Category Archives: Christmas Articles

Keep the Joy, Ditch the Debt – Smart Spending During the Holidays

Picture this: You are gathered together with your family while they excitedly open their holiday gifts. The anticipation of this moment has been building for months. Gift after gift, the kids move from one present to another, in a wild frenzy of unwrapping abandon. In some cases, they barely glance at the gift before they move to the next. When all is said and done, you are left with a huge pile of torn gift wrap and toys your kids may only play with once or twice. But there is one thing about the gift giving whirlwind that will make a lasting impression – your credit card debt. That $500 or more you spent on all those things will follow you for months and possibly years to come. The toys will be long broken, lost, and stuck in storage, but you will still be paying for them, plus interest.
Sound like the picture perfect holiday? Definitely not. Unfortunately, for many people, this is exactly what happens every year in December. People get caught up in the joy of giving and end up spending well above their means. The result is that they continue to pay for those items long after they are discarded. If this is a familiar holiday scenario in your house, you will be thrilled to know that there are alternatives to the spend and suffer debt cycle.

If you sincerely want to enjoy a debt free, joy filled holiday, consider the following suggestions.

Agree on a Budget: If you and your family and friends agree on a gift giving budget or method, everyone’s holidays will be less financially draining. Although it may seem awkward to bring up the subject, ask relatives to agree to stay within a set budget. This can make the entire gift giving adventure more fun and easier to live with in January, when the bills usually start showing up.

Pick a Name: If your whole family agrees, you can each choose a name, with each person responsible for buying a gift for only one other person. If you set a maximum dollar amount, it will keep costs down even more and ensure the gift exchange is fair for everyone. Capping the gift cost at $15 to $20 per gift is a good rule of thumb. This method of gift exchange is especially frugal when very large families get together. Everyone will still take home a gift but costs will be contained. Gift cards are often a welcome present if you are not sure what to purchase.

Just for the Kids: Another sure way to decrease costs is to buy gifts only for the children. How many times have you received a gift from a distant relative that wasn’t exactly something you would use? Save your relatives some time, trouble (what in the world should I get for my second cousin who I haven’t seen in five years?), and money and agree to only purchase presents for the little ones.

Made with Love: Handmade gifts are a thoughtful and frugal way to give during the holidays. If all the adults agree to a homemade gift exchange, you will all save more money and you will be able to enjoy the talents of your friends and family. Don’t worry – you don’t need to be named Martha and have your own TV show to give great homemade gifts. Food gifts are always welcome including baked goods, homemade mixes for various foods, chocolate dipped fruit or pretzels, and fruit baskets. If you are crafty consider knitted scarves, themed scrapbooks, ornaments, coupon books and homemade cookbooks.

Discount Dining Deals: One of the best kept secrets when it comes to dining out is www.restaurant.com. You can purchase $25 gift certificates to restaurants all over the country for only $10. When you are ready to order a gift certificate, first go to http://www.gonicofish.com and select “restaurant.com” from the pull-down menu on the left. There is a good chance you will find a coupon code for 40% – 60% off the already low certificate prices. Enter that code in the coupon section during checkout at restaurant.com. It is not unusual to spend $5 for $25 gift certificates when you use a coupon code! You print the gift certificate from your printer and give it to the recipients when you are ready. There is no waiting for the certificates to arrive in the mail. Make sure you read the fine print as some restaurants have requirements such as a minimum purchase in order to use the certificates.

Buy for Next Year: Purchase clearance items from this year’s post-holiday clearance and use them next year. Many of the super stores begin marking down holiday décor the day after most holidays. You can find artificial trees, ornaments, dishware, themed tablecloths and napkins, holiday cards, gift wrap, candles, and more at savings of 75%-90% off the regular retail cost. Make sure you wait patiently for a couple weeks after the holidays for the best buys. Store the items and use them to decorate next year. For instance, buy up those 75% off colored glass ball ornaments and place them in a nice crystal bowl as a centerpiece next December. Purchase the clearance gift sets such as holiday themed plates and cookie sets or cheese, plate and knife sets. Open the package, enjoy the cookies (you would hate for them to go to waste since they won’t keep!) and keep the holiday themed ceramics to give as a gift with your own homemade cookies next year.

Gift the Gift of Time: Not sure what to get for the person who has everything? Consider volunteering your time to help them around the house. Does your aunt need help cleaning out the gutters? Has your grandmother wanted to paint the kitchen for years but can’t manage the job herself? Does your neighbor need a babysitter so she can enjoy a night out with her husband? Offer a gift certificate for a home cooked meal to a new mom or an outing to the zoo with your nephew. Volunteering your time can often be the best gift you can give.

Go Treasure Hunting: Hit the yard and garage sales for holiday decorations. Great décor can be purchased at yard sales for a fraction of the retail cost. Often you can find brand new items with the tags still on.

Go Natural: Use natural items like pinecones from your yard or a large bowl of fruit for decoration. Placed in a large glass bowl, they make a lovely centerpiece. Use evergreen branches and pinecones on the mantel to invoke the winter theme.

Take Baby Steps: If you are in a new home or just starting out on your own, don’t feel like you have to decorate every corner of the house in one season. Collect a few decorative items each year and add to your decorations after the holidays during those great clearance sales.

Creative Wrapping: The $3 you could spend for each roll of wrapping paper that will be torn and discarded can definitely be better spent. How about making your own wrap using recycled brown grocery bags cut open and turned inside out (you don’t want the grocery store name on the outside of the package). Then let the kiddos use holiday stamps or handprints to add lots of color and cheer to the paper before you wrap the gifts. Finish off with some inexpensive twine and a sprig of evergreen from the yard for a real holiday look. Martha would be proud! For a colorful and frugal wrap option, use the comics section from the Sunday paper. Top it off with a colorful bow and you are all set. A number of packages wrapped similarly make a nice presentation, even when the wrap has cartoons on them! Remember that you can buy holiday wrap at 75% – 90% off during January clearance.

Recycle that Bag: Gift bags often survive the frenzy of the holidays much better than wrapping paper. If you received any gifts in gift bags, save the bags for next year and cut down on wrap expenses. The same goes for bows, as well. Save the ones that look good and use them next year. If you receive solid color gift bags, you can use them throughout the year for most gift giving occasions.

As you prepare for the holidays, remember your reasons for celebrating…..getting deep in debt is probably not one of them. If you focus on giving reasonably and enjoying family and friends, you will have a much more comfortable New Year. Your family will thank you and so will your wallet!

Copyright Faye Prosser, 2006

Faye Prosser is the author of The Smart Spending Guide. Her mission is to help others become effective advocates for themselves and their hard-earned money. She teaches people how to budget, reduce debt, and save tremendous amounts of money on groceries and everyday purchases.   Please visit her site to learn more great tips at Smart Spending Resources.

Set a Holiday Budget… And Stick to It!

Do you know how much you spent on Christmas gifts last year? Chances are you don’t. Too many people shop without a budget and are shocked when the credit card bills start rolling in come January. It is important to set a budget for your Christmas spending before you even begin to shop.

How do you determine how much you should spend? There is no clear-cut answer that works for everyone. The most important thing to consider is what your own family’s pocketbook can handle, not what you think others expect of you. If your family gives extravagant gifts, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same. A good guideline is to only spend what you can pay cash for; so you don’t fall into the credit card trap. If you do get out the plastic, make sure that you will be able to pay your bill in full when it arrives.

Now that you know how much you will be spending on gifts this year, your next step is to write down everyone you plan on buying a gift for. This includes everyone — from your friends and family to the tip for the paper boy. Now, you should allocate a part of your holiday budget to each person. This number will serve as a guideline as you begin to shop. You may be able to stay under your per-person budget on some gifts, and on some you’re bound to spend more. But the important principle is to stick to the overall budget.

Here are some tips on sticking to your budget:

1. Give handmade gifts. This can also be a great way to get your kids involved. What would grandparents love more than a gift their grandchild made just for them? If you are crafty yourself, get out the sewing machine, your paint set, or that cross-stitch you never finished. Friends and family will appreciate the investment of your time.

2. If you have a lot of family members to buy gifts for, suggest trading names. Chances are you’ll spend less on that one person than you would for the entire family, but they’ll get a nicer gift.

3. Suggest a “creative” gift exchange. I know a family that sets a $5 limit on the gifts they give each other. Most of the gifts they find are great — thrift store finds, garage sale bargains or items from clearance racks.

4. Host a party for Pampered Chef, Discovery Toys, Creative Memories, Tupperware, Premiere Design Jewelry … You earn FREE products with each of these.

5. Those book and CD clubs can be a great way to shop for gifts. Book clubs like? Literary Guild offer a free best selling book, plus 4 more books for $1 with membership.

6. Shop throughout the year. Begin on December 26th when all the Christmas merchandise is marked down! That is an especially good time to get your gift wrapping and ribbons for next year. If you see a great sweater for your mother-in-law in February, buy it! That’s one less gift to look for when the rush is on, plus you’ll spread out your spending.

7. Buy sets that can be broken apart. A set of 8 dessert plates and coffee mugs can be separated into sets of two. Fill a plate with home-made holiday goodies and each cup with a baggie of cocoa mix. Great as a hostess gift!

8. Shop online. Web shopping can be a huge time saver. Not only do you avoid the crowds and waiting in line, you can also avoid sales tax. Plus, many sites are offering free shipping on orders more than $100 this season.

9. Shop early. The more pressure you are under to find the perfect gift, the more likely you are to spend more. So, get going now!

About the author: Kim Danger is a work-at-home mom and owner/manager of Mommysavers.com. Mommysavers.com is for parents who want the best for their families, but don’t want to spend and arm and a leg to get it! Visit her site today and sign up for the FREE weekly newsletter: http://www.mommysavers.com

Scrapbooking Recipes for the Holidays

COUNTRY KITCHEN

Saving your memories of holiday occasions ranks high on the list of scrapbooking activities. This usually is a time when families get together, take many pictures and make memories with traditional and new festivities.

Photos make up only one form of scrapbooking memorabilia. Some people like to save notices and programs of special events they attend. Perhaps you have some Christmas cards you don’t want to throw out. There may be gift wrap and tags that have meaning for you. Sometimes there will be recipes or menus that play a role in your holiday celebrations.

Food Memories
Food memories contribute to the nostalgia we associate with the holiday season. During this time of year, however we celebrate this season, there generally is some type of food or beverage involved. *Oranges and tangerines come to mind from my childhood. They were something we children savored and found in our stockings. We didn’t have them year round so considered them something special for Christmas breakfast.

*Christmas candy in colorful boxes was distributed to us children after we performed in the holiday play or gave recitals at the Sunday School holiday program. These treats were under the Christmas tree, along with gifts from our teachers.
*A box of chocolates comes to mind when I think of the gifts my dad gave my mother. He always had a large box for her under the tree. However, my mom years later told me, although she appreciated the thought, she really didn’t care much for candy. My dad and we children ate most of the chocolates and found them delicious.
*Fruit cake was a favorite of my mom’s, so Father also purchased one of these as a Christmas treat.
*Oyster stew was one of Father’s favorite dishes served on Christmas Eve. If we celebrated the evening at my grandmother’s we enjoyed the stew there. If at home, Mother stirred up a pot from oysters Father bought in the nearby city.
*Candy canes, although taken for granted by children nowadays, were very special in my childhood. We ate them sparingly because Mother could only buy a few.
*Mince pies, whether made by my aunt or my mother, (we had one celebration with my aunt and grandmother and another at our home), were the “old fashioned” type, made with meat in the mixture. Mother and Auntie prepared and canned mincemeat earlier in the year.
Saving Your Memories
Make your list of holiday foods and the memories that accompany them. Do you have pictures of these occasions or other memorabilia such as recipes, invitations, and cards?
Scrapbooking in albums is only one form of saving your memories. You can use journals, ready made books (altered books), collage formats, and shadow boxes. With all of these you’re able to utilize scrapbooking items such as colored pages, borders, die clips, stickers, calligraphy, stamping, etc.

Ways to Save
Realize that some of the items you’re saving (recipes, cards, programs, gift wrap, tags) won’t be acid free even though the scrapbooking materials you use are. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t collect these nostalgic items and preserve them for your own enjoyment and that of future generations.
Go into this holiday season with an eye toward collecting and cataloguing the items that have such meaning to you. At least put them all together into a box so they’re not scattered into oblivion. If you’ve never done scrapbooking, find time to go through past memorabilia and get it together for a project.

HOLIDAY PIE, a favorite my daughter makes, may come in handy for your holiday hospitality.
In a large bowl, combine 15 apples (peeled and sliced), 1/2 cup cranberries, 1/4 – 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, 1 tablespoon grated orange peel and 1 tablespoon orange juice. Add 1/8 cup granulated sugar, 1/8 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour. Mix together and place in 9″ pastry-line pie plate.

For CRUMB TOPPING, mix together 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup butter, 3/4 cup flour. Crumble over the top of the apple mixture, covering the entire pie.
With aluminum foil, cover the top of the pie to start baking and remove during last 15 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 40-50 minutes until crust has browned and the juices begin to bubble up through the crumb topping.

(c)2003 Mary Emma Allen
(Mary Emma Allen is a writer, illustrator, family researcher and
scrapbooking enthusiast who teaches workshops in all these areas. You also may contact Mary Emma for information about scrapbooking supplies.

Joy of the Family Christmas Tree

COUNTRY KITCHEN
THE JOY OF THE FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE
“It’s time to get the Christmas tree,” we children exclaimed each year when I was growing up on the farm. Then Father hitched up the horses to the sleigh, and we rode to the woodland behind the barn to find our tree. For me this was one of the most enjoyable activities of Christmas. This ritual was almost as much fun as putting up the tree and decorating it.
Traditions Change. Getting the Christmas tree evolves into a tradition in many families whether it’s from a tree farm, your own woods, a parking lot at the supermarket, or from a mail order catalog. Yes, you even can order your tree via a catalog or web site nowadays.  Amazingly our grandchildren look forward to checking through the catalog with their grandfather for just the right tree. “Papa, it’s time to order the tree,” they exclaim toward the end of November. When it arrives, bundled in netting inside a long cardboard box, they help cut the wrapping and watch the tree unfurl.  Then so they capture a bit of my childhood and my daughter’s (when we alternated between getting a tree from her uncle’s woods and a tree lot), we’ll go find a small tree to set upon our deck for the birds.

Trees of My Childhood
I’ll also tell them the story of getting the tree in my childhood and those rides over the snow to the woods in the sleigh Father used for hauling firewood from the forest. We four children and Mother piled onto the sleigh, sitting on empty grain bags, with the bear robe pulled over our legs. Shep ran beside the sleigh. Father called, “Geddy-up, geddy-up” to Dick and Nellie. We rode over the glistening snow and heard it crunch under the heavy wooden sleigh runners.  Our voices sang out the carols we loved, and Mother told about the Christmas trees of her childhood. We hardly noticed that the air was frosty and our noses were nipped from the wind.  When we finally had the tree home, Mother made hot cocoa. While we sipped it and munched on cookies, we talked about the decorating we’d do that evening.
After Father got a tractor, he used it for hauling the sleigh. Occasionally when the snow was too deep, we snowshoed all the way to the woods.  No matter which method we used, the family activity of getting the tree from the back woodland was one of the high spots of the Christmas season…one I look back on with fondness and remember how close it seemed to bring the family.
The Christmas tree tradition constitutes a special time for families, one which creates memories for years to come.
Tree Trimming Goodies
Often during tree trimming time, families serve festive goodies which might include a special meal or simply hot cider, hot chocolate, spiced tea and cookies or a special cake.
RAISIN NUT KRUMBLES is a cousin’s favorite.

Boil together 1 cup water and 2 cups raisins for 5 minutes. Cool and stir in 1 teaspoon baking soda.
Cream together 1 cup shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar; add 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and stir in the raisin mixture; stir well.
Sift together 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt. Add to other ingredients. Stir in 1 cup chopped walnuts.
Drop by teaspoon on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 10 minutes.
(c)2002 Mary Emma Allen
Mary Emma Allen writes family stories and teaches workshops so others can record their memories, too. Her stories have been included in books such as Heartwarmers of Spirit, Finding the Joy in Alzheimer’s, Let Us Not Forget, and God Allows U-Turns – American Memories.

Give away: a new holiday tradition

As the holidays approach this year and gift-giving (and shopping) begins, I can recognize one true fact: My kids don’t NEED anything.
That being said, I still want them to learn about the blessings of giving and receiving. I also want them to learn about personal limits. I especially want them to learn that not everyone has it so good. Moreover, that leads into learning that they have a responsibility to others. If you are interested in teaching your kids similar values, here’s a simple exercise that can get them thinking along these lines.

Go through their room and belongings – together – and create a giveaway box. ‘Oh, I do that regularly’, you may say. Great! But this time, do it intentionally, and with your child. Maximize the teaching benefits such a time provides:

  • Your child will probably be getting new stuff for the holidays. Fill a box with the toys, clothes and such that no longer fit, are used up, or are broken. Talk to your child about sharing the wealth!
  • Fix what you can and donate it. By doing this WITH your child, they learn about thrift, value and recycling. It’s a wasteful society that says something only has value when it’s new. In addition, it’s satisfying to make something be useful again.
  • Follow through on your donations…together! Let your child research charities that are gathering toys for the holidays. Let your child figure out the details of getting that box of clothes to the right group whom can put it to use. Kids are hungry for leadership roles; let them organize a neighborhood clothes or toy drive for the needy in your area. (Remember to lend your adult supervision to all of their efforts!)
  • Talk about the toys they got last year at the holidays. Are they still playing with them? Why or why not? This is another great way to get your kids thinking about the value of their possessions. Talk about how many hours it took to work last year to have the kind of holiday your family enjoyed. Ask your child if they would be willing to work that long for someone else’s enjoyment.
  • Create ways for your children to give to others. Once they’re thinking about helping, it’s natural for kids to come up with simple solutions to the problems they see. Some of those gently-worn clothes could be sold at the local consignment shop and the money used to buy a Christmas dinner for a family that wouldn’t otherwise have one. Those no-longer needed books and puzzles can be cleaned up and given to the local homeless shelter. And on and on!
  • After the clean-up work is done, have your kids create their wish lists for this upcoming holiday season. Talk about a family budget and what is reasonable for ‘stuff’. Consider encouraging everyone to forfeit one item on their list and then use that money to improve another family’s holiday season.

By doing this regular ‘chore’ as a family project, you can share your values with your precious children and start a holiday tradition that can have tremendous meaning for your family for years to come!
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Colleen Langenfeld delivers deals, tips and creative resources to working moms who want the most out of their homes, families and careers at www.paintedgold.com . Sign up for our free newsletter and get an online Creativity Tool kit as our gift to you!