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Thrifty celebrations


A new staff and faculty blog solicits cost-saving ideas for holiday, cultural, and family celebrations

Lori Ann Vicich




December 8, 2009

There's something about a bad economy that brings us back to the basics. Having less disposable income forces us to simplify, and sometimes, simplicity is best. When times are tough, we tend to rediscover our roots, bring back old traditions, and spend more quality time together. We remember that the simple things don’t cost much. And the simple things are good. 

Everyone, it seems, is looking for ways to simplify and save money to carry on and enjoy traditions and celebrations, despite our struggling economy. Here are a few ideas for your celebrations, now, and all year long.

Send us your frugal celebration ideas

We’ve developed a blog for University employees to share cost-saving ideas for traditions and celebrations. If you’ve ever received or gave an inexpensive gift that you found particularly memorable, we want to hear about it. If you have an inexpensive tradition or activity that you think others would enjoy, please share it with us. If you know of thrifty spots to get inexpensive gifts, send them our way. You can even upload a photo of your gift, project, or activity. View or post to the blog at Thrifty celebrations.

Give your time or skills
Rather than spending money on gifts, think of things that you could DO instead. Give a whole family a gift by offering a grownups night out while you have a movie night with the kids. If you have a specific skill, give a few hours of your time. If you are handy, give help with a home repair project. If you are mechanical, give a free oil change or tire rotation. If you are crafty, offer to mend torn clothes, make a scrapbook of someone else’s vacation, or provide knitting lessons. Even if you don’t have a specific skill, you could clean a house or prepare a meal. Simply print a gift certificate for your time or service, and you have a fantastic gift without spending a dime.

Make it yourself
Consider handmade gifts. For those who enjoy arts and craft, it’s easy to knit a pair of gloves, bead a necklace, or paint a knick-knack. For those less crafty, there are many simple projects you could try. Browse through your snapshots from 2009. Select a favorite, enlarge, and pop your original photo in an inexpensive frame. Compile CDs of favorite celebrations, hits from your youth, or hits from a favorite artist. Compile and bind a book of your favorite poems, short stories, family memories, or artwork. Personalize stationary by printing a friend’s name and address on resume paper and matching envelopes. Fill a jar with 365 inspiring sayings. Top the jar with a bow and instructions to take one a day for a year’s worth of inspiration.

Please their palate

Food items are often the most inexpensive and practical gifts. There’s nothing better than a tin of homemade cookies, jar of homemade jam, or loaf of homemade bread. If you’re not up for cooking or baking, give a gift in a jar. Layer dry goods from your favorite recipe in a glass jar, top with a bow, and attach the instructions for completing the recipe. Or, put a few family recipes on note cards, and tie the set together with ribbon. If you want to give a larger gift, prepare an entire dinner, chill, and arrange in a gift basket, or just purchase the ingredients for dinner, and arrange them in a basket.

Take a Breath of Fresh Air
Taking a celebration outdoors is good for you and can be a lot of fun. When it snows, spend an evening building a snow family, or pull your sled and ice skates to a local park for a day of winter fun. Go sliding in the morning, skating in the afternoon, and take a break in the middle for a winter picnic of hot cocoa and chili in a thermos. For dessert, top a cup of fresh snow with cherry syrup for a real snow cone…delicious! In the summer months, picnics in the park, trips to nature centers, water parks, and county park camping are all affordable and fun.

Recycle and Reuse
Not only is it good for the environment, but giving used or recycled gifts is trendy and chic. Thrift stores are busier than ever, and if you look in the right places, you can find great deals on everything from toys to trinkets. Instead of shopping at your local mall, check out one of the many second-hand shops in the greater Twin Cities area. Or, look through your own attic for family treasures to hand down, your jewelry box for reusable baubles, or your book shelf for stories you’ve already read and know others would enjoy. There’s nothing cheaper than shopping in your own home.

Spend time together
Spending time with those you love is the best gift of all, for any reason, at any time of the year. Have a family movie night with popcorn. Get out your playing cards and board games. Cook and bake together. Make a garden. Organize a monthly potluck gathering with friends. Sit around a warm fire (during the summer months, enjoy a fire pit outdoors), tell stories, and embrace quality time with family and friends.

Gifts from the U!

The Dairy Store has special ice cream flavors and cheese gift boxes; the Meat Lab has gift packs for a variety of price ranges; memberships at the Bell Museum and Minnesota Landscape Arboretum make great gifts that can be enjoyed year round.