Holiday Stress Busters
Manage Money Woes
It's hard to feel jolly when you're worried about credit-card bills arriving in January. But you also don't want to deprive your family of a full Christmas celebration (or listen to your kids complain about skimping). Here are some simple strategies to stay within your means without sacrificing any of the joy:
- Give priceless presents. When Tracey McBride, the author of Frugal Luxuries by the Seasons (Bantam, 2000) and her husband Mike had to scale back on luxurious gifts, Tracey was afraid it wouldn't go over well with her three kids. So, the family, who live in a suburb of Los Angeles, went to a soup kitchen in the city's downtown to volunteer. Seeing how tough life was for others gave the kids the gift of perspective and also taught them the importance of helping others.
- Party on, pot-luck style. To save when entertaining, use your delegation muscles. "Have a wine tasting party, so you're not stuck footing a huge bill for a holiday dinner," says Sarah Gomez, 31, a stay-at-home mom in Cohasset, Massachusetts. She assigns her friends one bottle from a specific region, like the Loire Valley or Napa. With each pal representing a different region, the partygoers get to sample a world of wine.
- Dress up inexpensive gifts. McBride found some baskets at Wal-Mart last year for just 99 cents, filled them with shredded brown paper bags, fruit from the farmer's market -- apples, pears, figs -- and a couple of foil-wrapped gourmet chocolates. Baskets can set you back as little as $10 each.
- Recycle your treasures. One of the best and cheapest gifts McBride ever gave her husband was refurbishing two timepieces his late father left him. "They meant so much to him, he cried," she says.
- Give personal IOUs. Make a certificate on your PC that entitles the recipient to a chore -- baby-sitting, car washing, lawn mowing -- by you (after the holidays, naturally).
- Strip your fridge. Save money on wrapping paper by using your kids' artwork to cover gift boxes, suggests Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Christmas (Anders McMeel, 1998).
- Wax poetic. Write a letter telling your relative you are proud of his or her accomplishments of that year, says St. James. If the kids are too little to write, they can draw or do a collage that represents their affection for their assigned person.