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Celebrate the holidays heart

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With the holidays approaching, I’ve found myself chatting with friends about how we often regret spending too much money, running around like lunatics with our to-do lists, and stressing out during a season that should be spent enjoying family and friends. So this year, I’m planning to make my family’s holidays more meaningful — and less crazed and costly. Want to join me? Here’s how:

Plan ahead

First and foremost, make a list of every person you plan to buy a gift for, then create a budget. Don’t wait until the 11th hour to shop — when you’re more likely to feel desperate and spend too much on that fancy doodad the kids saw on TV on Dec. 23. You know the one. It’s just like that thingamajig they got tired of by Dec. 27 last year.

Give gifts that help others

The possibilities here are endless, but here’s one fun example: My family and I started giving gifts from Heifer International (www.heifer.org) a few years ago, and that has been a great experience. In your loved one’s honor, you can give the gift of a share of a sheep, a flock of baby chicks, or a goat that will provide income and food for a needy family. Kids love to help pick out the gift. You buy as mant shares of an animal or a flock as you like, so this gift idea works even for young kids who want to contribute some of their own money. The organization provides beautiful gift cards to give to your recipients.

Give experiences, not things

Does your sister really need another scarf? Instead, buy movie tickets for a fun girls’ night out and spring for the popcorn. Want to include the nieces and nephews and not break the bank? Make a gift of a movie night at your house and go all out with movie-style candy, popcorn, soda — maybe even hot dogs. When you buy the goodies yourself and serve them at home, you can treat everyone for dimes on the dollar compared with those insane movie theater prices (Plus, you can plan this event for January, after the craziness of the holidays is over). Even more fun — make everyone a star and show old family movies as the “previews” before the show.

Say no to new decorations

You already have boxes full of decorations — and if you’re like me, you whine about a lack of storage space — right? Is it all that important to buy the new “must-have” decorations this year? Another option: Make decorations with the kids. I still remember the fun I had sitting with my mom and making elves out of pipe cleaners, styrofoam balls, and red felt when I was a kid.

Create photo gifts

They’re something only you can give. Grandparents love calendars and photo books featuring the grandkids. My brother and I exchange CDs featuring high-res photos of our families from the past year. We e-mail photos to each other during the year, of course, but we usually send low-res versions. To have all the best photos on a CD is a wonderful (and inexpensive) gift. Another winner: we visited my parents for spring break one year and for Christmas that year, we gave them a photo book that included the photos from our visit.

Be a savvy online shopper

Check out PriceGrabber and other price-comparison sites to find the lowest price. And search Google for online coupons. If you want to buy something at a particular store, just Google the store name and “coupon.” I’ve found coupons for everything from free shipping to 20 percent off my entire order.

Consolidate your online purchases

You’ll save time, minimize shipping costs and help the environment. When shipping gifts yourself, re-use boxes and packing peanuts. Also, watch those shipping deadlines and order early to avoid higher costs for faster shipping as the holidays approach.

Buy local

You’ll support your community and you’ll often find one-of-a kind gifts — at great prices — at craft fairs and school auctions. Plus, this kind of shopping can be relaxing and fun! (And there’s usually a bake sale nearby!)

Choose useful gifts

They don’t have to be expensive. A car-care kit for a new driver. A gardening-magazine subscription for a new homeowner. A selection of spices or a fun cookbook for a budding young chef.

Get creative with gift wrap

Try to re-use materials rather than buy new wrap. Use gift bags and fabric ribbons and bows that can be reused year after year. For gifts wrapped in paper, have fun with Sunday comics or brown paper bags colored or stamped by the kids. My favorite: have little ones make hand prints with non-toxic paint on inexpensive butcher paper or brown paper bags and use as wrap. The grandparents may love the wrap more than the gift! Leftover scrapbooking paper and stickers are great for wrapping small gifts, too. Use extra scraps of wrapping paper as gift tags.

Focus on what counts

Whether it’s attending a religious service, enjoying the school holiday play, making thumb-print cookies with your preschooler or playing Monopoly with the whole family, be sure to stop and really focus on the true blessings of the season. This year, my son is going to be playing piano in church, along with other young musicians, on Christmas Eve. For me, there’s no present that could appear under the tree that will be more wonderful than that.

Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist and essayist. The best gift she ever received was Matthew Benjamin Sena, who was born Dec. 22, 1995, and came home from the hospital on Christmas Day.

Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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