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Frugal, Creative Gift and Decoration Ideas Will Keep Your December From Bustin' the Bank

Frugal holiday ideas from the author of "Frozen Assets."

Copyright 1998 All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Do the phrases "frugal living" and "holiday giving" seem to be at opposite ends of the spending spectrum? Is it possible to spend no more in December than during other months? Will your family still love you if they don't find "the latest and the greatest" under the tree? Our families deserve the best we can give. But if we're paying our Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa debts for the next five years, complete with all the stresses that usually accompany outstanding bills, what good is it? No matter what our personal financial situation, we all could use a few simple money-saving ideas for the holidays.

1) Try checking out books from the library on holiday customs and crafts from other lands. These books can provide a wealth of innovative ideas, often for minimal expense. Last year, in a book on Swedish customs, we found instructions for making an evergreen Advent wreath. Old newspapers soaked in water and wrapped around a wire coat hanger were decorated with pine boughs from a backyard tree. Four large nails stuck through the paper wreath held the candles, and we added finishing touches of small pine cones and red bows. The Advent wreath was beautiful, incredibly simple, and made from items found around the house. It also added a meaningful centerpiece to our holiday celebrations.

2) Do you have solid-colored glass ornaments that you're tired of? Let your children decorate them with glitter glue, holiday stickers or craft paints. This tip serves a dual purpose: new decorations for very little money, and an inexpensive, fun holiday activity for the whole family!

3) How about giving a "Dessert-of-the-Month" gift certificate to someone special on your gift list? Or maybe a "Cookie-of-the- Month," or "Dinner-of- the-Month?" Each month you would deliver a different home-baked goody to the recipient. This gift is especially enjoyed by people who might not eat a lot of home cooking, i.e., college students, singles, elderly shut-ins. These are also appreciated greatly by moms with multiple children (a treat they didn't have to prepare! They'll be so thankful for you and your thoughtfulness!)

4) Learn to do calligraphy. (It's much easier than it looks!) You can make personalized gifts by writing the person's name and framing it in a simple mat with a pressed flower or two glued to the picture or mat.

5) Do you find that the price of store-bought cards is making the tradition of sending them almost impossible? Make your own cards by decorating card stock with rubber stamps, pressed flowers, or calligraphy. Better yet, make your own personalized holiday postcards and save on postage, as well!

6) For beautiful, inexpensive gift wrap with a country look, sponge-paint the plain side of flattened brown grocery bags with green, red or white tempera paint. Use holiday shapes (trees, stars, candy canes, etc.). Tie the wrapped gifts with raffia or twine. The finished product is rustic, yet very elegant! This is another dual purpose tip: a money-saver and a fun (but messy!) activity for the whole family.

7) Do you take lots of photographs and never know what to do with all those extra prints? Small photo albums with nice snapshots of your children taken throughout the year make great gifts for the grandparents. Also, an album with current photos of various extended family members is a welcome gift for out-of- town relatives who can't make it home for the holidays. Small photo albums can often be found at variety stores for less than $2.

Careful stewardship of our resources during the holidays does not have to mean deprivation and joylessness. Spend time this year thoughtfully identifying your personal priorities for your family during the holiday season. When your children have grown and moved on to start traditions of their own, will they remember the gripe sessions their parents had over the stack of past-due Christmas or other holiday bills? Or will they treasure the memories of quiet times of family togetherness and joy throughout the Advent season? Will they look back with reverence to a time spent in reflection and thankfulness, understanding the true meaning of the season? Or will they focus on the crazy times each year when Mom flew through the house, cleaning wildly and snapping at everyone in sight because the house had to be "perfect" before the guests arrived?

Simple, thoughtful and purposeful living can bring clearer focus to our daily lives, as well as added meaning and joy to our celebrations. Blessings in your pursuit of simplicity this holiday season---and throughout the year!

Deborah Taylor-Hough (wife, mother of three, and freelance writer) is the author of the new book, "Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month" (Champion Press) and editor of the Simple Times Email Newsletter. For further information about simple living, Frozen Assets, family educational ideas and much more, visit Deborah's site.


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