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Six steps to a frugal little Christmas

Ah, yes. Costco has had its Christmas merchandise out since Labor Day, a sure sign that a white-plastic Christmas is y-cumin’ in. Some of us suffer from chronic skepticism about the annual merchandising frenzy. But you don’t have to be totally cheap to come up with a pretty Christmas celebration that won’t leave you feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Here are a few strategies that have saved me some bucks:

1. Stop sending out Christmas cards. Just because someone sent you a card last Christmas doesn’t really mean you have to reciprocate. Add the cost of postage to the price of the cards themselves and this custom gets to be an expensive proposition. Send cards or Christmas letters only to your closest friends and family, and, whenever possible, hand-deliver them.

2. But when people send you cards, put them in an envelope and save them with your Christmas wrappings. Next year, take a pair of scissors, cut out the cute images, and use them to make gift tags. Simply take a piece of good-quality paper, cut it into a rectangle as wide and twice as long as needed to accommodate a cut-out Christmas card image, glue the image to one half of it, and fold the other half under. Voilà! A free and very pretty tag.

3. Make your own Christmas wrapping. Get some brown wrapping paper or white butcher’s paper and a set of stamps. (Or, if you’re really frugal, save and cut open paper shopping bags to lay them out flat.) Each time a gift is wrapped, stamp it with cute little designs, and then tie it up with pretty ribbon or colored rope. A variant on this, if you have children, is to roll out the paper and have the kids paint Christmas motifs on it. When the artwork is dry, roll it back up and you have bright, colorful, and meaningful wrapping paper.

4. Get a living Christmas tree. Planted in a good pot, a small pine will live several years—once I had one last four years. Cart it inside for the holidays, decorate it, and then take it back out when the celebrations are over. Water it well before bringing it in the house and again when you return it to its backyard habitat. If you have a place for a big tree in your yard, you can plant it in the ground after it outgrows its pot.

5. Shop in artist’s consignment stores for unique and interesting crafted gifts. Last year, I found an incredible pair of handblown, solid glass mugs for M’hijito, heavy manly things with swirls of royal purple running through them. The store had so many hand-crafted possibilities it was hard to make a decision, and most of them were reasonably priced.

6. Shop for Christmas gifts all year round…especially in the post-Christmas and midsummer sales. This lets you buy things you know are wanted without paying top dollar, and it frees you from the crazy-making Christmas rush. By spreading the cost over the entire year, it allows you to buy plenty of presents, but pay for them without running up a tab on the credit card.

While it’s true that Christmas is a part of the universally human gift economy tradition, by emphasizing fellowship more and piling junk on everyone around us less, we can keep the costs within reason and have memorable holidays every year.

5 thoughts on “Six steps to a frugal little Christmas”

  1. These are great tips, especially about the Christmas card thing

    My thing this year, is that if I get a card, I call and I say thanks and have a chat

    I really, really, really hate getting cards, only because it’s kind of a waste of paper for something I won’t really keep (I scan them and try to figure out a way to recycle them), and I’d rather get a phone call instead of a card with your hastily scribbled signature

  2. My favorite thing to do is shop at the Target 90% off sale in early January, and buy all my cards and wrapping paper and bows for the next year. By shopping a few Target stores early in the day, I can have my pick of the fancy and pretty cards that usually cost $14.99, for $1.49. Whooo!! I also choose wrapping paper that looks non-Christmas-y on purpose to use year round. In a pinch, I have wrapped presents with the paper backwards so it’s white wrapping (Christmas print on the inside) and then put on a few non-Christmas-y colored bows that I also bought for 10% of regular retail. I actually have enough wrapping paper to last me for the next decade and am trying to persuade myself to not do the annual Target 90% off Christmas shopping since I usually spend at least $100 ($1000 retail, whoooooohooo!!). 🙂 Just the thought of getting $1000 worth of stuff for only $100 makes me a little giddy. It’s such a rush, and sooooo much fun!! I also buy cards for my boss, a couple of coworkers and we hand out around 200 cards to our clients from the agency, so I usually end up shopping for about 1000 cards. That way our clients get at least 3 or 4 Christmas cards in their basket and they love it. That many cards would normally cost around from $30 (for the really cheap ones) to $100 – $200 or more for the expensive, fancy, glittery cards. I end up spending $0.29 a box for fifty cards! I haven’t figured out a way to convert them into birthday cards yet. LOL.

  3. @ FB: I’ve had a flinch reflex about Christmas cards since about the second year of my (defunct) marriage. My then-young husband came equipped with a Christmas-card address book, many pages long, in which he had entered the names and addresses of the 60 or 80 people to whom he sent cards each year. He would send out cards. After Christmas he would collect all the cards we had received and go through the list, checking off the people who had sent us cards. If you didn’t send a card to him for a year or two, then your name would drop off the list.

    Naturally, the Christmas Card chore fell to me, as the Little Woman. What an UNUTTERABLE WASTE OF TIME!!!!! God, how I hated it. He felt it was tacky to buy cards with our names printed in them, so I had to sign our names on each card and then address, by hand, envelopes for scores of people I’d never met and didn’t care about.

    One year, I refused to do it because I was up against the deadline for my dissertation. You know what happened when we didn’t send out any Xmas cards?

    Nothing. The sky did not fall.

    After that, I just stopped doing it. He never did it, either. People kept blitzing us with cards and apparently never noticed we weren’t reciprocating.

    @ Mrs. Accountability: If you’re buying cards for a company to use as a marketing tool, Target is just the business. At that price, they’re cheaper than the ones you buy from services that market bulk Christmas cards to businesses.

    I also try to buy generic-looking wrapping paper that will work for any occasion. And I like to get non-seasonal-looking greeting cards that have no writing inside, so they’ll work on any occasion. If they’re nice enough, I can even use them for the rare times I feel compelled to mail a card to someone at Christmastime.

  4. As someone who grew up with both Jewish and Christian family members, I’m acutely aware of just how hard it can be to find non-Christmas wrapping paper. The idea of making your own seems neat, but it can be quite an investment in stamps & ink. I suppose that over time you make your money back, but having done the rubber stamp thing in high school, I know just how quickly it adds up. Perhaps if you’re talented enough to cut a decent stamp out of a potato?

    How big a pot would I need for a pine tree? I was just going to get a plastic tree — our old one took up too much space on the way down — but it would be nice if we could just store our tree out on the patio. I think it gets enough sunlight during the day…

  5. To Mrs Accountability:

    Why not buy some of that heavier copy paper or even construction paper, cut in half, then half again (making two cards) with each folded in the middle. Then get reusable stamps of all colors and pictures, perhaps seasonal and stamp the front until your arm gets tired. Then a personal message inside – most people like the heartfelt written rather than the everyday Hallmark sentiment. Try to write as nicely as you can – you might want to check out a calligraphy class.. I’m sure the boss will recognize the money-savings aspect to it, associate it with the job, and keep you on board for a long while. Really, that does sound like a pretty card. I’m tired of all the ones that look so commercialized; were I to get a card of this order, I’d be far more tempted to keep this one for more than the return address.

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