Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: Well, like it or not, it's time to start getting ready for the holidays. No matter what you celebrate, this can be a very expensive time of year.
First, you should determine with whom you are exchanging gifts. Make a list and then see if there are any people with whom you'd rather not exchange. If you feel awkward about cutting someone from your list, just approach them early and ask, "Are we exchanging gifts this year?" That puts the ball in their court, and in my experience, they usually feel the way you do. If you have a big group -- say, of your or your husband's siblings -- maybe everyone would be interested in drawing names. At one point, everyone in my husband's family agreed on a charity to support and sent them a check instead of purchasing presents for the adults.
I feel like the best way to avoid big bills is to keep your eyes open throughout the year for gifts. Buy them, store them together in an out-of-the-way box or bin and put a Post-it on each one, noting the potential recipient. If you haven't been doing that, you may have some good gift possibilities just hanging around. I usually have certificates for massages or manicures around, and that's not something I use a lot. If something has your name on it, just go to the salon and have them reissue a blank certificate or one with a new name. I often purchase discount restaurant or movie certificates, and those make a great gift. In these weeks before the holidays, check Groupon, Living Social and similar websites for deals that would make good gifts.
For little unexpected gifts, make homemade fudge, peanut brittle, granola or baklava, and put it in tins so it will be ready when you need it. Encourage your children to make something for their friends, or to write out a certificate inviting them on an outing or sleepover.
Scale everything down. If each of your children is getting a larger item for the holidays, limit their other presents. The same goes for kids who get presents from relatives or friends. I generally get each child a new pair of PJs that we open and wear on Christmas Eve, a calendar from the 99 Cent Store and a couple of books, puzzles or a small toy. Anything else on their wish list gets sent out to grandparents, who ask us for suggestions.
One last thing: The best way to enjoy the holidays is to do all this early, so there really is some peace and joy at the end of it.