Have a happy holiday on a Grinch-sized budget

When you see the right gift at the right price, check it off your shopping list and stop shopping for that person. (©iStockphoto.com/Rebekah Lane)
When you see the right gift at the right price, check it off your shopping list and stop shopping for that person. (©iStockphoto.com/Rebekah Lane)

By Andrew Housser

If you are one of those tightening their belts this holiday, following are some suggestions to help make the most of your holiday funds -- and get your creativity flowing to create some of your own budget-friendly ideas.

1. Budget first

Before holiday tunes jingle willpower away, think practically. Calculate how much you can and want to spend for holiday festivities. Then compare that total to a list of everything you anticipate spending on this holiday season. Include:

  • Everyone you'll give a gift to and how much you plan to spend.

  • Cards and postage.

  • Decorations.

  • Entertaining, including food, drink, special garments, child care, etc.

  • Year-end tips for newspaper carriers, babysitters, housecleaners, hairdressers and other service providers.

  • Gifts for teachers, doctors, neighbors or others close to your family.

  • Travel costs.

2. Don't overbuy

Once your shopping list is complete, keep a copy in your purse or wallet. When you see the right gift at the right price, check it off and stop shopping for that person. At home, designate a closet, empty chest of drawers or laundry basket as a holiday gift repository. Tape the list to the top. Check off recipients whose gifts are complete. If you enjoy wrapping gifts, save them up to finish just before the holiday. If not, wrap as you go -- just remember to label each gift.

3. Seek out free community entertainment

Tickets to big-budget holiday plays or ballets can cost $50 and up. Instead, check out the schedules at local schools or faith-based organizations for a more budget- and family-friendly production to enjoy. For New Year's, check local news for updates on free activities in your area. Just remember to drive safely and bundle up if the night is cold.

4. Try a menu challenge

Instead of purchasing special ingredients for every dish on your holiday menu, focus your efforts on one must-have item. Then host a potluck holiday meal. You can even challenge each guest to spend just $5 or $10 on their contribution. You may be surprised at how creative (and good-tasting) the results are.

5. Do for others

Instead of wasting time grumbling about what you are missing, help those less fortunate. Assemble food baskets, provide modest gifts to a needy family, knit hats for the troops or sew blankets for babies, or otherwise volunteer your time to a worthy organization.

6. Mass-produce gifts

If you lack the funds to give financial tips to service providers or everyone on your list, here is a way to acknowledge those who help you, while keeping it simple for yourself. Decide on a plan -- perhaps two kinds of delicious cookies -- and spend an afternoon in the kitchen. Package cookies in attractive containers (ideally something that can have a useful second life, such as a large travel coffee mug) and hand them out to the mailman, dog walker, garbage collector, etc.

7. Get creative with at-home coupons

If your budget doesn't allow for gift cards to stores, try "gift card" coupons with your family. Kids can give parents coupons for prized commodities like "No whining" or "No begging." Parents can offer treats kids love, like "Make cookies together," "Get out of one punishment free," "Mom and daughter pedicure day" or "Choose candy for movie night." Personalize a coupon pack with the recipient's favorite color or stickers featuring a favorite animal.

Fortunately, a festive spirit isn't dependent on a bulging wallet. Be smart with your money, avoid spending beyond your means and remember the spirit of giving to have an enjoyable holiday without going broke.