Budgeting for Christmas, Dec 06 | How to Avoid the December Gift Crunch


As Yogi Yorgeson sang almost 60 years ago, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.” I shop all year round, usually at craft fairs and small stores. That way I benefit both the person for whom I am buying and the person from whom I am making the purchase, who can usually use the money. I also use catalogues.

There is a reason for my all-year shopping. Three of my four children were born in January. In addition, my nephew was born in January, and my niece was born in December. My father was born in January, and I was born in February.

My mother once took my daughter Amy, who was born in August, on her knee and told her, “Amy, you are my favorite grandchild. Do you know why?”Amy innocently shook her head, and my mother said, “Because you don’t make Grandma blow her Christmas budget every year.”

On Thanksgiving weekend, I shall inventory items in the downstairs closet and make a list of who gets what. Then I shall take them up to my living room, set up a card table, and wrap the presents while catching up on watching football and basketball games and old movies.

I am also learning to pay attention to some of my children’s Christmas wish lists posted on Amazon.com. It took me a few years to latch on to this method. When it comes to computers, I am a 19th century guy who has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Charlie, Jim, Todd, and the rest of the gang at the Coralville post office love seeing me enter their environs in early December with boxes going to my relatives in Chicago, Baltimore (now St. Paul, Minnesota), Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon.

As most fathers are, I am hard to buy gifts for. On my wish list are after-shave lotion, guitar strings, jazz and folk music CDs, and DVDs of old movies. Pretty dull, huh?

I spent my summer vacation with my son Adam in Los Angeles, and he has come up with a wonderful gift that I shall treasure. One morning, we went to his neighborhood grocery, Trader Joe’s, which was selling bottles of wine from the Charles Shaw Winery for $2 each. Adam and his Bohemian friends have taken to calling the beverage “Two-Buck Chuck.”

That evening at a pizzeria, I suggested such a brew should be celebrated in song. By the time our pizza was served, Adam and I had each written two verses of a rhythm ’n’ blues song. Here is what I can remember of one of the verses that I wrote. It borrows heavily from Tick McGee’s 1940s hit, “Wine Spodee Odee”:

Down on Figueroa in Willie’s Den,
They don’t serve no American gin.
When I asked the bartender what was up,
He said all they was servin’ was
“Two-Buck Chuck.”

Adam and his band, Masher, have recorded the song, so for Christmas, I shall receive a copy of the recording and the music, complete with guitar chords.
Speaking of homemade presents, I have often had family photographs copied and framed and sent out.

I received a shock several years ago from my son Graham and his wife Sandy when they said they did not want to exchange gifts. They also said that, if the rest of the family insisted on making gifts, they and their two children would prefer charitable contributions, and they would do the same.

That request kicked my creative juices into high gear. Sandy is a nurse who once worked in Iowa City for the Visiting Nurses Association, so I make a donation either to it or the Nest of Johnson County, which assists single mothers with children up to 12 months.

Graham was even easier. A graduate of the University of Iowa, he loves the Hawkeye football team. In fact, he returns to Iowa City every fall for at least one game. For him, I send in a donation in his name to the University of Iowa Foundation for the I-Club. That way, he receives all the junk mail from the UI Foundation that I get.

I can see why Graham and Sandy don’t want many gifts for their children. Sandy is an only child, and their children, Madeline and Jack, have received so many toys, books, and games from grandparents that they warehouse most of them and rotate them according to the children’s interests. For them, I send in contributions to their 529 savings plans for their college educations. They are gifts that will keep on giving.