How Not to Break the Holiday Bank

How Not to Break the Holiday Bank

By Marilyn Pribus –

If you’re one of us who hasn’t quite finished shopping for this year’s holidays, and have three truly tough names on your list that you absolutely have to get something for, here’s a budget and stress-saving checklist for next year. Tuck it in your purse or copy it on your smart phone.

Plan Ahead

  • Shop post-holiday clearance sales at stores or online.  And, come December, 2018, remember where you stashed the items.
  • Pay attention. When you hear a mention of, “I wish I had [fill in the blank],” write it down right then. It could be a wish for a Cville tee shirt, extra pairs of SmartWool socks, or a peppermill. You’ll think you’ll remember, but when it’s time to shop it can be hard to recall.
  • Be alert for that special gift. Whether you’re shopping a sale, browsing on vacation, or wandering through an antique mall, keep in mind the people on your holiday list. Would that pastel scarf be perfect for Aunt Madeline? How about those whacky squirrel earrings for your neighbor who buys sunflower seeds in 25-pound bags?
  • Recycle gift boxes, holiday ribbons, bows, wrapping paper, and holiday greeting cards.
  • People have mixed feelings on re-gifting, but if something you received would be absolutely perfect for someone else—a person who will positively never, ever see the original gifter—why not. CAVEAT: Be utterly certain to remove any gift tags.
  • DIY. These days, when people are so busy, there’s nothing like a home-made or home-baked gift. And they are usually less expensive than purchasing something that might be the wrong color or size.
  • The internet is a great source for holiday recipes including variations for vegetarian or gluten-free friends. Assemble mixes—with everything blended except the liquids—for muffins, cookies, hot chocolate or any number of other recipes.
  • Construction projects. If you have youngsters in your life, recruit them to make holiday cards for you from sturdy paper stock and last year’s cards.  Provide glue sticks, scissors, and colored felt pens plus a supply of ribbons, or do-dads from a thrift shop. Guaranteed to bring a much bigger smile from the recipient than a store-bought card.
  • For more ideas, search any combination of Christmas + low-cost + quick +easy +crafts +ideas +thrifty + decorations and you’ll find hundreds of clever inspirations. One quick visit had ideas on making “stained glass” jars (use colored tissue paper and glue; insert candle), creating wrapping paper from potato “stamps,” preparing a holiday feast for the birds from pinecones, and designing clever décor from Popsicle sticks and festive paper.


  • Store away this year’s wreath frame and settle on next year’s theme such as birds or trains or the seashore, then keep an eye out for related items when you’re shopping in thrift shops or yard sales.
  • Hate that old Christmas sweater?  Cut it up to make stockings to hang from the mantel.
  • Don’t have a fireplace? Create one from a painter’s drop cloth and “blackboard” paint.
  • Float votive candles in water-filled wine glasses. (We’ve found wine glasses and other pretty glass containers in local thrift shops for as little as 20 cents each.) 
  • Collect a variety of candlesticks at garage sales or thrift shops, then unify them with matching spray paint—silver or gold or metallic red, perhaps—for a dramatic assembly on a shelf, mantel or as a table centerpiece.
  • Make a popcorn snowman.

Sneaky Santa

Instead of struggling to buy presents for everyone in the family, establish a “Sneaky Santa” gift swap for those 16 and older. All this is usually more entertainment than actual gifting. The basic rules (with endless variations from family to family) are:

  • Everyone brings a wrapped gift—new or white elephant and with a price limit—and puts it with the gift “pile.”
  • Each person draws a number and sits where everyone can see every gift that is opened.
  • Person #1 opens any gift. Then person #2 may either steal the first gift (before opening gift #2) or open gift #2. Subsequent players may steal any previous gift. If your gift is stolen, you can steal another one (but not the one stolen from you.) After 3 steals, the turn ends.
  • The person who drew #1 gets the last turn. Some families limit the number of steals to three per item because there is invariably that one gift that almost everyone hankers for.


Establishing traditions is a great way to keep your budget in good shape. Remember, the best memories are invariably events rather than items and Sneaky Santa is just one example. Instead of hiring a house decorator, have all the men (and boys) in the family hang those lights while all the women (and girls) hold a cookie-baking marathon. (Then next year get the females outside and the males in the kitchen.)

Other annual (and inexpensive) traditions:

  • Going to cut your own tree.
  • Caroling in your neighborhood or at a nursing home.
  • Walking or driving to see Christmas lights.
  • Watching a Christmas movie with popcorn, hot chocolate, and perhaps mulled wine for the adults.

Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County. She has made or bought tree ornaments for family members for many years. They often represent a special event—anything from baby’s first Christmas to the golfer’s hole-in-one or the college logo for the PVCC freshman. 

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