Welcome to my "Countdown to Christmas" series where each week I share about what we are doing in our home to prepare for this most wonderful time of the year. Last week we discussed some tips on how to be prepared for the holiday season so we can be more intentional and have time to enjoy the festivities without added stress. This week I wanted to share with you the practical ways that we stay within our budget and still bring joy to our family, friends, and people less fortunate than us.
One of the things that brings us great joy is giving at Christmas time. We start our holiday season by setting a budget for Christmas. The budget includes Christmas decorations, cards, stamps, mailing packages, our holiday party, wrapping supplies, and of course, GIFTS! We come up with a lump sum and then disperse that throughout the categories and work hard to stay within the boundaries we have set for ourselves. This means, more often than not, I am not able to do all that I want to do on our holiday list. Example: When we were first married, I mailed out over 100 Christmas cards to family and friends. ( I have lots of relatives). Here we are, 19 years later, and I mail out 30 cards. This year to keep the budget cost even less, rather than ordering the photo cards that I normally make up, I am just going to order copies of our family picture and include it with our annual newsletter.
(FYI: This is the first year my husband and I have worked together as a team planning the holiday budget and gifts. Usually I just take the bull by the horns and get er' done. So, please know that this is not done perfectly in our home. We are still learning how to communicate in all areas but especially with the budget. In previous years when I did this solo, I went through these same steps though.)
This Christmas season I am doing a mixture of homemade and store bought gifts to help stay within budget. We also set limits on the number of gifts that we give. Our children each receive 3 gifts under the tree and rather than filling a stocking full of gifts, each child receives a piece of candy in their stocking as well as a clue that leads them on a scavenger hunt around the house (one of our favorite traditions). In previous years there was an item at each clue for them to unwrap but that has become expensive. So this year, they will just have clues that will lead them to a gift at the end of the hunt. We will still be keeping with our tradition of a scavenger hunt but we will be simplifying it a bit to meet our budget needs. :)
If things are looking meager budget wise for you, do not be afraid to tweak things. Just because you have to stick to a budget doesn't mean you cannot give gifts. It just means you might have to think outside of the box a little bit.
Here are my gift giving steps that I use to help me stay within budget and still spread Christmas cheer.
Step 1 is to make sure you know how much money you are working with. Don't skip the budgeting part as that is vital for a stress free holiday season. If money is tight you can still give a gift. Remember, the best things in life are free. :) Here is a great list of 100 FREE gift ideas.
Step 2: Make a list!
I am a list maker at heart and would be quite lost without my paper and pen or my phone with a note app. Having a list helps keep me organized and gives me a game plan. It also helps me from overspending. Throughout the year when I hear of a loved one speak of something they would like, I pop it onto my list. Some friends and family share their amazon wish lists with me, which is a wonderful way to purchase items you know your loved ones will enjoy. I keep a simple Google spreadsheet with a list of those I have to buy for, ideas, and a running total of what I am spending. It makes it really easy to just glance and see who I have left to buy for and what the remaining balance is for my holiday spending.
I absolutely love Google because it is so organized and easy. I actually make a new spreadsheet, title it Christmas 2018 and within that spreadsheet I have different sheets. I have a sheet for my Christmas card list, a sheet for our party with ideas for games as well as the menu and guest list, a sheet for friend gifts, a sheet for family gifts, a sheet for Advent and a sheet for our Christmas movie calendar. It's great to have everything all in one spot so if I am out shopping I can just peek at my app on my phone and see what I still need to pick up for the Christmas party or what the name of that game was that my brother in law wanted for Christmas. :)
Step 3: Keep it SIMPLE.
No one needs to be drowning in gifts. Children are more content with a few well chosen items vs. being overwhelmed with too many things.
I remember a Christmas years ago when my oldest son was about two years old... old enough to enjoy the wonder of Christmas morning. He was the only child, only grandchild and only great grandchild at that time so he was lavished upon when it came to the holidays. We gave him his stocking Christmas morning and it was bursting at the seams with gifts. In fact, we couldn't fit them all in the stocking, therefore we gave him an additional gift bag filled with stocking stuffers. He looked at all the wrapped gifts in astonished excitement. He picked the first gift out of the stocking and unwrapped a superhero toothbrush. He was so overjoyed that he held onto that toothbrush and thanked us profusely. He then asked to not open the rest of his stocking, he was content with that simple toothbrush. We realized then and there that we may have overdone it.
In our culture it is easy to get caught up in the materialism of the holiday thinking we need to buy more and more. However, by doing that, a) we get into debt b) we teach others that stuff = happiness c) we become stressed and sacrifice our joy. It is okay to slow it all down and make it more simple for yourself and others this year. If you need encouragement in this area then read this post from Joyful Choices.
Step 4: Give to those in the community and those who are in need.
One of the things I absolutely love about this time of year is giving to those who least expect it. It is a practice that we try to do throughout the year but Christmas is a great time to bring a smile to someone's face. Some ideas that we've come up with over the years are:
Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse
Sponsoring a child from a third world country.
Serving at the homeless shelter.
Visiting at the nursing home... hugs are free and these precious people want nothing more than to be thought of.
Ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.
Delivering cookies to those who serve us (police, postman, oil man...).
Buying $5 gift cards to Dunkin Donuts and handing them out to whoever pumps our gas or the clerk who bags our groceries.
Buying a bouquet of flowers and handing them to a stranger.
Finding a local family who is in need and bringing them a meal or a plate of goodies.
Shoveling for an elderly person in the neighborhood.
Buying a meal for the soldier who is standing in line behind us.
Helping a mom who needs a break.
Buying the coffee for the person behind us at the drive through.
These moments of giving do not have to end at Christmas time. As a family, we are trying to be more active in seeking out ways we can serve others throughout the year. It brings us so much joy and we meet the most wonderful people in the process.
Step 5: Giving creative gifts.
One of my favorite gifts to give are experience gifts. These can be as simple or extravagant as you want. Maybe you have an Aunt who LOVES craft fairs. You could take her out for a day of craft fair hopping and maybe purchase her an ornament or take her out to lunch as her gift. Spending time with people doesn't cost money and I find it is often the best gift we can give!
I have found that one gift that my parents enjoy year after year is our family calendar. Each year, for the past decade or so, we've been giving my parents and my husband's parents a calendar of our favorite family photos/memories that happened the past year. We try to keep it in line with the seasons so pumpkin pictures will be in October, Christmas pictures in December, and each child's birthday month features a variety of pictures of them. It is simple and yet so appreciated therefore it has become part of our Christmas tradition.
Another simple gift we give to relatives is a yearly newsletter that rhymes and include a family photo. I used to think it was cheesy but each year my aunts and uncles expresses to me how much they look forward to that letter arriving around Christmas. So, we continue writing it and putting it out there. I save a copy of the newsletter and a picture in a special box, with the hopes of one day compiling a binder of all of our yearly letters and photos so we can enjoy them together as a family as part of our reminiscing. So, don't negate the simplicity of a gift, often times the simple gifts are those that are most remembered.
Need more gift giving inspiration, Real Simple has some creative and fun ideas on the holiday gift exchange.
I would love to hear about what you do for gifts at Christmas time? Do you shop early, do you wait till Black Friday and pull an all nighter, do you make homemade gifts? Maybe rather than giving a physical gift you donate money to charity in the recipient's name. Whatever you do, however you choose to give, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Oh, and don't forget as you pick up your gifts to wrap em'! You will save yourself copious amounts of time in the long run. I enjoy listening to Bing Crosby while I wrap. If you have a smaller family, you could choose a unique wrapping paper per person. My sister has two sons, one son has penguin wrapping paper every year and the other has polar bear wrapping paper. Makes it easy when present time comes around to know whose is whose. :) Plus, it starts a fun family tradition that is simple and useful.
Make sure to come back next Saturday when we will be discussing music, movies, and books of the season.
Dreaming of a white Christmas,