I have three kids, ages 6, 8 and 11, with my wonderful wife who I have been married to for 16 years. Our family really gets into the holiday spirit every Christmas with the tree we usually buy, decorations we put up around the house, presents we buy, cookies we bake together as a family, and even the Christmas cards we mail out.
However, this year, my wife's hours were reduced to only 20 a week and I was forced to take a 10 percent pay cut, as well as a reduction in my hours at work also. In other words, our finances are not going to allow us to do all of the things this year we have had a tradition of doing during Christmas for the past several years. Yet, I don't have the heart to tell my wife and kids that we may not be able to afford a tree this year, or mail out Christmas cards, or some of the other fun things we like to do as a family during this special time of year.
Any advice on what I could do or how I could tell them?
Dear Scotty B.,
I am very sorry to hear about your financial setback this year. The economy has affected many households, and I fear that many will be struggling throughout the Christmas holiday this year because of it. However, that doesn't mean that you still can't give your family a great Christmas this year like you have the years before. It just means that you might have to make a few changes to how you celebrate this year.
For example, depending on the kind of tree you buy each year, perhaps this Christmas you can find a cheaper-priced tree, get a smaller one, or compare prices to see if a fake tree can be a cheaper way to go. If you do decide to go with the fake tree instead of a real one, think of it as getting more for your money because the fake tree will last for years so your money is going a little farther.
When sending out Christmas cards, ask yourself how you have been doing it over the years. Do you take a picture and then get multiple copies made to stick inside cards that you buy separately?
This year, maybe you can buy Christmas cards at the dollar store instead of where you normally go, and then for the picture part you can take a family picture and scan copies yourself to include for an insert. You still have to buy postage and the photo paper, but at least you can save money from having services make copies of the picture for you, as well as getting your cards done at a store that will most likely cost you more in the end.
If you are low on decorations, instead of going out to buy some more, make it a family activity to create new decorations on your own. You could even play Christmas music in the background, and by making a small trip to the dollar store, you can buy colored paper, stencils, glitter, string, ribbon and other creative supplies to make your own decorations together as a family. For example, you can buy paper lanterns and paint them with green or red paint and put them on your front or back porch and it will look like you have floating tree ornaments hanging outside. They are operated on batteries, and you can buy the batteries, lanterns, and even watercolor paints all at the dollar store. You can even buy Epsom salt (also from the dollar store) and sprinkle with glue on old wine bottles or jars and put them around your house to make them look like frosted decorations. You and your family can get creative with decorating ideas and by doing it yourselves, can save lots of money and create fun memories with your kids, while spending time with your family all at once!
As for the cookies, you can wait to buy the pre-made brands when they are on sale, or it might be cheaper to bake the cookies from scratch instead. The kids would probably have more fun baking them from scratch.
You can even get really creative with this idea and just make different holiday cookies like dipping a Ritz cracker in melted baker's chocolate and sprinkling crushed peppermint candy pieces on top of each chocolate-covered Ritz, then placing them in the fridge for a very delicious treat!
These are just a few suggestions, and no one is saying that these have to be permanent changes to how you and your family celebrate Christmas every year. Maybe this will be what can get you through this particular Christmas since your budget has slightly changed, and then by this time next year you will be back to your normal Christmas traditions on your normal budget.
I hope some of these ideas give you some peace of mind that you don't have to tell your wife and kids that you can't have a great Christmas this year because of a tighter budget. Instead, you can tell them you are just going to do things a little differently this year, and have your money go farther by doing lots of fun activities together as a family.
I hope this helps, and I hope that you and your family have a very Merry Christmas, and may the new year bring you all great happiness.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Michelle "Mikey" Arana is a 2003 graduate of Mountain Pointe High School. She offers free peer advice, however, Mikey is not licensed or trained, just a fellow friend to the community. All inquiries made to Mikey will remain anonymous unless legal issues occur. She can be reached at www.myaskmikey.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.