Two years ago, I did a 12-day series called “Flat Broke Christmas”, where I featured cool and cheap gift ideas. I considered doing the same thing again, but I remembered how the whole thing, while very popular, made me want to Fa la la la la over when I got it finished. I also didn’t want to wind up inevitably recycling something.
So today, I decided to do the opposite take on things. I decided to work up a post also about what NOT to do when trying to save money this Christmas. There are some ways to save money that will not make you a hit at the family Christmas gathering. Furthermore, if you buy something someone will likely hate, you create awkwardness as people try to be nice, lie, and thank you — as they hunt for a gift receipt.
GOOD IDEA: Drawing names
I mentioned this in my first Flat Broke Christmas post two years ago, but I believe this is worth mentioning again. You automatically save yourself time shopping because you only have a few people for whom to buy gifts. You save money for the same reason. You can (generally) afford to spend more on this person’s gift and have a greater chance of getting him/her what he/she wants. This can be a serious help for both families and workplaces.
BAD IDEA: Name-draw-free-for-all
If you have a decent-sized group, names should be divided up before they are drawn. They should be divided among either gift-givers ages or genders or both. With work situations, make sure the gift givers are divided among department and/or shift. You want to make sure these people know each other well enough to know what the other would want. Otherwise, you could have some really awkward situations arise. If you don’t divide people of different age groups, you often have someone like me, a thirty-something grunge/metal nut, trying to find out what stuff from a techno gangsta rap group your teenage cousin wants. On the flipside, you could be trying to find out what doo-wop band your grandparents dig. Also, a lot of men in particular feel awkward about buying presents for women. My dad often goes to me when trying to find out what my mom would like, and they’ve been married for more than 30 years. Sometimes, the group is too small for such dividing, but divide accordingly if you can.
GOOD IDEA: Gifts only for the kids
Christmas sucks if you’re a kid with nothing under the tree, especially if you’re a little kid. Adults, however, SHOULD understand that sometimes, money is just too tight. This can especially be helpful with large extended family gatherings. If you have 10 aunts and uncles, 20 cousins, and 145 pets in your family, there’s no way any person who’s trying to save money can afford all of it. Not all adults are going to be adults about this, but they should grow up if they don’t.
BAD IDEA: Gifts only for your “favorites”
There’s a certain group of people who often hear of how another relative being preferred over them really sucked. They’re called therapists. Don’t even consider buying a gift for your favorite child/niece or nephew/sibling/etc. unless you’re going to buy for them all. If you can’t afford to buy for them all, buy nothing. Don’t use your poverty as an excuse to pit family members against one another — or against you.
GOOD IDEA: Price limits (Maximums)
When time comes to draw names, set price limits on which everyone can agree. This keeps more awkward situations from developing when Uncle Moneybags draws your name and Uncle Poorhouse draws someone else’s. Did I mention this can also help you save money?
BAD IDEA: Price limits (Minimums)
Telling people how much they have to spend in any type of way really makes you look like a snob.
GOOD IDEA: Buying gift cards from stores your recipient patronizes
Even if you can’t put much money on the gift card, the thought of having someone learn enough about you to buy something you would really like really speaks volumes. You’ve cared enough about a person to take their preferences into consideration. Last Christmas, one of my totally awesome cousins bought this avid bookworm a Books A Million card. Perfect! It was also perfect timing. I needed a GRE study guide. The card was not enough to totally offset the cost of one of those beasts (that are such THRILLING reads, let me tell you), but it was enough to where I only had to pay a few bucks. Buy your tech junkies a Best Buy card. Buy your scent fiends a Bath and Body works card. If you don’t know what stores the person likes, ask.
BAD IDEA: Buying gift cards from places you BELIEVE your recipient would or should patronize
Whether you spend $2 or $200, a gift card for a place that has nothing your recipient likes or everything your recipient hates will be meaningless and likely create discomfort. Here’s a case study. A friend of mine won a gift card at his all-male job for a pawn shop. Many guys he works with hunt. This guy would probably barf three seconds into field dressing a deer. He actually spent Lord knows how long trying to decide what to do with the thing because he didn’t want to just waste that gift card. He eventually bought his wife a mandolin when she once mentioned she’d like to learn how to play it. She never has played the thing. It collects dust as a decoration in their bedroom.
What will really make you have egg on your face and make you look like a total jerk is buying what you believe your recipient SHOULD want. If you buy your hippie granddaughter who won’t wear makeup or shave her legs a beauty store gift card, you’re going to send her the message that you disapprove of her looks/lifestyle. Here’s the thing: If you do disapprove, Christmas is not the time to point fingers. In fact, it may not be cool to stick your nose in her business even if it isn’t Christmas.
GOOD IDEA: Taking the middle road
Sometimes, you want to get something nice, but you’re still on a budget. So, when you’re stuck in the middle, take the middle road of buying mid-priced items. You don’t go all-out, but you generally buy something of greater quality and something that will last longer. Otherwise, you wind up with a situation I’ll describe in the next paragraph.
BAD IDEA: Buying the cheapest thing, even if it’s crap
Yay! You’ve saved a few bucks by purchasing something cheap. The celebration will quickly end when the thing falls apart five minutes after you walk through the door. When you have low prices but poor quality, you haven’t saved a dime. Think about it. You either have to spend money and/or time on repairs or spend money replacing the thing. Even if things don’t break, if someone hates your crap because it’s crap and doesn’t use it, you’ve also wasted money. Therefore, cheapest is not always the best. If you absolutely have to strike a deal, look for sales on mid-priced to high-end stuff, and make sure to check your friendly resale shops or closeout stores.
If all of this fails, always remember the gift receipt. Your recipient will silently thank you ever so much.
Current music: Megadeth, “Use the Man”