Merry Thirftmas

When Petey and I had been married a few years, we got our first credit card.When Christmas rolled around I just about melted that miraculous little piece of plastic.  I bought multiple gifts for family, friends, and pretty much anybody I ever met.  I bought enough decorations for our little trailer to light up Time Square.

I spent enough money in the Lillian Vernon catalog to buy Ms. Vernon and family a fairly spacious villa on the French Riviera.

And then in January, something horrible happened.

The bills arrived.Whoops!  I have no defense except youth and inexperience, but I’d completely forgotten the “pay it all back plus interest” portion of the program.

But I eventually paid the bills, and began a long, slow journey to stay out of the poor house by economizing without it pinching too much.  It’s a work in progress, but over the decades, I’ve learned a few things that have helped during the holidays.

Time is money, money can buy a form of time, and reducing stress is priceless.  So maybe hire someone to get your place cleaned and ready for visitors.  Or hire a babysitter so you can take an hour to get a fancy coffee and a manicure.  x shopPool and share talents.  Maybe you love zipping around town on errands, but hate wrapping presents, and your best bud would rather wrap then go to the bank and dry cleaners.  Then you run, and she can deal with paper and ribbon.

What if you enjoy getting into the kitchen to create treats and baked goods, and your next door neighbor would rather be beaten?  Have your friend buy all the ingredients, and you do the cooking for two.  You both win.Make it a homemade holiday.  Every year a good portion of the gifts I give are made by me.  But I’m not talking about macaroni necklaces or unidentifiable papier mache animals.  The creation should be something that the recipient can’t make, can’t afford to buy, or really, really likes the version that you produce.

For the last few years, The Kid and I have worked together to create baskets tailored to the person that will get them.Dog owners get our special pumpkin peanut butter puppy treats.  The more culinarily adventurous get flavored salts.  Gluten-free folks don’t get our cheese straws but get double the buckeyes.  Everybody gets our special hot cocoa mix with homemade marshmallows that come in Christmas mugs which I buy at a thrift store for less than a dollar each. The packing for these gifts is purchased at the dollar store, which, by the way, is terrific for stocking stuffers and small presents.

If you shop online, make sites like Retailmenot.com and Couponcabin.com your friend.  They have links to promotional codes which can save you lots of green.  Another site, Honey, will automatically find and apply discounts when you check out.  So don’t hit enter ‘til you’ve turned over every discount rock you find.There are a couple little-known benefits to shopping online at a merchant who has local brick and mortar locations.  If you can’t score free shipping, lots of companies will ship it to their store for free.  You just have to go pick it up.  If you buy something online, and need to return it, most will let you bring it into their local shop.

Hey, it’s already hectic out there, and soon it’ll ratchet up to an “I’m invisible, and also president of Neptune” level crazy.

So cut yourself a little slack.  And that will make it easier to cut everyone around you some too.Thanks for your time.

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