Make Your Holidays Merry and Bright (and Affordable)

 Article courtesy of Accel Financial Counseling
The 2012 holiday shopping season is underway and Destinations Credit Union (in partnership with Accel) wants to remind budget-minded shoppers that it’s never too late to start planning for an affordable holiday season. “Now is the time to get together with family and friends and discuss a game plan for the rest of the holidays,” said Mark Munzenberger, Accel’s director of education. “While there may be discussion around where the holiday meal will be this year, you also should determine gift giving rules and budgets.”
In honor of the season, Accel financial counselors have put together a list of holiday shopping to-dos to undertake now:
Start saving and budgeting: Set a specific and reasonable amount for each person on your “must-buy-for” list. Before you start socking the money away, make certain the amount won’t impact your ability to manage your existing monthly expenses.
Dial down the holidays: Consider asking family and friends to downsize the holidays to something less commercial, with fewer purchased gifts, more valuable time spent together and a “less is more” sentiment. You’ll be well on your way to a very meaningful holiday that doesn’t evolve into overwhelming financial stress in early 2013.
Make your own: Gifts made from inexpensive materials can go a long way in showing someone you care because people do understand the value of your time. It can be extremely meaningful to your relationship and to the holiday, not to mention light on the pocketbook. Some ideas include wrapping up homemade treats, framing a grandchild’s one-of-a-kind art piece, or making a “coupon” good for a house cleaning, one weekend of free babysitting, etc. All offer opportunities to save, while delivering a whole lot of joy to recipients.
Think beyond the mall: Is there someone who would love knitting lessons from the local wool shop? Or a snowboarding lesson from an instructor at the local ski hill? Out-of-the-box ideas like this take more creativity and less money, while delivering a thoughtful gift to a very appreciative loved one.  
Multiply: If the expectation is quantity, giving a number of small, less expensive gifts and wrapping them individually will help create the illusion that you are giving more.
Combine resources: If a family member’s wish list includes an expensive item, consider asking others to go in on it with you.
Save on wrapping: Inexpensive wrapping paper (even a brown paper bag), combined with a nice bow or a well-placed flower, pine cone or holiday ornament, work wonders for adding significance to an inexpensive gift. If you don’t have a talent for wrapping, find someone who does and enlist their help.
Don’t end up shopping at the gas station: As the old holiday joke goes, don’t wait until the last minute or you may be shopping at the 24-hour GasMart. Plan your shopping early on. If you wait until the last minute, you may end up spending more just to get the shopping done quickly.
Buy your gifts with cash: Studies show that people spend less if they pay with cash! Add the savings to your stash and use it to pay down some debt when the holidays are over; you’ll be off to a good start in 2013.
Start a Holiday Savings
Open a Holiday Club Account and save a little out of each pay.  Next year, your wallet will thank you!

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