I love luxury, but the best gifts I’ve ever gotten were not expensive.

I spent 14 tumultuous years on Real Housewives of Orange County, and I enjoyed the opulence much more than the drama. Whether it was swimming with sharks in Tahiti or renewing my wedding vows in the Turks and Caicos, I loved the luxury. I still proudly admit I enjoy the finer things in life.

Yet during the holidays, the gifts I treasure most cost almost nothing.

Handmade cards from my kids. Breakfast in bed from my husband. Family time without the cameras on. You get the picture.

Inflation and the holidays

I was thinking about all this as I was working the other day. Part of my job is reading (but not the gossip columns). I look through dozens of financial studies each week. The Real Housewives was never my “real” job. I’m a business owner, insurance agent and financial counselor. I need to keep up on the latest developments to help my clients.

One of those latest developments is how Americans are planning to shop this holiday season, when inflation is worse than ever.

Here’s one headline from one study: “84% of Consumers Plan to Shop Small This Festive Season.”

Shopping small is another way of saying, “I’m going to buy less for the holidays.” But the real question is, what does that look like? A new Debt.com poll reveals a few interesting tactics: 6 in 10 are shopping earlier to score deals, while more than a third say, “I’ll spend the same amount but on fewer gifts.”

The scary part is that fully half are expecting to just charge more on their credit cards. We already have a credit card pandemic in this country, with 150 million Americans carrying balances of almost $1 trillion.

There’s a better way.

How to shop small but love large

I enjoy elaborate gifts as much as (or possibly more than) the next person. But I value personal gifts much more. Here’s what you can do this holiday season…

Let’s talk for a moment about gifts you make yourself. These often get a bad rap, because some people think it’s just a cheap way out of buying expensive gifts. But these gifts can be amazing because they’re personal. So, if you can knit a sweater or build a jewelry box, those will be treasured items. Don’t forget, your gift is one of many. It’s not like your friends or family aren’t going to get lots of store-bought presents, anyway. Why not make yours special?

If you can’t make a gift, you can probably assemble one. It’s usually much cheaper – and a lot more fun – to make your own gift baskets for friends and family you know well. You know what they like, whether it’s their favorite brand of chocolate or their preferred skincare products. You can also include items that are inside jokes. These gifts are often the ones that get talked about the most, since there’s so much shared history in them.

Do stuff instead of buying stuff. While I have many fond (and some not-so-fond!) memories on Housewives, my most precious holiday memories are simply doing simple things with the family – baking cookies, watching sappy holiday movies, even walking the neighborhood to see who put up the most lights.

Take it from someone who has lived large: Shopping small isn’t just a smart financial move, it’s a wonderful family move.

For more information, check out: debt.com/vicki

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About the Author

Vicki Gunvalson

Vicki Gunvalson

Before Vicki Gunvalson starred on Bravo TV’s hit series “Real Housewives of Orange County” – which launched the franchise in 2006 – she was already a financial expert. Gunvalson has owned and operated Coto Insurance for three decades. Based in Irvine, California, Coto has been ranked among the top 1 percent of insurance companies nationwide, with more than 10,000 clients in those 30 years. Coto’s success helped Gunvalson become a member of the Million Dollar Round Table – which represents the top life insurance and financial services professionals from more than 70 countries. She continued to grow Coto during 16 salacious years on the hit show and subsequent celebrity projects. But it wasn’t just Coto that has earned Gunvalson praise and awards for her financial acumen. Licensed in every state not just as an insurance agent but also a retirement specialist, she has made it her mission to help people – especially women – become financially independent. She has partnered with Debt.com to help even more of them. “I’ve counseled thousands of Americans who experienced their own melodrama – over money,” Gunvalson says. “Debt.com is in some ways exactly like me – and in other ways, unlike me. We both care deeply about getting good people in better financial shape. But unlike me, they do it quietly!”

Published by Debt.com, LLC