Frugal’s Weekend Moral Support

It’s the weekend. Ads bombard you – TV, radio, Internet, newspapers – all screaming at you to buy, buy, buy. Your resolve is crumbling faster than those chocolate chip cookies you forgot to freeze last week. Don’t do it!! 

In two weeks, the pressure and guilt will be over. Unless, of course, you succumb and blindly funnel your funds into the media frenzy like a herd at the slaughterhouse. Instead, spend your time and read this great article on dealing with Santa’s shrinking budget. You’ll find you’re not alone. Which means chances are that dreaded, “Bobby got the …” whine won’t be heard quite so often in the aftermath of this paper-ripping season. Your change in attitude  will not only reduce stress levels in the coming months, but bring the opportunity to help you teach your kids to be rich.

(Note:  “Rich” is relative. If, like most parents, you want your children to live better than you do, wouldn’t simply not having to experience your level of financial stress make them “richer”?)

Then, take another look at Doing Christmas and get busy with some new frugal traditions that will make  your holidays brighter for  many years to come.

Best Gifts for the Holiday Season? A Sense of Humor & a Budget!

Ok, so you’ve stayed in a mall-free zone thus far and your mood is cranky. Darn cranky. You tried some of my suggestions. Your cookies are flatter than Faith Hill’s stomach, the gift certificate you slaved over hid in the C drive, and the grocery stores checked your coupon organizer so that, hee, hee, none of those items are on sale this week. (Yes, the paper is getting pretty sparse on the coupon front. Try these sites out.)

“Pfft. Doing Christmas. This moron makes Pollyanna look like a pessimist,” you’re saying. I feel your pain. Neighbors are putting up lights and decorations all around me. I’m sure it’s aimed at making me feel even more broke. The extra cost of electricity alone… (On that subject, Bracing for Winter and Cut your Heating Bills may help.)

Everywhere you’re bombarded with messages that say SPEND, as if somehow emptying your wallet will fill you with the holiday spirit everyone else seems to have. FACT: While it may make the next 20 days woohoo-party time, you’ll regret it when January rolls around. And February. And March… Which is why I loved this Top Ten article on why it’s great to be broke this season.  

I received an  email from a friend yesterday that said holidays just aren’t the same. No, they’re not. We turned them over to the retailers. And with that, we lost the good, warm, ahhh feelings that holidays used to bring. Now, if we can’t let go of the $832 people say the plan to spend we’re thinking they aren’t fun or fulfilling. Hey, at $832 they’re not fun and fulfilling either – they’re foolish and frenetic. And, NOBODY APPRECIATES OUR FINANCIAL INSANITY ANYWAY! Long gone are the days of, “it’s the thought that counts.”

Instead of labeling yourself a failure this season, embrace these top ten reasons for why your fiscal savvy puts you way ahead of the pack.

10. Credit card bills have all that junk advertising enclosed. You’ll be saving trees, too.

9. You won’t be on anyone’s “worst gifts” list next year.

8. No one will curse you for making them look cheap.

7. Not a single person will have to exchange your gift. You’re saving them gas, stress, helping cut pollution!

6) No one will feel guilty because you bought for them and they didn’t buy for you.

5. And you won’t shame anyone by being the “best gift giver” while they make your worst gifts list…

4) The postal person won’t be overburdened delivering tons of credit card bills to your house. 

3. You won’t have to eat 5 out of 7 meals at the happy hour buffet come January.

2. You can listen to others bemoan their holiday debt, nodding sympathetically without adding a single comment yourself as you smile gleefully – inside of course.

And, the number one reason you’re not a failure?

1. The first time is always the hardest. With your new frugal fixation, you’ll actually be able to look forward to 2009’s holiday season.

Doing Christmas!

Before you’ve even cleaned the turkey you’re scouring the ads. Who’s got deals? What time do they start? Ohhhhh, look, should I camp out for that killer price on whatever?

Stop, stop, stop! STOP!

And, accept this critical fact:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A KILLER SALES PRICE WHEN YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT! 

Well, actually, there is. It’s a KILLER sales price because it kills your resolve, kills your budget, kills your plan to DO Christmas this year instead of BUY it.

Christmas is an annual addiction: the ads, the lists, the “go here first, then here, then here” mania that has us grabbing and shoving and stuffing shopping carts as we’re swiping, swiping, swiping without thinking about the bills that will show up in January.

Don’t tempt yourself. Stay home on Black Friday. The frenzy, the noise, the mass of humanity works like the ding, ding, ding of slot machines. It lures, draws, and downright sucks you into the insanity. “Everyone else is doing it, they have money, they’re spending, why can’t I?” you whine.  

Because you’ve accepted reality. You understand your financial position. You don’t want January’s hangover from Christmas’ overindulgence. You have a plan. A DO plan. Which means you must avoid those who don’t.

You can already feel the withdrawal. God, it hurts not to be a player in the annual “Save Retailers” campaign. Breathe deep and repeat after me: “Charity starts at home. Charity starts at home.” Keep repeating until your brain accepts – 20, 30, 40 times… Be patient. This could take awhile

Okay, now you’re ready. Set the ads aside. FAR aside. Using ‘em to get a fire started works best. Stuff the turkey. Peel the potatoes. Bake the pies. Savor every smell, every taste. Really talk to people you’re sharing the day with. When you’re not focused on the Friday free-for-all you can actually enjoy Thursday’s blessings. Eat too much (a reward for the self-control you’ll be exercising by skipping the Friday fiasco.) Watch some football. Hug everyone. Be grateful for what you have. Give thanks. After all, it’s been a great day, and, tomorrow you can sleep in!

Oh, God, Friday, more ads… So hard to ignore. Itchy gas-pedal foot. Mall, mall, just for an hour…

DO NOT SUCCUMB! Guess what? The mall is gonna be there, all the way through Christmas. And, I’m guessing, the ads will get better. And better. And better. This may actually be the year of the procrastinator. Take out a sheet of paper. Make the list – remember the “pared down, these people really matter” list?  Chances are, your first effort won’t be that pared. Try numbering the people. “If I could only buy for one person…” Give them a 1. “If I could only buy for 2…” Someone gets a 2. Do this until everyone has a number.

Now, write down what you can DO. Cook? Bake? Arts & Crafts? Lawn work? Errands? Fix-it stuff? Damn, look how talented you are! Keep thinking. Cleaning? Sewing? Car repairs? Spending time with someone? WOW! You have an almost unlimited budget of stuff you can DO!! Stuff that really matters.

Use Black Friday to keep you in the black. Work on that list. Match your talents to those “matter” people. Pick projects. Determine the time you’ll need to complete them. Make your DO plan. Feel great. Not a single elbow from fighting over the last Boo-boo Baby whatever. No shopping cart derby crushed toes. Not a single foul, nasty, unkind word or look tossed your way.  

This weekend plan your holiday; budget realistically, and focus on what matters, who matters. You do. Your family does. A roof over your head, food, heat, gas in the car – these are critical. Boo-boo Baby and electronic gadgets and stuff aren’t. To retailers maybe, but not to you. Relax and know this can be the most stress-free season yet because you choose to make it so. It can be the most giving season yet because you choose to make it so. It can be the most blessed time ever because you choose to make it so. With your mindset, not your wallet. Get that, and you’re well on your way to understanding frugal.

And, just so you won’t go all berserk on me before I get back with some project ideas, try these to get you thru the weekend:

1) Sort old photos (you know, from before we had digital) and separate by person. There’s gifts in those memories. (more on that later.)

2) Clean. If you’re like many, there’s gifts in them thar closets.

3) Get out the decorations. Dust ’em off. Have a family dinner, grilled cheese and soup, and discuss past years. Start building your holiday joy quotient by remembering what you remember most? Was it a gift? Or was it feelings and relationships that warm you deepest?

4) Send out cards. No, not $10 a box, $.42 to mail cards. Email cards. Get the kids involved. Have them send cards to Grandma & Grandpa, too. And Aunt Bertha. And Uncle Fred. (it’s good training.) Free means you don’t have to send one signed, “Love, Susan, Dan, Jeffrey, Alicia, Allison, Jeremy, Joshua, Bobbie, Carol, Willie, Snuggles and Spot.” Everyone’s involved (well, Dan may still expect you to cover him, and unless Snuggles and Spot are really special, they’re on you too, but the kids get to send their own message.)  You can send one or one a week or one a day. You’ll be building someone else’s joy quotient with each message. Or you can make cards – you know, colored paper, crayons, markers, glitter, glue, messy… Fun! Either are great ways to interact with the kids, show a little creativity and let loved ones know you’re really thinking of them, not just checking “send cards,” off the holiday to-do list.

5) Go to the park. Exercise with the kids. (Hey, we gotta get rid of that reward somehow.) Or visit the library. Read a Christmas classic. 

Back next week with project ideas. Until then, chant with me, “Charity starts at home, charity starts at home…”

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Right now, it’s tough for many to embrace those words. If the economic crisis boat is floating in your tub, that’s assuming your tub hasn’t already been foreclosed on, it’s hard to feel grateful. Retailers could likely find this to be the year that “Black” Friday becomes “Still in the Red” Friday. The idea of putting up a tree when you don’t know where the dollars will come from to put anything under it overwhelms us. I’m guessing doctors are handing out mood elevators faster than the neighbor who offered full-size candy bars on Halloween. Face it, it’s bleak out there – financially –  which means it’s also devastating emotionally.

Yes, it may be the worst holiday season you’ve ever experienced, financially. But it doesn’t have to be an emotional train wreck. It can be a time of reassessment, of rethinking that can lead to a resurgence of your spirit, if not your cash flow. In this long-term predicament, that’s crucial.

First, breathe deep. The next thirty-plus days are among the most stressful we face. Now, look inside. Do you matter? Of course you do. To someone. And, it’s not because of the stuff you buy. It’s because of you.  That’s the first lesson in making the holidays more manageable:

CUT YOUR LIST DOWN TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO MATTER.

How many of your holiday dollars are spent on “should” buys? Drop them. Giving isn’t about shoulds. Frugal people understand this. They don’t, however, reallocate that money to someone else. They reduce their holiday expenses.

The second lesson in your holiday-expense reduction plan?

WHAT CAN I DO FOR PEOPLE ON MY LIST THIS YEAR?

DO, not BUY. All of us have talents. Seldom do our talents and those of the people we care about match exactly. What can you do for someone that they will appreciate because they can’t do it. Or don’t want to. Or don’t have the time. That’s a great gift. (Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a few days with tips for all that “doing” you’ve decided to try this year.)

The third question you must ask to reduce stress and money this season?

WHO CAN I HAVE AN HONEST DISCUSSION WITH ABOUT GIFTING?

Years ago my best friend and I quit exchanging gifts. Our friendship was a year-long gift to each other. Family draws? Maybe you can stop them. Or reduce the limit. Or require the gift be homemade. Same at the office. Often, we overspend because we don’t want to “look” cheap. Anytime you can drop a draw, do so.

These three mindset changes can have an enormous impact on your holiday bottom-line, not to mention your emotional well-being. I hope they bring just a tad relief so that whether you’re enjoying a full-out turkey extravaganza or nuking a can of turkey noodle soup, you can embrace “Happy Thanksgiving,” (which, by the way, is a great time to broach that “drop the draw” discussion.)