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Do you love the holiday season or dread it? According to a recent CNN poll, about half of us dread it. Why? Because we will succumb to the irresistible pull of a gargantuan financial sinkhole: the frenzied 32 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But by following a few simple strategies, you can ensure that the holidays don’t ruin your finances or your credit. First, if you’ve suffered financially in the past year and you don’t have money for lavish gifts, let your loved ones and friends know. They will understand why you need to scale back your gift giving.
Even better, get creative. One year, a friend of mine, who is a wood worker and was going through a rough financial patch, made everyone clocks. Those clocks remain in homes years after most other presents have been tossed. One Christmas, a friend’s mother-in-law, who was an extraordinary cook, gave her ultra-busy daughter-in-law a meal a week for a year. It was the most welcomed and valued gift her daughter-in-law could have imagined.
An amateur photographer I know was battling a serious illness and stumbled upon a clearance frame sale. He realized he could make prints of his photographs to give to his family and friends. Nothing could have pleased them more. Presents created with love and handiwork are appreciated, enjoyed, and used more than anything purchased.
Okay, so what if you’re not crafty, and your hobbies provide no gifting opportunities? You can buy inexpensive presents that don’t look like they came from the dollar store.
- Antique Auctions. No, you’re not going to search for a priceless 17th century high boy. You’re looking for little items. Most general-purpose antique auctions have a lot of small bric-a-brac. Perfect giveaways that I’ve purchased at auctions for under $5 include an 18th century carved Dutch wood clamp, an Italian silver bonbon container, and small silver candlesticks. Often, auction attendees are there for the major pieces. If you go digging around in display cases and boxes sold as lots, you may be the only person who knows there’s something stunning stuck down in the “junk.” Also, these pieces usually get auctioned late in the day when most attendees have left and the auction house wants to move the merchandise out. It’s a great way to locate fabulous finds for miniscule prices.
- eBay. If you’ve never ventured into the world of eBay, think of it as the world’s largest shopping mall. You can find most anything. If your Uncle Earl collects Elvis memorabilia, you’ll find it here. If your sister loves fine linens, they’re here too. While eBay continues to offer its traditional auction opportunities, it also provides thousands of stores where you can buy new merchandise direct without the auction process – often for prices much lower than retail. And you avoid the mall melee.
- Online Bargain Sites. There are so many places to find excellent deals online that I cannot begin to present them all. Here are a few favorites my friends swear by: Amazon.com; Overstock.com; SmartBargains.com; and the clearance sections of the three major television shopping networks — HSN.com, ShopNBC.com, and QVC.com. Or check out BargainJack.com, where you’ll find links to numerous deals of the day offered by other sites. BargainJack is especially good for electronics.
- Local Discount Stores. Merchants such as Marshall’s, Ross, SteinMart, TJ Maxx, and Tuesday Morning plus Costco and Sam’s Club often provide name brand merchandise at a fraction of the original price. SteinMart is offering a selection of cashmere sweaters originally price at more than $150 for just $49.99. Costco is selling Versace’s new dinnerware at about 50 percent off retail. At $169.73, Sam’s Club has the Sony Cyber Shot Digital Camera for what could be the lowest online price anywhere. It’s even possible to order online at Costco.com and SamsClub.com and pick up your merchandise at your local store.And, of course, watch for local closeout sales and major discount pricing opportunities in your area.
With the credit crunch continuing to impact financial institutions and other economic uncertainties casting a shadow into 2008, the wise decision for most of us this year will be to avoid excessive debt. Make this holiday season a credit enhancer. Give yourself a debt-free treat that will continue to provide you with joy and peace during the year ahead.