Tips for a frugal, yet festive holiday

If the holidays snuck up on you this year, you’re not alone. The Saturday before Christmas is typically the busiest shopping day of the year, beating out even Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when most retailers kick off their holiday sales.

While it is easy to get caught up in holiday sales and incentives, it is never wise to add financial stress to an already stressful time of year. Consider giving yourself a gift this holiday season—the gift of freedom from financial worries. Fortunately, the experts at Money Management International (MMI) have identified ways to have a frugal holiday without sacrifice.

    Gifts— The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey found that the average consumer plans to spend an average of $682 this holiday season. Instead of purchasing gifts, consider using your creative talents: make homemade jam, knit a scarf, or assemble a photo album. Visit Regiftable.com for free personalized gift certificates good for ten back rubs or a weekend of baby-sitting.

    Cards— According to the NRF, consumers plan to spend an average of $26.77 on holiday greeting cards and postage. As an alternative, many Web sites such as Hallmark.com, offer free e-cards.

    Decorations— Put all of your senses to work and set the holiday mood with a scented candle and some music. Instead of bringing a tree indoors, consider sprucing up a tree in your yard with lights. Get the family together to string popcorn and cranberries to make garland.

    Dinner— Don’t feel that you have to avoid family and friends during the holidays to save money. According to the American Farm Bureau, you can serve a meal for ten, with all of the trimmings, for as little as $42.91. Or, ask your guests to pitch in by bringing their favorite dish. If you must use credit this holiday season, only use those cards or accounts with the lowest interest rates. Set a goal for paying off any holiday debt in a reasonable amount of time. Keep in mind that a $1,700 charge can take more than 17 years to pay down, if your interest rate is 18 percent and you make only the minimum monthly payment.

The key to making it through the holiday season without accruing a large amount of debt is to keep things in perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to escape the “one extra little gift.” However, even small items can add up to be budget-busters. Remember, there is more to the holiday season than shopping—starting a debt free New Year is priceless.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

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