Lifestyle: Less Spend, More Heart For Christmas


Things have been tight financially for us, and I know I'm not alone. On account of that, I have been trying to be a little more creative and open minded in trying unorthodox ways to give gifts to show important people in our lives that I care. In light of the recent tragedies in CT, it has galvanized my approach to the holidays this year. Waking up at 3 a.m to fight with people over purchasing a flat screen TV is not what the season should be about. It's about love, generosity of the heart and care for our community and fellow man. It's also about being grateful for what blessings you have. So in the spirit of the season, I lessened my carbon foot print, tightened my budget and got my hands working.

Don't get me wrong, this approach doesn't simplify the holidays, which I was trying to do, too. No sir. I think I worked the most I ever have on Christmas this year. I am flat out exhausted, and I still have more to do! It's more work to go to many smaller shops than one shiny big box store. It's labor intensive to make things versus buy them.  But to see the joy in someones face after getting something specially hand made for them, making them feel all the more special? Well, that makes the moment all the more meaningful. Here are some things to keep in mind as you run to finish your shopping list.

Buy local
It's statistically proven that buying local helps create a bigger impact in your community than shopping at the big chains. I planned a shopping outing last week with the girls at work where we walked around my local Lincoln Square neighborhood, buying affordable and unique gifts. The customer service is better. The holiday decor is cuter. Some stores even served spice tea or cocoa while we shopped. It really got us in the spirit of the holidays, and we knew our dollars were making a bigger impact-right where we lived.

Shop used books

Some people may feel that giving used anything is a faux pas at Christmas. If you can find a good, local shop that takes care of their gently used books, you can find a well kept, affordable treasure trove of goodies for the bibliophiles in your life. Many collectible books are out of print anyway. And with the popularity of ebay and exlibris, the stigma around used books is greatly diminished. In fact, you might spend 10 bucks on something that on the collector's market is worth hundreds! Imagine that as a gift? I shop at a wonderful bookshop in Chicago called Open Books. All their books are donated, and sales go to reading and writing programs provided to local schools. All people that work the shop are volunteers, too. So your dollars truly go toward a very worthy cause.

Try giving handmade gifts that are green, too
Handmade gifts are always an option at Christmas. And now with the popularity of Etsy and Pinterest, it's never been easier to get tips and inspiration on handmade gifts that look better than anything you get at a big box store, and more special. After all, you took time out of your busy schedule to make someone something amazing! A bigger plus is if you can make something by recycling something else. Then you give the earth a Christmas present, too. Last year I made a slew of scarves upcycled  from T-shirts. This year I cut up old sweaters to make fingerless gloves. People need warm fingers as they touch their smart phone screens, right? I gave them out to my colleagues today and they were very excited. It made the 2 a.m bedtimes this week worth it. I love everyone of those girls. I wanted them to know it, tight budget and all. (By the way, I'll be posting a how-to tomorrow. You can easily make a few in an afternoon if you have an old sweater lying around.)

Use your kitchen
As this blog validates, I like cooking and baking. I always prepare platefuls of cookies to give to friends, neighbors, teachers and clients. This year I expanded my flavors. I also went to a dollar store to buy tins, tags, wrapping paper, etc. I had never been to a dollar store. It was overwhelming at first. But just buying the holiday necessities there (most of which gets thrown in the recycling bin) I saved 50-100 bucks. If you're not a baker, there are other things you can make in your kitchen like; assembled cookie mixes and bread mixes in jars, canned fruits and jams, even jarred herbal sugars, salts and cocoas. If you have summer herbs drying, crumble some up in a jar, add a decorative label and voila! A culinary gift from your own garden. If you get ahead on timing next year, steeping liquors, vinegars and oils for bottling can make sensational gifts, too. These gifts just need a month's lead time.

Shop craft fairs
So not so crafty, or crafty in some things and not others? Visiting your local parish or community craft fairs is a great way to get one-of-a-kind items at inexpensive prices. I've bought ceramic cereal bowls for 4 dollars each.   I've found unique necklaces with gem stones starting at $15. I can spend that at Target, but it's mass produced in China somewhere. Not by someone in your own community, trying to earn a living by their art and craftsmanship. If crafting places are hard to find, you can also shop the Etsy stores online, as well as check out national craft shows. Renegade Craft Fair is an awesome craft fair, and not your Grandma's craft fair, either. There are many in various cities at various times throughout the year. Check out if there is ever one near you at http://www.renegadecraft.com/. Our office has planned a brunch/shopping day just around visiting this craft fair.

Shop ebay and thrift stores for that once a year holiday outfit for your kid
I have a major tomboy on my hands. Every year my daughter and I fight over dressing up for Christmas and Easter. As she has grown older, I can't justify spending money on a new formal dress she will never wear again. And honestly, all the other kids wear their holiday duds once, too. And guess where it goes? Ebay or thrift shops! So look there for gently used holiday outfits, spend some more on Dryel sheets or a proper dry cleaner, and your kid is ready for the holidays. I guarantee you save at least 50 bucks, and you kept something out of the landfills.


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So that's how I gave less to big corporations, and more of myself and my family to the people I love who make a difference in our lives every day. Every day is a gift. So are they. And this year, I tried to make my gifts worthy of just that.

If you have any ideas to share, please do! And have a wonderful Holiday!

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