Monday, November 24, 2008


Photo illustration by Richard Drew/ Associated Press
and David Carman/ Tulsa World

World Staff Writer

Being thrifty during an uncertain economy doesn't mean an unhappy Christmas.

A dour economy could be the Grinch that steals, or at least subdues, the nation's holiday shopping spirit this year. But you don't have to spend much to show how much you love or care about others. Clip costs this season by relying on a little ingenuity and preparation.
Make a date to look around first. Spend time browsing and searching for gift ideas before buying, said Charlotte Richert, family and consumer sciences educator for the Oklahoma State University Extension Service in Tulsa County. This helps eliminate pricey impulse buys while also giving gift-givers a chance to comparison shop. "Shop locally. Because of the economy, I think that is just a wise and considerate thing to do, but you could still do your comparison shopping online," Richert said. Check newspaper ads for sales and coupons. Many stores have coupons that can be printed off their Web sites and used in the store, Richert said. Take advantage of sales that retailers are offering. Also, look for bargains at thrift and consignment stores, flea markets, garage sales or pawn shops, said Mary Thomas, director of education for Credit Counseling Centers of Oklahoma Inc.
Make a list. Check it twice, thrice and then again, said Thomas. Is there anyone you can remove from the list? Do you really need to buy something for the mailman or people you don't know well? Use the "envelope method." Place a certain amount of cash in an envelope designated for each person for whom you plan to buy a gift. Once the money is gone, don't spend any more, said Thomas. Communicate with other family members. Because of uncertainty about the economy or job layoffs, families are especially watchful of budgets this year. If the family budget is tight, tell other family members, said Richert and Thomas. Let them know how much you plan to spend and that you don't expect a whole lot from them. "The greatest gift we can give each other is the respect of each other's budgets, so don't expect things from people that are unrealistic You really have to look at the holidays as an opportunity to build those memories and maybe repair some relationships," Richert said. "That's really the best gift of all." Pull names and buy for one person rather than everyone in the family, Thomas said. Instead of exchanging gifts, a family could volunteer at one of the homeless places or soup kitchens. "The more you give, the more you receive People forget about the simple things and what the true meaning of the holiday is. Find other ways to bring back joy to life," Thomas said. Work out alternatives for office-gift exchanges. Being obliged to buy gifts for co-workers can "suck the life out of your holiday budget," Richert said. Some people really resent having to participate in office-gift exchanges, and people shouldn't have to give gifts because they feel forced to, she said. She recommends workers talk to their bosses early about their concerns, rather than wait until it's too late. In lieu of gifts, businesses might ask employees voluntarily to contribute a few dollars to support Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army or some other nonprofit of their choosing. Because of the economy, many nonprofits have a real need for donations this year, she added. A business could sponsor a food drive instead and have employees bring nonperishable food items to donate to local food pantries.
Think homemade. Richert recalled that one of her most treasured gifts was a homemade recipe book of her grandmother's recipes that her uncle compiled. Craft a gift based on an individual's culinary taste. Is pasta a person's passion? Buy a strainer and fill it with a package of pasta, along with marinara sauce, other ingredients and a recipe.
Gifts of tradition are priceless. Compile and write down your favorite family memories and place them in a plastic binder. Use a computer program to create a 2009 family calendar featuring family photos or stories. Photos make special gifts. Create a collage of photos taken throughout the year or during a vacation. Clean your closets. Before you buy an extra roll of gift-wrapping paper or another sack of bows, check around your house for unused items. "There is a chance you have that stuff somewhere in your house," Richert said. "See what you really need or don't need first." Find creative ways to wrap gifts. Substitute fabric for wrapping paper. Use fun, unusual containers. If you're buying for a gardener, fill a watering can or small bucket with seeds and bulbs, gloves and a gardening tool. Attach a large bow. Or use a decorative basket.
Make loved ones feel secure. A fire-safe box is an invaluable gift that costs about $20 and can be found in the business supply section of stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and others, Richert said. This portable box is great for storing birth certificates, passports, insurance papers, DVDs and other important documents.
Offer to take a home inventory for family members by photographing or videotaping all their valuables and recording the serial numbers.
Share your time and talent. Create a coupon and offer to share a skill with someone, such as baby sitting, washing the car, cleaning someone's home, cooking a meal. Perhaps you're a computer whiz who can help set up a computer program for a friend or provide technical support, Thomas said.
Consumer cutbacks. More than 76 percent of Americans plan to cut back on spending on traditional holiday expenses such as gifts, travel, entertaining, decorations, charitable giving, holiday cards, and tipping, according to a new Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll.Among other findings:59 percent said they will be giving fewer gifts.49 percent plan to cut their travel plans.23 percent plan to cut back on gifts for their pets this season.21 percent plan to use cash.51 percent plan to rely less on credit cards.88 percent expect their holidays to be at least as happy as last year, including 28 percent who expect to be even happier than last year.
Credit-card advice Try to cut credit-card use at the holidays or eliminate it, advise credit counselors. If you must depend on plastic, then consider these e-mailed pointers provided by Bill Hardekopf, CEO of, an independent Web site that helps consumers compare credit cards. Before making that first holiday purchase, verify the credit limit on every credit card that you use because issuers are protecting themselves by lowering credit limits. Exceeding the credit limit can result in a lower credit score and a significantly higher APR. Change your shopping habits now before you get into the spirit of the season. If you can’t afford to pay off your credit card in November, then you can’t afford to add a lot more to it. If you must use a credit-card loan to pay for Christmas, make sure you can pay it off by Easter. If you are looking for a new credit card, this may be a good time to apply, especially if it has a 0 percent intro rate for purchases for six or 12 months. You can use the card as a free loan for holiday spending. Consider this only if you can pay off the balance before the interest charges begin.
Pay in cash to avoid impulse buys. According to Dun and Bradstreet, people spend 12 percent to 18 percent more when using credit cards.


  1. Great idea about the home inventory. Many don't want to do it themselves. Another option is for all siblings to put their money together and hire an inventory service provider for the parents. This information will ensure financial recovery after a diaster...what better gift that lasts a lifetime?

    Happy holidays to all!


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