Friday, November 21, 2008

Affording Christmas Part I: Finding Money

I love Christmas. I turn into a giggling freak this time each year. I love the atmosphere, the music, the camaraderie...everything. I love it so much that I actually miss it the rest of the year--I visit Christmas shops in July just to get a hit of the Christmas smell. The trouble is that much of what I love at Christmastime involves money, and who really has enough of that?

I'm also one of those crazed gift-givers who actually get a rush from giving other people things. That of course, does cost money, and over the years I've developed some strategies for affording the holidays, particularly the gift-giving part of them.

1. Always look for the promotion. Buying make-up? Is there a free gift available? Buying ornaments from Hallmark? Can you spend $x and get a free stuffed animal or reindeer shaped candle? Headed to Target? They run specials where if you buy $x of a certain brand they will give you a gift card for $x. Look for the freebies out there, and then ask yourself, who might like this? Can I get more for my money?

2. Check your wallet. Did you receive a stack of gift cards last year? Did you use them? Two Christmases ago my husband received a gift card from a men's clothing store. He never used it. I found it and used it to help buy several shirts for him last Christmas, and he was happy to have the shirts regardless of how they were purchased. Gift cards are really hard to wear, so use those bad boys for something a little more practical!

3. Check your mail. In the past week I have received a $10 off a $10 purchase at JC Penny's and a coupon for a free "anything in the store" with any purchase at Bath & Body Works. Um, I'm pretty sure that "free" is a good deal anywhere. Use those coupons, and don't let them expire!

4. Keep the change. Last month alone I accumulated $40 in spare change. Imagine if I had collected change all year...that's quite a few gifts.

5. Fives only, please. I read about this in a magazine once. The writer refused to spend $5 bills. When she received one as change it went straight into a special part of her wallet, and then into savings. I did this for a while, and before too long I had collected nearly $200 in $5's. Add that to the spare change, and you have a great nest egg for Christmas spending!

6. Don't avoid the drug stores. CVS and Walgreens (and probably others--those are just the two we have here) run extremely good sales at this time of year on things you wouldn't expect like toys and decorations. I'm looking at a stack of batteries that I essentially paid nothing for this week and don't even get me started on the amount of candy I got there this month. Their clearance sales are awesome, too. Need some free money to spend there? Transfer a prescription and get a $25 gift card!

So, pull out those seat cushions and see what you can do! Do you have other ideas? I'd love to hear them!

PS: Check back next Friday after you get back from the mall for my family's long-term strategy for affording Christmas, and stay tuned for our evolving philosophy concerning Christmas spending.

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