For the holidays, time is the gift

Consumers are spooked by the soured job market and spending less. University of Michigan researchers who study consumer sentiment predict the toughest holiday for retailers in nearly 30 years. Some retailers are calling the current climate unprecedented. Nevertheless, deep discounts lured many shoppers Friday. For others, tradition dictated a turnout, even if the trip was more browsing and less buying. The Wall Street Journal reported some 5,000 individuals âÄîcoupons in hand âÄî lined up at the Mall of America before 6 a.m. Friday. Appallingly, the death of a Wal-Mart employee in New York didnâÄôt cause pause for deal-hungry consumers as they surged the store doors Friday morning. And the Journal reported this: âÄúOn average, shoppers planned to spend $400 on Black Friday alone,âÄù according to a survey by mall developer Taubman Centers Inc. Though Black Friday appears to have been successful, people are still deeply affected by the less-than-tepid economy, job and real estate markets. But it seems those pinching pennies are having good reasons to find other options for their holiday spending. While I am not making light for anyone in such a position, the idea of their position would not be bad for our morale. We live in a place where less is rarely more; size matters. New technologies, new TVs, progression and consumerism are taught and reinforced from young ages. But perhaps when the holidays are tight, we can see that the people âÄî rather than the presents âÄî are the secret ingredient to MomâÄôs holiday cookies. Cheesy, I know. But true. Even among the victims of the downturn, we are still determined to celebrate. In order to give during this season, some are cutting out vacations and other extracurricular expenditures from their budgets, but all seem to be simplifying somehow. Here are a few ideas to keep it simple this season. Set monetary limits Try shopping at thrift stores. IâÄôm not talking about buying a pair of shoes for mom that come with a predetermined scent, but some of the neatest and most unique antiques come from sweet finds in the thrift shops. If youâÄôre not into used wares, set a limit for yourself. When you set an exact price limit, it creates a parameter that incites creativity for your gifts. Set a mutual price across the board with family and friends. When no one can devote more than $20, youâÄôll have to think a little harder about the kind of purchases you make. Exchange the change Set up a Secret Santa chain with your friends. Have everyone bring a $20 gift to the party or the Holiday. There are a slew of gift exchange games that can bring the heat of friendly competition to the living room. Besides, itâÄôs much better to watch your brother open the glittering snowman cookie jar that grandma brought to the exchange than see him get another sweater. Get crafty IâÄôm not talking glue guns and felt âÄî unless handcrafted tree skirts are up your alley. Remember how Mom has always kept the noodle sculpture you made for MotherâÄôs Day in the second grade? While the $50 magazine subscription you bought Mom last year decorates the coffee table in the living room, the Rainbow macaroni somehow wins out. Take the time to buy cardstock and craft your own stationery. Frame a significant photograph. Decorate dishes or personalize a holiday decoration for the tree. Homemade gifts indicate that youâÄôve spent time and thought about the individual. Moreover, gifting such things is more exciting, because the time you spend making them is embedded in the present. Time, not money Ever hear the phrase âÄútime is money?âÄù Well invert it. Offer your time, whether it means gathering your friends together for an evening together or making homemade popcorn garlands for your perpetually shedding tree. Offer to clean someoneâÄôs house or do the dishes for three weeks. ItâÄôs not about indentured service; itâÄôs about spending time with those who are important. Even if the popcorn is spilled all over the floor and thrown everywhere, youâÄôre more likely to remember how much you laughed about it than this yearâÄôs trendy wrapping paper. Actually, youâÄôll probably never forget it if youâÄôre still finding kernels in the carpet, come March. Donate your Christmas I was told the story of a family who matched themselves with one in need and gave their Christmas gifts away that year. The three children of the family picked out gifts for the three children in need âÄî one toy and a few of the essentials: socks, shoes, underwear, etc. They packed up an entire Christmas dinner and stuffed stockings for the other family, spending Christmas simply with dinner and one another. Another idea is to request that instead of gifts, the money that would be spent on them be given to a particular charity or organization of your choice. Surpassing yourself in the giving brings a more spirited season. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]