Here are many tips and ideas for saving money and encouraging environmental friendliness.
1. Get a notebook. Keep a small notebook with you wherever you go. Use it to keep a list of gift ideas for people. When you get ready to shop, look at the notebook and plan your trips based on where you can get the most items. Cross off items when you get them, and pencil in those items you purchased for people when you are out, so you don’t “over-buy” for people.
2. New and Old and Homemade. Think about giving each person a small new item, something homemade, and something gently used. Our society is focused on the “buy it new, use it once and throw it out” mentality, and this will encourage thoughtful gift giving of new and used items.
3. Sources of Used Items. Check into consignment stores, Craigslist, thrift stores, eBay and freecycle. For used books, try local used book stores and alibris.com. Check out paperbackswap.com to trade your books for other people’s books – you only pay postage. Most bookworms do not care if a book was previously used. Using this method you can get your reader a ton of books for the price of one or two new paperbacks, maybe even entire collections by their favorite authors.
4. Homemade Items. If you are crafty, make crafts. If you photograph, make an album or frame some prints or make mugs, puzzles or other items from sites like Winklflash. If you sew, consider making cloth shopping bags or gift bags out of extra fabric or old clothing. If you are handy around the house, give some certificates for your skill (carpentry, computers, you name it). If you cook, make some preserves, can some applesauce, make up cookie mixes, cookies, popcorn balls, snack mix or other snacks. If you hunt, make some jerky or sausage. If you brew, make some nice 6-packs or wine bottles with neat labels. Everyone has skills…turn them into gifts! If you are younger, make up and give coupons for free babysitting, snow removal, lawn mowing or household “work hours”.
5. Green Gifts. Buy gardening supplies and seeds and a gift card to the garden center. Purchase compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs and help install them. Get them a programmable thermostat. An electric blanket keeps your loved ones toasty and lets them set back that thermostat at night. Buy an energy audit for someone. Smart power strips are great at stemming the “phantom power” from things like chargers and computer peripherals. Buy someone a bicycle, new or used, if they could and would commute with it.
6. Gifts to Support Frugality. Get them a subscription to Dave Ramsey’s My Total Money Makeover or tickets to one of his shows. During holidays (Thanksgiving), Dave sells his bestselling books on sale. Buy some cookbooks for someone who eats out a lot and wants to save money. Give them cooking lessons or coupons for you to teach them cooking. Get them some new or used books on financial management or self-improvement. Book suggestions would be “The Total Money Makeover”, “The Millionare Next Door”, and “The Complete Tightwad Gazette”. Buy board games, outdoor gear/toys, playing cards and a Hoyle card rules book and teach them the old “real” poker.
7. Saving on Wrap. $2.3 Jillion dollars are spent each year on wrap and tags, all of which get thrown out. Recycle paper bags and Sunday comics for wrapping, or make up cloth gift bags of various sizes from scraps or “buy the pound” clothing from yard or thrift sales. These bags can double as shopping bags and cleaning rags in a pinch. Purchase the reusable shopping bags and put your gifts in them. Pay a kid a nickel apiece to make cute tags from construction paper and some stamps. Save a few large cardboard boxes from shipments or purchases and fill with crumpled newspaper or those annoying peanuts, then bury a small gift inside. Someone can use the large box to tote their loot home or recycle it.
Holiday Season sees many parties and guests stopping in. Here are some ideas to keep the fun going without spending a ton of money.
1. Bring a Dish. When you have a party, ask everyone to bring a dish. Also ask them to carpool with others to save on gas and make parking easier. Give a special gift to the carpool driver / designated driver.
2. Budget Booze. If you are going to serve alcohol, the larger containers are typically more affordable per unit, as long as you don’t have any spoilage. Some box and jug wines are great for parties. Strongly flavored beverages may discourage over-imbibing. Have a pot of mulled (spiced) cider on the stove to both sweeten the air and give people something interesting and non-alcoholic to drink.
3. Say Cheese. You can get a boatload of snack crackers pretty reasonable at the warehouse stores. Ditto for cheese spreads and large blocks of cheese. These are always good and low-cost snacks to bring or serve. Make up your own veggie and shrimp trays to save some cash.
4. Cookie Party! Invite some friends for a whole-day cookie party. If you all go in on the ingredients, you can get the larger sizes and save on the cost. You can also split the expensive ingredients like nuts and candied fruits. You can make jarred mixes (cookie, coffee/drinks, etc.) at the same time. Pick up some funky tins whenever you see them, and you have some real homemade gifts.
5. Watch the Costly Items. Meats, seafood, produce, dairy and nuts tend to be expensive when entertaining. I don’t suggest you serve just bread, but plan your menu around less expensive meats and produce and you can save a lot while still entertaining in style. For example, save some chicken from your chicken dinner and make a buffalo chicken dip.
6. Keep the Freezer and Pantry Stocked. You never know when people will drop in, or you will run out of time to cook. Keeping frozen snacks and appetizers available, and bags of chips, salsa and cheese dip available means you always have a snack for that unexpected guest or when the family can’t make a dinner.
Holidays are stressful times. Here are some ideas to save money, be green, and lay a good foundation for the coming year.
1. Plan and precook. Take one day during the Thanksgiving holiday and block a couple hours to map out your next month – what foods you want to make ahead, when you want to shop, what “milestones” you want to meet, such as making the post office by December 5th. Print out this roadmap and post it on your fridge. Every Sunday afternoon, clean up the list and make an action plan for that week.
2. Reuse and Trade. When you take your decorations out, separate those out that you don’t use any longer. Any kids who have moved out may really like those as a gift.
3. Dim the Lights. If you set up outdoor lights, put them on a timer and/or cut back on the number of lights. This will save on electricity. Put your tree lights on a timer as well.
4. Eat First. When going out shopping, eat at home first. You’ll be more settled and won’t be encouraged to eat at a restaurant.
5. Extra Cash. As you clean up before the holidays, make a pile of stuff you don’t really need or use. Take them to consignment, sell in the classifieds or Craigslist or eBay. Take a seasonal part-time job to help cover the extra costs. Or, donate to a mission or thrift shop and save the documentation for taxes. Sometimes the mental clean out that accompanies cleaning up is more valuable than the cash.
6. Green Tree. Get a plantable tree. Yes it will cost more but if you have a place in your yard, or can find someone else who will buy it and plant it after the holidays, it will be twice-green!
7. Family Gift Cards. For older children, they may appreciate gift cards to popular clothing stores and department stores for games and similar items. If you all wait until that dreary week after Christmas, you can all find great deals and have a wonderful post-Christmas shopping spree. This helps to boost sagging spirits. Combine with some restaurant gift cards you may have received and you can have a nice day out and save some good money.
8. Schedule Game Nights. Rekindle old friendships by scheduling play nights with family and friends. This will strengthen the family and friendship bonds, provide inexpensive and fun events to look forward to, and give structure, hope and purpose to the first quarter of the year, which is often the most financially and emotionally stressful times of the year. Make it a point to not spend a lot of time or money on these events – the goal is to have fun without spending a ton of money!
9. Plan for Next Year. The week between Christmas and New Year is a good time to reflect on the last year and make some goals for the coming year. Spend some time on savings blogs such as Simple Dollar to get even more ideas on frugality and environmental awareness. Take a blank sheet and list 10 things you’d like to do in the coming year. Think of these categories: Personal, Financial, Family, Environmental, Faith, Career, Fitness, Education/Development.
The key to making these tips work for you is a plan! Get that notebook and get started!
John Huegel is a photographer in the Erie, Pennsylvania area who specializes in Seniors, Dance Studio, Families and other groups. He is active in many charitable and volunteer activities in the Erie area. His work can be seen at http://jhphotomusic.com