Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Christmas expenses so far

So far I have spent:

  • Postage stamps for mailing cards - $5
  • Contributions for school festivities - $15
  • Christmas adoptions - $36
  • Christmas CD of songs performed by my son's school - $13
  • Teacher gifts - $8
  • Gifts for relatives - $25

Total so far: $102

I hate to admit it but I am no where near done yet, I haven't even bought a thing for my own child. But my plan is to go out later today and gitrdun.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Christmas tree is pitiful but it's paid for

It's a classic (as in old) 4-foot Scotch Pine from all the way up north (in my attic). I was thinking about springing for a real tree this year since we haven't had one in about 10 years, and ours is so pathetic, and to help stimulate the economy. BUT.... I went looking at live trees and got sticker shock. It is definitely not in my budget to spend $60 or more for something that will get thrown out in a couple weeks. Even a $40 tree doesn't look much better than my little puny tree to your left here.

So we will make do. We do have another 6 foot tree but it is even more sad than the 4 foot one. It's so thin you can see clean through the branches, but maybe if I load it up with ornaments and lights it will look fuller.

Monday, November 17, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - A Christmas Story

(This is #31 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

The best for last: A Christmas Story

In all of the mayhem, the to-do's, shopping, celebrations, lest we forget what the Christmas Season is really all about, take time to reflect on the real Reason for the Season -- Jesus Christ. I know some people don't believe in Christ, maybe even some of you reading this now, but I make no apologies for my belief, for I am not ashamed.

There is a really good story over at that I like to read around this time of the year... It's entitled "A Christmas Story". If you believe, you may find this story to be as inspiring as I do.

But even if you don't believe and you are still reading this post, I hope that we all find something to be joyous about this Christmas. And really we don't have to look very far. If you are even able to read a blog, you are blessed.

Even if you don't have two nickels to rub together, remember that Christmas is a time to spend time with those we care about. The gift of time and love is free, yet priceless.

I don't know what your finances look like this year. But no matter what you have gained or lost this year in terms of finances, material things, health, relationships, there are some things that we have been given in life that cannot be taken away.... but we can choose to give them up. We can choose to give up our joy, peace, salvation. But these are free gifts which we have been given, we need only to claim them.

So keep in mind that whatever you do and whatever you have this season, you can still have joy, peace and salvation, and that is priceless.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - Holiday Cooking, part 2

(This is #30 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Holiday Cooking, part 2

If you have spread your Christmas cooking into at least a couple days, today should be relatively easy. You may even be able to do this part on Christmas morning, which is what I do to make sure everything is good and fresh for dinner.

By now your meats and main dishes should be done or almost done. You may only need to put them in the oven to warm or finish up. You can put any side dishes which won't take too long to cook like corn, green beans and rices on early in the morning.
Dinner rolls and salads can be prepared right before meal time in minutes.

Most of the hard work should be done on day one, making today a breeze.

Monday, November 10, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - Holiday Cooking, part 1

(This is #29 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Holiday Cooking, part 1

Just like in the case of the Christmas cards, you can and should break your Christmas cooking down into smaller sessions to make it more manageable and less overwhelming. You can do this over a period of two or three days, or even a week. I have a friend who finishes all of her cooking the week before the holiday for Thanksgiving and Christmas and then freezes it. By the way this is the same friend who is done with her Christmas shopping in October…. Gotta love her.

In a nutshell, there a couple different approaches you can use to getting your cooking for the big holiday feast done:

Method 1: Spend a day doing prep work like cutting vegetables, cleaning and preparing meats for cooking. And then spend a day or two cooking everything.

Method 2: Cook different dishes on different days. Day 1 can be spent on desserts and meats. Day 2 can be spent on side dishes and finishing touches.

Actually there are a few more…..

Method 3: Let Publix or some other deli or restaurant do your meal for you. But this is not the way to go if you are short on funds.

Method 4: If you are having guests over, share in the cooking duties and have everyone bring a dish.

Method 5: Do a combination of the above. This is my approach. I get a lot of help from others in my meal preparation. It cuts down on the work for one person, while not draining my pocketbook.

31 Things to do before Christmas – Enjoy the traditions

(This is #28 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Take time for Traditions

Make sure you spend some time just enjoying the season and the traditions that go along with it. Some people really believe "It's the most wonderful time of the year" and they act as such. But for some of us it can become drudgery with all of the busy-ness, too much to do, a lot of wants and needs but not enough money.

I can tell you, some people are definitely dreading Christmas this year. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, nest eggs and homes this year. It's definitely going to be a slim Christmas for many people. But even when money is tight, thankfully we still have a lot to be thankful for and there is plenty to celebrate and enjoy during the holidays. And whether you are blessed with abundance or not this Christmas, I hope you and yours will take the time to enjoy some of the traditional holiday activities this season which money can't buy.

Here are some Christmas-y things you should do this year to get and keep you in the holiday spirit:
  1. Bake Christmas cookies

  2. Build a fire and have hot chocolate

  3. Sing Christmas carols

  4. Watch Christmas movies

  5. Go see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve

  6. Spend lots of quality time with love ones!

31 Things to do before Christmas – Time to play the "Santa" role

(This is #27 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Time to play the "Santa" role

Deliver gifts early to the people you won't see on Christmas Day. I suggest you do this even before Christmas Eve. Most people already have enough to do on Christmas Eve and don't have time to spend making a lot of visits.

So it's a good idea to deliver gifts either a week before Christmas, or even sooner if possible, once you get everything wrapped.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Stocking stuffing

(This is #26 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Stuff, stuff and more stuff

Okay, I know I've said it before, but this really IS one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time. Stocking stuffers. It's just so much fun to fill up a stocking with a lot of little things that you really know will be used and appreciated. And the excitement of digging through a stocking and finding all the little treasures brings a smile to just about anyone's face.

The stocking

I've seen Christmas stockings cost from anywhere between free to $10 or more. I bought nice stockings for my family one year and told them to save them, keep them nice and return them to me to get them refilled for next year. That may sound harsh or cheap but I see no reason to keep buying a new one every year. If you do buy them, you can pick them up at the dollar store for a dollar.

The stuffings

Stocking stuffers are so easy, probably the easiest shopping you can do for anyone. Just get a bunch of little things that you know that person likes or uses. Here's a list of items I've stuffed in Christmas stockings and other common items that don't cost much money.

  1. Gum and Candy - Candy canes, small chocolates, candy bars, bubble gum.

  2. Lotions - small, travel sized. You can even use those that you get from hotel stays.

  3. Lip gloss or ChapStik

  4. Nail clippers

  5. A Pair of socks

  6. Small container of hand sanitizer

  7. Small pack of tissues

  8. Nail polish

  9. Body spray

  10. A ball or other small dollar toy for kids

  11. Pencils or pens

  12. Barrettes

  13. Comb and/or brush

  14. Inexpensive fashion jewelry

  15. Knit gloves or caps (you can get these for about $1 each)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - It's a Wrap

(This is #25 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

It's a Wrap

After you've gotten all of your Christmas shopping done (smile), here's the fun part.... gift wrapping.

You've stuck to your budget on the gifts, don't blow it on gift wrap. Spending five bucks on a gift back is ludicrous. Really, if you are really creative you don't have to spend anything on gift wrap. But if you have planned ahead and caught the after-Christmas sales in previous years, you probably have tons of gift wrap that you bought for pennies on the dollar, ready to go.

Here are some creative (or not so creative but cheap at least) ideas I have used for gift wrap:

  1. Old calendars. A lot of places give out large calendars with poster size sheets. These are decorative and pretty intresting and can be used to wrap smaller gifts.

  2. Comic pages from your Sunday paper.

  3. Re-use gift bags and gift wrap from gifts you have received. As long as it's in good shape, it can be reused. Just try not to give it back to the same person who gave it to you! The tags on the gift bag is usually folded in half. Cut off the half that is written on and use the other half. Bonus - this is recycling.

  4. When you buy glass items at a lot of stores, they will wrap your merchandise in paper to protect the merchandise from breakage. Some of these papers are very attractive and can be used for gift wrap. I asked a clerk if I could have a few extra on one occasion, and she gave me several extra, free of charge.

  5. Colored tissue paper that has nice designs can sometimes be used for gift wrap as well.

  6. This is another tip for after Christmas. When you go to the after Christmas sales, stock up on the marked down gift wraps and bags that have designs which can be used through out the year. I try to stock up on plain colored papers and bags, lots of reds, golds, greens and silvers. These can be used for weddings, Valentine's day, birthdays and other occasions.

Friday, November 7, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Christmas clean

(This is #24 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Christmas Clean

This probably goes without saying, but don't wait until Christmas Eve to get your house "guest ready". Start doing a little each day from now until Christmas and you won't burn yourself out and make a stressful situation. My husband and I have a running joke that if we want to clean our house and get any projects done that we have putting off, just invite guests over. That way we are sure to get things done, and in a hurry!

If you wait until the last minute to do things, you will be so tired and stressed that you won't even enjoy your guests or the occasion.

Again, I have to give it up for the Flylady and her tips on doing a little bit at a time. It is good advice.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Cheap Classic Christmas Fun

(This is #23 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Classic Christmas Fun

What Christmas would be complete without good clean Christmas movies. Whether you enjoy the classics or some of the more recent movies, a good, clean humorous Christmas movie will definitely help you get in the Christmas spirit. Also, it's cheap entertainment. Many of these movies can be checked out from the library. If they are not available there, you could get them at Blockbuster in the "Family Favorite" sections, which you can rent cheaper than the new releases.

Here are a few Christmas movies that you may want to check out, there are many more out there, just do an internet search on "Christmas movies" or "classic Christmas movies". Pop up some microwave popcorn (about a dollar), rent a movie (anywhere from free to $3), light a fire, turn on your Christmas lights! Sweet!!!

  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Story
  • It's a Wonderful Life
  • The Preacher's Wife
  • The Santa Clause
  • White Christmas
  • The Christmas Story
  • Home Alone
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • The Polar Express

Saturday, November 1, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - Holiday Grocery shopping

(This is #22 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Holiday Grocery Shopping

After you have planned your menu, you can (and should), once again, make a list, before going to the grocery store. In fact you should always shop with a grocery list for a number of reasons. Number one, if you are forgetful like me, your list is your friend and will save you many trips back and forth to the store. Number two, your list will save you money because you will know what you need and only buy what you need, instead of buying things "just in case", because you couldn't remember if you have it at home already or not. Been there and done that, many times.

Also, DO shop early.... At Christmas time, people are so busy shopping for gifts that they save the grocery shopping for the very last minute. Seriously, I have noticed that since the grocery stores are typically the last thing open on Christmas Eve, everybody knows that so what do they do? They do their last minute shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve until about 6:00pm when most of the malls and retailers close up shop. Then that same crowd rushes the grocery stores, everybody all at once looking for the same things. It's really kind of funny and predictable. So since it is so predictable, it is easily avoidable.

I have made the mistake of putting the grocery shopping off too. I'm a Publix shopper, and I have about three near my house, so I should have been smart and spread the trips out to all of the stores. But one of them is like right around the corner from my house, so of course it's my favorite. But you know it's bad when the grocery store manager knows your face and can remember how many times you've been to the store.

Well I remember one year I kept making trips to the store the whole week before Christmas, because of my lack of making a proper list I admit. And you would think after about three trips to the store that week that I had everything I needed for my Christmas dinner. Well when I showed back up at that store one more time on Christmas Eve in the middle of that rush, I guess it was just too much for the grocery store manager to take. I tried to hurry down the aisles before he saw me, but I got caught red-handed. He said "I know YOUare not here in this crowd today!" All I could do was smile, because he was so right. That was a shame for me to even put myself in that situation. But it was all because I didn't plan it right.

So this year, I will not do that again. And if I do I'm safe because that manager has moved to a different store.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Gift giving in large families

If you don't have a lot of money but you have a lot of family members, Christmas can really bust the budget. Here are some ideas for gift giving in large families.

  • Give gifts to the kids, don't exchange gifts among adults. This can works if everybody has around the same amount of kids. It's not really "fair" if some people don't have kids or if one family has a lot more kids than everyone else.
  • Pull names anonymously. Do this at your Thanksgiving gathering or whenever everyone is together. This way everyone will only buy one gift instead of trying to buy for several people. Set a dollar limit on the cost of the gifts.
  • Play the White Elephant game. If you will be together as a family for Christmas, not only will you get to share with each other, this is a lot of fun! Again you can set a dollar limit on the cost of the gifts.
  • Instead of exchanging gifts, do something together as a family. Have a family Christmas party where every one brings a covered dish. Do it early in December before everyone's schedules are too crazy, that way you will have a better chance of people being able to attend.

White Elephant game - how to play

One of the most exciting things to do around Christmas is have a White Elephant gift exchange game. This is not only a lot of fun but a great way for you to unload, I mean "regift" some of the things you don't use. I've played it when everything was a regift and I've also played when we set a dollar limit and we all bought gifts for under the dollar limit amount. However you choose to play it's a lot of fun! Here are the general rules:

Guidelines about the gifts:

  1. The gifts can either be valued around a certain dollar amount, or if you are playing the "regift" version, any amount goes. But even if regifting, it should be something that is usable and in good condition (i.e. new).
  2. The gift should be wrapped but not labeled. No one should know what the gift is or who it came from.
  3. The gifts should all be placed in a central location, like on a table in the front of the room.

Playing the game:

  1. Every one who is playing must contribute a gift. It's a good idea to contribute unisex gifts that can be used by (just about) anyone.

  2. Prepare slips of paper equal to the number of gifts with clearly written numbers. For example if 10 people are playing, you would have 10 slips of paper with one number from 1 to 10 on each.
  3. Fold the slips of paper so the number can't be seen and place them in a hat or bowl.
  4. Each player then draws a number a number out of the hat, this represents your turn (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.).

  5. On the first turn, the player with paper slip #1 chooses a gift, unwraps it and holds it up for every one to see.
  6. Next, the player with paper slip #2 gets the choice of "stealing" #1's gift or choosing a wrapped one. If #2 steals #1's gift, then #1 must choose another wrapped gift and unwrap.
  7. On the third turn, player #3 gets can either steal any unwrapped gifts from players 1 and 2, or choose a wrapped gift.

And on and on it goes until the last player has had a turn!

Other guidelines:

You can play this many different ways and make up your own rules as you go, depending on the situation or if you have a lot of participants and not a lot of time. But here are some popular game play rules.

  • A gift can only be stolen once in a turn.
  • The gift is "dead" after it has been stolen three times and the third owner gets to keep it. (Or you can make this some other limit, like twice).
  • All gifts must be kept visible so that players know what gifts are available to choose from. No hiding gifts that you want to keep!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - A feast on a budget

(This is #21 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Have a feast on a budget

Plan your meal early so you can take advantage of sales and beat the mad shopping rush on the week of Christmas.

My typical Christmas menu is as follows:

  • Honey ham
  • Smoked turkey
  • Cornbread dressing
  • Gravy
  • Collard greens
  • Green beans
  • Rice
  • Potato salad
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Pies
    • Sweet potato
    • Pecan
  • Cakes
    • Red velvet
    • Carrot
  • Iced tea

That's definitely a feast!! But I don't do it all myself. I can not make good potato salad, cornbread dressing and gravy so thankfully my Mom takes care of that for us.

How I will cut back when money is tight

I could do the entire menu listed above for about $85. Partly because the red velvet cake is a family favorite that we order from a lady that we know, and it costs $25. On a tight budget however, I could scale the menu back by baking a cake at home, and having one pie, not two. I would also have a small ham and a smoked turkey breast for half the price. The other items are pretty inexpensive to make so we won't have to cut back there. If I made these changes I could probably have a pretty comparable meal for about $50.

I would rather cut back somewhere else though than to give up the red velvet cake! I would scale back on gifts or decorations if I had to. This lady can really bake and our family looks forward to the holidays and her cakes, so we would all be in agreement that that the cake stays, something else goes!

But that's what cutting back is all about. You don't give up everything that means something to you. Give up the things that don't matter much to you so you can have the things that really do matter.

Home cooked versus Catered

I have heard that you can order some pretty good holiday dinners from certain grocery stores and restaurants. If you are looking for an easy solution and you can afford it or you simply can't cook, this might be the option for you.

I am picky about how certain foods are prepared. Also there are certain things that I am accustomed to having at Christmas dinner that you can not get at the typical restaurant. Not only that, even if they did, I know I could probably prepare it cheaper myself. So for me, in terms of preferences and budget, cooking at home is the way to go.

But you don't have to have a feast per se. And really you shouldn't cook so much food that it won't get eaten anyway. Sometimes after the big Thanksgiving feast, some people are so burnt out on food that they just have a "normal" dinner for Christmas. And that's fine, do what works for you. Just whatever you do, don't waste food and your money. If it won't get eaten don't buy it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – True Christmas spirit, Do a good deed

(This is #20 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

True Christmas spirit: Doing a good deed

There are so many ways you can give back around Christmas time. There are Angel trees, lots of organizations feeding the homeless and providing Christmas gifts for less fortunate families. But there are many ways you can give back without spending a dime. Don't let a lack of financial means rob you of the joy which only comes from doing something for someone else in need. Some of the best gifts you can give are time, service and attention.

Here are some ways you can give, even when money is tight.

  • If you are going to some local holiday events, how about inviting someone else along? Or taking a child with you who otherwise wouldn't get to go.

  • There are elderly people who can not get around and would love a ride to the store to pick up items for Christmas, or need a little help sprucing up their homes for Christmas.

  • Pass out gifts. In most areas there are charities that pass out gifts to children around Christmas. Usually they need volunteers to sort out donations and distribute gifts.

  • Serve food. Again a lot of charities that cook for needy would appreciate a helping hand in serving meals.

  • Volunteer to wrap gifts for donations to a local charity.

  • Take the kids to visit the elderly in a nursing home and deliver greeting cards or sing Christmas carols. Check with the facility for policies before visiting.

  • If you really want to make someone's day, invite someone who is alone to your house to spend Christmas day. They will be so grateful. Christmas is an awful time to be alone.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Christmas cards the easy way, part 2

(This is #19 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Christmas cards the easy way, Part 2

Okay, you made it through part one. The good news is that you are over half way there. Now all you need to do is make out your cards, stuff them, address and stamp them, and finally drop them in the mail (my favorite part).

Making out the card – what to say?

If you have the gift of words, this is simple for you and you are probably wondering why I'm making a big deal about it. Well, call it a personal problem but this is probably the toughest part for me. I either get too wordy or struggle with writing the same thing on each card to everybody, like a form letter. It needn't be that difficult, just say what's on your heart and that's enough. If you want to just let the preprinted greeting on the card do all the talking, so be it, but most people like to personalize it just a bit.

Here are a couple sites that I found to help you find wording. You don't have to copy it verbatim but maybe they have a couple of suggestions to get you kick started if you are having a mental block.

Addressing the envelopes

If you have all of your addresses together from step one, this is a breeze. You can simply write them on. Or if you really want to get fancy or if your handwriting is atrocious and you have some extra time on your hands, you can print them on labels using a computer and printer. Otherwise writing them on is just fine. Don't make this a big deal.

Finally you can send them off…. Don't forget your stamp!

Monday, October 27, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Christmas cards the easy way, part 1

(This is #18 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Christmas cards the easy way, Part 1

I have to confess that I have blown it many years with Christmas cards. What's really pathetic is that I will buy the cards and still not send them. And then the guilt and shame is worse when the cards start flowing in to my mailbox from more "together" folks in my life. I feel so inadequate, like a failure. That may be a little dramatic, but it does make me feel bad because I realize that I haven't sent my cards out simply because of sheer procrastination.

But I know I am not alone. A lot of people have the best of intentions but for some reason, can not get those Christmas cards out on time.

I'm a baby steps, bite at a time type of person. So even some of the tasks that would be menial and a piece of cake to a lot of other people can be overwhelming to me, if I don't have a step by step plan of attack, or some kind of system. That's just the way I'm wired I suppose, give me a doable, not too intimidating plan and I can work the plan.

So here's a plan for tackling Christmas cards.

Day one (or step one).

In this step, just focus on gathering the stuff you need, that's it.

You won't be writing anything at this point so you don't have to worry about that even. By the way, it may sound strange to some of you people out there who have "the gift" but some of us, including me, get writer's block just making out greeting cards. I even run my greeting card wording by husband to make sure it is decent to leave our house, since he has "the gift" and I don't. There's a lot of times that I don't do cards and letters because I simply do not have the right words to say at the moment. So I know this is a real stumbling block for at least one person out there, even if that one reader is me! So if you do have the gift of words, be very thankful.

Anyways, back to the task at hand. Today, let's just focus on gathering the items you need:

  1. Names and addresses – Hopefully you have them in a central location like an address book and not scattered all over the place on pieces of paper, or on envelopes from mail you received from people. (Like some people I know…. eh-hem….personally)

  2. Christmas cards

  3. Stamps

  4. Return address labels if you have them, makes the job that much easier

  5. Pens

  6. Family photos or any inserts you want to add to the card

Once you have all these items together, put them your desk or table so you will be all set when you are ready to begin step two.

That's it for this step, you are half way there.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Pack it up, move 'em out!

(This is #17 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Pack it up, move 'em out!

If you are shipping packages during the Christmas season, the earlier the better. You will avoid some of the crowds and avoid spending money on rush shipping charges.

You can find current postage and shipping rates at

The US Postal Service has published it’s 2008 Holiday Shipping Calendar for military and international mail. Also note that Thursday, Nov. 13th is the deadline for sending holiday packages to troops stationed overseas using Parcel Post to all Air/Army Post Office (APO) or Fleet Post Office (FPO) ZIP Codes. There are also discounts which may be available for shipping to APO addresses using the online "Click and Ship" option.

UPS has a Holiday FAQ page which is loaded with information.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Poor Santa

"Poor Santa"

Alright, listen up girls and boys,
This year Christmas will not be all about toys.
You see, Santa just got the news,
Everybody's singing the blues.
Gas price are up, employment is down
Home foreclosures all over town.
They just approved billions in a bailout,
Everyone's wondering what they'll have to shell out.
Poor Santa lost his house, his day job and his retirement plan
Now it's his job to make the kids understand.
So this Christmas, I'm sorry to say,
You won't have everything your way.
But don't fret, we have a new plan,
Poor Santa will do what he can.
There may be fewer gifts but lots of love,
There is more to Christmas to think of.
Santa may be broke, but it's okay,
Because true Christmas spirit is here to stay.

- Anonymous

31 Things to do before Christmas – Smart Shopping

(This is #16 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Going Shopping the smart way

This is the favorite part for a lot of people, shopping. I'm not a shopper, but I love a good deal. So if I'm going to shop, I have to be smart about it. Otherwise it is a draining experience and I feel bad about the money that I know I just wasted. That's just not fun.

Use the internet to help you out

The internet has made it much easier to be a smart shopper. You can research items before you go out to buy. You can find out who has better deals all with a few clicks, not running from place to place, wasting time and gas. And you can even do a lot of your Christmas shopping from the comfort of your own home, no lines, no waiting.

My favorite on-line merchants are the ones that offer free shipping. A lot of merchants will do this if you order a certain dollar amount or more. Free shipping is a big deal, a lot of merchants are hip to this and are doing it more and more. Customers do not like spending money on shipping especially if the shipping costs almost as much as what you bought.

Shop at smart times

I try to avoid stores on weekends during the holiday season. Unless you just like crowds and mayhem, I suggest you do the same. Some people get a rush out of all the hustle and bustle. If that's you, knock yourself out. I prefer shopping at slower times, that way I can hear myself think and can make better choices.

One stop shops are a timesaver.

I like shopping at department stores like Wal-mart and Target, because you can get so much done in one pop. If the mall is your thing, that can be a timesaver too because you have so many different types of shops in one location. But you can't beat the department stores for finding a good deal and saving money.

Friday, October 24, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Cheap Holiday thrills

(This is #15 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Looking for cheap thrills around the holidays?

In most areas there are a lot of fun activities going on around Christmas time. Get your antennae up now to be on the lookout for what may be coming to a neighborhood near you.

This is a good way to get in the Christmas spirit without spending a lot of money (a lot of events are even free).

Some of the things free events we've had in our area in the past are:

  • Christmas tree lighting events

  • Santa festival put on by the local government (all free, except food and extra items you may want to buy)

  • Christmas parade

  • Many churches put on Christmas plays and presentations

  • Christmas story times at the local libraries and book stores

There's usually lots of stuff going on, I'm sure you will be able to find something fun and affordable to do to enjoy the season. Look in your local paper or do an internet search on local Christmas events to find events near you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Making Memories

(This is #14 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Making Memories

Now that you have your decorations and Christmas tree all up, this is a good time to take a few family photographs to keep and to send in Christmas cards, or to make gifts with.

Dress the kids up and take a picture of them in front of the Christmas tree. Or if you don't have kids, put a Santa hat on your pet and take a snapshot of them. You can even get in on the picture too. Just make sure you do take pictures now, you'll be glad you did. And if you send them in your Christmas cards, they will definitely put smiles on a lot of faces.

You can still have nice Christmas pictures even if you can't afford to have professional photos made, especially if you already have a decent camera. Just a casual photo is good enough. And you can print them out yourself from a digital camera or take it in to a photo processing center to do it for you. Saves a lot of money and time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Decorating on a tight budget

(This is #13 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Christmas decorating on a tight budget

Decorating to me is one of the most fun parts about Christmas. And the good news is that you have a lot of control over how much or how little you will spend in this area. Nobody's going to have to eat your decorations and you won't be giving them to anyone as a gift. So don't stress about it. Christmas is one of the few times when you can get away with looking gaudy, as long as it's festive who cares if it's the latest style?

Use what you have

Remember when icicle lights first became popular? Just about everybody and their brother ran out and bought a full set, even if they had plenty of lights already, just in an older style. But like everything else, there are trends in Christmas lights too. Since then, there have been swag lights, rope lights, LED lights and probably some others I don't know about. Imagine trying to keep up with all that? It makes no sense when you have lights you can use.

Christmas trees to fit the budget

For the past several years I have used the same artificial Christmas tree and the same ornaments over and over again. And guess what, it doesn't get old. Part of the reason is because I don't put the tree up until early December so I'm not looking at it long enough to get tired of it anyways.

I bought my tree one year at an after-Christmas sale for half price, about 5 years ago, and have been using it ever since. But there are even trends in Christmas trees. Now you can find trees with lights already included and rotating trees. But that's okay, my old tree still works for me.

Now I know some of you out there can't stand the thought of a fake Christmas tree, but hey if money is tight and you already have a fake tree, it's better than nothing. You can get a can of pine scented air freshener to fake it until you make it.

Go easy on the lights

Another place you can cut back on your Christmas decorations is in Christmas lights. If you are on a tight budget, the last thing you need is 100 strings of lights around your house. Can you say "light bill"? January IS coming, and you will be even deeper in the hole if you end up with a ridiculous light bill to pay because you were bling-blinging your house for Christmas. Just put a couple strings on your tree, put a wreath on your door with a door wrap, and that's good enough. Besides, when you are indoors, you don't get to see your outdoor lights anyway... it's for someone else to enjoy.

Sometimes less is more

You know, more is not always better. I have a neighbor who, I tell you the truth, every year it seems like she adds more and more stuff to her collection. And yes, it looks nice, right now. But I can tell that if she keeps it up at this pace, stuff will start to get lost in the shuffle and you won't be able to appreciate all of the individual items like you would if there were only a few. Since I like simplicity and do not like clutter, I tend to take the less is more approach. And you know, you can save a lot of money this way too. And time. And storage space. And on and on.

Peer Pressure

As adults it's hard for us to admit that we are subjected to peer pressure too. We might not be as vulnerable to it (hopefully) as kids but it still exists. I can remember one Christmas when every one on my street was either really in the Christmas spirit, or every one except us got fat bonuses or something. Every house was decorated with outdoor lights about 2 weeks before Christmas, every house except a few, including ours. Do you know how much pressure that was on us to hurry up and get lights put up? No one said anything verbally, but it was an unspoken code, that we as a neighborhood are doing this and you don't want to be the last one to get on board, or worse yet, not put up any lights at all.

So you know what we did? We put lights out, but only because we had some on hand, and we wanted to do it anyways for the sake of our small kids. But what I'm saying here is that a lot of the stuff we do, we do it because of external pressure. Pressure coming from parties who will not be participating in paying our bills. So do what you want to do and what you can afford to do, because you will be the one footing the bill for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Be the early bird

(This is #12 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Be the Early Bird

I have a friend who is done with her Christmas shopping by October every year. How does she do it?

She buys stuff all year long.

She makes stuff all year long.

For those of us who are not that forward thinking or who have enough on our plate trying to survive from month to month, there is still hope, even if you haven't even started your shopping by October. What is really considered "early" anyway? To me early is being done by October, like my friend. Normal is like most of the rest of us. Late is shopping on Christmas Eve.

But if you can pull it off, being the early bird is the way to go. My friend buys stuff on clearance throughout the year. She buys sweaters and coats when everyone else is buying bathing suits, therefore she rakes in the deals and saves a ton of money. She is less stressed around the holidays while everyone else is running around looking for the perfect gift, from place to place. She has more time to really enjoy the holidays (imagine that). Because she starts so early, she has plenty of time to make good quality homemade items, saving her a lot of money and giving gifts with a more personal touch to boot. She's made wonderful personalized blankets, quilts, even home made dolls for gifts.

She plans ahead and takes the time to learn a new hobby during the year and use that skill to make gifts, she does this a lot.

And she saves a lot of money, did you get that part?

So what does it take? Well it goes back to what I've been saying over and over again in this series.... it's all in the planning. You have to make yourself do this stuff. There will always be something else that comes up to take your time and money, but guess what, Christmas is coming too. And the good thing about Christmas unlike other things in your life, is that you KNOW when it's coming.

Lay-aways if you can find them, are an early bird's friend. They are a big help because you can select your merchandise before everything is all picked over, and you don't have to come up with all of the cash at once. It's a win-win.

Also if you are even a little bit crafty or creative, if you start early, you can put together really nice gifts very cheaply.

Monday, October 20, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Do your homework

(This is #11 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Do Your Homework

Have you ever spent more on something than you had to, only to find out about it after the fact? Most of us have, I know I have way too many times. When it's happened to me it was because of a couple reasons, both of which were my fault. Number one - impatience, and number two - procrastination.

Impatience has costed me because there's been situations when I have wanted something, like right now, and didn't want to take the time to shop around. Of course when you are impatient like that, you are an easy target and the merchants love you.

Procrastination has costed me because there have been times when I knew that I was going need something eventually, but I put the purchase off and in the process missed a deal and ended up spending more had a purchased before. Or because it is now an emergency situation, I have to buy the first thing I can get, no matter what the cost.

Whether we suffer from impatience or procrastination, we can help ourselves by doing a lot more research before we spend our hard earned dollars. With a simple internet connection (which you have if you are reading this), you can save yourself a lot of money. And you can also save yourself a lot of time. Remember the days of running from store to store looking for an item? That is no longer necessary in a lot of cases. A lot of retailers will allow you to order items on line that are not available in their store, and they will ship it to their store for you to pick up there, free of charge. This is an excellent service which wasn't available to us just several years ago.

I don't have a real method for researching products on the internet, I'm sure there are some good tips and websites you can find out there. I usually just do an internet search on whatever I'm looking for and then just check the different sites that come up. I can tell you I saved at least $20 and ended up with a better product by doing this when I was researching for the digital camera I recently bought. To me, twenty dollars is a lot of money to just give away so the time I spent researching it (about an hour or two) was worth it to me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – What's in your attic? Know what you have so you don't waste money

(This is #10 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

What's in your attic? Know what you have so you don't waste money.

How frustrating is it when you only have a few bucks and you waste them on stuff you already have simply because you forgot what you had, or you knew what you had but you couldn't find it. And you know what usually happens, you find it about a month after you needed it, when it's too late to return the duplicate you bought because you used it. Well there is a simple solution to this -- having a place for everything and everything in its place.

Most people who have an attic or basement store all of their Christmas stuff in one these places. So now is the time to pull it out and take inventory of what you already have on hand, BEFORE you go shopping. Remember, a good deal is not a good deal if you didn't need the item to begin with.

By the way, when money is tight, will it really kill you to use the same Christmas decorations you used in previous years? My Christmas tree has looked identical for the last several years, because I have plenty of ornaments, most of which were given to me, and I see no need to change my color scheme. By the way my theme is eclectic, in other words, if I like it and I have it on hand, I use it. It doesn't have to all match. This also makes it easy for me to use all the cute little ornaments my kids have made in school through the years. It never gets old to them seeing their ornaments on the tree and knowing how much I appreciate them.

Here is a common list of items people use around Christmas. And I can almost guarantee you, unless you are starting out from scratch, you probably already have some of the things on this list.

  • A Christmas tree (if you use artificial)

  • ornaments and ornament hangers

  • gift wrap, gift bags and gift name tags

  • tissue paper

  • tape

  • Christmas lights

  • a tree skirt

  • a tree stand

  • Christmas wreath

  • Christmas cards

  • Christmas stockings

  • extension cords

Why spend your money when you can use what you already have on hand? Really when you think about it, you only used the stuff for a few weeks out of the year, so you should get at least a few good years of use from them.

31 Things to do before Christmas – Time to Investigate

(This is #9 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Time to Investigate - what's on their Christmas wish list?

Do you know what the people on your Christmas list have on their wish list? The best case scenario is that they have a wish list prepared like we discussed in a previous post. But even if they dont, there are ways to find out even without asking.

I've been making mental notes (which is a no-no since I am forgetful) of things that I've heard different people mention over the last several months. (And yes, I will be adding this information to my Christmas notebook and you should do the same when you know what you will buy for each person, that's what it's there for.)

For example, I just found out that my grandson is into comic books now. My daughter let that little tidbit of info slip out in a casual conversation.... and I'm glad she did, because her kids have so much that it is always difficult to decide what to get them, especially since I am not rich. The things that I can afford to buy them, they already have. But I figure I can easily get him more comic books that he doesn't already have.

Some questions you can consider when trying to figure out what to give an individual are:

  1. Do they have any hobbies, especially new hobbies they are just getting into? Usually when you are new to a hobby you don't yet have all of the gear, so there is plenty left for others to contribute to the cause.

  2. Have you noticed anything that they really need, or anything they already have but is a bit tired or old?

  3. Do you have anything of your own that this person really likes or is always complimenting you on? Some of the best gifts I have received have been things that a friend had, and I told them how much I liked it, so they gave it to me, or gave me one of my own.

A little investigating of my own

I recently talked to a small group of kids about Christmas gifts they want this year. I explained to them that the economy is not in good shape and a lot of families are hurting financially this year. And I asked them what they would want under their Christmas tree if their parents only had a very small amount of money to spend on Christmas this year.

What I learned was surprising to me. Number one, I learned that a lot of kids still believe in Santa Claus, even up to 10 and 11 years old! This was surprising to me since we never really promoted the whole Santa Claus thing to our children. Santa is cool, but they know who "Santa" really is because we never tried to hide it. But now that I know that some kids believe in it wholeheartedly, I will be very careful about what I ask other children from now on. I wouldn't want to be the one to burst their bubble, besides it's not my place anyway. But eventually their friends will probably do it.

The other thing I found out is that (most) kids are more understanding and less spoiled than we give them credit for. All of the kids that I talked to understood that times are tough for a lot of folks, and one little girl even told me that she would be happy with just a chicken and some stuffing!

Now that is priceless.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why my husband is not on my Christmas list

When I made my list of people I will be shopping for Christmas a few days ago, I purposely did not include my husband.

A while back, hubby and I decided to not exchange gifts for Christmas. We arrived at this decision because of a few different things.

Number one, both he and I are low-maintenance, non-materialistic people. So whenever someone asks us what we want, we say either one of two things - "Nothing" or "Whatever". And when we say it, we really mean it. Some people don't understand this, and a few guys even tried to tell my husband that although my mouth says don't give me anything, I don't really mean it and in order for him to stay out of the dog house, he needs to get me something anyway. LOL.... This is so far from the truth. But I guess some guys haven't really had any experiences with a woman who is really low- to-no-maintenance. I'm glad hubby knows me like he does.

I know that if there was something that I ever did want or need, I (or we) would budget for it, and if we can afford it I will get it. And we wouldn't just wait for Christmas to do it, as long as we have money for it. Christmas to me is another day to spend with my family and reflect on the true reason for the season. I'm not in it for gifts.

Secondly, we arrived at this decision because we became a little disgusted with the commercialism that's attached to the holiday. Sure, buying gifts is okay, but going to the extremes is ridiculous. I know several people who set a $500 dollar amount to spend on each of their kids, or spouses, or others. I think that's ridiculous, at least in my circle it is, because most of the people I know are broke or close to it.

Not to mention the stress of all the shopping and crowds. When we made this decision, internet shopping wasn't as easy or available as it is now.

So we decided we would let each other off the hook and squash that whole formality of exchanging gifts. And you know what? Neither one of us has missed it.

31 Things to do before Christmas – Sell your old stuff for cash for Christmas, here's 5 ways to do it

(This is #8 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Selling your old stuff for cash for Christmas

Now that you've taken some time to weed out old and useless stuff from your life, let's explore some ways you can get some use out of all that old stuff. As the saying goes, one man's junk.... you know the rest. When you weed out your old junk you will probably discover that you have a nice piece of potential cash sitting in your closet, dresser drawers, and your garage.

Here are five ways you can unload some of your unwanted items and earn some extra cash.

  1. Employer-sponsored "classified" services. This is my own personal favorite but it may not be available to everyone. I work for a large company and my employer has a service set up for its employees to buy and sell stuff. Sort of like an internal garage sale. Whenever I want to get rid of anything, I start here, because this service is free to employees, in most cases no shipping costs are involved since buyer and seller are both working in the same location, and this is pretty much as safe as you're going to get, since you are selling among associates. You may not have a service like this available to you but if you do, I suggest you start here first.

  2. Ebay. I'm probably the last person you will ever hear say that I still have not ever bought or sold anything on Ebay, but it's true. I can't really say why to tell you the truth. I've skirted around the idea and even checked out some auctions, but never took the leap. However, I hear this is a good service to unload items. I am by no means an authority to speak on it though.

  3. Craigslist. I have a friend who recently sold a piece of furniture and other items on Craigslist. And it worked out so well because the buyers were local and were able to meet to pick up the items with no problem.

  4. Garage sale. This is my third favorite way to get rid of stuff. The good thing about garage sales is that no written advertisement is necessary for every item you want to sell. Just get the word out that there will be a sale, and they will come (at least in my experience that's how it's been). Granted some areas are more successful with garage sales than others. In my neighborhood there are dozens of garage sales happening on just about any given weekend, so I don't even have to advertise at all. I can just hang out a couple of poster board signs on the main intersections, ride the momentum of the surrounding sales and wait for the floodgates to open. The drawbacks to garage sales is that you do have to prepare for them, making sure you have tables, items priced, and getting up early enough to set everything out. And you have to pray for good weather. Also, all that's left after your sale, you have to be prepared to either pull it back into your home, load it up to go drop off at a donation site, put a "FREE" sign on it, or throw it away. I don't mind giving stuff away for free, but usually throwing away stuff is painful for me, and pulling it back in to my garage is even worse.

  5. Consignment. This is my second favorite avenue to sell my good but no longer needed items, especially clothes. I found that when I sell clothes at garage sales I never earn as much as I do in consignments. I think it's because when people go to garage sales they are looking for not just a deal, but a steal. So items that are easily worth $5 will only draw you maybe a buck at a garage sale. Consignments also require a little work on your part because you need to make sure the items are clean and in good repair, and most shops ask that you iron clothing before dropping it off.

Friday, October 17, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Out with the Old

(This is #7 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Out with the Old.... getting rid of stuff you no longer need.

This is one of my favorite steps in the whole series since I don't like clutter. Too much stuff around me makes me feel out of control and antsy. Before Christmas gets here and you have to find a new spot for all the junk, I mean stuff you will probably be getting, it's a good idea to start weeding out the old stuff now.

This is especially true for kids because they are usually the ones who end up with the whole kit and kaboodle for Christmas. Get them involved in the purging process. Some kids will be even more motivated if you allow them to sell some of their stuff at a garage sale.

You've probably heard of the 3 box system --- toss, keep and donate. Well I would even add a "sell" box, so you can earn some extra cash from some of those items. You may even be able to come up with a good chunk of your Christmas budget that way. I'm all for donating but when money is tight, you need to bring in some extra cash when you can.

One of my personal favorite writers on the subject of decluttering is Flylady. She even has weekly and daily tasks to help you better organize your life throughout the year, not just for Christmas. I love systems so her style is right down my alley. I haven't been on board with her system for a while now, and it's starting to show. But as Flylady says, you are never behind, just jump in where you are! I think it's time for me to check her out again myself.
Another site I just found which has a list of 18 five-minute tips on decluttering is zenhabits.
Both of these sites have tasks you can do in just a short period of time, 15 minutes or less, which is good news for all of us with the attention span of a flea or just simply time and energy deprived.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Break the Budget (down)

(This is #6 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Breaking down the Budget

After you've figured out about how much your budget is for Christmas and who is on your Christmas list, it's a good idea to figure out how you will allocate it.

You can use dollar amounts or percentages, or whatever you choose. Just do it. Otherwise it is easy to spend too much in one category, and then realize you are running short in another category. It won't be good to have Christmas gifts galore no money for food. Or spend so much on decorations and a Christmas tree, that there's no money left to buy anything to put under the tree.

A popular technique is to put a dollar limit on each gift. For example, spend $20 or less on each gift. Or you may choose to spend $20 (or some dollar amount) on each person on your list. Using the dollar amount per person, you may end up with more than one gift for some people (because their gifts cost less). Or you can choose to buy one gift per person, and if you are fortunate enough to find a good deal and that gift costs less than your dollar limit, sweet! You saved yourself a few bucks! I like this approach.

I tend to use a combination. For my kids, I usually buy a certain number of gifts (for example three. They only brought three gifts to baby Jesus so I think three is enough for us!). For other people on my list I usually assign a dollar limit per person, and usually only one gift per person.

So whatever approach you choose, just do something and give it some thought.

Also, don't forget to include food, decorations, activities and travel (if necessary) in your budget considerations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Do YOU have a list?

(This is #5 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Your OWN Christmas wish list

Just in case anyone asks.... you should have a ready list of things you would like to receive. This seems easier than it is. Usually when someone asks me "What do you want?", my response is "Whatever you give me". And although it may be true that I would appreciate anything someone is thoughtful enough to give to me, it really does help me and that individual if I can give some specifics.

Just think about it, doesn't it let you off the hook when you KNOW what someone wants instead of having to guess? Think of the time it saves, the aggravation it spares. Really, isn't that why kids make a list to send to "Santa"? Even Santa can use a clue some times.

I frankly do not like spending my time playing guessing games, trying to figure out someone's tastes, needs or wants. And then the "not knowing" is stressful in and of itself, because now I will be wondering if they really like or have any use for what I am giving them.

And not to mention how much better it is for me to receive something that I really want and can use. Some people like surprises, and I do too, just as long as I like what the surprise is. So do yourself a favor and think of some things you may want just in case someone asks. You can come up with things items in all price ranges to match any budget.

Right now, here are some of the things on my list (in case anyone wants to know :-). Notice there is nothing very expensive on this list, but these are the things I really want and need, none the less. I am a simple person and don't require much to make me happy, thankfully.

  1. White ankle socks (I always need them, but hardly ever buy them. I'm down to my last pair.)
  2. Comfortable, elastic waist shorts to work out in (not too short)
  3. Lotion that smells good (like Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, or Olay Quench. I use a LOT of lotion)
  4. Bath and shower gel (I use a lot of this also)
  5. A good pair of shears (scissors)
  6. A gift card for lunch (for one or two of those days that I don't make time to bring lunch from home. Panera or Chic-Fila would be good.).
  7. Speaking of Chic-Fila, a 2009 Chic-Fila Cows Calendar would be nice.
  8. A basic black belt to wear with slacks and jeans. (The ONE that I have is pretty shabby. And yes, that's right, I only have one.)
  9. A cup holder for my car. Mine broke a couple months ago and I still haven't replaced it.
  10. A pedicure or manicure.
  11. A homemade dessert (peach cobbler, coconut or lemon cake are a few of my favorites)
  12. A black necklace. Nothing expensive, just a nice looking necklace to go with my many black outfits.

Monday, October 13, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas – Make a list

(This is #4 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Making a List

As you can probably tell from my posts by now, I love lists. I find it hard to function and stay on task without lists.

I also feel the need to write everything down. There is a saying that goes "What get measured gets done". For me, what first gets written down, gets measured and then gets done. I have too much going on in my life and in my mind to rely on my memory. Once I get it out of my head on to paper, I can free that much needed space in my mind to focus on other things.

So naturally, I feel that one of the first and most important things you should do BEFORE you start your Christmas shopping is to make a list of all the people you will buy for.

Have you ever gotten down to the wire, maybe the week of or even worse, the day before Christmas, and realized there was one more person you forgot? How did you feel? Didn't like it did ya? Well from now on you can never have that experience again. Make your list now, and most of all (the hard part) STICK TO IT.

Try to have your list complete by Thanksgiving, (get it, the day before "Black Friday", sales, deals?).

As of today, my list consists of the following. But it is still early and most likely this will probably be changing slightly.

  1. Kids

  2. Sister

  3. Mom and Dad, Mother-in-law

  4. Nieces and nephews (8 total)

Notice a few things about my list.

Number 1, I have included only immediate family members only on my list, and I didn't even include some of my siblings, nieces and nephews. That's because when you are on a tight budget, you have to accept that you can not and should not even try to buy Christmas gifts for everyone. I have a huge family, and many acquaintances and co-workers that I am close to. If I buy for everyone, I will be in the poor house. I included one sister because she is the youngest, has no kids and some other special circumstances. I included the nieces and nephews who are in the greatest need, are not grown yet, and that I regularly see or communicate with.

Number 2, I have included only people not items on this list. In a later step I will break this list down into individual gift ideas for each person on this list.

Number 3, I have color-coded my list. In case I start running out of money, the different colors represent who I will spend my limited dollars on.

Like I said, it is still early, there's still over two months until Christmas, and a month and a half until my self-imposed Black Friday deadline, so this will probably change, once I tally up all of my Christmas budget funds. If I see where I will have more money to spend, then I can add other family members, friends and co-workers to my list.

Practical Christmas gift ideas

When times are hard, that's when you really want to give practical, usable gifts. Face it, a fancy piece of jewelry don't mean a hill of beans when you don't have any grocery, or your lights are about to get cut off, or you don't even have enough gas to get to work. Can you say "pawn shop", because that's exactly where that jewelry may end up.

I'm a simple, practical person. So naturally in my opinion, the best gift to give and receive in good times and bad is something that someone can and will use. And I don't mean just use it because, oh well, I got it so I might as well use it up. No, what I mean is something that if someone else didn't buy for them, they would go out and buy for themselves because they either really need it or they like it or have a habit of it, etc. Some people like to "give them something they wouldn't buy for themselves". I never understood that logic. Let's think about this. If they won't buy it for themselves, maybe it's because they don't want or need it bad enough. Therefore, it may not be the best choice of gift for you to give them. On the other hand, I guess it could make sense, if their reason for not buying it is because they simply could not afford it, and if they could they would buy it.

But whatever the case, if you will be shopping for anyone this year and you really want your gift to be a blessing in these tough economic times, here are some practical gifts you can give that most people would appreciate.

  1. Topping the chart at the number one spot – a gas card (what else?)
  2. A Wal-Mart or Target gift card. Everybody that I know shops at one or both of these stores, on a regular basis. Trust me, they WILL use this gift.
  3. Underwear (of course you can not give this kind of gift to everyone, you have to know the person, like really well).
  4. A grocery store gift card. One thing's for sure, people have to eat.
  5. A box full of household cleaning supplies. You can include dish detergent, laundry detergent, fabric softener, bleach, sponges. Some people are kind of finicky about brands for these items, I admit I am myself. But believe me, if someone gave me a box of them, I wouldn't care, I would use them just the same.
  6. An assortment of towels. I don't know why but I am forever "losing" towels some how. Well with 4 other people in the house I think I know how, but that's another subject. So towels are definitely welcomed. Bath towels, washcloths, dish towels, hand towels, they all come in handy. Because eventually if they don't get "lost" first, they get so worn and torn that they are only good for cleaning rags.
  7. Money. Yes you can give money as a gift. If you don't believe me, just try it and see how many people act disappointed because you gave them money. If they don't like it they can re-gift it. Yeah, right. I don't know where people ever got the idea that money as a gift is a bad thing. Maybe it's because there is nothing left to the imagination about how much you spent, but I don't care. I would much rather receive a $10 bill in my hand than a whatnot that cost $20, but I will never use, just look at it, looking at me, sitting on some shelf somewhere.
  8. A gift card to their favorite restaurant. Most people like to eat out even when times are hard. I know it would be a sad day at my house if we had totally cut out a trip to Cracker Barrel every now and then. We would survive but those Sunday mornings after church would not be the same. Give them a restaurant gift card that way they can still have a meal out without breaking the bank.
  9. Your personal time. Can you mow their lawn or watch their kids for them for a day? What about preparing a meal? A lot of people are so overwhelmed with routine day to day life and can really use a helping hand with these tasks. When you are busy and things are hectic, the gift of time is priceless. One of the best gifts I ever received was a free housecleaning. It didn't cost the giver a dime moneywise, but it did take a few hours of her time. It came at a time when I really needed the help, and it is a gift that I will remember and cherish a lot longer than something bought. That simple gift of thought and time not only saved me time, it also made my relationship with the person who gave it to me even stronger because it showed me how much she really cared.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

When you need money for Christmas

I know what it's like to have a couple kids, a lot of bills and no money during Christmas season. I remember one year that I took a job cleaning offices at night during the month of November just so I can have just a few dollars to buy Christmas gifts for my kids. It was a hard job, and it was even harder spending that time away from my kids in the evenings. I only did it a few weeks, that was all I could take.

I began to realize that although I wanted to provide wrapped gifts under a tree for my kids on Christmas morning, what they really needed was for me to be there with them, as much as I could. Christmas is only one day after all. And I was sacrificing our live's for the sake of that one day. I quit, and it felt good. We made do that year, and you know what? It was just fine, the kids were just fine, and they even had a few gifts. I couldn't give them much, but other people came through to help us out.

But if you do have some extra time and the family life would not suffer, perhaps you could take a seasonal job to pick up some extra cash. Just be careful not to put this before the quality time with family though. Not for the sake of buying Christmas gifts. If you have to do it to have a roof over your head or food to eat, that's a different story, but don't do it to buy gifts. Your time together is the best gift you can give.

We have to realize there may be times when we simply can't do it all ourselves and we can use a little help. I imagine there will be a lot of people in that boat this year. And there will be people around who are willing and able to help out.

At my place of employment, as a group we contribute a lot of money especially during Christmas to sponsor needy families, and we love it. It is a passion that we have, and we can do so much more because it is a group effort, and we plan and raise funds for it all year long. There are many such places, and if you are in need you could probably find something in your area.

Some other places to check out are churches. Many of them have outreach programs to provide food and even gifts to those in need. Many local government agencies also have programs for families who qualify.

Do an internet search on "financial help for Christmas" to see what's out there in your area.

As with all good things, there will be those out there abusing it. I have witnessed people who have really learned the ropes so well, that they are on lists to receive gifts from many different directions. And they end up getting way more than their share. This is wrong and those who do this should realize that this is no longer need but greed, and that they are possibly causing someone else who really does need the help to miss out. So if you need the help, by all means take it, but if you don't, please be mindful that you may be depriving someone else of the help they really do need in a very rough time.

31 Things to do before Christmas – Speaking of money

(This is #3 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Budgeting for Christmas when money is tight

One of the first things to remember about budgeting for anything is that you figure out how much you have to spend, then you set up your spending plan based on that amount. Not the other way around. If you first decide what you are going to buy, then try to find the money to pay for it, you will either be disappointed or so determined to get what you want that you will go into debt for it if necessary.

But since we want to spend cash only for Christmas, that is not an option.

Let's decide how much we have to spend before we make our lists. This would be a good time to start a running list in your Christmas tablet. You can simply call this one "Budget".

Next let's list other sources of cash you have or will have.
  • First of all, did you come up with any extra cash using any ideas from the previous post about reclaiming your unclaimed money? If so, write a line with the dollar amount and the source on your budget page for each amount you were able to find.
  • Do you expect to receive a holiday bonus from your employer?
  • Do you have a Christmas Club account or holiday savings account?
  • How many more paychecks do you expect to receive, and how much from each check will you be able to earmark for holiday spending?
Add an entry to your budget page for each of these sources.

A note about hoiday bonuses.... In most cases for those of you blessed enough to even be getting a bonus at all, it is at your employer's discretion, and if the company isn't doing well, that will probably be reflected in your bonus. Or if it is performance based, there again it is not guaranteed if you will get one or how much. I would not count this money until I see it. I usually receive a bonus but I don't expect it or get too excited about it, that way I'm not disappointed. Not only that, this money is taxed at the maximum rate I believe. At least I've noticed in the past that mine have been taxed at about 40%, ouch! So if I thought I was getting a $500 bonus, by the time I got the check home it was more like $300. The first time it happened to me I was kind of perterbed, but now I know. Don't get too excited about it.

Now that you've identified your main sources of your holiday budget and the expected dollar amounts, add them up to determine your total amount available for spending. You can refer to this amount from here on out, as we look at other tasks on our 31 days list.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

31 Things to do before Christmas - Reclaiming unclaimed funds

(This is #2 of 31 in the 31 Things to do series)

Get what's coming to you at Christmas

So it's Christmas again, and money is short. This is a great time to start collecting the money that's due you. Just about every body has something or somebody out there who owes them, so let's think about it and see if we can come up with some extra cash for Christmas.

  1. Health Savings and Dependent care savings accounts. Do you have an HSA or FSA and have outstanding receipts you need to submit for reimbursement? Earmark one of those reimbursement checks for your Christmas expenses if you can. This will put a nice dent in it, especially if you have a reimbursement coming for child care expenses. Or pay yourself the tax that you saved by using the plan. For example, if you are reimbursed $250 for childcare expensees, and you saved roughly 30% ($75) in taxes by using the plan, pay yourself the $75 to use towards your Christmas expenses.

  2. Store returns. It is so easy to hold on to stuff forever that you will return to the store, "the next time you go". (right) The problem is, you put it in the trunk of your car and you forget about it. I have at least $20 worth of merchandise right now that I was supposed to return to Target and WalMart at least since February of this year, but I keep forgetting. Well now is the time. $20 isn't much but hey, it could be two $10 gifts.

  3. Consignment shop payouts. I'm a fan of consignment stores, for buying and selling stuff. Problem is making it there to collect my payout, since the shop I deal with only does payouts on a few week days of the month. Never on Saturdays, so I can only go if I am off of work on those days, or if I can arrange my schedule to get there. So some months, my payout rolls over until the next month. That is cool, but around the holidays, I need to make it my business to get there some kind of way to receive my payout. Do you have payouts you have forgotten about or just haven't gotten around to going to collect? This is a good time to get there don't you think?

  4. Rebates. I'm not big on rebates because I either don't buy the products that are offering the rebates, or don't buy enough of the product to qualify for the rebates. I've only succesfully done about 5 or fewer rebates in my life. And it is a pain jumping through the hoops they make you jump through (send labels, all of the original receipts with the date of purchase circled, fill out a form, give your name, maiden name, mother's maiden name, your blood type, your first born child). However, those that I have benefitted from have been worth it, red tape and all. So if you happen to have one you have been putting off sending off for, stop procrastinating and do it now before they expire (that's another reason I have missed out).

  5. This one is not exactly claiming new money, but making use of the money that's right under your nose. It's the obvious.... cash in those coins. I know it's time consuming to roll coins, and nowadays I don't even know if people take time roll coins anymore. But it just doesn't seem right to save pennies and then pay some crazy percentage to cash them in. To me that's as bad as paying someone to get my money out of my account, but anyway, I digress...... If you don't want to fool with the coins, you can do what I've been doing the last year, start spending them gradually. I used to never use any of my coins and I would roll them all at the end of the year (around the holidays). But this year I've been using them when I make purchases. Sometimes the customers in line behind me don't appreciate it since it seems most people don't even pay with cash, let alone coins. But more often than not, the cashiers thank me for paying them in change, they usually need it.

  6. Go on a spending "fast". For the next month (or couple weeks), only buy what is absolutely necessary, and nothing else. Most people have a lot of room to work with in their grocery expenses. It is possible to spend $25 bucks a week on grocery and feed a family of four, I've never done it but I have been told. Lots of people have enough food in the pantry to eat well for the next couple months. Use up what you have.