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How to Shop for The Holidays on a Tight Budget

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Not everyone celebrates what we’ve come to call "The Holidays", and those who do celebrate them vary widely in their rituals and traditions. For millions of Americans, however, seasonal gift giving is a custom that sometimes can bring with it undue financial burdens. If your own budget is under pressure this year, perhaps because of the tough economy, here are some thoughts and suggestions that may help.

In 2003 I was a graduate student with little discretionary income. I needed every penny for tuition and books. I treasured The Holidays and loved the idea of giving presents as a part of my celebration, but I had to be realistic. I realized I’d have to scale back drastically, and come up with unconventional ways to show my family and friends how much I care about them.

First of all, as I told myself then, you should put aside any embarrassment you may feel about your difficult circumstances. Neither your own value nor the value you place on others is reflected in the presents you give. Gifts are not a substitute for feelings, and your presents don’t have to be lavish. You can let your friends know that your funds are meager. If they care about you, they’ll understand.

One of the best presents you can give is your expression of love, and you can show it in a variety of ways that aren’t expensive:

-- Give cards that you’ve made yourself. Write expressions of your love and tell people how important they are to you. Or make your cards funny, and specific to your relationship with the individual or family. Perhaps you can recount a special experience you shared with them, how much you valued their company then, and how deeply you appreciate it now. You can give cards by themselves or combine them with one of the other ideas below.

-- If you have an artistic flair, you might try making another paper or craft item—a collage or an origami, for example. You’ll probably have fun in the process.

-- Find an old photograph of the two of you together. Go to a dollar store and pick out a frame for it.

-- For those who celebrate Christmas, and speaking of the dollar store again, why not buy a Christmas stocking and fill it with cute, even silly items that will make someone smile? I’ve found items in shops for as little as a quarter. If you or your friends celebrate Hanukkah, consider giving chocolate gelt coins and a dreidel, along with a note. These are just thought starters. Use your imagination and see what else you can find.

-- Can you bake? I can’t. But even if you’re all thumbs in the kitchen, you’ll find inexpensive rolls of refrigerated cookie dough in the grocery store. Follow the simple directions and make a batch. Put them in one of the gift tins that the dollar stores carry. You can also buy candy there and wrap it cheerily.

-- Do you know you can find never-used items in thrift shops, some that still have the original store ticket attached? Comb the racks and shelves. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll discover.

-- Check for unused items in your closets, on your book shelves, and in your kitchen cabinets. Re-gifting is perfectly acceptable.

-- Invite friends or relatives over for coffee or tea, and tell them how much you care about them. If you write well, recite a poem you’ve written just for them. One year, I changed the lyrics to a holiday tune and sang it. It was an off-key performance, but my friends loved it and we all shared a good laugh.

Whatever setting, experience or item you choose, remember that the holidays are about getting in touch with your thoughtful nature and expressing your closeness with others. Be grateful for your friends and family, for health and happiness, for nature and beauty, and for all the other blessings in your life.

Reach inside yourself and then reach out to those you care about. Tell them how you feel about them, in ways I’ve suggested or in ways of your own. Your expressions of caring will warm the hearts of your loved ones, and your own heart as well.

I think you’ll find, as I’ve found, that the experience will make for one of the most festive and joyous celebrations ever.

Sharon Fenster is a publicist and writer. Contact her at [email protected]

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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