Staying In The Holiday Spirit

By Chelle Cordero

September 24, 2010 5 min read

There are some who approach the holiday season with trepidation. Instead of visions of sugarplums, they have visions of massive bills to pay and headaches. Face it; considering our current economy, the majority of us don't go into the season with those big fat holiday savings clubs anymore. Most of us put our purchases on credit cards and worry about the bills "next year." It's especially tempting when stores offer deals, such as "pay no finance charges now" and instant rebates that are nowhere near what we are actually spending.

This kind of destroys some of the joy of the season.

"For many families, holiday shopping has gotten way out of whack. Time to rein it in and go back to concentrating on the joy of family time together," says Jo Bittof, management development coach and co-founder of Solutions (http://www.actfinancially.com), helping people improve their financial health.

Bittof recommends shopping with cash. "Avoid credit card use," she says. "Unless you are positioned to pay off credit cards in full when the bill comes, think twice before running up debt. Finance charges associated with credit card debt are hefty indeed. Consider this. You charge $1,000 to your credit card for holiday expenses. The interest rate is 18.9 percent. You plan to pay a bit more than minimum each month, say, $30 a month. It will take almost FOUR YEARS to pay off these charges, and that's assuming you have no other charges on the card, thus more principal and interest. For that $1,000, you will have repaid about $1,410. Now that's costly!"

Denise Winston, a financial educator and an expert on how to save money and time, has a foolproof system for shopping with cash:

--Place gift recipient's name on outside of envelope.

--Jot down a few gift ideas for recipient on envelope.

--Place allocated budgeted cash inside envelope.

--When you make a purchase use cash inside envelope.

--Jot purchase price next to gift idea on the outside of envelope.

--Place receipt inside envelope.

--If you find a lower-priced item, purchase it and return previous purchase.

A few inexpensive gift giving ideas from author Marcia Brixey, who wrote "The Money Therapist: A Woman's Guide to Creating a Healthy Financial Life," include: "Use family pictures to design a personalized calendar. Be creative and decorate the dates for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

"For the people with iPods, purchase iTunes gift certificates so they can download their favorite music.

"Give a gift certificate for a day of yardwork, housecleaning, window washing or car washing. This is a great idea for elderly parents and grandparents.

"Give a gift certificate to spend a day together doing whatever the recipient chooses. Many people appreciate the gift of time with their loved ones more than something store-bought."

Homemade crafts and baked goods are also longtime favorites for remembering somebody on the holidays. Though you've got to be extra-careful to keep it out of the same circle of friends, many experts claim that there is nothing wrong with regifting unwanted gifts that you've received. If you get caught short without a gift for someone who gave you one, make sure that you write a very nice thank-you note afterward; or you can avoid being a sole recipient with a few wrapped "emergency gifts" on hand, such as inexpensive fragrant candles, desk accessories, boxes of chocolate, etc.

If you are part of a large family or in an office situation, consider holding a "secret Santa." Instead of having everyone buy a gift for everyone else, you toss your names into a hat and each person chooses one recipient to concentrate on. A hip twist on the old holiday tradition, Elfster is an online secret Santa gift exchange organizer. In a recent survey, it determined that 95 percent of people have participated in a secret Santa or another type of group gift exchange and that 90 percent either have already participated in or will be participating in a gift exchange online.

"There is more interest than ever in secret Santa programs from consumers and also retailers, who are recognizing that consumers are looking for a more cost-effective holiday experience," says Peter Imburg, founder and CEO of Elfster.

Enjoy the holiday!

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