Debt-Free Holidays: Seven Budget-Savvy Card and Invitation Ideas

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Woman writes out Christmas cardsIt's terrific having a colorful array of holiday cards on your mantel or taped around the door frame to remind you of friends and loved ones near and far. But actually sending all those cards? That can put quite a crimp in your holiday budget. According to the National Retail Federation, each of us is going to spend an average of $26.10 on cards and postage this year. That's down from $29.76 in 2009, an indication that Americans are still tightening their belts in lean times.

However, not wanting to spend a lot on holiday greetings doesn't make you a Scrooge; there are still ways to spread some holiday cheer without busting your budget. WalletPop team members and experts weigh in with savvy tips and tricks to keep from spending a lot of green on your greetings.The fastest way to cut your holiday card budget is to send fewer cards. Sounds easy, but how do you decide just who to cut? WalletPop asked Allison Demeulder, founder and CEO of Invitation Consultants, after coming across this article about holiday card etiquette on her website. In general, Demeulder says you shouldn't feel obligated to send a card to anyone you haven't been in touch with during the previous year. "Keep it to the people you're in communication with most often," Demeulder advises. Other people you can drop off your list are the ones who never send you cards, she adds. "It wouldn't be offensive to them, considering they don't send cards."

While etiquette mavens will debate the appropriateness of sending holiday cards via the Internet, if you're really strapped for cash, give yourself a break this year and save on paper and postage by hitting a site like BlueMountain.com or Hallmark.com for e-cards. "Last year, I got a handful of e-holiday cards," says WalletPop's Lan Nguyen. "Talk about the ultimate in savings. I wonder when that will be the social norm."

"Every party invitation I've received in the past few years has been an e-invitation, even for nice cocktail parties," adds Nguyen. Also popular, say other WalletPoppers, are invitations sent via Facebook. According to Demeulder, electronic invites are appropriate for parties of 10 couples/families or fewer, or bashes planned just a few weeks out. (Keep in mind, Demeulder does sell cards and invitations for a living.)

Although it's too late for this year, here's an idea to keep in mind as the holiday season draws to a close. "You can always stock up on cards at post-Christmas sales," says WalletPop's Christina Fierro. Even if you aren't able to scoop up a cache of greeting cards in the final days of 2010, you still have an opportunity to score a deal for next year: "If you watch closely, in the two to three months prior to Christmas, you can find online deals for photo cards," says Fierro.

Many WalletPop team members suggested handmade cards for a touch that's both personal and low-cost. Jason Cochran reminisced about the eagerly awaited handmade cards a friend sent out every year -- some containing photo booth snapshots, some folded into mini-books -- that conveyed creativity rather than cheapness.

"I ask my six-year-old daughter to draw cards for me," says WalletPop's Aaron Crowe, offering a great way to get the kids involved in the process. "She draws them individually at my request," he says, on plain, folded-over, 8X11 sheets of paper. WalletPop's Christina Fierro suggests picking up a big, holiday-themed rubber stamp at the post-holiday sales and using it for the following year.

"I haven't bought Christmas cards for years," says WalletPop's Marlene Alexander. "My needs are more than supplied by charities that send out greeting cards as gifts every year in the hopes you'll support them." If you want to give back with your holiday card purchases, check out Cards That Give. It's a roundup of traditional and e-cards offered by all sorts of recognized charities. While many of the paper cards have comparable costs to those you'd pick up at a big-box store, at least you can be assured that your dollars are going to a good cause. Some of the purchase prices are even tax-deductible. If you're not averse to e-cards, check out the selection, as some of them are free.

One final piece of advice: Come 2011, don't just pluck those holiday cards off the mantle and throw them into the trash along with the swept-up pine needles. Instead, turn them into one-of-a-kind gift tags for next year's presents. Almost all cards have a wreath, star, snowflake, animal or some other holiday image you can preserve for another year. You can either cut around it and punch a hole for a ribbon, or fold it along the edge of the image and make a mini-card. My family always did this growing up, and it was terrific to wrap presents the following year and recall memories of the previous year's cards when we went hunting for the "perfect" tag to affix to the boxes.
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