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Slim down the holidays

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By
Louise Tutelian
From Your Family Today 

You want to dial back the holiday spending this year, but you don't want to disappoint friends and family -- especially your own kids. Is there a way to do both? Absolutely. The trick is to think "special," not extravagant. Here are ways to keep the spirit while sparing the cash.

Lay It out There
Your first goal is to lower expectations as much as you can, especially if you've gone over the top in previous years. "Explain to your children that every year is different," says Maureen Healy, author of 365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids and founder of the Web site Growing Happy Kids. Tell them, "This year there might be fewer gifts to unwrap, but I promise we will still celebrate together and learn how to be happy with whatever magically shows up. Can you do that?"

For kids who believe in Santa, explain that even the big guy has to watch his budget so that every child receives a good present, says Cynthia Edwards, professor of psychology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. For older kids, play it straight: Tell them that while there is ample money for necessities, you are being especially careful with holiday purchases this year. Reassure them that all your family rituals are intact -- and that they are gifts as well.

Play "Gift Games"
To shrink the number of gifts with as little pain as possible, take a cue from the Victorian adage "Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read," says Heather Sokol of the blog Inexpensively.

Items on the kids' lists have to fall into one of those categories -- but they can give several suggestions for each. In that way, you've reduced expectations without giving away the surprise. "The kids like to figure out which one is coming next and how it fits into the category," says Sokol. Fill in with low-cost items such as markers, a squad of plastic Army men, a pack of baseball cards, flip-flops, barrettes and hair bands -- all brightly wrapped.

Go DIY With Decorations
Instead of buying new decorations, pick up pinecones to decorate, and milkweed pods to paint silver or gold. Have the kids cut up photos of themselves and paste them on the inside of large seashells strung with colorful yarn. Older kids can string popcorn -- and eat the leftovers. You can also print out ornament templates from such Web sites as Family Fun. To make it extra festive, invite a handful of their friends over for a holiday decorating party.

Shrink the Party, Not the Fun
If your children look forward to your family's holiday party or open house, don't sacrifice it; swap it for a scaled-down version. Instead of a full spread of food, invite only your nearest and dearest to a hot chocolate tasting, served with a variety of cookies. Prepare three types -- say, chocolate peppermint, mocha and traditional, with optional mini-marshmallows -- and ask everyone to vote on a favorite. The spirit is the same; the price tag isn't.

Extend the Experience
If you have fewer gifts this year, increase the entertainment value of each one by having a treasure hunt for them on holiday morning, says Karen Gallagher of the Web site Lollipop Book Club. Write -- and even wrap -- clues or use a simple "hotter/colder" style. Take turns with each member of the family to make the experience last longer.

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