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Dear Secret Santa: Make the holiday work expenses stop

By Georgie Miller

Dear Secret Santa: Make the holiday work expenses stop

It's still October as I write this, but the holiday onslaught at my day job has already begun with our annual Halloween potluck and gift exchange. Yes, you heard that right. We are expected to bring a "sweet treat" for our co-workers as well as a spooky gift for a white elephant-style exchange.

And it doesn't stop there. As December approaches, so does the Cookie Party, the End of Year Reception, and the White Elephant Exchange. And those are only the official work events. There is no shortage of other opportunities to socialize with co-workers this time of year, and unfortunately, this type of socializing can get expensive.

But it doesn't have to be! In some ways, holiday-themed parties and happy hours are like children's birthday parties. While many people's default setting may be "no expenses spared," there are ways to enjoy the company of your colleagues without spending a fortune.

1. Pick your battles parties

Your normal strategies for avoiding office spending may not work as well during the holidays, when people are expected to attend a variety of organized events. But remember that you're not obligated to attend everything. First, the holidays are a busy time for everyone. Second, every penny you save is a penny that can be squirreled away in a savings account and earmarked for other things, like gifts for your children.

So go ahead and pick one event to attend, but give that event your all. And by that I don't mean buying the most expensive gift or bringing champagne and caviar to the buffet. Instead, get into the holiday spirit by talking to everyone at the party and showing genuine interest in their lives. As an added benefit, at a work function "being social" doubles as networking.

2. Re-gift shamelessly

As far as I'm concerned, the best part about a white elephant exchange is that it's a golden opportunity to pass along items you own or were given that you don't like or can't use: The bath salts you're allergic to. The reindeer earrings you'll never wear. The decorative candle in the shape of a snowman.

And if you've somehow come into possession of something so truly ugly, so astoundingly useless, so ridiculously weird that it transcends all its negative adjectives and becomes awesome? Well, then you may have hit the white elephant jackpot. Since many of these gift exchanges are intended to verge on the ridiculous, go for broke! (Metaphorically, not literally.)

3. Don't be a potluck overachiever

The great thing about a potluck is that one person doesn't have to bear the financial burden of feeding everyone. It's supposed to make life easier. But every year as our potluck event approaches, I find myself stressed out, trying to think of something to make that will blow everyone away. I often end up using expensive or hard-to-work with ingredients and picking challenging, multi-part recipes that require hours of preparation and multiple kitchen gadgets.

Guess what? The foods people like the most tend to be nostalgic comfort foods, not gourmet masterpieces. Go with simple recipes that you make often enough to know by heart. And don't forget to use your favorite grocery rewards credit card to ensure you get a little something in return.

Traditions don't have to be expensive

The most important thing to remember is that these events are supposed to be about the people, not the trappings. And while we have a tendency to worry that people will judge us for cooking the same appetizer every year, there's another name for that: tradition.

So don't stress! Make the decisions that will give you the happiest holiday possible and encourage friends and family to do the same. Then sit back and enjoy the season, free from the burden of needless financial worry.

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