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Budget for Inexpensive Gifts and Create Cherished Memories

Simple holidays that are low on cost but high on meaning are possible according to Carol Ehlers, a human sciences specialist in family finance with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

She says a $10 limit per person is possible by carefully planning holiday spending.

The first step to achieving a small holiday limit is to make the decision to hold down spending.

“Tell relatives and friends you’re choosing to set a budget for exchanging gifts. This can be hard to do, but you may find that keeping holiday spending down can pay off in some unexpected ways,” said Ehlers.

Next, decide how to spend the budgeted holiday funds. Will some be spent on the adults, or will it all be spent on the children?

Gift options
Be creative by giving “low-cost experiences.” According to Ehlers, many studies show that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling than things. A Cornell University 10 year study and Journal of Psychological Science report confirm why experiences have the ability to contribute to happiness more than material purchases. Successful low-cost experience examples range from pottery making, rock climbing, horseback riding, bowling or skate tickets. Consider “Every Kid in a Park” (a free year-long national park pass) or geocache treasure hunts that end with ice cream. Consider sharing a skill or classes to experience sewing, painting or other similar activity. To keep it low-cost, find a family member, friend or community event to teach the skill at a discount.

Proven family focused gifts, said Ehlers, range from museum or science center memberships, to orchestra or community theater tickets or even a tent for camping. Sometimes a material gift can lead to an experience.

“Families who have tried this low-cost holiday have found it was more meaningful. Families that keep to their budget plan enjoy the feeling of financial security knowing there won’t be large bills to try to pay in January,” said Ehlers.

No holiday debt
While a $10 per person holiday may sound extreme, the idea of setting a limit and sticking to it may be appealing. If the budget is tight, why not try a $10, $25 or $50 holiday?

“When January and February arrive, you won’t feel so overwhelmed by the bills that come due. You’ll also feel a sense of pride in sticking to your gift budget and perhaps giving of yourself rather than the bounty found on the stores’ shelves,” said Ehlers.

There is also a good chance those inexpensive and thoughtful gifts will bring out the best in everyone and will be more meaningful.

Source: Carol Ehlers, Iowa State University 

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