Psychology needed this time of year

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A scaled-back Christmas doesn't have to be a blue one.

Gift-giving provides a psychological boost to the giver, and that doesn't have to be tied to the price tag.

"It's intrinsically rewarding to create happiness for another person," said Dr. Rebecca Jump, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia.

If financial constraints are forcing you to cut back on how much you spend on Christmas this year, take joy in the giving, and don't think you have to run up the credit-card bills to make your family happy.

The best way to start is to get real about your situation, and be honest with yourself, Dr. Jump said.

In addition, you need to be up front and honest with children, according to Amy Dickinson, the syndicated columnist for The Chicago Tribune whose advice column is carried daily in The Augusta Chronicle.

Tell them straightforward that you have less money this year and are trying to spend less than usual for Christmas, Ms. Dickinson said in an e-mail.

You can ask them to scale back on the Christmas wish list, too.

"Tell them that lots of people are out of work and it's not right to get too many presents when so many people are hurting," Ms. Dickinson said.

Instead of new video games and iPods, invest in family time fun such as decorating holiday cookies or going caroling. You can introduce your offspring to the rewards of gift-giving, and urge them to create handmade gifts for the present swap under the tree.

"It is especially important for parents to stress to their children that this season is not only about getting, but very much about giving," Ms. Dickinson said. "Kids get enormous satisfaction from giving gifts that are appreciated and parents should help them to have this important developmental experience."

Tough financial times also call for some holiday tact.

If you're on the receiving end when you know the gift-giver is in a rough spot and has cut back this year, Ms. Dickinson recommends that you thank them and say, "I bet this might have been a stretch for you this year and I want you to know that I really appreciate it."

Be gracious and accept the gift, and don't tell them, "Oh, you shouldn't have."

You can acknowledge their situation later, Ms. Dickinson said.

"In a separate conversation the recipient can say, 'I know times are tough for so many people and maybe you, too. I just want you to know that if that's the case I'd like to help out any way I can.' "

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