If every holiday season's approach fills you with money anxiety, identify the source of your problem and confront it head on with these commonsense tactics.
Problem: I spend too much. Solution: Establish a spending plan.
Make a list of people you want to give gifts to and list a potential gift, with the maximum amount you'd spend on it. If the total takes your breath away, eliminate a few names or lower some of the spending limits. Consider inexpensive gift alternatives for neighbors and coworkers. Talk with extended family members about drawing names and agreeing on price ranges. Bring your list when you shop and don't allow yourself to stray from the spending limits.
Problem: My kids get greedy. Solution: Set limits in advance.
It's normal for children to want things, especially when advertisers pull out all the stops. Tell your kids you appreciate those feelings. Then talk about the difference between wanting and needing.
The year-round refrigerator wish list is a great way to help kids control the "wants," says Jerry Mason, a family financial planning and counseling professor at Texas Tech University. "If they say, 'Gee, Mommy, I gotta have it,' you say, 'Let's put it on the wish list,' " he explains. As Christmas (or the birthday) approaches, go over the list with your child to help prioritize the items. "By then, he won't want two-thirds of what's on there," Mason says. Your child will learn about the transitory nature of the "gimme" impulse, and you'll be able to give fewer things, and items that mean more.
Problem: I don't want to go into debt. Solution: Give thoughtful, personalized gifts.
Concentrate on what would be meaningful or useful. In some cases, you may already have just the thing -- perhaps this is the year to give your daughter that necklace that your mother gave you many years ago. Or you can give a service, such as a night of baby-sitting, or a morning of driveway shoveling.
Problem: Grandma has everything she wants. Solution: Give the gift of yourself.
Perhaps Grandma would find a day's outing with you more meaningful than another knickknack. Promise her a good time and see how happy that makes her.
Problem: Despite gifts, something's missing. Solution: Give gifts that reflect your values.
Adopt a family with fewer resources than yours. Serve turkey at a soup kitchen. Invite someone who may be alone to join your family celebration. Have your kids help you distribute toys to needy children.
The more energy and thought you devote to touching the lives of people you love, the more likely you are to have moments and memories that have nothing to do with spending, and everything to do with giving.
Continued on page 2: More Budget-Saving Tips