How not to burn a hole in your pocket this festive season

We are a lucky set! There's always some holiday or festival waiting around the corner in India. As much as I wish I was in Spain where I would have to work only four days a week, or for that matter Italy, where a siesta would be mandatory, it doesn't hurt to be an Indian when you consider our holiday index. Post Dussera, the gong of festivities is set to resonate through till the end of the year. Diwali on 26th October, Bhai Dhuj on October 28th, Id-Ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id) on 7th November, and Christmas on 25th December. There will no doubt be a lot of  of merry-making folks packing their bags and taking off for a holiday, ending the year with a bang with New Year’s Eve.

But like all good things there's a price-tag, and the holiday season has the power to burn a visible hole in your pocket. Well, we've come up with some possible cut-backs which will guarantee that the hole in your pocket isn’t as big as you thought it would be. And still keep the festive season fun.

 How not to burn a hole in your pocket this festive season

But like all good things there's a price-tag, and the holiday season has the power to burn a visible hole in your pocket. AFP

Gifts for others: Do not play it by the book. Just because someone decides to gift you a basket full of goodies, doesn't mean you bend over to give the same if you think it’s going to break your budget. Before the exchanges and the visits, make a list of people who you need to 'gift back', or 'gift first'. In fact, it's best to 'gift first' because it doesn't put the pressure on you to measure up to what the other person gives (a definite North Indian trait).

Think smart and utilitarian. Instead of going all-out buying sweets, invest a day or two in making sweets at home. Instead of buying a ridiculously expensive gift basket, make a gift basket. Pack something sweet, savoury, and pretty.

Sweet option: Sweetened almonds can surprise and charm. Take a kilo of almonds, toss them in a pan with one tablespoon of ghee, roast them on slow heat, and try one to see if they are crunchy enough. Now take some crushed sugar and sprinkle it on the almonds on low heat. Keep tossing and turning for three minutes, taking them out and spreading them on a sheet to dry. Dry them under the fan before storing them.

For savoury, ditch going into the kitchen and using up bottles of oil. Buy them in bulk from the market. Look out for buy one, get one offers.  As for pretty, head to a local nursery. Purchase  some plants, bring them home, wrap them in silver foil and put it in your gift basket.

Gifts for yourself: Advertising is at its most persuasive during this time. Print ads coax you for a dekho and scream hoarse the fabulous EMI options available on purchase. Quite naturally you want to be the proud owner of the flat screen, the newest washing machine, and everything else that you fancy. Before heading out to buy, surf the internet to see the average price, read reviews, and compare prices available at established dealers. You can also scour for deals and discounts on sites. Aashima Malik, 25, says, "I usually check sites that offer discounts and vouchers, and never use my credit card for any purchase I make online. It has to be my debit card. Honestly I don't see any sense in going the credit card route unless you can't possibly live without the purchase."

Flat screen TVs remain the most sought after purchase, online and in-store. Before you buy, check energy consumption on products. Remember that a 32 inch LCD will consume half as much power as a 52 inch one. Don't be bowled over by the size of your purchase.

In addition, according to Manan Gupta, financial analyst with a leading bank, if you 'must' use your credit card check for hidden costs like interest rates on monthly payments, and add that monthly instalment to your current household budget. If you feel you will be able to make that monthly payment every month without fail, only then go ahead and buy it.

Card parties: This is perhaps the only time when gambling is not frowned upon. And card parties, quite popular in Delhi circles become a place for meeting friends and winning big. According to legend, Parvati and Shiva were playing dice on the day of Diwali. Parvati was winning and ordered that gambling on the night of Diwali would bring prosperity to the players throughout the year. The difference between then and now—cards have replaced dice and big notes have replaced coins. Richa Malhotra, a researcher, says, "Sometimes these Delhi parties can look like a giant circus with tables with different denominations. I was at a Diwali party last year when the table that had the lowest denomination was of Rs 200. I played one round and left. This year I am hosting a Diwali party where the lowest table will be for Rs5 and highest for Rs20. The point is having a good time and not going back home losing all that Lakshmi!"

Holidays: Suhasini Murthy, 35, says, "I never take holiday packages because they've never lived up to my expectation and their regimented schedule may leave you yearning for a holiday to get over the holiday. I have a lot of relatives. When we plan a vacation with my family, I usually do it by either involving a lot of people since it becomes more fun, or getting in touch with relatives or friends I know in various cities. The latter works best because if my friend or family has a space available I tell them that I will come only on one condition: If I can pay them according to my budget for food and living. My friends used to think it's silly, but in today's day and age you can't and shouldn’t be a burden on anyone. Even if they are next to kin, you must pay. That way you connect and have fun with the people you are familiar with."

Some like Sahiba Kapoor, a 23-year-old student swap homes! She lives in Pune and what started out as swapping homes with her friend in Delhi, has grown to become a habit. She is looking forward to a potential swap in November with her friend in London. According to her, this way she will be spending only on her travel, which suits her pocket perfectly. Other reasonable options you can explore especially while going down to  South India are 'Home-stays'.

But homestays require having the right attitude. In my case, I was on a budget trip to Kerala three years back with two other friends. We travelled throughout Kerala thanks to home-stay options which were really safe. It was great, because not only did we interact with the families but also did it for one fourth of what we would have spent had we gone looking for hotels. Either way, using the internet to explore possibilities and smart staying options never hurt anyone. But you can't be too prissy about sharing a room with friends. And you need to be willing to take the time to chat with your hosts.

Happy festive season to all of you.

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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2011 18:04:17 IST