The best low-cost gifts this holiday season

Each month, financial expert Shay Olivarria answers personal finance questions from readers. This month she addresses how to not break the bank in the holiday gift giving season


Reader: I love my family. I usually spend a lot for presents during the holiday season, but I don’t think I can do it this year. I don’t want my friends and family to think that I care about them any less, but I can’t get any more into debt. Are there any cheap deals this year?

Yep! The holiday season is upon us and according to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend $704 million on holiday gifts. That amount of holiday spending is considered “average,” but many of us are concerned about how the future of our income, not to mention our savings, and many people are making the decision not to spend a penny this holiday. Let’s take a look at some of the best holiday gifts available that will be good for your loved ones and your pocketbook.

Time Doing Nothing
The best gift this year is definitely Time Doing Nothing with loved ones. Think back over your life. Haven’t some of the happiest memories been sitting around the house with your friends and family laughing about things that only your group finds funny. Don’t be quick to dismiss this gift out of hand. This may be the hottest gift of the season.

Playing Together
Another hot item this year is Playing Together. It doesn’t matter if it’s playing a card game or playing a physical game — friendly competition is all the rage this season. We all like to tell the story of the time we finally beat our father-in-law at dominoes or the one about all the cousins having a footrace in the street. Playing Together will bring memories of this holiday season for years to come.

Encouraging Each Other
This one is sure to be the one everyone is talking about. One of the best gifts is the gift of Encouraging Each Other. The seeds of confidence this gift provides will last long after the wrapping paper has been picked up and the tree is out on the curb. Haven’t we all benefited from this gift from time to time? It doesn’t matter if it’s a huge bag of “You’re great at ________” or a small box of, “’I really appreciate you ________.” Make an effort this holiday season to give this gift to everyone you meet.

Group Photos
The last gift on your list should definitely be Group Photos. Nothing puts people in a better mood than seeing themselves with their loved ones. Take photos during the season and after January 1, send an email with the photos attached and a cheery note.

I know you expected me to talk about the latest gadget or coolest toy, but these are gifts that will your loved ones will enjoy and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The spirit of Christmas is about appreciating each other and sharing that feeling.

May you truly enjoy your Christmas this year.

Do you have a question you’d like Shay to answer? Email Shay at [email protected].

About Shay Olivarria
Shay Olivarria is a financial education speaker and the author of three books on personal finance. She has written articles for, and The Credit Union Times, among others. To find out more about her work, visit her at

Keeping Your Spending Plan Merry During the Holidays

Originally published in Prominence Magazine.

Nothing can blow that spirit of goodwill like taking a look at your credit card statements after the holidays. Here are a few tips to keep you merry this holiday season.

imageDecide who’s in
Think about your usual holiday spending pattern and decide who you would like to consider in your holiday gift giving. You get to choose how you spend your money. Don’t let anyone force your hand.

Open up a holiday account
I would guess that you have an amount you’d like to spend when you think about holiday shopping. Instead of waiting until October/November to start planning your budget, why not open a “holiday account” at your local credit union or bank? Add a specific amount every month and you’ll find that when the holidays arrive, you’ll be sitting pretty without going into debt. It may be too late this year, but it’s never too early to plan for Christmas 2011.

Shop online
There are many good discounts to be had online. Shop early and check prices often. Sign up for online notifications from manufacturers and/or businesses that have a tendency to offer good sales. A great place to find deals is www.SlickDeals.Net; check the forums.

Shop clearance
Check out the clearance page from the manufacturer you want to purchase from. Also, stop by the page for refurbished items if you’re purchasing electronics. Almost every business from designer clothes to cars has to get rid of older stock. Savings of 50% are common.

Follow these tips and you’ll be thrilled to watch your loved ones open their gifts knowing that you won’t regret any of your purchases.

imageShay Olivarria is a financial educator, speaker, and the author of Money Matters: The Get It Done in 1 Minute Workbook and 10 Things College Students Need to Know About Money. Visit her at

Angelenos celebrate different Thanksgiving traditions

Listen to the audio story:


Read what different people had to say about their traditions:

My thanksgiving celebration is a fairly traditional one.

I celebrate for a long, long, time.

In Taiwan, we didn’t consider Thanksgiving as a very meaningful holiday, but we do celebrate it.

When I was young, we had kind of a different Thanksgiving. There’d be a lot of American traditional food but also Korean food. But nowadays, we celebrate it more traditional American style, with turkey and mashed potatoes.

Chicken, fruit, salad, everything vegetable.

Maple syrup for salads and stuff, and also they like the cranberries with flavoring.

Sometimes, we just buy chicken from Costco, and enjoy the chicken.

I’m not a good cooker, so I don’t really do anything.

Basically, we just wait for family to come over, or we go to my mom’s house.

The whole family gets together. Each member of the family bakes or cooks something, and brings it to the table, and we prepare the food together, we laugh, we make jokes, we watch football on TV and basically have time to spend together with family members.

Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe