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Special section Thrifty gifting

Sick of the overspending and commercialism often attached to the holidays? Check these ideas for lowering the cash flow while raising the joy of the season.

12 ways to de-commercialize Christmas

12 ways to de-commercialize the holidays

Secret Santa -- Everyone participating draws a name from a bowl and buys a gift for that person -- usually with a spending limit. The gifts are presented anonymously, often placed on a table with the name of the recipient on the wrapping. Sometimes each person in the group submits a wish list and the Secret Santa purchases something on that list. Another variation is to buy only gag gifts. Often called a Polyanna, this is typically used for adults, with more traditional gift-giving reserved for children.

Un-Secret Santa -- The same as Secret Santa, except that the giver of the gift is not anonymous. Each person draws a name and buys a gift for that person. This is one of the old standbys, especially for large families. It can be dicey, of course, if someone (and there's usually a family member like this) who refuses to stick to the limit. Have a conversation and decide what will work.

"A friend of mine and her husband do 12 days of $5 gifts for each other," says Holly Renehan in Gainesville, Ga. "It forces them to be creative." For her own family, Renehan says everyone makes a list of things they want. Then everyone draws names and there is a set spending limit. Another common strategy is to have a key person select the giver-receiver matchups.

"About six weeks before Christmas, my sister puts all the adult names in a hat," says Steve Archambault in Albuquerque, N.M. "Then she matches each of us up with one of the names. Usually these are pretty small gifts with a $50 (or so) limit. Then, we all buy what we want for the kids."

Re-gifting -- Yes, that's right. Don't listen to your mother's voice inside your head -- or Jerry Seinfeld's, for that matter -- telling you how inappropriate re-gifting is. Guess what? You're in good company. Consumer Reports found in a 2006 survey that 24 percent of respondents re-gifted during the 2006 holiday season. Just make sure you remember who gave you that ornament last year or re-gifting could be very awkward.

Pool your resources -- Forget gifts and have a party. Everyone chip in a dollar amount for decorations, food and maybe even entertainment. Each potluck dish is that person's gift to the group.

Siblings Elisabeth Butler and Mary Butler divided up their 10 relatives between them when they were growing up in Arkansas. Each shopped for five relatives, spending about $20."Now that Elisabeth is married, my budget has been slimmed down, so I can get 10 of my relatives on my own," Mary says. "I'm compensating by baking several types of cookies and breads and including them with my gifts."

Carol Stratford, an employee of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, says she collects $2 every payday from her co-workers and when December arrives they make reservations at a fabulous restaurant and enjoy each other's company. "It's a clever way to save and really enjoy the holiday season," she says.

-- Posted: Nov. 30, 2007
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