Christmas During Tough Times

Here are some tips for making the most of the Christmas season when money is tight.

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A mother does some Christmas baking with her two young daughters

The holiday season can be one of the most enjoyable times of the year, but it can also be one of the most stressful. We want to make the season special for those we care about, but so often that is equated with spending money, and for many, funds are in short supply.

“It is important to remember that it is not our financial situations that dictate our happiness," says Tracy A. Prout, PhD, a psychotherapist in New York City who specializes in working with religious and spiritual patients. "In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that having more does not lead to greater satisfaction or reduced stress.

"It is certainly possible to have very little material wealth and avoid some of the pitfalls of stress during the holidays. Focusing on what we do have, providing service to others, and giving gifts that are either homemade or are experiences created for loved ones, such as a scavenger hunt with clues throughout the house leading to one special gift, are great ways to reduce this burden.”

Even a relatively small step such as creating your own holiday cards, can go a long way toward limiting holiday expenses. And you may not wish to stop with homemade cards.

Gifts from the Heart
Handmade gifts are often more affordable than store-bought ones, and they remind the recipient of your love and thoughtfulness every time they are worn, used or displayed. Knitting, to name just one example, is a craft that has grown in popularity in recent years, and a handmade sweater, cap or scarf will receive years of use.

Homemade baked goods also make great gifts. Instead of buying individual presents for a family you want to remember at the holidays, try baking a platter of cookies, brownies, or even a cake. These are gifts that are affordable and will surely be greatly appreciated.

If you’re looking to save a little more, consider creating your own wrapping paper, possibly out of the comic strips section of a newspaper; a little creativity goes a long way and saves money.

It's also important to remember that our time is perhaps the most precious gift we can offer. A few hours spent together can mean the world to family members and friends you don’t get to see very often. You might consider creating a "gift certificate," for example, that promises a weekly visit or home-cooked meal to a homebound senior.

If it snows where you live, a certificate promising an afternoon spent making snowmen and snow angels or even indulging in a snowball fight makes a great gift for a child you care for. If you’re in a warmer climate, a trip to the zoo, the mall or the movies can also be a fun treat for a youngster. Knowing that someone loves us and wants to spend time with us is a gift we can all appreciate

The Reason for the Season
In tough times, remaining optimistic and spreading holiday cheer is more important than ever.  And there are many activities and practices you can adopt that cost next to nothing but create precious memories and foster traditions that will last for years, perhaps even generations.

For example, consider going around the dinner table each evening and letting each person name something they’re grateful for. This practice encourages us to focus on the many blessings we have, and not on what we might feel we are lacking.

You might also look for avenues for your family to volunteer to help those less fortunate. Spending your Christmas season doing something charitable is a great way to reignite that holiday spirit, and it gives children valuable experience in serving others.

Another way to spread holiday cheer and “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” is to go caroling. It’s an old-fashioned activity that never fails to inspire and delight both the carolers and those whose doorbells they ring. It is also loads of fun, especially for children.

Children also typically enjoy Christmas movies. Take an evening to curl up in front of a TV screen with your kids and a holiday snack. Even without premium cable, you can find Christmas specials on television every year.

It’s also a good idea to attend and participate in the free events associated with the holidays. Look into what’s been scheduled in your city or town. There are bound to be free concerts and plays, Christmas pageants, art exhibitions and the like.

It’s important to remember that the deeper meaning of this season isn’t about material things but spiritual ones: love, faith, and family. If you think back to the Christmases of your childhood, the gifts you received are likely not what first come to mind, but rather the warmth and joy you associate with the season. These most precious gifts are available to all of us, regardless of our financial standing.

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