Gifts that won’t break the bank

PART 2 OF 3Next month:Holiday bills

Here we are at the height of the holiday buying season, the moment when it starts to look like there’s no way we’ll escape December with our sanity, much less our budget and bank accounts, intact.

Last month, I promised I would be here with you every step of the way. So, how’s it going? Did you make a list and a budget and carry cash? Some of you are doing fine. Others are struggling. You are about to go over budget and there are still people on the list. What now?

OK. Deep breaths. Here is the plan: Get creative.

Give time

Parents and kids alike can give gifts of time. In fact, it is the thing we crave most. Create a coupon book for your child that offers things such as a free pass from a chore they hate. In my house, that would be doing the dishes. With school back in session, homework is heavy and getting to cash in a"free chore pass” is something they would cherish.

Grandparents would covet a coupon for a regular visit, in person or on the phone, from their grandchildren. Everybody wins with this idea. Grandparents get a visit they can count on and your child discovers the importance and benefits of spending time with family.

Even teachers might like a coupon book that gives them an extra hand in a pinch. Suggest your child make coupons offering to help with classroom cleanup or on a classroom project. Or you can offer to share your family culture by creating a special dish to share.

Encourage your children to think about people they know who might like a gift of time. Then, have fun working together to create your signature coupons. Next year, you may find that"time” is the first gift next to some of the names on your list.

Give talent

Share the wealth. If you play an instrument or sing, take it on the road. If you are a musical family, prepare a private concert for the grandparents. If grandparents are far away, record the performance and send it along for them to enjoy again and again. My sister-in-law and her family live in Colorado and do this every year. It is one of the most cherished gifts my in-laws receive during the holiday. They love hearing the"voices” and the talent of their grandchildren. But most of all, they love sharing it with all their friends. Talk about bragging rights!

Allison and Amanda have given gifts to one another since they were young. It was one way of helping them realize that it was not all about them during the holidays. I also wanted them to see that they could and should take personal responsibility for remembering people during the holidays—starting with family.

When Allison was just learning to read, her gift was to read to her sister—as much and as long as Amanda wanted. I have this"gift” on video. Allison and Amanda are both sitting in a rocker and Allison, then about 4, is"reading” to her sister. Amanda was in heaven.

Help your child give a gift of time or talent by modeling that behavior yourself and by helping them decide what is within their time and talent to give.

Give a party

Make it a potluck that includes the kids. Your gift is the clean house and the beverages and the cleaning up after the party. Rent a video for the kids, or better yet, get to the library and check one out. It’s always hard to find a babysitter during the holidays so a party that includes the kids will be a welcome gift of a break and some fun for everyone.


I bake a lot. People LOVE it. I always seem to have bananas left over that go black before the girls eat them. And we all know that a banana that has"spots” cannot be seriously considered for consumption. So, I toss the black bananas in the freezer and make loads of banana bread as gifts. I add a bunch of mini-chocolate chips to the batter and that seems to make everyone very happy.

The girls used to ask me to make this bread for them to give as a thank you when they were going over to someone’s house for dinner or for an overnight visit. Recently, they have started making brownies when they need something to take. I’d like to think I modeled that behavior.

Susan Beacham is the founder and CEO of Money Savvy Generation, a financial education company that provides innovative products and services to help parents and educators teach children the basic skills of personal finance, E-mail her at

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