItвЂ™s about love and light.
Look in your newspaper for a performance of a local college choir or community orchestra performing holiday music. Some larger churches put on amazing performances every year very inexpensively.
Cut back on your Christmas card list. Only send cards to family members. Send ecards online to everyone else.
To balance some of the rich foods during the holidays have some week night dinners with a very simple supper of homemade soup.
Rent DVDs of favorite old Christmas movies to watch together as a family in the evening.В Check out вЂњMiracle on 34th StreetвЂќ or вЂњScrooged.вЂќВ Watch your TV Guide for when good Christmas specials and movies are on TV.В Make a bowl of popcorn and enjoy “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
Help others less fortunate. Maybe your church or a local charity helps certain families and you can contribute time, food or make a donation. Or, serve food to the homeless at a shelter to help you appreciate what you have.
Know someone who’s really struggling? Buy them a gift card for a grocery store.В It might make the difference between whether they have a Christmas dinner with their family or not.
Help someone anonymously. Last Christmas one of my favorite Starbucks baristas (and a single mom) had a house fire the week before Christmas. I put some cash in a card and signed it “One of Your Favorite Customers” and gave it to her Manager to give her. Great Karma, too. *wink*
Never buy another cookbook again. I get all my recipes from Epicurious.com Over 25,000 recipes from Gourmet, Bon Appetit and other magazines. You can even set up your own recipe box to store your favorites.
Homemade gifts are a great way to save money.В Take stock of your skills and youвЂ™re sure to create an inexpensive gift that creates a lasting memory.
Make a colorful, fun “Coupon Book” or “Certificate” of your “services” to give. They can be naughty or nice. It could be something ooh-la-la for the one you love. A sexy massage – or whatever. Use your imagination. Or, it could be something as kind as an offer to help your mom take down all her decorations or visit for tea one afternoon. Get a box and wrap it in tissue and Christmas paper like a regular gift.В Make good on your offer without them having to ask.
Handwrite a short letter to the one you love. Tell them how you feel. Thoughtfully tell them what you love and why he/she is so special in your heart and always will be. They will treasure it more than any other gift this Christmas.
When buying gifts – stop thinking “impressive.”В Instead start thinking “loving.” It’ll help you stay within your budget and feel good about your selection. And, don’t buy what YOU would like. Buy what they would like. I’ve purchased gifts I honestly didnвЂ™t like (not my taste or color) but perfect for the other person. Those gifts are always a hit. I just smile and say, “You’re welcome!”
If you purchase from a department store – ask for the free gift box you usually get. Even if that blouse is for you – use the box for the PJs you bought for your Dad at a store that doesn’t provide boxes. If you still need more boxes the least expensive place I’ve found is Party City.
Don’t go shopping вЂњjust for funвЂќ or вЂњto get out of the house.вЂќ Check names off your list purposefully and stop shopping when you’re done. Don’t tempt yourself needlessly. If you can shop in the morning on the weekdays – the malls are almost never crowded then.
My mom used to let us open a gift on December 23rd. It was always something new to wear for the big family dinner. A new dress, sweater or PJs for Christmas morning. But it was fun to open one gift before all our friends. If you plan to buy something new for your kids to wear anyway вЂ“ wrap it as a gift and make it an occasion.
Light candles. There’s nothing like the glow of candles wherever appropriate in your home to add holiday magic along with the music.
On a crisp, clear evening after dinner, dress warm and go for a walk with someone you love. Hold hands. Enjoy the lights and Christmas displays in your neighborhood. Look up at the stars and sing “Silent Night” together.
If you have Jewish friends make a bunch of sugar cookies iced in blue with silver dragees (those tiny silver balls) and deliver them with a white Pointsettia. (Hanukah is December 22nd.)
Attend your church’s candle lighting ceremony – whether it’s December 24th or a couple days before. Even if you’re not a member – go. Put it on your calendar. Sing while holding your candle – and feel surrounded and connected to the real spirit of Christmas.
Try your hand at making a special Christmas coffee cake for breakfast Christmas morning. Make it a tradition every year. Also, I always serve cranberry juice in fancy goblets for Christmas breakfast, too.
Have the whole family get dressed up for the big holiday dinner. They may gripe at first but they’ll know it’s a special occasion and the grandparents and older family members will appreciate it. The days before the big dinner are a great opportunity to teach your kids good table manners that will last a lifetime.
Whether you open gifts in your family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day savor the action by having people open gifts one at a time so everyone can “ooooh” and “aaaah” over them. And insist those who get clothes or anything wearable “model” their new stuff.
After the present opening at your Christmas get together play a fun, silly game like Charades. Divide your group into two teams – the men and the women. Other fun games are Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and Balderdash.
Vow to use all your holiday leftovers wisely in meals the following days. I make a great “Breakfast Hash” with sauteed dressing, leftover veggies cut up and a poached egg on top.
My Christmas tree is festooned in red, white, crystal, silver and gold.В On December 26th, I remove all the red ornaments.В I also replace the red and white wool felt tree skirt with a swath of a couple yards of silver lame fabric I bought a few years ago.В In five minutes my tree is transformed from Christmas cozy to New Years Eve chic.
Make December 26th a game day for the kids to play with their new toys. They’ll appreciate them more that way. Let them invite their favorite friend or cousin over to share their new toys, too.
Take a little quiet time for yourself between Christmas and New Years to write your goals for 2009. I visit the lobby of a luxurious hotel, get a cup of tea and write – surrounded in opulence.
Have a holiday tea for your girlfriends the week between Christmas and New Years. Serve tea, leftover cookies, Cranberry-Orange or Pumpkin-Nut bread, maybe a couple packages of those mini-quiches you get in the frozen food section of the grocery store and some fresh strawberries. You’re set. Serve on your fanciest serving pieces.В You own them already why not use them?В DonвЂ™t own them?В Borrow from a few neighbors and invite them to the tea. (Much less expensive than a typical Open House with a groaning buffet and booze.)
To make your tea fun and meaningful, buy a poster board for each woman.В Ask them to bring a stack of old magazines and their New Years resolutions in mind. Have them cut out pictures of their resolutions or goals from the magazines as they sip tea and nibble on cookies and make a Vision Collage they can look at to inspire them to stick with their goals throughout the year.
Arrange an inexpensive New Years Eve potluck party. Send out invites on Evite.com Have people bring a dish to pass. Have a theme that keeps it inexpensive and casual. Mexican food is a great choice. Make something homey like a Chicken Enchilada casserole, for example. Others can bring dishes to complement. Chips and salsa.В A green salad. Cinnamon cookies. Serve more leftover cookies and Cranberry-Orange or Pumpkin-Nut bread for dessert. Have friends bring booze (if they drink), too. Provide the basics, the home to gather in, non-alcoholic beverages (don’t forget coffee), the music and the TV to watch the ball drop on Times Square at midnight. Aim for 10-15 people. You don’t have to fill the house to overflowing to have a good time.
If they’re old enough – get your kids involved taking down the decorations and packing them away for next Christmas.
Yes, this is a long list.В However, the idea isnвЂ™t to do it all, but to inspire you.В If you’re on a budget you may not want to do all the things on this list.В Instead, go ahead and pick and choose the ideas that will appeal to you and your family and make it your merriest Christmas season ever.В Even on a budget.
Denise Michaels loves the holidays and spreading Christmas cheer this time of year.В She is author of the business bestseller вЂњTestosterone-Free MarketingвЂќ and is a marketing mentor and a professional speaker.В Find out more about Denise at http://www.MentoringwithDenise.com or discover her book at http://www.tfmbook.com