Have A Merrier Christmas for Less

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- A decade ago we were broke.

We had economized in every way we could. We were depending on my wife's family to pay important bills. Since the burst of the dot-com bubble, I was making $0.

"Once I had a web site, made it run, made it race against time. Once I had a web site, now it's done, brother can you spare a dime?" I had sung that as a joke a few years before. It had lost its irony.

A close friend, now passed, came through town that year on what he called his "shrinking waterhole tour," spending his own money to beg for work from those editors he deemed prospects. I wished I could go on one, but I had kids and didn't feel I could afford it.

Then, like one last straw on the donkey's back carrying Mary to Bethlehem, came Christmas.

Christmas is a time for celebration but it's also a time of obligation. Americans are expected to shower family and friends with...something. And, after including siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins, we had a fairly large family.

Then my dear wife hit upon a solution. We bought a bunch of wall calendars, and she carefully wrote each relative's name and the year he or she was born, under his or her birth date. She did this dozens of times. Then we mailed them out.

Best Christmas ever! Even after our financial condition improved, we were asked to repeat the calendar trick. It's a present that grew into legend wherever members of our family gather.

The point is that real emotion and care can easily trump money, especially when you're talking about adult friends and relatives.

An intimate Christmas party, with home-cooked food, will usually be far more memorable than anything at a fancy restaurant. Engaging those cute kids of yours to create family presents will draw more goodwill than any fancy toy.