Holidays on a Stressed Out Budget

Holidays on a Stressed Out Budget
I realize that I am somewhere in the middle of those single parents who are much worse off this Christmas than last year and those that are about the same. I honestly feel fortunate to be in the position that I am in regards to finances and I am thankful that I do not have small children with large expectations and dreams. For those of you who do, I understand your stress, your fears and your worries as we speed head-long into the holidays. My advice? Concentrate on the value of family time together rather than the commercial aspects of the holidays.

While the children are out of school, concentrate on making meals special. A grilled cheese sandwich cut in the shape of a snowman with raisin eyes is the type of special to which I refer. I don’t mean fancy meals – I mean meals that make your kids feel special. I found cookie cutters one year at the Dollar Tree (our local dollar store) and I used them to cut everything from sandwiches to cheese for crackers to Jell-O shapes to make meals special for my girls. They loved it. I encouraged them to use their imagination and was surprised at their response! Canned ravioli was frosted with parmesan snow and broccoli spears would ski its slopes. You are right; I do know that we are not supposed to play with our food. But we are not talking about an every day occurrence. We are talking about the holidays where every little bit of magic we can grasp should be held tightly and savored. And so we did. You can also back cookies with your children without spending a fortune. Baking from scratch and even refrigerator cookie dough can be expensive. However, Betty Crocker makes smaller dry mix packets for a variety of cookies including peanut butter, chocolate chip and sugar cookies. They are inexpensive, take few added ingredients and make just the right amount that your children will not be on a sugar high all the way through New Year’s Day.

I remember well how the eyes of little children light up with every toy commercial and, let’s face it, there are more of them leading up to the holiday season than at any other time of the year. There is no way to fit into a single parent budget all the items to which they will say, “I want…” When my daughter’s were little girls, I concentrated on one gift that they wanted most. I would scrimp and save to attain that gift. It was THE Santa Claus gift. In addition, I would find as many small gifts as I could manage. The Dollar Tree is an excellent store – and still is when finding stocking stuffers for my grown daughters – for stocking stuffers and other small gifts. Small children are not noticing so much magnitude of what is in the box as they are the number of boxes that sport their name. Stockings are an excellent way to pack a ton of surprises in a small space. It can take them a good long time just to go through its contents, which can range from a small box of sidewalk chalk, to a set of jacks, to a deck of Go Fish! cards. Throw in a little bit of candy and a few pieces of fruit and you have a well stuffed stocking! Clothing can even be fun for children if you concentrate on bright colors and fun designs. Fabric paint can allow you to decorate plain, solid colored sweat suits with your child’s favorite designs or create some of your own to dazzle them. They will have a one-of-a-kind, original outfit for which no one in their class will be able to match.

Allow your children to help you make decorations and decide how to decorate your home. Construction paper is a classic stand-by for creative decorations. Paper chains in festive colors are a classic for tree garland and much more friendly to the smaller child-sized hands. However, if your children are old enough to hand a needle and threat, stringing popcorn and cranberries fills time and provides for an activity that can lead to other family pursuits, such as story-telling or the singing of carols. Cut-outs are wonderful to decorate the walls in a child’s bedroom and can also serve as decorative napkin holders for the table when attached to a paper ring with a dab of glue or a small piece of tape. Cutting out snowflakes is always fun and I am always amazed at the number of designs that can be created with a piece of folded papers and pair of scissors.

I have a few stories for those who cannot afford a tree. I know one young woman who was on her third foster home in two years when Christmas rolled around and she had only been there for two weeks. The elderly woman didn’t have money for a tree, so when my wonderful friend woke up on Christmas morning, the woman had painted a beautifully decorated tree on the wall of her living room. No, I am not suggesting that you turn your wall into a Christmas tree, but you can be just as creative without going to this extreme. That construction paper, again, can create a tree on your wall and small rolls of tape will not damage the paint on your walls. Glue and glitter can make enough sparkle to make those little ones ooh and aah as much as Christmas lights. Those paper snowflakes, coated in glitter and hung with string from the ceiling can create their own winter wonderland. And there is always the little tree in the front yard. You will not want to put your presents under it, but you can always make decorations for it and if you use popcorn, berries and pinecones filled with peanut butter and birdseed, your little ones can enjoy watching the animals have their own Christmas feast, too.

What you do with your holidays is more limited by the boundaries of your imagination than it is the limits of your checkbook. Invite your children to sit with you and a cup of hot chocolate as you all create your own Christmas story. You start the tale and allow each of your children to add something to it. Their ideas may surprise you and their creativity is sure to spark excellent memories for Christmas’ to come. You may want to write it down and have your children draw illustrations for each section of the story – either have them draw for the part of the story they created or have them draw for how they see the part that a sibling told.

Money really isn’t everything – though it can be a major source of stress for parents at all times of the year. Allow your holidays to be special and merry by putting the most important aspect of the holidays first – your family. Take the time to create those special family moments that money cannot buy and that will be remembered long after the toy in the holiday commercials that quickly looses its glamour. Love shines brighter than a light saber and real hugs beat out those from a doll any day of the week.

May you be blessed with love and laughter this holiday season! And may you and yours experience the joy of family!

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