Making the most of Christmas on a budget

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  • Making the most of things: if you can’t afford a real Christmas tree, consider making your own, such as this one constructed with bits of wood from a pallet

    Making the most of things: if you can’t afford a real Christmas tree, consider making your own, such as this one constructed with bits of wood from a pallet

Christmas shopping preparations have started. Pressure is escalating for parents, relatives and friends to produce gifts that will live up to expectations.

Not everyone has a spending nest egg this year given that here are many individuals, and their families, who are unemployed or whose future job security is uncertain. Even if a family rainy day fund exists, those savings are being carefully hoarded to tide households over until full employment returns to Bermuda.

The apparent financial freedom to buy nice things for everyone’s wish list has always been a Christmas mantra, perpetuated by advertising media, but just as often exacerbated by family situations.

What if there is some conflict regarding how much each family member can afford to spend? This disparity can generate subliminal feelings of resentment among family members if the giving and receiving of gifts do not have parity. Not a good way to start Christmas celebration.

Truth is, for every individual that can afford to splurge, there are always those, who out of pure necessity, must budget closely. This may not be so difficult, if children are not involved, although embarrassment over tight finances can generate poor feelings of self-worth and depression around the holiday atmosphere. After all, we have pride in who we are, what we represent, and for both men and women, how we support our families.

As hard as it can be when times are not what we want them to be, changing perspectives to the positive is possible. As Mother Teresa said: “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Manage the expectations Platitudes are great, but how can we, and our families, proactively handle this challenge? The best method is for the family to mutually agree to set defined spending limits for each person on the list. Better yet, consider only providing gifts to children, or challenging everyone to make one gift only by hand.

Worst case scenario. Sometimes, no matter what method is suggested, no one is happy. Trust me, I’ve heard and read many holiday complaints over the years, including blog sites where grievances are aired with expletive-deleted narratives.

Be true to yourself. Give only what you can afford to give. Never be ashamed that your gifts are not good enough.

Readers, here are a few suggestions — now make a wonderful gesture yourselves by taking the time to send me ideas that you have used over the years — to make Christmas more meaningful for everyone you care about. I will feature them all in the next two weeks.

Our stores have worked hard to feature many items for all budgets that families, particularly elderly relatives, always need but won’t buy for themselves: fancy food baskets, canned goods, toiletries, a warm Polartec blanket throw, gourmet teas, gift cards for favourite restaurant lunch, etc. Use your imagination.

If you have the time, give The gift of your time. Help with household tasks, install a safety bar in bathroom, inexpensive automatic night lights, washing windows, cleaning, mending, landscaping, chauffeur service once a month for grand shopping trips and library, handyman repair services, painting, and so on. Make up a checklist, place in box and wrap.

Inexpensive, do-it-yourself, or homemade gifts. Ingenuity is key here. We have no idea how smart we can be when pressed to solve a problem, even a decorating problem.

Holiday decorations

Can’t afford a “real” Christmas tree? Consider a make-it-yourself pallet tree alternative, a design idea that is sweeping Pinterest. Here are useful links:

Amber Bailey: My Lists of Lists

Twenty-five ideas of how to make a wood pallet Christmas Tree

Purchase sparkly Christmas lights and hang on your homemade tree with small tacks.

Ornaments can be created by making fabric or paper stars, origami swans, just by folding paper — virtually free. See many formats here.


— Native asparagus fern, comes complete with red berries. Make a decent size circle out of two coat hangars. Then interweave ferns to desired thickness.

— Seashell wreaths. Fashion a nice round coat hangar circle. Drill small holes in the shells. You will need to talk to dad or grandpops to borrow a drill. Take baggy ties or nylon, catgut or other fishing line and thread the filament through the shells, wrapping around the coat hangar.

— Fabric wreaths. No sewing needed. Use an outdated favourite dress, skirt, jeans, or other fabric. Cut into two large round circles, then make smaller circle holes in the middle. Fold in the raw edges on the outside and inside circles — using an iron helps. Staple edges all the way around on the outside, then stuff old socks, newspaper, anything to create bulk inside. Staple up small inner circle. Attach bells, ribbon, candy canes, or paint colours directly on the denim. Hang on door.

Creative Cooking for men and women:

— Home-made bread presented in an inexpensive new baking dish, or recycle an attractive one from second-hand stores.

— Not too late for lemon vodka. Peel whole lemon, place peel into an inexpensive vodka. Let sit until Christmas.

— Rum-soaked pound cake, who wouldn’t like this?

— Meatballs in marina sauce, accompanied by a bottle of Parmesan cheese and a package of pasta

— Cook homemade chilli, complete with a purchased bottle of exotic hot sauce, and a pottery bowl (rescued and renewed from a second-hand store) or buy ready-made.

— Homemade fudge, the old-fashioned way: cocoa, butter, syrup, evaporated milk.


Shop for new releases, or old treasures in second hand stores, purchase a magazine subscription, gift cards for a Kindle or other electronic readers.

Family pictures set in recycled picture frames, from second-hand stores, buffed up with gold or silver sparkle spray paint.

Map of Bermuda. Gorgeous green/blue fabric layer a slab of wood (18 x 24 inches) or a ready-to-discard painting, or a blank rigid canvas, sketch out the map, then glue shells, small and large in shape of the Bermuda topography. Our mother made one of these for each child — priceless!

Happy shopping. Readers, let me know your ideas.

Martha Harris Myron CPA CFP JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders with multinational families and international connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Contact:

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Published Dec 3, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 3, 2016 at 12:35 am)

Making the most of Christmas on a budget

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