Tag Archive | "unique gift ideas"

Un-Breaking the Bank on the Holidays

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Are you, like millions of other Americans, banking on the holidays to break your bank?

Before the hordes of costumed trick or treaters ever rang doorbells this year, retailers and roadside nurseries had fired up the Christmas trees, blown up their plastic lawn Santas and eight tiny reindeer, and launched special sales.   Some retail merchants had even announced that “Black Friday” had moved up an entire month, in an effort to entice customers to part with their hard-earned cash.   No matter how much you may be dreading the commercial creeps of Christmas and the accompanying financial burdens, they’re coming.  And they’re coming straight for your wallet.

With so many consumers downsized and unemployed, and with thousands of others just waiting for the axe to fall, how are we going to survive Christmas?   For many of us, Christmas is sacred on many levels; it’s a day to be honored and cherished.  So, if the thought of a money-gobbling Christmas is niggling at your brain, squeezing at your heart, and making you count sheep at night, you may want to read on.

Looking back, I realize that one of the very best Christmases I’d ever had in adulthood was when I had virtually no disposable income.   My first Christmas living alone in a tiny apartment, I refused to let the Holiday-Holy Day pass me by.  With thirty dollars, I bought a little artificial tree (I hate the thought of killing real trees) and decorated it beautifully with a few choice ornaments and a string of multi-colored lights.  I baked cookies and brownies from scratch and gathered my friends for a night of trawling the mansions in Bay Ridge, New York to ooh and ahh at the show-stopping lighting displays on the houses of the wealthy.  Then we ducked back to my apartment, where I’d closed all the lights before I’d left, but had the little Christmas tree glowing in the dark.   Everyone loved the goodies, which I accompanied with hot chocolate decorated with colored marshmallows and tiny candy canes.

For my gifts that year, I — the city girl born and bred — canned.  I made steamed puddings with hard sauce, and if heaven smells better than my apartment did, it should bottle that scent and peddle it.  I “put up” conserves of cranberries, oranges, and figs: excellent accompaniments to cheese platters or as a sort of chutney for poultry and pork.  And, I made fruit-flavored liqueurs, using two bottles of relatively inexpensive vodka as the base.  I steamed the puddings in well-scrubbed Maxwell House® coffee tins and when the puddings had cooled, I wrapped the tins in green and red foil paper and glued inexpensive ornaments to the tops of the cans.  The conserves and liqueurs I poured into beautiful, inexpensive glass containers that I’d found in an antique shop in the city.  They must have been mis-marked, for I’d gotten them for a song.  Everyone was thrilled to receive my homemade goodies.  And I was spared the angst of cranking up my monthly payments and interest charges on my one and only credit card.

I may not have had much of a disposable income, but I did have more time in those days.   So, if you’re going to attempt to bake and can as I did, understand that you’ll need to start a few weeks prior to Christmas.  Many from-scratch cookies of the rolled and cut, refrigerator (sliced), and bar varieties can, if unfrosted, be baked ahead of time, frozen in pretty disposable plastic containers that pop up this time of year in the supermarkets, and thawed right in those containers.  Add a tag, a pretty bow or inexpensive ornament, and you’re good to go.

If you attempt to can food, you must research how to do this properly, or you’ll wind up giving your recipients a case of salmonella.   You must use the proper equipment, which includes old-fashioned Mason-type jars with two-part lids, a wide, deep pot, tongs, a metal trivet, and oven mitts.  Everything into which the food is ladled must be sterilized in boiling water — including those dual-part lids — and there must not be a drop of the water left in the containers before you add the food product(s).  And, the food itself must be hot when it is added to the jars.  Close the jars tightly, place the trivet at the bottom of the pot, and then give the filled jars a “bath” in boiling water, ensuring that the top of the water is lower than the bottom of the lids.  This process creates a seal around the food and prevents it from spoiling.  Again, do your own research so that you understand the entire process and don’t skip a single step!

If baking and canning are not up your alley, and neither are the time- honored arts of knitting and crocheting, you can always create a booklet of gift certificates for your recipients — and the gifts will be gifts of your own time.   You can babysit a friend’s little ones, give her a home spa treatment of a facial and a manicure, cook his family a meal, clean his house, shovel her walk, walk her dogs, plant him a garden of herbs in the Spring, wash and wax her car — all of which will be appreciated by those of us who don’t have enough hours in the day (which is most of us!).

If you are truly stuck having to buy presents from stores or catalogs, ask the people on your gift list if they are willing to do a Kris Kringle type of holiday instead.   Everyone writes his or her name on a slip of paper, the slips are placed into a bowl, and everyone takes a slip, buying a single present for the person whose name appears on the paper — without revealing “who got whom.”  Set a price range prior to picking the names.  Even if that range is $50-$75, you’ll be saving a heck of a lot of dough, and I don’t mean cookie dough, than if you followed the traditional bank-breaking method of purchasing a gift for every single person on your list.

For the last few years, my family has gone the route of Kris Kringle.  It cuts down on a lot of anger and exhaustion at the malls and it doesn’t break the bank.  Perhaps best of all, it provides us all with the time to truly reflect upon and enjoy the season — and of course, our joy in each other!

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