Friday, October 28, 2011

Frugal Retirement Living: My $500 Holiday Plan

Previously, I mentioned that I was working towards a $500 Christmas holiday. I’ve mentioned that our family (on both sides) has chosen not to get rid of gifts. Rather, we share ideas, needs and wants, and go from there. Gifts range in price from a few dollars on up. I buy for thirteen adults, my son and my daughter and four nieces and nephews ranging from toddlerhood (you read that right) to college age.

Here we are at the beginning of November. I refuse to celebrate Christmas before we’ve seen Thanksgiving. As my son would say, I prefer to celebrate the national holiday and make if not equally as important, at least important in its own right. However, I feel that by planning ahead (sometimes year around), I also free up myself to enjoy both the religious and other aspects of Christmas at my leisure. My original estimate had included hosting a family meal for one side of the family, so I believe that I will come in much, much lower (standing rib roast lives in a place all of its own in terms of price).

How I’m doing this is really not so amazing. I’ve combined deals, free items (not talking samples here), and loss leader shopping. I’ve also used my skills to make some original gifts and decorations. While I’ve not yet done my final total, and still have gifts to organize, I thought I would share some of my gifts and where they came from to make this goal come to fruition.

Some items I’ve gotten by deal shopping or being a “favored customer” Two years ago I signed up as an email customer with Vera Bradley purses. Each year in my birth month, they send me a gift card for twenty dollars off anything they sell. This wristlet was on sale for 19.99 and became a completely free gift to one niece (the one who has twenty purses and dresses up). If I have extra gift cards that I’ve earned, I’ll add a small five dollar gift card to the mix. By doing the same thing with Victoria’s secret I’ve earned a free panty for every month and free bra (stocking stuffers for my daughter). My son is six foot six inches tall. As a result we are registered online and in store as customers to get advance awards of deals. A few times a year we get one that is good for twenty five dollars off anything in the store, and I go to the outlet store and get sale items for free. I’ve also taken advantage of other deals, including those ever appearing ten dollars of ten dollars at JC Penney coupons. I’ve used these for scarves, shawls, individual pieces of jewelry and kitchen towels.

Some of my free low cost gifts have come through earnings and rewards. I’ve earned gift cards from CVS, Penny’s and Amazon (as well as gas cards) through debit card rewards. By using Swag bucks, I’ve earned many many dollars in Amazon cards. These will be used towards gift certificates for members with kindles such as my in-laws (who sure do appreciate the adjustable print sizing).

Another big way I meet my gift giving goal is using my skills and or items already on hand to make gifts (whether those gifts are things or promises of time). While it’s true that I am a quilter (with a large stash of fabric), I do have a few other non-crafty skills that come into play as well. While I don’t enjoy cooking per se, I enjoy baking, and creating various sauces, condiments and such. I enjoy experimenting with flavor combinations. To that end, I’ve four separate barbecue sauces that I will can and give as sets. I’ll also be making such items as pickled cranberries and flavored ice cream toppings. These homemade foods will go into thrift shopped baskets with decorative napkins and a couple other items (thrift shopped ice cream bowls for example), and be made into gifts. Since I buy both canning supplies and pantry items from tomatoes on up at loss leader prices, the cost for these baskets will be a couple dollars.

Since I enjoy writing on occasion, I’ve done my own version of “scrapbooking”. I’ve begun writing down some memories of early times in my kid’s lives or even before. I type this up in nice script on nice paper and mount it. I may add a photo or memento afterwards. These are presented individually rather than in a scrapbook so that they can be framed. I buy the paper with rewards points from my office paper purchases, and may have the additional cost of scanning a photo.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the crafty quilty items as well. Quilted coasters, sewn spa bags, kindle and ipad covers and baby quilts are all items that will be added to the gift pile. Since I work with fabric on hand, my out of pocket costs will me almost nothing. I do however, keep track labor costs for my own information. Still, these items will cost more than a traditional (often prefab and throwaway gift)

Thrown into this mix will be homemade cookies and candies and other items as yet unnamed. Sometime in the next few weeks, I‘ll figure exact expenses, check my gift list and see where I am in my quest. Meanwhile, I’ve been fortunate to make a big dent, with very little mone


  1. What a well-thought out plan, Barb. You have it covered. I must make a more concerted effort to grab gift and bonus cards like you do.

    Except for the grand kids, we are trying a gift-less Christmas season this year (except for my wife's surprise...don't tell).

    But, we are renting a house in Flagstaff for 2 nights and everyone is going on the "Polar Express" train ride, complete with hot chocolate, cookies, and a hobo with a hurdy gurdy. That memory will last a lot longer than another shirt.

  2. Wow, Barb! I'm amazed. You're fantastic!

    You've given me a few ideas. Like snagging gift cards.

    This year, I am making everyone a pair of flannel PJ bottoms, complete with back pocket, some decorative stitching and an elastic-based drawstring. Each person is getting a material aimed at them personally. Like my SIL likes to sail, so I found material with little sailboats. With the left over material, I am going to make matching coasters to place under their favorite cup of tea or hot cocoa.

    How do you make covers for iPhones and iPads? That's a thought. Is there a pattern? Or instructions?

    I only buy presents for the immediate family (kids and hubby) and one cousin. Last year I sent a gift card to my sister and MIL. This year, I don't know.

    Since everyone comes here for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve dinner AND Christmas Day, that's a lot of food we have to buy for our guests (who all sleep over, BTW, so more meals. And laundry.)

    My family does bring things, like squash soup, candied pecans, cookies, but the whole gist of the meals fall on my husband and myself.

    Every year, I wonder how I am going to pull it off and every year, we make a little bit less than the previous year.

    Like just one kind of potato dish vs two (baked and not candied sweet). And only 3 different fishes on Eve vs 7. Yikes!

    My newly wed daughters, however, are hinting that they may be coming only for Thanksgiving this year and spending Christmas with their new in-laws. My sister, has most graciously offered me her Florida condo for the last 2 weeks of December, and you know what? I think this year, my husband and I are going to go away for the first time ever during the Xmas season. Her condo sponsors a Holiday party for all the retirees who remain in Florida during the season, and I think this may be just the right thing for us.

    I'll keep you posted.

  3. MOrrison, good grief. Thats alot of cooking to do. If I had to do that much cooking, I would probably give up gifts, or give stockings with candy or something and cookies. Thats a lot of work AND alot of food. In Dallas there are four folks who can host and we generally take turns. Last year I did Christmas and my sister in law did Thanksgiving, this year I plan to be in Dever for Thanksgiving (If I get all my exam stuff done) and not sure about Christmas. I think if I were you I would be sending out something saying that you were serving (bank) for a mian course and that this is what you need and list it..

  4. I have come to the point in my life where I just give mostly gift cards. That way they can choose exactly what they want and I don't have to spend hours planning and shopping for inexpensive items just to have things under the tree. Gift cards are easy to mail without having to go to the post office. I am trying to make the focus on family and spending time together not the gifts. It is hard to make changes though!

  5. ClixSense is a very recommended work from home website.

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