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This year I warned the kids that their gift budget for the holidays is going to be smaller than past years. But truth be told, they’ll still be blessed with lots to open Christmas morning. It’s nothing like a few of the single-mom Christmases I’ve had in the past. There’ve been some years when I saved all year long and still had barely enough to make Christmas special….or so I thought.  It seems some of our poorest years were actually our most special as more meaning was put behind family and all we are blessed with rather than what we received off our Christmas lists.

I know there are plenty of families in tight spots as the holidays loom.  It can make the season of giving seem pretty unfriendly.  But there are ways to get around this. Here are six ideas to help you save a few dollars and ensure a very merry holiday season.

1. Go small
My sisters and I would usually tear through the larger gifts at Christmas, but truly savor the ones placed in our stockings.  These were gifts that we never asked for, but took the most thought because our parents picked them out just for us.  Years later, we still look forward to our stocking gifts most of all.  I’ll never forget our very loud reaction the one year my mother insinuated we might be too old for this tradition.  Even as an adult, I still look forward to receiving a stocking full of fun trinkets that include everything from decorative socks to wind-up toys.  My suggestion is to buy one big gift, or even just rely on relatives for the big gifts, and focus on the stocking.
(Hint: Stockings can get expensive if not planned carefully. China Town in San Francisco, any of the dollar stores, and a few creative items like origami boxes or fun stickers can keep things still within budget)

2. Utilize Craigslist
One mom I know suggested Craigslist as a way to save money, and what she has used herself in years when pennies needed to be pinched.  Some of those larger items your child wants can actually be bought in good second-hand condition without having to pay full retail price.  I’ve seen Power Wheels for $150 or less, toys for under $20, videos and DVDs, bikes, play kitchens, games, and more.  You can even find some quality clothes online from kids who have outgrown them faster than they can wear them out.  Why pay tons of money on something that is still new to them?

3. Skip the baby gifts
Babies have no idea what day it is or even what they want for the holidays.  They aren’t even old enough to unwrap presents.  There’s no need to spend a fortune on gifts for babies when they’ll likely be more interested in the paper they were wrapped in.  Use this time to purchase anything you actually need for your baby – like onesies, clothes, bottles, baby food or even just diapers – and let the relatives spoil your child rotten.  Trust me, it does not make you a bad parent, it makes you a smart one.

4. Toy swap
I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find other families who are looking to save a few pennies this season.  So why not trade toys?  Have your child gather up all their toys they don’t need anymore and host a toy swap party with a few of your mom friends.  You’ll rid yourself of all those toys you’re tired of looking at, and gain some new-to-your-child presents that cost nothing more than a little effort.

5. Make your gifts
Show off your baking skills and save a few dollars by baking cookies, bread, or something else equally delicious for your friends and family this year.  Or get crafty and create a unique one-of-a-kind gift for those you love.  They won’t have anything like it, and they’ll appreciate the thought and care you took to create something just for them.

6. Holiday Service
A few years ago, my son and I sat at the stoplight on our way to school.  On the sidewalk was the old homeless man and his dog we used to see almost every single day.  Outside, it was colder than freezing.  Judging by the early hour they were standing there, they’d probably spent the night in this cold.  “Should we give him something?” my son asked, and I nodded as I handed him a couple dollars.  We pulled up to him and opened the window, and my son handed him the money.  “Happy holidays,” the man said.  “Rusty and I thank you.”  As we drove away, my son told me how warm he felt inside from this small gesture.  Imagine how wonderful a gift that would be for your child – to feel what it’s like to give to someone less fortunate than them.  Give them the gift of a warm heart by adopting someone from the Giving Tree, offering time serving food at a shelter, donating food or clothing, or even just visiting some forgotten souls at the convalescent hospital.  Trust me, this may just end up being their favorite gift of the season.

What have you done in the past (or are doing now) to save money on holiday gifts?

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