Edit: I forgot to mention that we have a tradition of giving each of the kids an ornament each year that they open on Christmas Eve. When they leave home they will have all the ones they didn't break. I have also learned to not to buy ornaments that will break, pick the resin ones to last the longest. Some years it is all a theme like one year I got metal shaped animals (alligator, lion, bear,etc) and one year it was all snowmen. I cannot keep up trying to theme for events of the year for each child but if it ties in I will buy that. Last year I got a guitar for my son and one with the comedy/theatre mask that they wrote "You are our little Drama Queen" because her nickname is DQ. This can be really expensive so I try to buy when ornaments are marked down after Thanksgiving. I used to give my husband one but he doesn't really care so that has kind
of gone away.
I had a reader ask me to share how we "do Christmas" on a budget. When we had our first child I gave up my job as an orthodontic assistant. We were young, I was 21 and my husband was 23 and had just starting his career as an electronics technician. He was in his 2nd year of working after school and had not begun to earn a lot yet. We gave up over half our income when I quit work, but I would not trade those lean years for the world. We truly learned to trust God for our needs and saw Him work in amazing ways to take care of those unexpected auto repairs.
My mother in law went overboard with gift giving. We could not afford to even give each other anything and would buy things for the kids but my MIL bought more than we ever needed or could even carry home. It was a good experience to see how my kids reacted to the over abundance of gifts. They were happy with a few, and overwhelmed with too many. I made a decision that we would not buy things just to give a certain number of gifts, no matter how much money we had. I pretty much buy the kids three gifts with a few other smaller things thrown in. We made a decision not to have Santa come because it just didn't fit in with what we were trying to teach them about Christmas- and Santa really brings a lot of toys!
Over the years I also learned that the toys with batteries were the ones always sitting in the toy box unused. If you watch a kid play with Woody from Toy Story if the doll has batteries they will pull the string and listen to it, play around a little, but when they tire of hearing him say the same phrase over and over they throw it down and it sits unplayed with. If the doll doesn't talk the kid will make up stories and play much more creatively. I am just trying to use Woody as an example, in general, I just don't see my kids play with the electronic toys anywhere as creatively as non electronic toys. My kids will play for hours with legos, matchbox cars, lincoln logs, blocks, art supplies, dolls. And, I really hated having to buy batteries for stuff continuously. Now, we have all the basic toys are have had them and don't do a lot of toy buying. They seem to really want expensive things now, like IPods, digital cameras, Wii systems, and drums. If they want something above what we spend(about $125-$150 a piece) then they use their Grandparent money.
I really want Christmas to be about Jesus, not us and getting everything that we want. That is why I limit what we buy. My kids don't understand being in need, but thankfully they don't know think Christmas is supposed to be when all their dreams are met. I want them to feel special and loved but not above anyone else. We enjoy making Operation Christmas Boxes to give. For each holiday we draw names within our family. They spend $10 on a gift for thier person within our family. My little ones really put a lot into getting their gift to give. We try to keep it secret who has whom but little hints are given through the weeks and it is usually figured out by the time Christmas arrives. That is part of the fun, they mystery and trying to figure it all out.
I shop all year for gifts for giving to teachers or for Dirty Santa giving. We stopped giving to everyone a few years ago and are now just playing Dirty Santa. We just buy $5 gifts, but to play with two families I need 14 items. Last year right after Christmas I bought some gifts to give this year. I am not close to my brother and his 4 kids so I don't do anything for them other than the dirty santa game. We give a gift to my dad and step mother, my MIL and her husband, my FIL adopted his wife's grandson so we give a gift to him, we give to my 2 nieces kids- it will be four of them this Christmas, and we give to my step mother's dad and brother. My dad and MIL both have everything they need so we just try to find a little something for them. None of them have a hobby or special interest so they are hard to buy for. We always give my MIL a gift card to Cracker Barrel. This year, I used my MyPoints to get a $20 Cracker Barrel gift card and will give that to them. We always give my step mother's dad a gift card to a restaurant like Outback or Lonestar. We just gave our niece's kids gift cards last year because it is easier and they can buy what they want.
I love gift cards or cash because I can buy at a better price than most people giving me gifts. I am so glad that my dad and MIL and FIL all just give us and our kids money. It saves them having to shop. We can use it how we want. When we were younger and broke my MIL would spend so much on us getting us really nice clothes and things like Kitchenaid mixers. Really nice, but what she didn't know is that we barely had food to make it to the end of the month and gas to make it to Mobile to spend time with them. We really had to cut all we could from food to pay for the gas. Luckily, she always sent us home with leftovers and bags of food ( I think she knew.) But, many times I looked at outfits for my kids that cost $50 and thought how many I could have bought at garage sales or on clearance. It just felt wasteful. Also, it was discouraging to send a list of toys and know the price she paid then see them half price a week later. Now, they all give cash. It cuts down on the kids wanting everything. All those toys that they have to have suddenly aren't as wanted when they have a certain amount to spend and are trying to make it go as far as they can. They love to shop after Christmas with their money and find all the sale items.
Dirty Santa Gifts:
I got a few things last January to give in this year's dirty santa. I got a box set of two stainless travel mugs, a Christmas throw, a set of satin photo albums, one is red and one is black and they are tied together with a ribbon, a set of Christmas tip towels in blue with snowmen on them. Today I saw the same photo albums back out again for $12.xx at Target so it isn't out of style and is a better $5 gift than if I was shopping now- but I paid $3.44. I picked up 3 wall plates with snowmen and santas still in the boxes at a garage sale(scroll down in link to see the plates.) We usually buy the big tub of popcorn as one gift. I like to buy a $5 Blockbuster card and give it with some microwave popcorn and a box of movie candy. Last year I bought some striped socks and they were a hot item being stolen. We pick up tool bags for $5 and they are normally $10. I like to throw in a pair of Christmas boxers. We wrapped a $5 around a giant Hershey bar last year. You can find jewelry after the holidays or right before Christmas they will mark them down. We bought a Christmas CD with funny songs last year for about $2- we were in Circuit City buying our TV and I was looking around because my husband found all 1000 TVs to be different, I found the CD's there. I might add one of the large flameless candles this year if I need another gift. I have about 3 that I got for $.99 after coupons and rebates, but they are $9.99 regularly. I have 4 nieces and nephews that are 14-20 something so they like restaurant cards like Chick- fil- A.