Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Buying Christmas on a budget

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.


Marva said...

Thank you so much for doing this. It is so hard when you have friends that are not like us and have much more money coming in and not nearly as many medical bills. Listening to them can be so disheartening sometimes. I wonder even though they go to church, if their children are learning the real meaning of the season.

Thank you for sharing the amount you spend too. Now, I do not feel like a cheap-o but rather a frugal minded Christian!

One more question and I promise I will hush........maybe for today! LOL!

Do you and your hubby buy each other Christmas? OH and do you do stockings for your kiddos?

I may be back.......just warning ya!

Thanks again and I really admire you!


Marva said...

I know I asked two at the bottom and I know you don't do Santa, but some folks do stockings without Santa.....


Southerner said...

Yes, we do put candy and stuff in the stockings. I ususally fill the toes with socks or underwear because it would be A LOT of candy in our stockings. I also put in small toy items like cars or yo-yos, playing cards, small games like travel checkers,silly putty, arts and craft supplies, or jacks- stuff like that.

We have had many years when we did not buy for each other. Early years we did not because we just did not have the money. My MIL was so good to us. She worked at Parisians during those years and could get my clothes 40% off and hubbies and my kids(only two then) I think 20% off so she would take us shopping and buy us a lot of our clothing. We have just spent many years in Florida where we had an abundance because we worked extra jobs. Yes, we bought presents for each other those years. What I do not like is when you buy things just to have a present. If my husband and I don't need anything I would rather use our money somewhere else. I guess having gifts given to me is not my love language. I don't have a "need" to have presents. I don't like when people buy things that I don't need or want just to give a present. It just seems wasteful. I like to give more than I want anything. Some years my husband and I have given token gifts when finances were tight and only spent around $15 a piece on something we kindof needed or wanted. Sometimes it has been clothes needed like a jacket or new work shirts and ties.

Marva, I know due to medical stuff with your dental and your husband not working after knee surgery you are tight this year. There is nothing wrong with baking something for all those extended people on your list and doing something for your parents. If you and your husband don't have needed items let it be a year where you don't give to each other. Your boys are so small that they don't know the difference between a few low cost toys and a room full. They also will receive from grandparents and others so don't need a lot. As for church people and others that are spending like crazy- you have to just know what is right for your family and not be swayed by how others celebrate or spend. Watch kids that are given everything, do they appreciate it? They usually expect it. They are the ones pouting in the corner after all the things are opened, bored and on a toy opening downer after their high. They are overwhelmed and can't decide what to play with so they play with something a few minutes and throw it down to try out the next one. If you only have a few things you enjoy that item.

I totally understand feeling disheartened- I started crying on a shopping trip one time with my MIL and SIL. My SIL was buying 7 pair of panties for my niece that was 12 years old that cost $6 each- $42 for underwear in like 1991. I had to buy the package of Hanes for $6. It was one of those moments where I had sacrificed so much for so long and it was the thing that broke my resiliance. I tried to keep the tears from coming but had to walk away and was standing there in the middle of the store tears in my eyes over panties.

Christy said...

I appreciate your sharing here. It's not always easy to let people know personal things like this. We also do not do the Santa thing. Before we had kids, this was an argument we had. I grew up believing in Santa and Dwight did not. Thankfully, I listened to Dwight. Now we are not one of those families out there killing ourselves trying to find the Wii or the other latest thing that our kids asked Santa for at the last minute. We want our kids to know that God is the giver of all good things, not some man in a fuzzy red suit. Of course, not all good things are necessarily material things. We're trying to teach them that one, too.

Michelle said...

Thank you very sharing this, we too are in a tight spot and this Christmas will be lean. However, I have been shopping all year and have found some really wonderful things to give teachers & family members. My sons who are 9 & 7 know that Santa is not real so that takes alot of pressure off and we are doing the 3 gift rule and smaller stockings this year. I believe that Christmas is so much more than gifts and I want my children to always want to give rather than to receive. Each year we buy for 4 teenage boys that are in foster care and I would rather buy for them than to have something for myself.

As for crying over panties, two weeks ago I returned 2 pair of shoes and a shirt that I had bought for myslef at Macy's in order to have money to buy my kids some winter clothes that they needed. After we got home I lost it I was so sad that I didn't have the money to keep my things and buy for the boys. But, I went to the Goodwill the next day and found 5 pairs of Lands End pants for my son for $1.50 each and I saw that God had provided in abundance for my family.

Take Care