Monday, June 27, 2011

Fixed Income Living-My $400 Christmas Challenge

Lately there seem to have been a few posts here and there about frugal holidays, planning ahead, gift closets and the like.  Some folks seem to think these discussions are quite unChristmas like. My general philosophy of life goes something like this: If I think a bit here and plan a bit there, I can have a much nicer holiday, with less money spent.  I don't see this as grinchlike, I see it as enabling me to enjoy all the aspects of Christmas (including and especially the religious ones).

The title above is my version of a challenge made over at the Saved Quarter where she buys gifts for her family for $100.00.  While I think that's admirable, I have older kids, have more giftees, and host a holiday dinner for almost twenty on the big day. My original intention was to allow myself $500, which what another blogger has done.  I decided instead to challenge myself to meet the $400 mark, and not to shoot myself if the food goes beyond that amount.

Let me say here and now........We don't gift because we feel pressures, or because we want to keep up with the proverbial Jonses. I realize that for many families forgoing gifts seems the correct thing to do, for philosophical or financial reasons. In my extended family we opt for small gifts that are on a wants or needs list which we share throughout the year. Gift giving is just one part of Christmas and does not displace Christmas travel, religous celebration of the season, or helping others. It's a part of our holiday that we choose to keep

Who do I give to?  I have two adult children (one a college student).  I have four nieces and nephews ranging from two years to college age.  Add to that 13 siblings and in laws , and you have a total of seventeen family gifts plus my two kids. Then there are a couple groups where token gifts are shared, and some holiday donations.  While my greater family has not decided to forgo gifts, we all have different financial abilities and gifts will be varied and primarily items that are needed.

How do I plan to manage all this?
  • I make some gifts.  While I realize not every family welcomes homemade gifts, I think some homemade gifts deserve to be a portion of every holiday. Homemade gifts do not necessarily have to be "crafty gifts".  My handmade gifts will include a t-shirt memento quilt for my daughter, personalized memory pages and photos for my in laws and my children, barbecue and sundae sauce sets, canned by me.Many of those "nominal" gifts will be cookie baskets. I will figure items of food purchased into my final cost, but not the cost of items I already have on hand, for this discussion.
  • I'll earn gift cards through (normal) debit card spending and by doing surveys and searches through sites such as swagbucks. Many (but not all) of these will be Amazon gift cards, and will be put towards books and kindle gift cards. So far I have almost a hundred dollars worth of these.
  • I'll take advantage of deals and discounts. The $20.00 that got me $45.00 worth of The Body Shop gift sets will provide me three gifts (disclaimer:  My family members like bath and body items).  Other deals I've gotten in the past year include a $30.00 Klutz gift certificate for $10.00 and a $50 Sharper Image gift certificate for $20.
  • While I won't be taking advantage of the used market for gifting this year (with the possible exceptions of used "war" video games since my son wins every battle in about 24 hours), I will be "thrifting" for gifts in terms of components. Those four jars of gourmet barbecue sauce will need packaging and twenty five cent baskets and the like will be part of my holiday preparations. If I could buy family member clothing, or if my children still played with toys, the used market would be a much larger part of my gift shopping. I once got a full bucket of Lego's for two bucks, and have purchased real power rangers and barbie sets for pennies.
  • I'll be giving (and more importantly encourages others to give) gifts of service or self. In another life I used to give massages, and surely one of my gives will be a massage. In my family, my brothers inherited the gourmet gene from my mom (I like to cook but am not one of those people who can make folks cry when they taste anything but my baking). My brother is more than welcome to cook a gourmet multi course meal of his choosing instead of getting me a gift, and any handy relatives who want to give me the gift of time or a repair would be appreciated.
  • While I have yet to find a way to get prime rib on sale, many of the ingredients of my Christmas dinner and baking can be bought at lost leader prices and stocked. My immediate Christmas shopping will include the meat and produce only.
  • I donate the same way as I shop for family members.Last year, ToysRus had a sale where all of the "younger" Milton Bradley games were $3.00.  They also offered a $10 gift card when you spent $30.00 and had a $2.00 rebate on every game. The games were put away to give to the local shelter, the money came back to me, and the gift card will be given to the sister-in-law expecting her second child (and me at sixty-whoda thought it).
In my defence, I should step in here  and assure readers that I don't buy or gift the following: junk, unwanted stuff, or "cheap" items.  I know family members well, and have a good idea of what they like (or more often need). My in laws may never need anything again, but love to eat out. They will get a restaurant gift certificate earned with rewards. Nieces and nephews and family members with Kindles will get gift certificates for Kindle time. The girly niece who collects purses will get a Vera Bradley wristlet, bought on sale with the free $25.00 that I got from VB for being an email subscriber on my birthday.

I've already purchased many items and put them in that gift closet of mine.  While I'm unsure that I know how to make a table showing gifts and money spent here on blogger, I promise to begin listing money spent and items purchased, soon. Meanwhile, look for some easy and handmade gifts that anyone can make as I begin a "prepare for Christmas" series soon.


  1. Have you ever approached your family with a white elephant exchange? We started in our family about five years ago. My family (almost 30 of us) does not normally laugh together- but we laugh until we cry every Christmas eve. Babies (under 13) still get a present from each of us- but everyone else is in the exchange.
    The one thing I know is that even if a wedding or a funeral cannot get everyone to my Mother's house- the white elephant is only missed because of illness or deployment!
    The best part is no one feels left out- or broke- after coming to the family Christmas
    I love your ideas- and will use them for birthday presents :>)

  2. JBO I think my problem is that I LIKE choosing all of these gifts, as do I htink most of my family. I have done some white elephant exchanges with some of my social groups-either that or a so called "Chinese Auction"..Also, very frankly, I like getting gifts, what can I say?

  3. are those the exchanges where you steal 3 times? I've never liked those but I"m debating joining my friend's family's this year (they do the weekend close to New Year's with a $20 gift. She invited me out last year and I went but didn't do the exchange part.

    sounds great - I love reading about people's bargains! are you including the gift card amounts in the total - like the $100 in giftcards from swagbucks leaves $300 in cash for the rest or are you counting those as zero spent like they were.

    I for one love to shop for my family. unfortunately my mom passed away this past March - we got the bad news confirmed on christmas eve- so not sure what we'l do this holiday. I would like to focus on the real meaning for once as well as enjoy with friends and family.
    I didn't do well with a budget last year because Christmas is an emotional time - I went beyond overboard with my friend's almost 3 yr old then and his almost 8 yr old cousin - but it was so much fun to play santa though I think it was a tad much. with my mom sick I emotional shopped at this bday in feb as well!
    I also need to budget for the Christmas family drive at work we do every year. I always give cash and donate my safety bucks from work towards this but a few years ago I had some fleece and made 3 double fleeced throws - didn't know them but sewed and flipped and then stitched around the edge to keep from rolling. They were a pretty big hit but I haven't caught the fleece sales since then plus they've had too many kids the past couple of years and don't want to make that many.

    I love homemade gifts if they're something the person knows I'd like and I like to do the same thing. I make quilts and my mom would get one every year - even a very simple one or one from swap blocks. my sister in law ended up liking the fleece throws esp the minkee and furry fleece so I made her a few of those over the years along with 2 quilts. My brother I made a couple of quilts then a throw with Dallas Cowboys and navy minkee and my dad one quilt and a couple of quillows. My brother didn't want a bunch of quilts - he takes after my mom in afraid to use them and doesn't want a bunch stacked around the house - my dad doesn't use them much but his I made with tool fabric and now he gets home depot gift cards and a little something wrapped.
    wow not even thinking of Christmas til this post LOL! I have $25 in amazon cards from swagbucks - I envy those who can earn more but it doesn't seemt o happen for me - I get 3 daily from the poll, going ot the survey site and using the toolbar - and different amounts from searches. one year I used some of those towards my brother and sil's gifts - dvds I think I got them- the rest of the time I get stuff for myself with them but I'm trying to let them build up some for my brother and sil again this year - she always has a list of dvds she wants.


  4. Susannah-I only count money spent out of pocket. Since I only do surveys nd searches to get my swagbucks, I will count them as things I have to sepnd, but not a cost. I agree, christmas can be emotion, as can spending-im living proof of how grief can make one lose control f money.

  5. We've stopped all gift giving on Christmas. I only buy presents for my 2 daughters and we set an amount of $50.

    This year, however, I think I am just going to sew flannel PJ's for everyone. Somehow, what used to be laughed and scoffed at, has now become a wanted Xmas present. My, my, my......How things have changed.

    We've stopped putting a monetary value on gift giving years ago. You have no idea what a relief it was for ALL family members, down to nieces and nephews! The only person who is supposed to get a gift on Xmas is Jesus Himself :)! It's more important for the family to spend time together.

    Every November, my supermarket, Shop Rite has a loss leader sale on prime rib and filet mignons. I stock up like crazy!!!! And we have a wonderful Christmas Day dinner.

    Good luck (and save a buck.....put an end to gift giving).

  6. PS: I found an old post I wrote about 'spending' at Christmas time:

  7. Thanks for the link Barb! I wish you the best on your $400 holiday challenge. I don't know if you have thought about using MyCokeRewards, but I have accumulated enough of them to secure some magazine subscriptions for family members.

    Of course you would have drink Coke products... :}
    Great post!

  8. Lisa-I do drink coke but since on my diet have cut down to one regular (not diet) in the morning. My answer to hot caffeine. So Im accumulating them but not as much as before...

  9. SwagBucks is a very popular get-paid-to site.

  10. Find out how THOUSAND of people like YOU are earning their LIVING by staying home and are living their dreams right NOW.


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