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Five Holiday Traditions That Will Save You Money

Christmas can be quite expensive and, if you're not careful, you can give yourself the gift of debt for the New Year.

A British study found that last-minute shoppers overspend their budgets by 39%, and there is no reason to believe it's any different in the U.S.

Retailers over-commercialize the holidays; they want you to feel like you need to purchase expensive gifts to make people happy. But don't fall for this trap. There are plenty of ways to have a wonderful holiday season without high-priced presents.

If you take the time to consider what you want your family to get out of the holidays, the answer is probably not toys or a lot of expensive gadgets. Retailers would like you to think that your kids will be disappointed if you don't get them the hottest toy, but what most people crave, including children, is to spend quality time with their family and friends.

Here's a quick test: Think back to when you were growing up and see if you can remember the gifts you received each year. The more you got, the fewer you probably remember. Now think about what you do remember about the holidays when you were young. A lot of those memories probably have to do with the things that you did with your family each year.

One of the best ways to refocus the holidays on the things that are important to you and your family is to begin family traditions. These traditions don't need to be fancy, time-consuming or expensive, and they can help teach lessons along the way. Here are five great traditions to begin this holiday that will also help your family with their finances:

Do something that doesn't cost any money: Reject the commercialism and simply spend some time together. There is a huge number of traditions that you can create that don't cost a cent. Maybe it's a family walk around the neighborhood or building a snowman together. Maybe it is hanging up the holiday lights, putting decorations onto the tree or making cookies together. Maybe it's reading a holiday book for 30 minutes in front of a fire before sending the kids to bed.

It can be anything that you think your family would enjoy that de-emphasizes the commercialization of the holidays which will show that despite all the commercials, fun doesn't mean you have to spend a lot.

Help others: The TV will do a good job letting your kids know that the holidays are about getting, so make sure to let them know about the joys of giving. There are many traditions which can be created that can help at the same time. You can volunteer to help a charity that is understaffed or you can take a plate of cookies to an old folks' home and chat a bit. Be creative and introduce your kids to the idea that not everyone has the same lifestyle as your family.

In addition, make it a family tradition to go out of your way to do good deeds. It could be each family member doing one good deed each day and telling each other what it was at the dinner table or it could be going to the local playground as a family and cleaning it up so it's in great shape for the New Year. Helping others and doing good will help teach your kids that giving can be as enjoyable receiving.

Declutter: Make it a tradition to clean out your rooms and get rid of any old toys and gadgets that haven't been used in the past year before the new holiday gifts arrive. This is another tradition that will help your children learn there is more to the holidays than just receiving.

It has the added benefit of keeping the stuff in their rooms under control. Cleaning out the old stuff before they open their gifts will ensure there is plenty of room for those new gifts on the shelves and in the closets. This will help their rooms stay more organized, which is another great financial skill .

Once the room has been uncluttered, make giving these old toys away another part of the tradition. The items that are still in good condition can then be donated to a local charity like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. If any are new or in superior condition, they can be given to toy drives (just be sure they meet the conditions mandated in any toy drive you want to participate in).

Another place to consider donating toys in good condition is to orphanages in less-developed countries. They will truly be appreciated.

Give gifts that will make your kids rich : The fact is that you are going to probably have to give some gifts, so make these gifts count. Make it a tradition to give a gift that will help your kids learn about finances each year. While these won't likely be on their wish list, they will be the gifts your kids will be most thankful for when they graduate from college and have to deal with their finances on their own.

Give memories: Another way to take the focus off toys is to incorporate memories into your holiday traditions. Make family-made objects the focus of gift giving. For example, have each family member create a memory album for the others and make exchanging the albums and discussing the memories in each one the focus of the holiday.

Or write a letter to each child telling them all the things you learned from him or her over the past year. These memory-filled gifts will be treasured long after all the store-bought toys have been forgotten.

Another excellent tradition that can take the focus off consumer-driven gifts is to help your children create time capsules, or create them yourself if they are too young. Create several each year and write the future date when they want to give it to themselves. When the children are older, the time capsule will easily become the centerpiece of opening gifts. It's amazing at how even the moodiest teenagers will break into smiles as they look back at what they wanted to give themselves when they were young.

Making memories the focal point of giving takes the emphasis off spending money.

Take some time to consider which traditions would work best for your family; it can go a long way toward making the holiday season a lot less commercialized. And it will be these traditions, and not the latest toys, that your children will remember fondly when they are building families of their own.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.

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