How to keep Santa in the black THE COST OF CHRISTMAS Perspective' helps Carroll family maintain grip on yule expenses

November 30, 1990

Sam Cangelosi and his wife, Donna, would win plaudits from consumer advisers for the way they handle Christmas. Although the Gamber couple don't write out a formal holiday budget, they have a general idea in advance of what they will buy, concentrate purchases on their children, keep a running ballpark tab and pay off their charge cards at the end of the first billing cycle.

The key, says Cangelosi, is to keep holiday spending in perspective.

"I personally think it's overcommercialized," says Cangelosi, a district manager for a hardware company. "We don't make outlandish purchases. We keep it within our means."

This year the Cangelosis expect to spend around $500 on Christmas gifts, although Cangelosi concedes it will run a bit higher.

"It will probably creep up a little more -- usually $100 or $150," he says.

A Christmas tree, wreathes and other greenery will cost "every bit" of $100. And, until this year, the couple usually has hosted Christmas dinner for Donna's sister and her family and Cangelosi's mother. This year they will be eating at their niece's home, however.

Although the family does not have a formal budget for Christmas spending, husband and wife figure out in advance what they need to buy.

"We don't budget out dollars," Cangelosi says, "but we talk about it. We discuss needs."

The gift-buying list includes the couple's two sons, Jason, 10, and Steven, 12; a niece; a nephew; and a grown niece's 2-year-old. In fact, the list has shrunk over the years as another niece and nephew have grown up.

Another way expenses are kept in check is that husband and wife, married 22 years, generally do not buy each other expensive presents. "We buy things as we need them through the year," Cangelosi says.

"I'll go shopping with the boys for their mother -- each will get something for her -- and then together we'll buy something from the three of us. And she'll do the same -- take them and they each buy me something like a pair of socks, and then something from all three, like a shirt. Occasionally there's something more, like a few years ago I bought my wife a piece of jewelry she'd been wanting. But 90 percent of the shopping is for the children," Cangelosi says.

"We're getting out of the toy stage," Cangelosi notes, adding that purchases now can involve big-ticket items such as bicycles. This year, the boys will find mostly clothes under the tree.

Nor does the couple ever suffer from post-holiday sticker shock.

"We kind of keep track; she has a ballpark idea of what we've spent," says Cangelosi. "I use charge cards for convenience, so I don't have to carry cash. But I pay them off right away. I haven't paid interest in five, six years. That's just my philosophy."

Cangelosi acknowledges most people he knows don't operate the same way.

"I think I'm probably a minority," he says. "People have a tendency to charge it and worry about it later. I think it causes problems."

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