I’m happy to say that I spent $451 on Christmas, with a $500 budget!

Here are some tips for how I made this work:

  • I made a spreadsheet with five columns: Name, Gifts Purchased, Gifts to Buy, Money Spent, and Money to Spend. I kept a running total of what I spent and what was left. I could constantly readjust before I made additional purchases.
  • As I mentioned previously, I followed advice to only have two shopping trips. I went on a big shop with my mom and knocked out a lot (and had a good day with my mom), and then I immediately updated my Amazon shopping cart with what else I needed to get. I made one extra Target run for two last gifts, and stayed under budget for those.
  • I stayed firm on my limits. For instance, I bought supplies to make a gift, and I gave one of those to my kid’s teacher. I wanted to add a gift card or another small gift on top of that, but I left it with the homemade gift and a nice card. I also decided not to give my usual gift to a friends’ kids, because I knew my friend would understand and probably is fine with less toys around the house, anyway. And, if I bought something that was inexpensive, I didn’t supplement anything with it it to reach the cap of what I could spend. Finally, I budgeted money to buy small gifts for the kids I mentor, but unexpectedly didn’t see them again before their winter break in order to give them anything. Sorry, kids.
  • I cut back on gifts for my kids (see previous post). I spent a total of $140 on them. It went a long way.

I think the spreadsheet helped the most, and it made me feel less panicked about money and kept me organized. I had to confront the numbers every day, and eventually got used to cutting corners. I got my shopping done a whole week before Christmas, and that’s been awesome to not think about. And my Christmas cards are mailed out. Listen, I’m amazing.

This has still been a stressful holiday season, but not having any additional debt because of gifts has been a benefit. The last few weeks have been hard, though. I’ve taken on preparing for Christmas as a part-time job, and it’s unpaid and thankless and I’ve been very pitiful about it all.

Next year I’ll know how to stay on budget, but I also need to delegate or give up tasks. I would love to come up with more “no gift” arrangements with family, too. I try to put some thought into what I get for people, but it’s hard to be thoughtful and frugal (I think I managed okay). I’d also rather spend time with my friends and not online shopping for hours.

Here’s the breakdown for the $451:

Gifts for family: $393

Gifts for Angel Tree/Toys for Tots: $30

Cards/decorations/misc candy/supplies for three homemade gifts: $28

I just wrapped up (sorry) an evening of wrapping presents, drinking egg nog, and watching A Very Murray Christmas (hey, I like it). It should shock no one that I also hate wrapping gifts, but it was nice to see again what I hope are good gifts for my family.

I think my favorite find is the Thomas and Friends train set with Sir Topham Hat in a bathing costume. What year is this show set in?

I also got my daughter one of those multi-ink pens. She got very upset with me last week that I wouldn’t let her buy one with her money at a book fair because I told her someone may have gotten her one for Christmas. She cried and said no one would even know she wanted it, but I had bought her one weeks earlier. It cost $3 but now it’s her big gift.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for reading. Put down your wallets if you haven’t already.

What is the purpose of a Christmas gift?

I think of this when I pick out a gift for a loved one: this represents the gifts that the Three Wise Men gave to Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus. And, yes, when I pass out gifts I say this to everyone and make them uncomfortable because I’m not religious, and also not positive that’s what Christmas gifts represent. Though for sure at Christmastime, I channel Mary, and I’m like “GTFO of here with your gifts that are too heavy for me to carry home. I just had a baby. Bring me some pasta and a cup of crushed ice and then leave immediately.”

Was Christmas meant to be a celebration of a super irritated mom, tired of being bothered by everyone who just wants to protect and love her child? Because that makes a lot of sense based on how Christmas feels.

Presents to my kids from us are the biggest opportunity for waste and therefore my best bet for staying in budget. My kids are seven and 2 1/2. My daughter just had a birthday, and she has a stack of gifts she hasn’t even played with yet; my son is currently busy picking up everything with a pair of kitchen tongs that we had to hand over to him and buy a new set for kitchen use because he loves playing with tongs that much. This means that my kids don’t need anything right now thanks.

I feel like a jerk talking about gifts for my kids. What a privilege it is to even have to remind myself not to splurge on them. I’ve written before about gift ideas for kids, and I stand by most of these tips (except magazines usually go unread – try Kiwi Crates and museum memberships!). I understand the impulse to buy gifts for kids even though you know it’s a waste.

My big test to keep myself from going over budget on little things is to ask myself of the purchase in question is, “if I find this on the floor one more time, will I throw it away?” If the answer is yes, then I won’t buy it.

I’m proud to announce, that although I have $10 left to spend on junk for their stockings, I only spent $129 combined on my children (my original budget was $180). I could buy them more, but I know they’re getting plenty from grandparents. Plus, when I was checking on an Amazon order, I saw the list of presents we ordered for my daughter’s birthday, and realized that she lost one item, and hadn’t used the rest of them, so clearly presents are just props used only for the day they get them.

In conclusion, although it’s sometimes only fun to shop for kids, they get enough so it’s okay to keep it simple, and it sets a standard that Christmas isn’t just about presents. It’s also about bothering a teenager who, immediately after giving birth next to farm animals, has to figure out where to store gold. Holidays are weird.

In Christmases past, I’ve given my extended family a head’s up that I’m on a budget and they should lower their output on gifts for my family, but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. We’re still outspent a million-to-one on gifts. Maybe by now they’ve caught on that I don’t do big gifts on St. Christmas Day and will just give me $19 in cash (which sounds better every time I bring it up).

I hope in the future I’ll have a chance to show my appreciation to my kids’ grandparents with grander gestures. Instead of $10 photo gifts, I’d love to take them out for a nice meal or experience or maybe get $20 photo gifts. But that’s not this year.

I figured that I’m not the first frazzled person wanting to stay within budget but who also doesn’t want to make pillow cases from old sweaters as gifts, so I decided to surf the webs for like-minded people (instead of watching another episode of “Outlander”). I found this post from Mommy on Purpose that gave me a few more guidelines. I especially liked these two:

  • One shopping trip in November. One 1-2 weeks before Christmas. That is all.
  • Cut back on gift buying without cutting back on gift giving

The two shopping trip idea makes sense. I attempted to do a big holiday shop this past Saturday at A.C. Moore because I had some coupons. I had a 55% off coupon and I wanted to use it to buy a Thomas and Friends wooden railway expansion pack for my son (we have some tracks and trains already from when my daughter was little, and he loves to play with them). Those things are expensive! However, the selection was small and checking Amazon prices, even at 55% off it was still about what I could get online.

I also had a 30% off total purchase coupon. I bought a make-a-robot kit for the cousin gift exchange, some ornaments for the kids to decorate for my mom, and a few miscellaneous things (including a $2 iced tea for me and a $1 calendar, also for me). When I checked out, the 30% off total price coupon expired a few hours earlier so I could only use 55% off the most expensive item. I spent $29 on stuff that may or may not have been a good deal, and I only knocked out one present (and the supplies to make three small things). I used to think A.C. Moore was an amazing value with coupons, but now that I have checked prices online, I know it isn’t. Though I appreciate that the $1 things it sells are made of wood and not plastic.

So, a second big shop is needed. One of my favorite Christmas traditions is going shopping with my mom. We get to spend a day together and it’s fun. Since I’ll have the day off, I can try to pack in as many stores as possible and bring a list. She can help me with ideas for my dad and brother, and I can pick out things she can get for the kids. Wins all around! I’ll probably do an extra trip for stocking things – but will not get more than 5 things for the kids’ stockings.

I don’t like to buy a lot of gifts on Amazon, but this year it’s probably easier to since the prices are good and it keeps me out of stores where I can impulse buy. I’ll try to stick to the two-shopping-days plan, and do the rest online in a big lump.

Holiday Spending 2017 totals:

Money spent (total, rounded up): $29.49

  • Gifts: 28
  • Christmas Etc: $1.49

Gift budget remaining: $471

I made a spreadsheet to track gifts and money, which helped a lot. My sister and I agreed to just exchange gifts for our kids, which took two people off my list, but I added an Angel Tree gift and another two kids (I’m going to use tip #2 from above and buy them a family gift because they’re siblings, instead of individual gifts). I also decided not to buy a live tree this year, and instead borrowed a 4-ft pre-lit artificial tree.

And I know it’s not called St. Christmas Day.

Back when I could buy all manner of clothing for my daughter at $5 a pop, when she was in the T sizes, I went to Old Navy often. So often that it made sense to open up a credit card with the store during one of its 40% off promos. Soon after, I began to make all of my purchases on the card and paid off the balance immediately from checking (this was before my emergency bathroom renovation). Every month I had store credit to spend at Old Navy, and it was great.

Actually it was awful. Old Navy itself is fine. The clothes are cute and functional for my kid who prefers leggings to jeans. It’s a store that’s easy to bring kids to. However, after a year or so of always having store credit, it wore on me. I felt like I always had to go to Old Navy, especially for those 40% off weekend. It was worse if I needed clothes for me. I mean, have you seen women’s clothes at Old Navy? It’s never been clear to me what the designers of Old Navy clothes think that a human female body looks like. Blouses are flowing, thin tarps. All pants are low rise. Shirts go down to your knees. If you buy a pair of pants in one color, the same style and size pants in another color fit differently. Plus knowing the conditions that the clothes are made under makes it all worse.

This year, inspired by my lifestyle guru Susan, I decided to change the way I shop. No more fast fashion, and more buying clothes second-hand, for me and my kids. I stopped using the Old Navy credit card. It feels great to have that place out of my life. I wear the same outfits every week, but who cares? I think that being photographed year after year in the same sweater makes me look timeless.

It also helps that I can’t afford new clothes. And that I mostly dislike shopping. I still glance at the clothes at Target and want new things. But I have to remember: the percentage of clothes I get from Target that do not immediately get holes is very small.

Eliminating stores to go to and things I can buy helps relieve some of the shopping anxiety I feel. Having that rule for myself, that ties in money and closet space – two things I have none of – helps.

I don’t have to buy clothes for my kids anyway. Half of my attic is filled with hand-me-down clothing from my friends’ sons, and they’re fun clothes, in good condition, and none of the shirts say “mommy’s little heartbreaker,” or whatever, and grandmas have been buying clothes for my daughter whenever she goes out with them. Plus, we all like to wear clothes from Blue Bones Vintage.

I miss H&M though.

I spent the weekend in Pittsburgh with my long distance life partner, and we went thrift store shopping. I was on the hunt for books I could give my kids, and I found the best in the first place we went to. I gave each of them a book when I got home (Llama Llama Holiday Drama and Super Diaper Baby), but the rest are for Christmas gifts.

The seven books were .59 cents each. I’m rounding up to $5 since I’m not going to bother looking up sales tax in Pennsylvania. I also bought a .49 cent mug and ornament there. I picked up a 50 cent book for my son at another store, but my friend technically paid for it and I technically didn’t pay her back and I’m not including it.


Total spent on gifts: $5.49

Total spent on Christmas (other): 49 cents.

Total movies I saw this weekend that were “Lady Bird”: 1, and I loved it:

Side note: Why are there five different monkey emojis but not a cent sign on the phone keyboard?

Just FYI, I’ve discovered that the best thing to do while running on a treadmill is to watch “Friends” without sound. It burns more calories to read the subtitles in a Joey voice, and lines like “half the taste is in the smell” (re: meatball subs) are still funny, and before you know it, you’ve run for 30 minutes. Also, Rachel calls people “honey” a lot more than a normal person should.

Anyway, Christmas. I haven’t done anything for it. You can read all about that, or just scroll to the bottom and watch a Muppets Christmas video.

People Added to the List: 1

My kids are part of a Christmas Eve family gift exchange that my family has done forever. I opt out of it for my husband and me, but opening a gift on Christmas Eve at this party was one of my favorite things as a kid, so I include my kids in the mix. Originally I forgot to count for two cousins on the list. Or did I remember a cousin but forget one of my kids?

Budget Update:

I almost put in my advice post that one way to save money is to “forget you ever read an article about how much you’re supposed to tip during the holidays.” That felt mean-spirited to say. I don’t have any regular pay-for-service people in my life (such as a house cleaner, dog walker, tutor).  While in theory it would be nice of me to tape a Starbucks gift card to the door, I don’t think we even have the same mail carrier day-to-day. At least twice we’ve put out Netflix envelopes to return, and we could see the carrier remove the Netflix disc from the mail slot in the door, and then re-deliver the same disc back to us immediately. That doesn’t mean that person isn’t worthy of holiday cheer, but I’m assuming that he/she would just take a holiday gift and redeliver it to us.

We do however, have a daycare provider part-time for our toddler, but I’m including a gift for her as part of the money we set aside for his care. I know from an article I did actually read, a babysitter/day care provider should be gifted a week’s worth of pay, but while we can’t afford that much, she deserves a nice gift. I’m still going to keep track of holiday spending I do that doesn’t come out of the $500, because it still counts.

The Holidays Save for Themselves!

Having a boy child means that if there are people in his life that can, they will give him toy cars at every chance. And while his life is rich in cars and trucks, I want to get him trucks he can play with outside (which he oddly doesn’t have). I checked with a friend whose son’s life is also lousy with cars and trucks that he needs to get rid of. We’ve set up a barter, and I can take that off his Christmas list.

Holiday Spending 2017 totals:

Money spent (total): $0

Gift budget remaining: $500

Gift breakdown:

  • The 16: $250 ($15.62 a person)
  • My kids: $180
  • Misc. gifts: $70 (which previously included the babysitter, but I’m not going to adjust yet)

If reading about my spending or not spending habits doesn’t get you into the holiday spirit – which, very weird it doesn’t – then watch this instead:

Also, you don’t know joy until you’ve watched my son watch Swedish Chef videos. Which I can’t show you, so you’ll never know joy, sorry.

Obviously, $19 in cash is the ultimate gift under $20. However, if you don’t like giving small bills as gifts – and it’s weird that you don’t – here are some other ideas:

I recommend lip balm made by Feel Good Candle Co. I bought a tube of the Lavender Beeswax  Lip Balm for $4 at 68 Home in Downtown Richmond, Va., and when I first used it, a world of joy opened up. I would not be losing that lip balm, I would not let anyone else use it,* and I want everyone to have their own.

It smells amazing. I would stick it up my nostril if it fit. If you’re in Richmond, take your $20 to 68 Home, buy some of the good-smelling stuff she sells there, and pick up some other cool find around the store. I dream-shop this place on Instagram. If I had disposable income, this store would get some of it.

And let’s not sleep on the $19 in cash idea – how good does that sound? If I had $19 in cash, I’d buy some coffee with the ones, I’d sock away the $5 bill in the place where I save up $5 bills, and I’d keep the $10 in my wallet and feel rich because I never have more than $2 in my wallet.


But for other tips, this was a pretty good list: 50 Cheap Gift Ideas Under $10.

*Which is a gross idea, but when you have three people up on you, things that should not be shared are shared, like lip balm, straws, and library cards.