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Keep your Christmas budget realistic

Create meaningful memories this holiday season. We know from local news statistics that the holidays will be more difficult for many, many Bermuda families. Money is tight. Job retention and prospects for new employment are still tentative, even with the celebratory news of American's Cup last week.

Christmas generally brings out the best in our emotional responses. We look forward to gathering together with family, enjoying special leisure from work, relaxation with friends, reliving memories in real life today of wonderful times past.

Christmas can also generate tremendous stress for individuals with extremely tight cash restrictions. At holiday time, there are so many subliminal messages that we absorb — without even realising it: from the media, from friends, from the community, from advertisers, and from retailers.

We receive these messages and assume that they imply that everything should be perfect for the holidays, that we should have the best of everything, that we should be able to give up to — and beyond our means — because that is what we do to feel good about ourselves, that this is what is required in order to participate fully in holiday celebrations.

But, we forget that they are only messages. We are the ones who interpret in our minds these incredibly high, almost impossible to meet even with lots of cash, expectations.

When we cannot meet these (let's face it) tough unattainable standards we place on ourselves, we tend to become depressed, angry, and discouraged about our status in life. We take our frustrations out on ourselves, our relationships, and our friends.

OK. Now here is my message. My sincere concerns for so many of us that are struggling these days. Know that you are doing the very best that you can, particularly, if you have had financial setbacks that you have had no control over, whatsoever! Our tough domestic economic downturn (going on six years now) has left everyone coping, strategising, becoming innovative, and proactive. Bermuda residents will continue to tough it out — because we have been survivors for our entire history, against even larger odds.

Let's get on with keeping Christmas spirit in the manner that it was intended — to celebrate life and the giving of ourselves and our time to others.

You can make a meaningful Christmas this year on a minimum budget. It won't be easy, but then challenges that push you out of your comfort zone never are easy. It will demand more planning and participation on your part, but isn't that what Christmas is about, creating meaningful memories? Think about times past as a child going to a Granny, Gramps, or Uncle/Aunty's house for the festive blessed occasion. What do you remember? The presents? Or your people with their love, sharing and caring infinitely bestowed upon you. What did those scenes evoke in your memory? Wonderful aromatic smells wafting from the kitchen throughout the home, marvellous in recollection for all of us. Can your home today be the same? Of course!

So, what can you do — on a very, very limited budget to feel that you have done your best?

Minimise, localise, improvise and innovate.

Minimise. Go for quality, not quantity. Focus on value for money and price. Keep your purchases to a minimum this year by cutting down on your gift list. Everyone understands that this is not an easy time. Shoppers located in our (almost) kissing cousins' countries of the US and the UK are also being conservative and careful as well, according to the “Retail & Consumer: 2014 Holiday Outlook by PricewaterhouseCoopers US.

Localise. Buy locally — keep those Bermudian dollars in Bermuda (not currency converted at two percent to make someone abroad successful). Our local merchants are doing everything in their power to price reasonably, for good value, and customer satisfaction. They will thank you for your business.

Improvise and innovate. Use your imagination to produce something uniquely created by you, by the children. Celebrate together in the family, all adults and children. If your budget is stressed to the maximum, build memories by producing small home made items, or home grown rather than store bought. Baking Small loaves of banana bread, caramel popcorn, etc. are easy and inexpensive, plus everyone can help. Gift wrap plants from your home, then help plant them in a friend's garden. Purchase pretty fabric skirts / blouses / jeans, etc. very, very cheaply at thrift shops. Cut the fabrics into dish towel sizes and hem as gifts. You'll need to borrow granny's sewing machine, and maybe she will help as well. Decorate jeans with fabric cutouts – gluing or sewing or turn real beaten-up jeans into newly decorated vests. Anyone can sew. Make up CARE envelopes, such as: An Offer to babysit for free, but designate a dollar value. Or, Give an elderly relative a coupon for one free home-cooked dinner at his/her house. Let your imagination run wild. The gents in the family can produce cutting boards from old wood scraps, or a very big favourite this year – small Christmas trees made entirely from driftwood scraps. Borrowing woodworking materials from friends can generate a collaborative combined effort. It could actually be fun!

But, be proud. Do it all with a proud sense of self. It is the act of giving, not the gift that means the most. Anyone who scorns your efforts does not deserve your friendship, plus no gift at all for them next year.

In fact, think of using this philosophy — minimise, localise, improvise and innovate — for some changes in your life. Did you always need all of those clothes, shoes, electronics (well, maybe you do need those), jewellery, expensive car, art and other collections? An inspiring read for the holidays is “The 100 Thing Challenge” by David Michael Bruno. It is about his pursuit of creating better relationships of all kinds through the formative power of simplicity. 100 Things has been his way to fight “American-style” consumerism, live a simple lifestyle, characterised by joyfulness and thoughtfulness.

Things to do as a family, both educational and enlightening.

Visit the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art on the grounds of the Camden Estate. Decembers exhibition features “50 Years of Rudolph (the red-nosed reindeer). See Rudolph's movies, the music, puppets, drawings, toys, and set designs as he turns 50 years old. Admission is very inexpensive - $5, and young children may be much less or free of charge.

Plan a day to Dockyard over the Holidays. The National Museum of Bermuda is open and free to Bermuda residents the entire month of January. You and your family will want to start upping your game as each and every one of us should prepare to be Bermudian goodwill ambassadors for Americas Cup. What better way than the start with the displays of Bermuda's success in maritime history - against all odds - for such a tiny population and island. Do you realize that Bermuda shipwrights, sailors and pilots of all local economic status, lifestyles, and ethnicities, both freemen and slaves designed and built the most innovative and fastest sailing sloop in existence at the beginning at the seventeen hundreds. For over a hundred years, Bermudian mariner sailors ruled the Atlantic ocean. Bermuda has an incredibly unique place in history. How wonderful is that legacy?

Finally, for that person who has everything, please give to the food kitchen of your choice, or to the Spirit of Bermuda Sloop Foundation celebrating in sailing action with the inclusion of our young people on the sloop that made Bermuda famous throughout the world!

Holiday blessings to you all, dear Readers. Much Success in the New Year. Keep the faith. Better days are coming.

Martha Harris Myron CPA CFP JSM Masters of Law: International Tax and Financial Services, appointed to the Professional Tax Advisory Council, American Citizens Abroad, Geneva, Switzerland. President: The Pondstraddler* Life Consultancy: international financial planning, publications, presentations for the challenging lifestyles of multinational individuals and their families residing, working, crossing borders, and straddling ponds in the North Atlantic Quadrangle. Specific focus for residents of Bermuda, the premier international finance centre. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

Christmas: You can have a great holiday without spending beyond your means

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Published December 13, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm)

Keep your Christmas budget realistic

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