Holiday Budgeting

Today, gift-giving during the winter holidays is practically mandatory -- so much so that I am reminded of the story regarding the Roman emperor Caligula. It is said that one New Year’s Day, he announced he would stand on his veranda to receive gifts of money -- if the amount did not satisfy him, the giver was publicly shamed. Why is it that this attitude has been somewhat preserved over the centuries?

To those of you who dread opening the mail after the holidays, due to the abundance of bills you have accumulated -- you are not alone. To help keep your holiday bills in check consider implementing the following strategies.

1. Creating a budget
Decide before you shop the total amount you can afford to spend for holiday shopping. Next, divide that amount among the people on your list.

2. Tracking Your Spending
One of my favorite ways to organize my holiday finances is to establish an envelope system. This is done by designating an envelope for each person on my holiday gift-giving list. On the outside of the envelope I write the person’s name, the amount I have budgeted to spend on him or her, and any gift ideas that I might have in mind for that particular individual. Inside the envelope I put the designated amount of cash I will spend on that person. When I do my holiday gift shopping, I take the cash-filled envelopes (and no credit cards) and spend only what I have budgeted.

3. Drawing Lots
To reduce your holiday spending further, you may decide to draw lots for names of family members. As a result, you need buy a gift only for the person whose name you have drawn. Your family may wish to draw names annually, or create a list where givers and recipients are rotated each year. (This strategy is particularly helpful in reducing holiday spending in very large families, and among large groups of friends or coworkers who exchange gifts.) You might also designate a limited amount to spend on each gift, in order to ensure that no feelings are hurt or no one feels slighted.

4. Giving from the Heart
Eliminate the concept that the expense or size or novelty of your gift is vitally important in expressing your love. Instead, realize that a true friend and loved one will value a gift for the simple reason that it has been given by someone whom they care for--and who cares for them.

5. Bazaar Bargains
Many people love handcrafted items, and enjoy giving them as gifts. However, not everyone can find the time or enthusiasm to create them. Even so, you may still give beautifully handcrafted items. Appropriate gifts can often be found at craft sales and bazaars for nearly the cost of the materials--and often this money goes to worthy causes. For this purpose, seek out sales that are sponsored by charitable organizations in which the items are donated by the crafts people. These sales usually offer lower prices than sales where the artisans sell their own work.

6. Planning Your Shopping
Organize your shopping by writing down the specific stores you wish to visit. And to eliminate backtracking, map an orderly shopping route. This is an especially useful strategy when visiting shopping malls. If you are unfamiliar with the mall, call ahead and ask them to mail or fax you a map of their establishment. Use this map to make your plans. Implement this same strategy, to a lesser degree, when shopping at the larger department stores.

7. An Envelope for All Receipts
I put receipts and sales tags from the gifts I purchase into the gift budget envelope (mentioned earlier) of the particular recipient. If you don’t care to implement the gift budget envelope system, perhaps carry a single sturdy envelope with you into which all receipts and tags can go. Make an effort to read all warranties before you buy large-ticket or electronic items. This will save you headaches after the holiday. And make an effort to shop only at reputable retail establishments so that if there is a problem with the gift you may easily return it. Always inquire about a store’s return policy before you buy anything.

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