A few weeks ago my oldest was teasing me about my preparations when it comes to vacations. (Yes, I will get to frugal Christmas!)
“You measure out ingredients and put things into individual bags!” To which I replied with a question. “Do you know why I do that?” The answer is that when we vacation we have learned that if we can rent a house or cabin for several nights instead of staying in a hotel, we actually save money. Part of that savings comes from cooking most of the meals. I measure things out ahead of time to be ready to go at the rental. I went on to explain that by planning out the meals, I can have a list of exactly what groceries we need to purchase when we arrive at our destination and have as little waste as possible. I’ll admit that I even know how many eggs I need for the length of our stay.
Planning is one of the biggest keys I see to making the most of your budget/frugality/whatever you wish to label it.
For the past few years, my Christmas shopping has begun on December 26 and now I am hooked. I’ve always kept a running list of the kids’ wants. It really helped them to not get the ‘gimmies’ at the store if they knew I’d write the desired item on a list for future reference. The kids actually give me ideas of things to look for when they go to bed on Christmas night, knowing that I’ll be at the store long before they think of climbing out of bed. I love being at the near-empty stores without anyone along to become bored or impatient.
What do I look for on December 26th?
Cards for the following Christmas. We send a lot between family and church.
Wrapping paper/gift tags/bows/gift bags as needed to restock.
Throw blankets to have as gifts for the following year. The kids’ youth groups have a $5 or less exchange at their Christmas parties, and blankets are always a hit.
Chocolate and other goodies. A favorite of my crew is Ghiradeli peppermint bark and I’d rather not pay full price for the treat. The Easter baskets get chocolate santas, bark, and Reese’s peanut butter trees.
Socks. My girls love Christmas or other fun socks.
Slippers and bathrobes. Half price, just make sure the sizes are stable or you but a bit big.
Movie themed toys. These get swapped out with the changing of the popular movies so keep an eye on the favorites of your family. I scooped up an awesome Star Wars toy last year. It wasn’t half price, but it was reduced enough to make it worth while and I know my son will love it. I also haven’t seen anything like it with the new S.W. merchandise out.
One thing I love about shopping all year for my kids is that moment you see a great deal and at the same time know that your child’s face is going to shine when they see it. I’m constantly thinking about my young ones and the things that make them happy. It’s like a treasure hunt, and by this time of year the shopping is mostly done.
How do I keep track of it all?
Write down what you buy, who you bought it for, what you spent, and what it originally cost. Then have a central area to keep the stash in. You need to be able to find everything when it comes time to wrap.
Have a general idea of your upper spending limit for each recipient if not the actual number.
Save room for a last minute ‘find’ or heart’s desire expressed. These do come up and you don’t want to be over budget.
At the end of all of the shopping and unwrapping, go back to your list and add up the ‘original’ prices minus the ‘actual spents’ and revel in how much you avoided spending while still giving brand new items. You might really surprise yourself.
Do I really see an advantage each year? Yup. Earlier this year I took advantage of an incredible sale at Claire’s where all jewelry was $5. I got $26 dollar necklaces for $5 and my girls will be over the moon. From a clearance rack at another store I bought sweaters for them for about $12 – originally $50. You have to keep your eyes open, know your kids’ tastes, and be willing to browse a few clearance racks, but you can make both your kids and your wallet happy.
Another thing we do is accumulate Amazon points (pay the card off monthly!). Then at Christmas, shopping is done with points instead of the wallet. Remember to count the points as dollars when adding up the totals for your budget. Be advised: pre-orders cannot be done with points.
When the kids were little, we used the Toys R Us credit card and saved the Toys R Us Bucks for a day of shopping. People would be amazed that we’d end up paying $30 for a cart of toys (three kids), but it just took the discipline of keeping the card paid off monthly and then saving those reward cards.
If your kids are still quite young and you want to keep Christmas reasonable, be careful not to set the bar of expectation too high. You can have a nice Christmas without emptying the shelves of Toys R Us. I’ve read of families who put a bunch of inflated balloons on the floor around the tree to make the room appear more full and colorful, or families who make treasure hunt clues to find the gifts. For our young fry, gifts of things to do and make are big hits. (And consumables don’t add as much to the accumulation of stuff) The fact is that few of us have a bank account like Trump or Bill Gates. Keep the focus on the day, the time together, the meaning of the holiday, etc.
There are many other ways to save money on Christmas shopping. Find what works for your family and relax while others are dreading their January credit card bills.