The Ghost of Lavish Christmas Past is calling your name, but you know from painful past Januaries that the mantra of "spend now, pay later" is bad for your budget. Especially when food costs have gone up, 401(k)s have gone down and jobs are uncertain.
You might be tempted to carry on with the same meals, gift-giving, parties, decorating and so on, even if it means a lot of bills to pay later. But if you do, you are sabotaging future goals, such as becoming debt-free or saving for retirement or your children's college fund, said Marilyn Albertson, a home economist who teaches money management at Salt Lake County's Utah State University Extension.
"We'd like to avoid the issue, but now's the time to be realistic about your circumstances," said Albertson. "Ask yourself, 'If I buy this now, what will I have to give up? Will I be able to put food on the table or pay my mortgage next month?"'
In a recent survey of holiday shoppers by retailer Lands' End, 46 percent said they are trimming their holiday budgets this year, but another 53 percent said they will go over budget when buying gifts.
"Most people are way off on all their holiday expenditures," said Teresa Hunsaker with USU Extension. "They forget about gift boxes, the tags and papers, let alone all the travel to stores for shopping. It's no wonder people are so bedraggled by the first of the year with expenses, because it has really added up in all the categories that we didn't give it credit for."
So consider what you want to accomplish in the events and rituals of the season. Is it family memories? Re-connecting with friends? Feelings of love or giving? Feeling more spirituality or peace with the world around you?
"Think about how you can get the same effect, or have a similar experience, but less expensively," said Albertson.
For instance, if your family usually attends an expensive Christmas concert each year, consider going to a cheaper concert or one that's free. If one of your traditions is a restaurant meal, you could find a cheaper restaurant, pick up a ready-prepared meal to take home, or home-cook the meal you would have had at the restaurant.
Sometimes less can be more in terms of meaning.
"I shudder when I see my grandkids at a holiday and there's so many gifts that they just keep opening one after another, and they're not even seeing what they're getting," Albertson said. "To me, the holiday is more about the fact that somebody cares than how much someone spent on a gift. I'm more thrilled to get a letter from a friend catching up on their family, giving me a glimpse of their life. That's a great gift."If you've got to cut expenses but don't know where to begin, here are some ideas, both for the holidays and your day-to-day expenses. After all, you still have to run a household, even during the holiday season.
1. Before you set foot in a store, make a master gift list, including friends, exchanges with co-workers, name-drawing among extended family, neighbors, etc.
2. Consider downsizing. Do some family or work exchanges need to happen? Now is the time to let people know you're simplifying your gift-giving this year so that they can do likewise.
3. Keep a running total of gift purchases so you don't overspend on one person and underspend on another.
4. Give the gift of time. Arrange to baby-sit for a sister-in-law or good friend. Consider writing a thoughtful note to a favorite teacher instead of bringing him or her cookies.
5. Declare a moratorium on gifts that aren't homemade.
6. Go online and look for freebies. Often, stores will offer free shipping or "buy one, get one free" sales.
7. Earn extra cash by selling unwanted household items online. There's Craigslist, eBay and here in Utah, the classified ads at KSL.com and utah.kaango.com, which is run by MediaOne. During one "tight" year, Hunsaker said she earned $300 by taking items to a consignment shop and selling old clothing online.
8. Instead of purchasing gift cards, take the time to think of an actual gift. It's usually cheaper.
9. Save on postage and greeting cards by doing an online blog or e-mail with photos of your family.
10. Arrange to buy gifts as a group. You'll be able to afford a more expensive gift but still not have to spend a ton out of your own pocket.
11. For a family, draw names and challenge everyone to buy a gift for $5 or less at a thrift store for that person. "My brother and his wife did this one year, and the kids thought it was a great adventure," Albertson said. Now the kids are grown, "they all shop at thrift stores and find the best deals ever."
12. Re-use wrapping paper, bows and gift bags, or come up with other wrapping alternatives such as a bowl, cloth bag or dish towels that can be part of the gift. After all, it's "in" to be green. Most people don't even notice a bow or fancy wrapping paper.13. Check out the "Black Friday" sales beforehand. Log on to: tgiblackfriday.com to read about deals.
14. Give free "service coupons" for things such as cooking dinner one night, offering a back rub to Dad or cleaning a friend's car.
15. Fill a pencil box with new pencils, erasers, markers, tape and scissors, says USU's Hunsaker. It's inexpensive and you'll help someone update their home office with new supplies.
16. Fill a bathroom cup with a few new toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss.
17. Buy your mom or best friend a subscription to their favorite magazine.
18. Gather your family's favorite recipes into a book and have it bound at the copy store.
19. Give a supply of instant dinner mixes.
20. Give the gift of a "memory tour." Take your family on a tour to Grandpa's old home, the drugstore down the street, his school, etc. Take pictures along the way and share.
21. Give someone copies of old letters they have written to you.
22. Have your old family movies or picture slides transferred into a digital format.
23. Instead of spending $30-$50 on "neighbor gifts," make a donation to the local food bank on behalf of the neighborhood.
24. Give your college-aged son or daughter a roll of quarters for laundry; or a book of stamps to write home.
25. For older people, instead of buying gifts for your children or grandchildren, give possessions you were planning to hand down to them someday, Albertson suggests. You're giving of yourself, and it's also a way to ensure those items go to the right people before you pass on, which prevents future arguments and bad feelings among relatives.26. If you are able to save money, put it toward savings or paying off your debts so you're giving a gift to yourself.
27. Make a gingerbread house and then display it.
28. Make paper snowflakes with your children. Add a little glitter to the design for some extra pizazz and then hang around the house, says Sandy Sandler, founder of Bowdabra.
29. Hang cinnamon sticks or place them in bowls around the house to create an inviting holiday aroma.
30. Purchase pumpkins, gourds or poinsettias from a local farm stand and sprinkle on the gold glitter for a fun, festive look.
31. Place a large bowl with brightly colored fruit in the center of your table, or fill a large glass vase with brightly-colored Christmas ornaments and make it your centerpiece, Sandler says.
32. Fill canning jars with colorful candy and place around your house.
33. Buy inexpensive, white hand towels and attach festive ribbon trim to the bottom.
34. Instead of a big Christmas tree, purchase a few tabletop trees to display throughout the house.
35. Rather than buy new decorations, trade with a friend.36. Have your children make "handprint" turkeys and use their designs to decorate your Thanksgiving table or walls.
HEALTH AND BEAUTY
37. Invest in a lipstick brush so you can reach all the way to the bottom of your lipstick tube instead of throwing it away.
38. Even though your favorite bottle of cologne is empty, there's still a lot of scent in the bottle. Fill it up with dishwashing detergent and use as a bubble bath.
39. Get your hair cut or styled at the local beauty college. Prices are cheaper than a regular salon, although quality can vary. Also, this is a time-saver when you have several children. You can make appointments for multiple children for the same time with different students.
40. Beauty college gift certificates let you treat yourself or a friend to a manicure, facial or pedicure at a cheaper rate.
41. Have a perfume swap with friends to get rid of fragrances that just don't smell good on you.
42. Try using generic beauty brands for a change.43. Make homemade body scrubs and cleansers.
FOOD, DINING AND GIFTS FROM THE KITCHEN
44. If you're baking something as a gift for neighbors, co-workers, extended family, etc., choose wisely. Is it worth spending money on expensive ingredients when your offering could just get tossed out?
45. Price your menus according to the size of your gathering. Save the pricey filet mignon for small get-togethers and serve chili or chowder if the whole neighborhood is coming over.
46. Make your party a potluck, appetizer or dessert-only party.
47. Less really can be more. A couple of good chocolates that are attractively packaged can have more impact than a plate of badly made fudge on a poorly wrapped Styrofoam plate.
48. Use the goodies given by neighbors as treats for unexpected guests.
49. Don't wait for a famine to break out the food storage. Grind wheat for fresh-based bread and rolls and stretch your hot chocolate a little further with powdered milk.
50. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables for holiday meals. Forget the $4.50-a-pound asparagus in favor of broccoli or squash. And consider using more frozen vegetables, too.
51. Make your holiday dinner leftovers into planned-overs. Use leftover turkey to make soup, tossing in celery and carrots from the relish tray and the remainder of side dishes like corn or peas. Rolls and chips can be crushed into crunchy casserole toppings. But the key is to rescue the food and refrigerate it as soon as the meal is finished, so it isn't picked-over.
52. Buy plain popcorn kernels and invest in an air popper.
53. Calendar your commitments and plan your meals ahead so you don't resort to takeout or restaurant meals.
54. Plan your baking needs in advance, too. That way you can look for deals and avoid the last minute, "buy anything in the store" panic.
55. Prioritize what food traditions mean the most to your family. Will anyone be hurt if you don't do hand-dipped chocolates this year?
56. Don't open the oven door to preview food. Each time you open it, the temperature inside will drop by 25-50 degrees, prolonging the cooking.57. Start the dishwasher only when it's completely full. Also, washing dishes by hand three times a day can cost more than one load in the dishwasher.
Editor's note: For more money-saving food tips, check the Deseret News archives at DeseretNews.com for "101 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollars," by Valerie Phillips, which ran April 16 of this year.
58. Instead of getting together for a large restaurant meal, go out for dessert only.
59. If you'll be picking up the restaurant tab for a number of family members, choose a pay-one-price buffet so you don't get financially hijacked with orders of drinks, appetizers, expensive entrees and desserts.
60. Try eating out for lunch instead of dinner.
61. A family of six can save $10 to $15 just by ordering tap water to drink instead of a beverage.
62. Try a tip-free casual restaurant, such as Rumbi Island Grill, Costa Vida or Noodles and Company.63. When you receive a gift card, use it soon. Don't wait until it's expired.
64. Update your clothing items with simple changes. This year, you can add oversize "fashion buttons" to your sweaters.
65. Leave your good pair of business shoes at the office. Change into an older pair when you leave. Nice shoes will last longer this way.
66. Don't buy clothing at regular price. There's plenty of manufacturers' outlets, discount mail-order catalogs, Internet shopping and sales where you can save cash. Also, don't be scared to try a consignment or used clothing shop.
67. When ordering online, be sure your shipping costs don't offset your savings.
68. Rethink your wardrobe to include fewer pieces but more classic items that will look great year after year.
69. Only bring cash when you go shopping. Leave the credit cards at home. You won't be able to go over your budget.
70. Check out the post-holiday sales. Buy Thanksgiving decorations in December and Christmas decorations in January. End-of-season sales are also a way to save cash. Stock up on children's clothing after back-to-school sales have passed. Buy winter boots during the January sales.
71. Before shopping, take an inventory of what you need to buy. Determine what items need to be replaced or added so you don't buy things similar to what's already in the closet.
72. Buy identical multiples of socks, gloves and earrings. If you lose one, the other is still wearable because it will have more than one mate.73. Avoid buying too many accessories. Costs can add up quickly if you buy accessories for every outfit.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
74. Get acquainted with your local library. You can read best-sellers, children's books and magazines without paying a cent.
75. Rent DVDs instead of buying them. Or, better yet, go to the library and check them out.
76. Go to a matinee movie. A family can save $10-$12 by going to an afternoon show rather than an evening show.
77. If you want music to get into the holiday spirit, check out the band and choir events at your local high school.
78. Peruse your state or city Web site to find out about free events and activities.
79. Play board and card games at home.
80. Take a family vacation during the off-season. You can save money on lower, midweek rates at hotels.81. Go camping.
82. Park inside a garage or some other sheltered area so your warm-up time is shorter and you use less gasoline.
83. Combine errands and shopping trips to more efficiently use your car.
84. Keep your tires inflated properly. Underinflated tires can mean poor gas mileage while overinflated tires can put more wear on your treads.
85. Maintain a steady driving speed to increase fuel efficiency. Use routes that allow for consistency rather than routes with multiple stops and starts.86. Use mass transit when possible.
HEATING AND HOUSEHOLD
87. If you have a Swiffer-style mop, replace the disposable pad with a cloth one that can be washed and reused. You're being more environmentally conscious and saving money to boot.
88. Turn down the thermostat. You'll save 3 percent on your heaving bill for every degree you lower it, according to USU Extension services. Just wear a sweater and slippers and add a blanket to your bed.
89. Cook with the season. Winter is a good time to bake bread and rolls or roast meat in the oven. The extra heat will help warm the house.
90. Use white vinegar and baking soda for many cleaning jobs.
91. Save your dryer sheets for dusting.
92. Insulate your ceilings, exterior walls, floors, heat ducts and hot water pipes.
93. Limit the use of traditional fireplaces. They actually suck heat from a room. If you have a gas or electric fireplace, make sure it has a blower to spread the warmed air throughout the room.
94. Turn down the water heater. Lowering temperatures to 115-120 degrees will reduce your power usage without a noticeable difference to the user, says USU Extension.
95. Switch to LED lights. They're more expensive up front but will save you in the long run.96. Before you buy an item, count the cost of all the things that would be required to use it. For instance, if it's a computer, you'll need to buy software, Internet connection, paper and so on.
97. Pack a collapsible insulated cooler bag in your suitcase. When you get to your destination, stop at a supermarket and load up on drinks, fruit, carrot sticks and string cheese. You'll avoid making too many snack stops or paying top-dollar in your hotel room's minibar.
98. Check and see what the "complimentary" breakfast at your hotel really entails. It could mean anything from doughnuts and juice to a full-scale brunch with bacon and eggs.
99. Avoid in-room movies unless the alternative would be to go out for one.
100. On the plane, don't expect a free meal unless your flight is more than four hours long and maybe not even then. Some flights offer meals for sale, but they're usually overpriced. Pack a few snacks to tide you over.
101. Take advantage of deals and discounts now being offered at resorts and destination cities as result of the poor economy.