I Go Nuts at Christmas (or Not!)
More and more folks seem to think that with more money and less time, they need to go ‘all out’ at Christmas, and if a kid says ‘I want’, they get. Advertisers work hard to convince the kids they need said toy and that the parents are lousy if they don’t buy everything their little darling wants.
Studies have been done over many years showing that Americans spend up to 70% of their disposable income for the year in the 30-day time slot between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Disposable income is that money you have left after paying the monthly bills: Rent, utilities, food, gas, etc.  If you figure you have $100 disposable income left each month, you are spending over $800 on Christmas and that is if you go ‘cash’. A whole lot of folks use those handy dandy credit cards, and overspend! I learned many years ago that I couldn’t afford the expensive stuff and had to make things myself. I’ve learned to sew, bake a fairly decent loaf of bread, cake or pie and make do with whatever is on hand.
If you really look at the stuff in the fancy catalogs, sometimes it’s a tiny little jar of jam in a box full of ‘Easter grass’.  I’m not going to spend my hard earned money that way so I’ve learned to use yard sale baskets, pretty tins, canning jars and other containers to fill with my own cookies, jams, and other homemade treats. And, they look just as good as the fancy stuff and cost a lot less!
I can buy a bar of white bark candy and a bag of mini pretzels and make my own version of candy-dipped pretzels for under $5, including the container! I’ll take a canning jar of homemade salsa and a bag of chips and box it up in some shredded comic strip pages. Looks good and costs little.
I’ve been known to mix up some dried beans of various kinds and attach a recipe for ‘blizzard soup’. Again, packed in shredded comic strip pages (the colored ones) it looks like the ‘spendy’ ones for very little cash outlay. You know your own family and what they really need, versus what they want. You can plan accordingly, and within your budget.
Natural Decorating
Look to nature for part of your decorating this year. The possibilities are endless and don’t cost much; just a little time for gathering the material. Pine boughs with cones still attached, cedar or juniper branches with their dark blue and silver berries peeking out from the needles, bittersweet vines with their bright orange berries popped open to look like flowers after frost time can be found and gathered early in the month of December, or even earlier, depending on where you live. 
Swags and wreaths can be made from wraps of old wire and hung on a door, gate or even a fencepost near the gate. After the season, put the inside decorations outside for the winter birds to enjoy.  The overwintering robins love the cedar and juniper berries and pinecones can be dotted with some peanut butter and some sunflower seeds rolled through it makes a ‘birdie feast’.
Nature’s Gift Ideas
If some of your friends or relatives have fireplaces or wood stoves, so they need ‘fire starters’. These can be made from pinecones. Just melt some old candles or even crayons and dip part of the cone in the melted wax and let dry. A big recycled basket of waxed cones decorated with a bow is inexpensive, but much appreciated.  (I’ve seen these in specialty stores starting at $35 and up!).
Spice mats are wonderful gifts too, and they are easy and inexpensive to make. You need some whole allspice, a cinnamon stick or two and a handful of whole cloves, and a bag of cheap rice.
Break up the spices with a hammer and mix with 1 cup of the rice. Cut two 8” squares of fabric and one of something soft, like a scrap of quilt batting or a piece of an old blanket. Put the two pieces of fabric (wrong sides together) and lay the other soft piece on top. Stitch on three sides by hand or machine and turn right side out. Divide the square into three parts and stitch through all the layers, making three small pockets.  Fill the pockets with the spice/rice mix, and then stitch the opening shut. Used as a hot mat under a teapot or casserole dish, a sweet and spicy scent will fill the air. Fun, and easy to make.
Sunflower Wreath
Purchase a straw wreath. (I found several at a yard sale for a just quarter apiece.) Decorate these with odds and ends of silk flowers. I asked a neighbor who had a sunflower field if I could cut a few of the heads before they combined. He gave me permission and I got enough to wire a head in the center of each of the wreaths.
These were given to friends and family who are avid birdwatchers and have feeders located near windows. A big hit, and fairly inexpensive to make.  (Tip submitted by AC, IA)
Senior Citizen Gift Ideas
These ideas will work for those who still live in their own homes, or perhaps senior apartments or assisted living/nursing homes:
  • A lightweight throw of flannel or fleece for cold knees or for a snooze. 
  • A small basket of cookies, fresh or dried fruits, or a little treat of a favorite candy. (My grandpa loved colored lifesavers because he could pass them out to the young ones.)
  • A subscription for a favorite magazine or newspaper
  • A book or roll of stamps and a box of assorted greeting cards. (Many of our older folks still enjoy writing and receiving mail, but on fixed incomes, stamps and cards are not in the budget.) 
  • A placemat for the center of a table or desk made from fabric, or arrange pictures of family members on a piece of cardstock or poster board and laminate it or cover with the clear adhesive paper
  • A ‘care basket’ of a new toothbrush, toothpaste and mouth rinse, a special shampoo or conditioner, body and hand lotions and bath or body powders. (Nursing homes especially recommend the smaller sized bottles because of limited storage).                                           
  • And, please remember to go visit! The greatest gift you can give an older person is your TIME! They spend many lonely hours with nothing but memories of the past. Don’t be ‘TOO BUSY’; You too will get old someday and wish for someone to give you a cheery “Hello, how ya doing?”
(Ideas submitted by MBW, NE)
Gifts For Teachers
I have two sisters that are teachers as well as several friends that have taught since their college days, years ago. Folks forget that teachers spend untold extra hours with our children during the holidays preparing for all those Christmas programs, pageants, plays, musicals, etc. Many times, their own ‘home time’ is very shortened.
I asked several of the teachers what they and their families would like from the students. And the answers are as follows:
  • Food items they can serve to guests in their own homes
  • Holiday breads; banana bread, cranberry bread, etc. Cookies, any kind. If they also have children, they really appreciate the decorated cookies. Coffee cakes, homemade jams and jellies, cinnamon rolls or homemade candy. A pan of fudge perhaps? 
  • One teacher who has several very young children told me that a friend made up some sugar cookies, left them plain and brought a jar of frosting and some colored sprinkles so she could spend a little time decorating cookies with her kids without the mess of frosting making and cookie baking!
  • Another shared that a neighbor of hers brought supper to their home twice during a very busy pre-Christmas week: Homemade lasagna one evening, and fresh baked pizza another evening when they had only 30 minutes to eat before going to a program. 
Teachers always appreciate hand lotion and pretty soaps. A couple of them said they also enjoy a box of assorted cards to give to their students on special occasions.
Personally, I always bake holiday gift goodies weeks ahead of time. Stretches out the expense over several weeks and I don’t get frustrated trying to get everything done at the last minute.
Reusable Wrappings
Aside from saving last year’s Christmas wrap, I do what my aunts learned to do during the Depression. I iron it flat and use it over and over again. Gift-wrap can be expensive, and is something that is often tossed aside and unnecessarily sent to the trash.
  • If someone is a stitcher, wrap their gift in a piece of fabric. Use lace or other fancy trims in place of ribbon (or use the real ribbon used for stitching)
  • Make a pillowcase from fabric of choice and wrap the gift in the pillowcase. Kids love these bags for storage, carrying the favorite toys from place to place, etc.
  • Line a canvas grocery bag with print fabric trimmed out with ribbons. It makes a neat shopping bag.
  • Decorate a heavy storage box so it can be reused again once the gift is removed.
Homemade Stickers For Kids
Cut out pretty pictures from seed catalogs, magazines with colored pictures of cars, dogs, cats, etc. or farm magazines with their machinery and animals.
Mix together two parts white glue (like Elmer’s) and one part white vinegar. Paint this on the backsides of your cut out pictures. Let dry completely and package in a small box or an envelope and give to the child. I like to give a package of plain, white typing paper with something like this with instructions that the stickers are to be pasted ONLY to the paper. This eliminates the kids putting stickers on the good furniture, the refrigerator or the dog. (Tip submitted by ET, TX)

Attention: If you have tips or ideas to share, send them to Pennywise, Box 518, Kadoka, SD 57543 or email them to [email protected]

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