Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Simplifying the Holiday Season

This is my first holiday season outside of Anbar since 2005 (not trying to elicit pity there, I chose the job). This is also the first holiday season I'm going through with a mortgage, rent, car payment, and the other standard slew of bills (again, no pity deserved, I chose that, too). On top of it all, I've lost more than half my savings in the past couple months (no special sympathy earned, millions have probably taken an even bigger hit to their retirements). And on top of all that, this is the first holiday season where I have a large number (like, several dozen) of people who have at least entered my thought process as far as how-to-handle-the-whole-gift thing (and again, I'm not complaining, I wouldn't trade that for anything).

So why am I sharing all of this?

Well, actually being around means I'm on the hook for buying gifts. Being low on money presents a challenge (this challenge can be obviated with the use of a credit card, but more on that later).

For a while, I was just thinking of going large. If my Aunt Nikky (not technically an aunt in the strict sense, but it's a long story) has eight kids, I was going to at least get something for everyone. Ditto for a couple other large families. But still, that's a lot of t-shirts and hats, and that can add up pretty quick.

One solution would be to just charge it, and pay it off in the early months of the new year. But as I was recently reminded by something that was relayed back to me second-hand, generosity isn't always as welcome as it might seem it should be. When you're always going out of your way to pick up the tab, to pick up the beer for the party, or to make sure you're never empty-handed as you show up at any gathering, even if it comes with the best of intentions (and the widest of grins for the folks at Visa), it can come off badly. It can come off as you trying to make some statement about having money (when ironically, maybe you don't) and, by implication, to show up others with even less (or, perhaps, just less of a proclivity to use the plastic).

Anyway, here's the solution I've come up with in order to simultaneously a) save money, b) avoid the potential twin pratfalls of burdening others to reciprocate, or of appearing ostentatious, I've decided to simplify by buying single family gifts.

So, for instance, I have two parents, three siblings, plus a brother-in-law. I'll buy one *thing* that could stay at my parents' house but be *for* each of them to use, or share, or whatever. Way simpler and cheaper than six individual gifts, and probably better for them, too (since I'm telling them all in advance and saving them the burden of looking for anything for me).

Ditto for my girlfriend's gazillion-million uncles, aunts, and cousins. For the families that I'm close with, a single, practical thing that could go in the kitchen or living room will be my exit strategy from the fear of this holiday season sending me to the poor house.

Or, ironically, to the alienation-caused-by-the-appearance-of-displaying-signs-of-wealth-and-then-creating-burdens-on others house.

Which is ironic, of course, because -- unbeknownst to some -- that house is actually just next door to the poor house.


Susan said...

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Matt said...

Another great way to save money is on EBay and/or Craigslist. You can get way more personalized gifts at way cheaper a price.

For example, last XMas, I needed to give a gift to someone who is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I could have bought the just-released box set that was almost a hundred bucks. Instead, I went on EBay and found a vintage concert t-shirt from 1980 for $20. Usually you can find something quirky, historical, personal, and UNIQUE for way cheaper than something you'd buy in a Big Box store.

Shannon said...

Hi Greg,

I have always loved shopping at Sam's Club and Costco for Christmas gifts because they have neat stuff especially for children and teenagers.I've found that their prices are always lower than Walmart or target for the same item. Also I agree with Matt about shopping online, you can score some great deals! However Sam's and Costco's online prices are sometimes much higher than the actual store.Lots of places are offering free shipping. I like Amazon, my mom likes Hsn.com. Khols and American Eagle are having great sales on clothes. World market is one of my favorite places to go and they usually have some decent sales. I like shopping at used video game places like GameStop for my brothers. The games are guaranteed and my brothers beat the games so fast and just sell them back for a trade anyway.

For my sister in law I bought a picture frame from Khols that had 5 pic slots. I sent 5 family pics from my computer to Walgreen's to be printed out, and put them in the frame. It was easy and very personal. But I don't recommend Walgreen's because the picture quality was not the best I've seen. Next time I'll try somewhere else.

Buying for groups of family members is a really good idea. My bros,sis and I usually go in together to get something a little more expensive for my mom or each other and then its just from all of us. It works out nice because then we can get something that the person really wants but maybe can't really buy on their own.

Have fun shopping!


C R Krieger said...

There is a toy consignment store over near Littleton Common, off Great Road, just past King Street going south. This would be the 495 exit 31 on my MapQuest. My wife picked up a great train set for $21 that kept the 3 year old grandson occupied for hours.

Regards -- Cliff

The New Englander said...

Matt / Shannon / Cliff,

Thanks very much for the very practical suggestions and solutions. I'll keep things minimal with the collective gift idea, but in the cases where I'll buy a specific thing for a specific person, will definitely heed the advice! Your help is much appreciated..