By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
For many Americans, surviving this financial crisis means we have to save, save, save.
President-elect Barack Obama said he would present a stimulus package for the economy on day one of his presidency. But even with these buyout programs, our government cannot turn things around overnight. Economists have declared that we are in a recession. Too many jobs have been cut, too many businesses have been closed, and many states have deficits due to lack of taxes. The last thing we want to see is a continued recession.
Everyone has a role to play in an economic rebirth. On Nov. 8, Seattle P-I columnist Bill Virgin wrote, “It is essential that you continue to buy stuff.”
Of course, if you are in the red, you should spend with discretion. For those who have the resources, however, don’t hold back. Billionaire Warren Buffet is a good example. When the stock market is down, he buys. A smart investor often makes money in a weak economy.
A $2 million waterfront house is now worth $1.5 million. Condominiums are bargain-priced. A white gold necklace that originally retailed for $500 is now $140 at Macy’s.
Why not buy your dream home even though interest rates are not ideal? You can always refinance a couple of years later. Why hesitate to wear that gorgeous necklace for your holiday party?
Of course, you have to be smart with your money while contributing to our economy.
Here are 10 ways to limit your spending while still enjoying the holidays.
1. Re-evaluate personal habits
I don’t want to cut my spending because I have earned it. I don’t smoke, drink or gamble. I have saved a fortune over the years compared to those who would rather die than live without their vices.
I also don’t care for designer clothes. The other day, I was watching television and saw that one woman had thousands of dollars of debt on her credit card. In her closet were many pairs of designer jeans. Most of my clothes were bought on sale. I only own one or two St. John and Celine items because my mother passed them down to me.
With cosmetics, I switched to the drugstore brands this year because they are just as good, if not better. I had a lot of fun going through all the drug store cosmetics and experimenting with them.
When my friend told me how much she spent having her hair colored every six weeks, I was amazed. It costs $100 each time. The fact that I don’t color my hair is another money-saver. There are hair-coloring products at the drugstore, which would cost her less than $10 if she’d learn how to do it herself.
2. Patronize Asian restaurants
Asian food not only tastes better, but it’s also inexpensive. That’s why I enjoy treating customers and friends in Asian restaurants, especially during the holidays. The restaurant industry is the hub of the Asian community, which consists of many jobs and businesses.
Entertaining friends during the holidays is a hobby of mine. For a pleasant sit-down dinner, I pay in between $20 to $25 a person at Chinese, Japanese or Thai restaurants. A Vietnamese meal costs even less.
Asian restaurants serve big portions. My family and I often bring leftovers home. We pay for one meal, but the portions are big enough for two. If you want to save even more, go family-style! You don’t need to order an entrée per person. For five people dining together, just order four dishes. You will be surprised that there are still leftovers afterward. We also share food in American restaurants. The wait staff sometimes splits the food before they place the plates on our table.
3. Make things rather than buy them
My dining chairs are two decades old. At their worst point, the fabric was shredded down the middle. I debated whether I should buy new ones or get them reupholstered. I decided to do it myself.
For $25, I reupholstered four chairs with new fabrics and a staple gun. It took me about four hours to complete the task. Had I jobbed it out, it would have cost $90 each and taken two weeks. When I finished, I felt satisfied and joyful. Making and fixing things gives us pleasure. It not only reduces stress, but it exercises my body, and I get to flex my creativity. Learn to repair items at home. It is a wonderful gift for your family.
If you are a parent, it would be wonderful for you to spend time with your kids and make ornaments to decorate your home. Believe me, creating projects may turn out to be your best baby-sitting tool.
Make small gifts for your friends. You’d be surprised how much you can save this holiday. How about baking cookies for friends? Sew an apron from old cloths? Knit a scarf or shawl? Several years ago, my sister-in-law Vibi Cardarelli made me a black doll and mitts. I still cherish them.
4. Swap gifts
Oprah taught us to host gift-swap parties at home. Guests bring things they don’t use anymore, such as a golf club, clothes, computers and cameras, to the party to exchange with other people’s unused items. No waste and no spending.
5. Repackage gifts
Fresh flowers are popular gifts during the holidays. My friend Kiku suggested putting the flowers in a vase instead of giving a bunch of flowers wrapped with paper! Goodwill is one of the best places to shop for pretty and inexpensive pots and vases. I once found a beautiful tall black vase with colorful butterflies on it for $0.99 behind all the junk.
When I left my cart unattended, the vase was stolen. You see, there are many eye-catching items at Goodwill. You just have to dig deeper. And don’t steal things from another shopper’s cart.
6. Invest in yourself wisely
A friend recently received a pink slip and now collects unemployment checks. Instead of spending it frivolously during the holidays, he’s paying for a computer training class so that he can be better prepared when the job market improves.
7. Write appreciation cards
Every year, I receive tons of greeting cards. In every card, I look for some kind of personal message and most of the time, I am disappointed. A meaningful card contains personal notes of wisdom along with a signature. I keep the cards from those who have written me inspiring words.
I really appreciate those who take the time to write me a personal card, which, to me, is even more important than receiving a gift. It means that someone is thinking about me.
So write a note or letter to your loved ones during the holiday because you are grateful for them. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Time is valuable. Sharing your thoughts with your loved ones and taking the time to do so shows how special they are.
8. Find inspiration in a $5 gift
My friend Debbie organizes an all-girls potluck brunch every year for more than 70 people on the first Sunday in December. The rule of the party is that everyone has to bring a gift that is under $5 to exchange with someone else. Each gift must have an inspiring theme. Each giver shares the meaning of the gift when the receiver picks up the item. Tears often fall when a personal story is shared. Most gifts are associated in some way with the giver’s life journey and lessons she has learned.
9. Have a cookie party
HGTV designer Angelo has an interesting Christmas tradition: an annual cookie party. His first rule is that everyone bakes a dozen cookies. His second rule is that everyone takes 12 different cookies home. He provides the bags. Imagine eating a different cookie every day for the 12 days before Christmas. This is a great way to hang out with friends, and it only costs a few bucks.
10. Give the gift of forgiveness
Gifts from the heart are precious. Learn to let go and move on with your life. It will release negative energy. I have witnessed how anger, hate and revenge destroyed my friends.
Forgiveness is a very generous gift, yet it does not carry a price tag. You will be a totally new person after you forgive. Just think about that. ♦
Remember to look for a new holiday column next week!
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.