The National Retail Federation is projecting this holiday season will be happier than the past few years. Total spending on gifts, cards, food, decorations, candy, and other holiday fare is expected to be in the neighborhood of $586.1 billion, which amounts to an increase of 4.1% over 2011 and is a little more than half a point higher than the 10-year average.
Even though that’s great news for the economy, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is more money in your wallet for all the holiday extras in your life. Unless you’ve been putting way a little bit every month in a savings account, or are the brave-hearted sort that ventures out at 4:00 am on Black Friday to take advantage of the sales, there’s only so much you can do to stretch your dollars to meet all the responsibilities.
A family’s first step in the Yuletide budget-cutting is the transition from exchanging gifts with extended relatives to sending personalized cards instead. Fortunately, taking high-quality photos and using them to design custom photo cards is within the capability of families living on modest means. But business shouldn’t overlook this option, either. Think about how many phone and email interactions with customers, vendors, or even colleagues in other branches of the company leave you wondering what that person looks like?
Calendars are another low-cost gift that takes advantage of digital photography and custom-printing technology. One year, my sister put together a beautiful calendar of all the places she and her husband traveled while pursuing their passion for rock-climbing. The great thing about calendars versus cards is that their shelf-life (or wall-life?) is 12 months instead of a few weeks.
Here are some additional, cost-free ideas for ways you can extend those warm holiday sentiments:
In the Home. “Even if you’re short on cash this year, you can always afford to be generous with your time, attention, and most of all, love,” writes Mamiverse blogger Shay Olivarria in a post entitled, “Four Holiday Gifts That Don’t Cost a Thing.” Holidays are intended to give us quality time with those who are close to us without worrying about the everyday activities like work, school, and errands. Making a meal together or playing a game involves the entire family in an activity that enables you to spend time together laughing, sharing, and making special memories.
At Work. Many workplaces have long since switched from “Secret Santa” gift exchanges to “White Elephant” parties. If the point of celebrating the holidays with your colleagues is to foster more personal interaction, the tradition of passing on something you no longer need or want provides ample opportunity to share backstories and for hilarity to ensue. Hat tip to Forbes' Money Wise Women blogger Marcia Brixley for this link to AlbinoPhant, a blog that endlessly riffs on versions of the bleached pachyderm game.
For Your Community. Holidays are a time for being thankful for all the good things in our life. But the difficult times brought on by years of a sagging economy have created more people in need than ever before. Volunteering at a shelter for the hungry and homeless or visiting with residents at a hospice are great ways to give back and bring cheer to underserved populations in your local community. When done in groups, volunteering also provides valuable lessons for your children in being thankful for what they have and can be a true exercise in team-building with co-workers.