‘Tis the season for overspending – you can tell by all the ads for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Cash-strapped Saturday. Almost makes you feel un-American if you don’t spend your way through the holidays. But let me assure you, you don’t have to go into debt to show your loved ones how much you care. One tactic: Pause before purchasing. If you didn’t go into the store or on the website specifically to buy that swell item you suddenly think you can’t live without, give yourself a 24-hour cooling off period.
But what if you’re on a tight budget and will be cutting back on your kids’ gifts this year? It can still be a special holiday, as I reminded one woman who sought advice through my Ask Colette column:
Bottom line is I lost my job earlier this year and have yet to find a new one. Thankfully, my husband is still working, but we are having a hard time making ends meet. We were never one of those families that went overboard on holiday gifts, but my three children (8, 10 and 14) are still used to receiving something special each year. We've already cut back on their sports and lessons due to our situation, so they know things are tight. I'd still like it to be a special holiday. What should I do?
Dear Hurting for Cash,
First of all, I admire that you've chosen to cut back where you can — even with the kids' activities so they are aware of what's going on right now. I think it's perfectly acceptable to speak the truth.
Sit the kids down (perhaps separately, but in a timely fashion so they don't talk to each other before you have had a chance to connect) and be honest. The reason I encourage you to do this separately is so each one can truly react and feel without their siblings around. It also allows you to just hold them for a moment and feel that closeness.
Then I'd speak the truth: "As you already know, we're working hard to be smart about our money right now. In fact, we're being extra careful to insure that all bills get paid in a timely fashion which is why we need to talk about Xmas. This year, we only have X amount of money to spend on your gift. (Choose an amount and don't worry if it's simply $25 per child.) That's why I'd like you to think hard about what you truly want that's within our budget. I'm happy to help you look on the internet to figure out prices or come up with ideas if you choose. I also want you to know how much I appreciate you being flexible during this time. It's not easy for a kid to have to make sacrifices when they see their friends getting so much. I'm very proud of you and how you're helping us as a family." Then I would just hold them or answer any of their questions.
I would also plan some activities that are unusual to make the day festive and change the game. Since the kids are receiving one item, perhaps you could create a scavenger hunt with 7 or 8 clues per kid hidden around the house so they have to search for the gift.
Since the day really is about being thankful, perhaps you could give each family member 4 pieces of paper to write down something wonderful about each other. You could drop them in the appropriate stocking the night before to be read in the morning. Play a board game, card game or have a Nintendo contest if you already own the equipment. Eat dessert for breakfast.
Know you are giving your children the greatest gifts of all: Love and Truth. Have a blessed season, and may you find a new position soon.