BY MERLISA BISCOCHO
Most shed a tear on that heart-tugging OFW ad, and many are now longing for home and family. Are you channeling that homesickness to the contents of your Christmas package or pasalubong?
Although Christmas is a time of giving and sharing, we also want to enjoy this time of the year without depleting our savings or stuffing our luggage to bursting. If you've just started your Christmas shopping (just a few days to go!), here are some helpful things to keep in mind:
Make a list and check it twice.
Santa Claus got it right: that list is a time and money saver. Having a list helps you budget your limited resources. You also avoid that awkward situation when one of your inaanaks comes calling and you have nothing for her. You can even divide your list into categories so that when budget and time run short, it's easy to focus your resources on a specific group or adjust your budget for some recipients.
Constantly update this list with items purchased and their cost. This will help you stay within your budget.
Divide and conquer.
No matter how big or how small your budget is, it's best to have a set amount for a specific receiver or group (if you've grouped recipients). It's okay to allocate a big chunk to specific people (close family, significant other, best friends) and less amount for others. The most important rule: stick to your budget.
Take a second look at your closet.
Though sales and deep discounts at malls beckon you, check what's inside your closet before setting foot at a store. Maybe you made impulse purchases and really didn't use them? Freebies from buying big ticket items or from banking transactions? If these were not used and will be appreciated by anyone in your gift list, jot down the item next to the name of the receiver.
You've probably crossed off a couple or a few items after your closet review. For the rest on your list, choose gifts that you know will really be used and appreciated. You'll notice that it's easier to think of perfect gifts for people you know well. Jot down two or three possible gifts so that you'll have choices if your first pick is not available or is too expensive. If you can score discounts on these must-haves, then all the better.
Have a tight budget or a tight schedule? Focus most of your budget and your energy on only a few people and buy generic, but useful, items for the rest.
If you're an OFW in a country where there are four seasons, summer clothes are usually on sale during Fall. Just last October, I bought several polo shirts to give away to titos and titas this Christmas and they were 50-70% off! Think of pieces that have classic cuts or have solid colors so that it can be relevant anytime. When buying last season's wares, keep in mind where the recipient lives. So yes, put down those wool jackets, it doesn't get that cold back home.
If you can manage it, buy in bulk and distribute them. Take the trouble of sorting which gift is for whom by labeling them with a simple masking tape and marker.
When stocking up on gifts, do think about the weight. If bringing your gifts in your check-in luggage, know the weight limit. Pack fragile items carefully and be wary of what can go into your carry-on luggage (100 ml or more of perfume or other liquids should not). Remember that items in commercial quantities will be taxed at the NAIA (at least, that's the policy). If your gifts won't fit inside your luggage, consider sending a balikbayan box, but send the package during the first week of December or earlier so that it will arrive before Christmas.
Don't buy exclusively stateside.
If there are too many people in your list, consider buying local gifts for others or giving family gifts. Ask help from friends and relatives if they can get toys in bulk for your inaanaks. Instead of giving individual gifts to your cousins and close relatives, why not give a bilao of pancit for their Noche Buena table? This is a smart way of stretching your budget, limiting your luggage, and supporting businesses back home.
A bit of time to spare? Prepare homemade gifts or cook your specialty. If you miss your family, they also miss your signature dish. Make them feel that you truly are home.
Consider the gift of savings or skill.
You could also help someone in ways that are not so tangible but tend to have more returns. Do you have a nephew who's going off to college? Instead of giving him a shiny new gadget, why not fund the initial amount in an account that he can grow and can earn interest over time? Do you have siblings who want to have an edge in their careers? You can help fund some training programs or even help them enroll in short courses instead of wowing them with the trendiest clothes or accessories.
But if you're coming home with a lighter luggage and a thinner wallet (or you may not be coming home at all), do remember that you've been living the spirit of Christmas all throughout the year. Providing for family, taking care of them, and selflessly giving your love to them is what Christmas is all about.
Merlisa is an OFW in Taiwan. She considers IKEA visits heaven and enjoys locally-brewed coffee (but speaks toddler-level Mandarin). She looks forward to reunions with friends, family, and most especially... her oven.