Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Christmas Gifts Don't Need to Cost a Fortune

DEAR HARRIETTE: I know this seems like far, far away, but I’m planning for Christmas now. Usually we go all out with gifts for the family, but this year we don’t have the usual kind of resources. My husband lost his job a few months ago, and we are struggling. I have no interest in bringing up our circumstances to family, but I do need to manage expectations. Most of our family’s kids are teens or young adults, so the gifts are going primarily to people who don’t really need anything anyway -- grown siblings, aunts and uncles and my parents. How can I cut back on gifts without offending folks? -- Rethinking Christmas, Washington, D.C.

DEAR RETHINKING CHRISTMAS: Consider several options. You can make gifts for everyone -- like cookies, other edibles or crafts that they may like. You can limit gifts to your parents and children while giving the others cards, and tell your family that this year you are cutting back. You can suggest that the family consider doing a Secret Santa type of gift-giving this year, where everyone picks a name and you each get one gift rather than many. That, by the way, can be a lot of fun. If asked why, you can freely say that you want and need to be more frugal this year. Chances are, everyone will appreciate spending less at the holidays -- even if they aren’t in your particular circumstances.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My son is normally a straight-A student. He started high school this year, which was a big jump for him in terms of going to a new school, meeting new people and having a more rigorous academic schedule. He’s doing well in most classes, but in science he seems to be failing miserably. He has no experience with failing, which is making this situation incredibly difficult.

I want to support my son. I have told him that we all suffer failure at some point along the way, but it’s important to get up and keep trying to succeed. He seems deflated now and not willing to tackle this tough subject. How do I get him motivated again? -- Push Past Failure, Los Angeles

DEAR PUSH PAST FAILURE: High school typically is a lot harder than middle school, plus science can be difficult anyway. Point out to your son that he is stretching now as a student, and you are there to support him. Suggest to him that he speak to his teacher and ask for guidance, either for what to read and how to prepare to better understand the subject matter, or for the suggestion of a tutor. You can follow up with the teacher to inquire about how you, as a parent, can help your son to do better this class.

Remind your son again and again that failure is part of life. It’s what you do with failure that shows the kind of person you are. Learning and growing so that you don’t have to repeat a particular mistake is ideal. Just let him know that once he masters a challenge, there will most assuredly be another around the corner.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)