3 Steps to a Budget Christmas

13.9 million Americans were out of work this October, according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Huffington Post reported that children’s poverty increased to 22%. Since poverty is determined by family size and income, a family of four with an income of $22,314 is considered poor. In addition, households are taking in out-of-work adult relatives into their home. These “doubled up” households number 21.8 million.

Newspapers report that this level of financial distress has not happened since the late 1960s. I remember my childhood in the early 1980s. My parents took in my widowed grandmother and my mom worked graveyard shift at the dairy plant laboratory to help out with the family income. My dad worked as a chemist. Reflecting on my young parents’ lifestyle in Tracy, I have figured out a formula how to have a great holiday on very little.

I noticed three things my parents did that I would recommend for young families now: they accepted food subsidies from the government, mom found free events in the community for entertainment, and mom and dad transformed junk mail into holiday decorations for the house. Sound impossible? Mom and Dad even made Santa Claus happen. My mom had her coworker write me an authentic letter from Santa each year. One year, Santa knew that I wanted a gumball machine and somehow he brought it to me on Christmas Eve. I also saw Santa at the mall at at my dad’s company party.

1. Use Paper and Items Found Around the Home to Decorate
My mom was resourceful. She used pink tissue paper to create bows on what looked like a table top tree. She may have used cardboard to make a paper cone as the tree’s foundation. She also used her wedding cake topper and other nick knacks to decorate around the tree. Mom learned from my Brownie Scout leaders how to sew sock animals so during Christmas we had stuffed animals. Mom and I also made salt dough ornaments that were too heavy for the tree so we displayed the dough wreaths on the coffee table. You can find so many DIY free tutorials now through Pinterest.com for crafts and holiday decor.

Mom also cut images of Christmas such as gingerbread men, candy canes, snowmen and angels from junk mail and newspapers. My dad was a pro at folding monkey soldiers and row boats. Christmas may not be the time for monkeys and boats but that’s all he knew how to fold. I loved it! Toys made out of paper! I suggest that you tie these paper decorations with yarn or floss and hang them around the house. Our family photos look festive and I like revisiting our Christmas albums even though my dad is no longer alive. You already have what you need in your closet. Dress the family in sweaters, sweatshirts and sports jerseys that are blue, white, silver, gold, red or green. Arrange your group photo so that two holiday colors are dominant. In their current blog post, Babble.com has great ideas for creative family picture poses.

2. Say “Yes” to Neighborly Invites
Go to free community sponsored events such as town tree lighting ceremonies and church fairs. Tour the neighborhood after dinner in your car to see all the brightly lit lawn decor. My family could not afford to buy outside twinkling lights but some neighbors across town did. I remember being in awe of what I called Candy Cane Lane. Accept invites to neighbors’ homes for coffee and holiday parties during the season. Mom learned to make reindeer candy canes from some of the women. Adults are likely to make new friends, feel less worried about money and chase away the blues.

3. Go to a Chinese Restaurant
Like in “A Christmas Story” by Sam Sheppard, if you must dine out, you know that you can count on at least one Chinese restaurant to be open on Christmas. My favorite dish is beef chow hor fun. This is a dish of flat rice noodles, tender beef, green bell peppers, onions and salted black beans. I reccomed that you order a plate of sweet and sour pork and rice to share. You’ve got red, white and green!

Happy Holidays!

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