Simple Holiday Pleasures Or How Not to Go Broke This Season

Work + Money

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D.

By Astrid Sheil

Simple pleasures -- aren't they what most of us yearn for these days? 

Knowing that it’s a tough year financially for almost everyone on the planet, I decided to ask a few experts how to survive the holidays without going bankrupt. I went directly to the source of simple pleasures—college students.

Most college students understand what many of us adults have forgotten: It’s not about the big pile of gifts under the tree, it’s about being together with friends and family and sharing meals and stories. As one of my students so eloquently explained, “It’s simply hanging in each other’s space without any expectations. It’s cool.”

So here are 10 simple tips from my students on how to have the best holiday season without breaking the bank:

  1. Make something from scratch. This can be a tin of cookies or fudge.  The secret to why this is such a great gift is that it is so much fun for the baker. The joy is in the planning, the time spent in the kitchen, the Christmas carols on the iPod and the extra spoonfuls of cookie dough to eat. And, baking makes the house smell good.
  2. Offer free coupons to relatives. “This entitles the bearer of this coupon to one free night of babysitting,” – or promise to make dinner, do the dishes, mow the lawn, etc.
  3. Write your mom a poem about how wonderful she is. It’s cheaper than perfume and it’s guaranteed to make her cry.
  4. Re-gift. It's not a sin, but keep a list so you don't give a gift to the same person who gave it to you.
  5. Host a potluck dinner and ask guests to bring their favorite dishes. This is one of the best ways to create a low-cost feast and share a wonderful night with friends.
  6. Spend quality time together. Play charades with family members or create a Family Mystery Dinner theater experience. Buy your “theater” costumes inexpensively at Goodwill.  And while you are at Goodwill, pick up a few used board games for pennies on the dollar. Classic games like Monopoly, Life, and Scrabble never go out of style.
  7. Volunteer your time at a local soup kitchen. It helps the facility and makes you realize how rich you really are.
  8. Shop in your closet. Find and revive old favorites to wear to your holiday parties. And if that fails to have the desired effect…
  9. Swap your stuff with friends. We all have closets full of blouses, shoes, sweaters, scarves, and make-up that we don’t use anymore. As they say, “one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.”
  10. Lose the expectations of what you assume you should be giving and getting this year.

When you think about it, the economy really has nothing to do with whether we have a great holiday season.  We all know this, but it never hurts to be reminded that love, laughter, and gratitude always trump a pile of stuff.

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is the Associate Chair of the Communication Studies Dept. at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.

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  • Definitely something to think about . It's the enteracting with each other that touches us . I don't remember each and every gift I've recieved over the years . But I could go on for days in detail about special moments and who I spent them with.

    Posted by Liz Mendez, 11 December 2009.

  • One of the most obscene news reports I’ve ever seen last year was the image of shoppers violently mobbing stores in order to take advantage of holiday discounts. It is simply crazy how buying meaningless stuff has become the conduit for experiencing our most cherished emotions - love, gratitude, happiness, the pleasure of being alive and well amidst our families. (I’ve never realized how much fun spending time with my daughter was until my laptop got stolen). I think your students are right and that the economic strain is our best opportunity to rediscover the simple joy of being with our loved ones.

    Posted by Mihaela, 7 December 2009.