Trimming the Budget for Christmas

by Laurie Williams Sowby

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    It’s that time of year again. The Halloween displays have disappeared and the Christmas merchandise is all too apparent in stores. Once again, you’re wondering what you can give those special people in your life and stick to your budget at the same time. Take heart: with a little planning and a lot of yourself, you can give gifts that you’ve never given before—and probably few people have ever received!

    First of all, plan. You know Christmas is coming and you’re going to want to do something really neat for certain people. Smart shoppers buy at sales all year long, saving up to half on things they know will make great gifts for birthdays and Christmas. They save twice, in time and money, and avoid the headaches of waiting in long lines while others are doing the last-minute shopping. Make a who-and-what list for Christmas gift giving; then start now to do a little here and there to reach your goals. It might help to set dates for completing projects that will require some time on your part, so you’re faced with neither an all-at-once cash outlay nor a pile of unfinished good intentions on Christmas Eve.

    Give a part of yourself. Using time rather than money is an excellent way to economize in the gift-giving department. For example, a Family Home Evening manual costs little, but when you organize lessons and visual aids for the year and present them to a family—yours or someone else’s—it’s a gift you can’t put a price on. The present you’ve made, assembled, organized, or thought of yourself has a value far beyond the money you’ve spent on it.

    Try to be practical, too. Frivolous gifts may be fun, but most of us can’t afford to spend a lot on things that have no practical value or use. A six-pound can of peanut butter given to a family may be more appreciated than a wall decoration. Similarly, homemade bread or bottled jam may be a real treat for someone who doesn’t make those sorts of things.

    Here are some ideas for more gifts that are both practical and economical to give as well as nice to receive.

    Picture This

    Do your parents have boxes and boxes of disorganized photos languishing in the basement? You could create a real family treasure by organizing them into a scrapbook. For a photo album that will last for many years, purchase materials at a conservation supply house. Or buy a sturdy, three-ring binder, some acid-free paper, and mylar type-D protective sheets. Pictures are best mounted with mylar photo corners, which have two-sided, self-sticking tape. A glue stick could also be used. Be sure to write names and dates on photo borders or include a small, typed identification card on each page.

    For the past several years, I have given my own parents a homemade book of photos chronicling the growth and accomplishments of my children during that year. These “Growing-up Books” are the first thing the grandparents open Christmas morning.

    First Aid

    First-aid supplies make an unconventional yet highly useful Christmas gift and can be a much appreciated addition to the family’s home storage. Watch for sales on first-aid items—plastic bandage strips of varying sizes, adhesive tape, gauze, disinfectant, antibiotic ointment, scissors, ipecac syrup, safety pins, alcohol, etc.—and make the kit as simple or elaborate as you want. (Go the extra mile by tearing old sheets into strips and sterilizing them for future use.) Depending on the size of the kit, package it in anything airtight and waterproof, from a plastic ice cream pail with lid to a metal box. Include an inexpensive pamphlet on first-aid procedures (available free at some pharmacies), and write on the container with permanent marking pen emergency phone numbers for ambulance, doctor, hospital, police, fire station, and poison control center.

    All Dressed Up

    A favorite with our children is a trunk full of old, outdated clothing at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They spend hours dressing up in old suit coats, filmy gowns, high heels, jewelry, gloves, and hats. Ask older people for unwanted, old clothing, or pick up a few items, including shoes and handbags, at your local Deseret Industries or other thrift store. These can be easily assembled for a cherished “dress-up box” that can be given to a family, younger brothers and sisters, or grandparents who often have young visitors.

    The Personalized Package

    Each person you know probably has some special interest. Capitalize on those personal interests and come up with a unique package for each individual. My dad, a chocolate lover, received supplies of chocolate chips, a solid chocolate Santa, and chocolate-flavored milk powder in a “care package” last Christmas. Make a “kit” of items geared to a particular interest: an array of spools of thread, sewing machine needles, and tracing paper for the budding seamstress; stationary, stamps, envelopes, or aerograms for a missionary or someone who is trying to keep in touch with one; art supplies from crayons, colored pens, and white paper to acrylic or oil paints and small canvases for those who like to dabble; pet food for an animal lover’s favorite animal; and homemade flash cards for the youngster who’s just learning to read or do multiplication tables. You can come up with dozens of ideas for gifts that no one else will think to give.

    Family Home Evening in a Box

    A neighbor received an original and useful gift from her sister last Christmas. It was a file box filled with the makings for a year’s worth of family home evenings. Each manila folder contained a lesson and mounted visual aids clipped from the current manual. Also included were paper napkins and a variety of stickers for the children to glue on them for refreshment time. The mother reports that the file, with lessons ready-to-go, has been one of the best gifts her family has ever received, and it’s been used by parents and children alike.

    Also included in the box was a set of nine flannel board stories. Punch-out story sets with flannel backing already on them can be purchased at bookstores and office supplies. We bought one $4.00 packet, then covered each sheet of illustrations with clear plastic adhesive before cutting out the individual pictures. (They now will last much longer.) They are kept in manila envelopes with the name of the parable written with marker on the outside. Any child can now use the ready-made stories for his part of our Sunday gospel study. Include a flannel board consisting of solid-colored flannel attached to a stiff, strong piece of cardboard at least 12-by-18 inches. For young children, add a set of geometric shapes in various sizes and colors of felt.

    Grow Your Own Gift

    Start several months before Christmas to grow a plant. Buy a few hardy varieties and care for them until they’re a nice size. Give them away in a larger pot you’ve decorated yourself. Better still, for kids, give them a kit—small pot, potting soil, and a package of bean seeds—and let them grow their own plants.

    A Box for Doing

    A sturdy cardboard box covered with vinyl adhesive and filled with supplies for creative activities makes a fun “doing box” for a child, an entire family, or a grandparent who needs to entertain children. It could contain things like round-tipped scissors, construction paper, glue sticks, paste, play dough, crayons, plain drawing paper, or a paint-with-water book. We made one as a Christmas gift for friends and included learning activities such as lacing cards, number puzzles, and alphabet cutouts for the young children. The card taped to the box explained its function: “I am your ‘Doing Box.’ When you are finished with your activities, remember to clean up and put everything away carefully. If you take good care of me, I will last a long time and bring you many hours of fun and learning.”

    Decorative Towels

    Look for towels in the local store’s budget department, or fancy up some you already have with scraps of embroidered trim, eyelet lace, and rickrack. Decorate small guest towels or large bath towels, depending upon your resources and resourcefulness. For brothers and sisters, provide each with a personalized towel bearing his or her initial. Cut letters from scraps of colorful small-print fabric and zigzag the edges with a fine stitch.

    Photos by Jed Clark