ALPENA - One of the favorite parts of the holiday season also can produce one of its most stressful activities - shopping for Christmas gifts.
Many residents have a wealth of family, from parents and siblings to whole legions of grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends.
They also have limited means and worry how they will meet everyone's needs.
"With the commercialization of everything, people get really caught up in wanting to get everything Johnny and Debbie want," Gary Knudson, a therapist with Alpena Regional Medical Center Behavioral Services, said. "First of all, people should plan on what they plan to spend for Christmas. Plan out how much money you will spend, the list of people you are buying gifts for, and prioritize the list.
"Second, my idea of Christmas time is that it's supposed to be a spiritual time. It's about getting reinvigorated and getting together with family and having good times with other people."
Spending is a big trap for many.
"Low income families feel guilty that they can't provide for their kids, so if they have credit cards they build up huge balances that they pay 15 to 16 percent interest on," he said.
Yet, parents can use some techniques to cushion disappointment, he said.
Young children who believe in Santa are the easiest to deal with, he said. Parents can always tell their children that Santa knew what they really wanted, but he must cut back on some gifts.
"It's harder when the kids don't believe in Santa, because then the kid knows the parents are making the decisions," Knudson said. "Even then, you can still sit your kid down and ask what three things they would like for Christmas. If all three things can be purchased, you don't have a problem. If you can't provide everything, ask them what item would they put at the top of the list."
If you still go into a shopping frenzy - stop, he said.
"Tell yourself Christmas is not supposed to be about stuff," he said. "It's supposed to be about people, about renewal, having meals together, doing things together.
"When I was growing up, every Christmas Eve my cousins and I would go sledding at this big hill, which was about five miles from home. We'd bring hot chocolate in a thermos. All that cost nothing."
Also, stick to your limits.
"I'm the oldest of six kids and all my siblings have kids. So there's no way," Knudson said. "Every year we draw names and it kills two birds with one stone. This is about the holidays, not about gifts."
For even less stress, shop during off-peak hours, look for gifts from non-traditional outlets or choose shops that offer plenty of customer service and have an experienced staff.
"When I'm shopping I get stressed when I can't find something or when I can't get to the store in time," said Missi LeFave, owner of The Marketplace @ Alpena and How Cute is That on Chisholm Street.
So over a seven-year period, she has turned her shop into a destination by offering plenty of service.
"One sales person is roving the floor all the time just to answer questions," she said.
LeFave also has extended hours during the holidays and keeps nine to 12 employees on the payroll to handle the rush.
Although her store has 6,000 square feet of selling space, LeFave has carved out room for a full-size coffee bar and cafe-style tables where shoppers can rest, while at the same time enjoying the holiday atmosphere.
"You can grab an energy shake," she said. "Truffles always make people happy, too."
LaFave also offers gift wrapping and is open until 4 p.m. Christmas Eve for people with limited time.
"When they have a price point in mind, we can help them choose gifts," she said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.