For many Laborers, record unemployment and fragile household finances may cloud the approaching holiday season.

Department of Labor (DOL) figures show that in August, payrolls dropped in 36 states. The overall unemployment rate – 9.6 percent in August – is expected to remain at about that level through next year. The picture is even gloomier in the construction industry where jobs are at their lowest level in 14 years and where the unemployment rate stands at 17.3 percent. More than 1.5 million construction workers are out of work.

Suggestions for Making Merry
Without Breaking the Bank

Make a budget. Know what you can spend before you start buying.

Keep in mind that gifts bought on credit will have to be paid for in coming months. Will you be able to afford this?

Make a list of who needs gifts and have everyone on the list draw one name. Before they head out the door to make their purchases, decide how much money each can spend.

Shop secondhand stores. Clothing, toys and books are available for a fraction of what they cost new at a retail store.

Instead of buying gifts, give your time. Make a coupon book where you agree to do yard work, babysit or run errands. Take time to make a CD of someone’s favorite music.

Inexpensive craft items like crayons and marker pens make great gifts for children. Their artwork is creatively showcased while cost-effectively enhancing your holiday décor.

Make a donation on behalf of someone you love. Find a charity that your loved one supports or go to, which promotes charities world-wide and which gives 100 percent of your donation to the selected group or project. Your loved one receives a gift card announcing your donation, the amount of which is entirely up to you and is not disclosed.

When getting family and friends together, consider doing pot luck type celebrations or some other cost sharing celebration. Hosting an event can be a big expense that someone shouldn’t have to carry or take on if they cannot afford to do so.

Belt-tightening will likely be necessary for most people this holiday season, and for some, this may mean even more tightening than last year. A frank discussion with loved ones, including children, about family finances can help create realistic expectations about the holidays so people know what may be different this year and why. Kids may be disappointed, but trusting their parents, they will understand or at least try. Kids may even be able to help brainstorm how to make the holidays special without breaking the bank. While difficult, having these kinds of conversations can unite a family in the face of adversity, and parents can make the most of the holiday season with eased financial and emotional pressure. 

Holiday frugality does not have to translate into absolutely no gifts and no celebrating. With forethought, loved ones can still have gifts to unwrap that they will enjoy and that do not further stress cash-strapped households. In addition, celebrations and gatherings can still occur. They may not be as fancy as in years past, and the responsibilities for hosting may be shared rather than being taken on by one person or one family. But, holidays on a budget do not have to be any less festive, fun or memorable. After all, isn’t the holiday season supposed to be about family, love, caring, togetherness, faith, kindness and gratitude? Maybe this will be the year to reclaim the spirit of the season rather than focusing on who got the best, most expensive gift.

Take strength in the company of family and friends. Know that you are not alone, that you will get through these difficult times and that better days are ahead.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]