Plan ahead to make holiday gifts memorable, less expensive

This year, it may be harder than ever to afford gifts for all our friends and loved ones. So now is the time to rethink how we can make gift-giving a joyful ritual that will build relationships, rather than bust budgets.

The key to this approach is not how much you're spending on your friends and family, but how much you're thinking about them.

PLAN NOW OR PAY LATER

There's a reason Santa made a list and checked it twice, and you should do the same. Not only does sitting down in a quiet moment to write a shopping list cut down on impulse buying, it also allows you to really personalize — and even enjoy — your gift-giving experience.

• First, make a list of your recipients.

• Next, list one to three qualities that you notice in each person. For example, you might describe your best friend as honest, nurturing and fun.

• Then list one to three activities that each person enjoys. For instance, let's say you're buying for a friend who likes movies, travel and yoga.

• Identify the category of gift you're seeking. For our friend example, a leisure or fitness-related present could fit the bill.

• Time to get specific. List items that fit the categories you've picked, but don't worry yet about the cost. Just brainstorm. What you're looking for here are gifts that show your recipient not only that you are generous, but also that you're paying attention to them all year long. Given that this friend is a fun, nurturing movie fan, maybe she'd enjoy lunch and a movie with you. Or since she likes yoga, perhaps you could take a class together and get a meal afterward.

• Finally, reconcile your ideas with your wallet. Maybe lunch and a movie is your choice, but a fancy restaurant and $10 theater tickets aren't. Consider a home-cooked meal and a well-chosen menu of classic videos that you know are her favorites.

SOMETHING SPeCIAL

What do you do about the person "who has everything''?

For them — and really, anyone — think about how to honor their most admirable qualities.

Let's say that you have a wonderful uncle who always remembers everyone's birthday and anniversary. He's also one of the first to call and offer support when someone is ill or having life difficulties.

For him, you might select a gift that is a symbol of his caring and compassion. Perhaps an uplifting book or beautiful photo frame with pictures of loved ones included, or a gift certificate for a massage, facial or other pampering experience to give him support and caring, too. A more affordable yet very personal option would be to make him a scrapbook of poems, songs, pictures and quotations that represent what he means to you.

Maybe you have a friend who is a voracious reader, very bright and interested in learning. Has she mentioned some subject or author she hasn't quite gotten around to yet? Seek out a book or DVD that matches that interest.

You could also compile a list of Web sites, television programs and documentaries on subjects you know she's interested in. The listing could be presented in a lovely journal, scrapbook, album or frame that she could also use. In this way, your gift is both personal and enduring.

gift of comMunication

Keep in mind that you are not the only one concerned about gift-giving this holiday season. Discussing plans for gift-giving this holiday season allows others to also relax and find deeper meaning for their gift choices.

Consider having an open discussion with friends and loved ones. You may be surprised and relieved to find how many creative approaches to giving are welcomed. Brainstorm new ideas for group celebrations, potluck meals and gift exchanges. Share ideas for gifts of time: Cooking, household chores and babysitting all make welcome gifts. Create gift certificates with suggested dates of service, then schedule with the recipient.

Finally, remember that a well-chosen card, with a thoughtful handwritten note, can be the most memorable gift of all. Share what's going on in your life now, but also reflect on pleasant shared memories and your hopes for the upcoming year. When it comes to building relationships, letter writing can be far more effective — and joyful — than hours spent scouring the malls.

Lori Kleinman, Ph.D., founder of LiVibrance Center for Wellness in St. Petersburg, is a licensed psychologist and music therapist who provides public speaking, classes, workshops and counseling to enhance well-being. She can be reached at www.livibrance.com or (727) 824-0909.

Plan ahead to make holiday gifts memorable, less expensive 12/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 4, 2009 3:30am]

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