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Slim Wallet, Rich Heart: Not Your Average Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

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The season of giving doesn’t have to mean the season of spending—much as retailers will hate to hear that. This year, I will be reverting to my practice from my younger, bare bones budget days, when the gifts were inexpensive, but full of heart. It was a lot of fun then; it should be a lot of fun now, and will reduce the urge—and pressure—to overspend during the holiday season.

1. Create a master gift list.
To get a sense of how much you will need to spend—in both time and money—write a list of everyone you want to buy gifts for. Make two columns of recipients, Tier 1 being the people critical in your life and community, Tier 2 being the outer spheres of influence. For me, that was the postal person, the housecleaner, people who affected my life but with whom I did not have a close relationship.

2. Calculate how much you want to spend per gift.
I like to keep it under $15. To make it easy, festive and inexpensive, I give baked goods to everyone on the list. And for my Tier 1 group, I include a gift I make for each of them. The fun part of this is that everyone knows they are getting the same signature gift, and they love to wonder what it will be this year. 

3. Make your gift personal to you.

I love to make gifts that represent my year, and my community loves to be included in it. One particularly nurturing year, I made lip balm and soap for everyone. The next year, I made my favorite work out mix CD, and put it in a gift basket with running socks. Another year, I bought cute, zip-up pencil cases and filled them with all my favorite things from that year: my favorite lip balm, favorite steno pad and pen, even my favorite brand of dental floss! To me, it was one of the greatest gifts, because it was so personal, and fun to assemble. The point is to make it super fun and super cheap. How great is it to share the things you most favor with the people you most appreciate? Make a memory for the people you love. This year, I will probably share all the ways I saved money: include my spending tips, give a year of Green Sherpa to everyone I know, and add an awesome checkbook cover.



4. Do a family gift exchange.
Within any family or group, draw names and get a gift for that one person. It takes the pressure off of buying meaningless gifts for the sake of meeting everyone’s expectations.

5. Choose a theme.
On one side of my family, every year, we each choose a paperback we love, and buy enough to give to everyone. Make it $10 or less.

6. Kids LOVE creativity.

Children love wonder. Get creative with ways you can reach their imagination, and their memory of your gift will last a long time. Get a shoebox and create a magical wonderland inside. Or make it a mystery box. Fill it with treasures…crystals, statuettes, miniature cards, feathers, pieces of nature. Then wrap the box in a decorated paper bag, cut a hole in the side, and cover it with a little felt curtain. When they put their hand inside, there are all kinds of mysteries to pull out and play with, keep sacred and secret, or to share.

7. Make time together.
Make the gift meaningful ways to spend time together. For my husband’s birthday, we went to a film I knew he would love at the local university. It was $7! This year for Christmas we’ll take our daughter to see Mary Poppins, the musical. The ticket is only $20, but for a five-year-old, the experience will be larger than life. For my gift this year, I have asked that my family go on the holiday lights trolley tour around our town. And my sisters and I are looking in the local paper to choose and event we all want to do together. Even as I write this, I get excited about the fun we will have in celebration of each other, and the season, all for the sake of gifting each other with more of ourselves.

8. Fill in your ideas here.
Inexpensive, even free, holiday gift ideas are limitless. Think about the person (or people) you love, consider what makes them and you unique, and come together to celebrate. The greatest thing about giving is the way it feels when you do it, and the way it feels to receive. Consider that money is just a vehicle to giving, that, when it comes to receiving, is no better than your love and imagination. Give this season! Spend less.

Happy holidays.

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