Just because the financial world has come crumbling all around us doesn't mean Christmas can't be as magical as ever. After all, Christmas shouldn't really be about the stuff. Not to sound like a pollyanna, but you really can have your best Christmas ever without spending a lot of money. So here are my tips for saving money during the Holidays:
Create magic, not clutter
I think it really starts when they are toddlers. I was so anxious to see my kids experiencing their first Christmas morning or Hanukkah evening. I wanted them to feel all the magic I felt as a kid - the rush of excitement when unwrapping a load of presents. In reality, toddlers just aren't going to get it the same way. If anything, a lot of presents can be overwhelming. That doesn't mean it can't be magical, but this is the time when it really is true that gifts from the heart will count more than gifts from the store. Don't worry, it won't be long before they're begging you for that new gadget all they're friends have. Here are some gift ideas that focus on the magic rather than stuff: Bubble wrap - how fun to discover their first experience with bubble wrap. Get a roll of the big ones and after they unwrap it roll it across the floor. Turn on some AudraRox or Christmas tunes and stomp and dance your hearts out. Sure to create a memory and photos to cherish for years. Box in a box in a box - everyone knows babies and toddlers love the box, wrapping paper and ribbons more than the gifts. Why not just give them what they want. Wrap smaller and smaller boxes inside each other. When they are done unwrapping, they can stack the boxes to make a tower and endless other amusements. Balloons in a box - This is a variation of the previous idea. When I was 6, a family friend sent me a box full of helium balloons so that when I opened the box all the balloons came floating out. At the bottom of the box was a bunch of bananas (Anna Banana, get it!). I loved that and got excited for years just thinking about that simple gift. Wake up to a toy running - When I was 5, my parents just got me a 14th Street Chinese toy (probably coated in lead paint) train. It didn't run on a track, but went in circles and flashed lights and made choo choo sounds. They snuck out into the living room early in the morning and turned it on so that when I woke up this little toy was lighting up the room. Maybe it was so magical because it proved the existence of Santa Claus, I don't really know, but I know I loved it and still remember it fondly. Set the stage - Kids love all the trimmings. If you make homemade decorations together and go over the top dressing up your house, children of all ages will feel the magic of the holidays whatever they get as gifts. Be creative - There are endless possibilities for creative ideas that create magic. Share yours.
Create traditions, not garbage
The best holiday memories are going to come from being together. It's a cliche because it's true. So why not skip the stuff all together and give gifts that create togetherness, like tickets to an event or even just an offer to go do something special together. The holidays are a wonderful time to create traditions of spending time together. Maybe even a Mommy Poppins post will inspire an outing that could become your family Holiday tradition. For older children a nice way to give traditions without hitting the cybermall is to pass on a family object. It could be jewelry, a tchotcke, or a book or toy from your childhood that will be cherished rather than tossed aside.
Focus on the giving, not the gimmee
You can create those family memories and traditions and teach your kids that the holidays are about the giving at the same time, by creating traditions of spending time together making gifts for others. You can make crafts or bake. Two great sites which have loads of craft project ideas and activities for gifts that kids can make are Martha Stewart Kids and Family Fun. If that's not your thing maybe create a tradition of wrapping presents together will at least get them involved in part of the giving. Of course, one nice Holiday tradition is to do something for charity together.
You don't have to be a grinch
Just because we're going all anti-consumer and trying to teach our kids that the holidays are about giving doesn't mean we have to be Grinches. Here's three ideas of how to make the holidays special without going overboard: I love the tradition of Christmas stockings. They're magical and filled with lots of little, inexpensive treasures. Give em something big. Focus on giving one or two big, magical things that will make them so happy they won't even want anything else. I don't mean big, like expensive, I mean big like magical and cool. I mean after the trampoline, who cares what else they got! Let the relatives fill in the gaps. Further Reading: [Jolly and Green, with an Agenda-NY Times]
photo credit: misocrazy
Find other holiday ideas in our Holiday Guide, and gift ideas in our NYC Shopping Local Gift Guide.