Making Merry without breaking the bank

I am an admitted holiday freak. Right now, the packages cover about a 4X5X5 area. That doesn't count the ones that are already delivered to neighbors and colleagues, or mailed to distant family. Sounds like a budget breaker for sure. And you probably think I'm frantic.

Not true. I have used the credit card a few times, but strictly to get points. Those points add up from business travel, and are set aside for presents. They covered almost half the cost of Christmas. There will be no balance on the cards after the January 6 payment. The purchases were spread out over the entire year, and the wrapping started right after Thanksgiving. I've had friends over three times this past week, and visited nearly everyone on our street with homemade goodies.

Here are some tips for giving lots of presents without breaking the bank, or losing the joy.

First, watch all year long. When something strikes you as just the thing for, say, your sister, grab it and put it away for later. I have three drawers in our bedroom set aside just for presents.

Second watch for great deals on "gifties" that could work for lots of people. For example, the support staff at school and I exchange presents. My salary is more than theirs, but I can honestly tell them "I got such a deal" and make the exchange more comfortable with the fancy item.

Third consider inexpensive home made items. These need not take much time and are much appreciated. This year, for example, I made fudge, hats, and granola. Joe made his famous Irish Cream. None of these took more than a few minutes per gift because we made big batches, and the cost is low, but people really like them.

Fourth, when the holidays get close, make a list of what you already have and for whom. Makes it easy to fil in the blanks. Fifth, at least if you are like me and hate crowds, get done before Thanksgiving.

Finally, make wrapping fun, not drudgery. Since I have my shopping (at least nearly) done by Thanksgiving, I start wrapping as soon as our girls go home the day after. I set up a wrapping station in the bedroom. Each day after supper I get a glass of wine and wrap a few gifts. All this means that the week before the Holidays I have little to do and lots of time to visit.

Admittedly, this all is easier for an empty nester whose work hours, though substantial, are quite flexible. I hope that you can adapt some of these hints to your own situation and enjoy the holidays more while spending less.

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Barbara McElroy is Associate Professor of Accounting and Head of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA.  Before beginning a career in academe, Barbara worked in both public and private accounting settings, and owned several businesses.  She is particularly interested in the interaction of accounting and public policy.  Barbara will discuss current events with the interest of students, faculty, and practicing professionals in mind.

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