November 2017

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.

The easiest way to save money is to not spend it.

Be less than average this year. Spend less than what Americans tend to for the holidays (

Follow all of these tips and not only will you save money, you’ll possibly make a profit (you won’t):

  • Write a list of what you need to buy and set a budget. Then, start or restart a blog documenting how you’re going to stick to it. Plan to fail, but not by too much.
  • You don’t have to do holiday photo cards. I love getting holiday cards. I decorate a closet door with them, and I think photo cards are really cute and sometimes I keep them. I thought I needed to make them. But for my kid’s third Christmas, I ran out of steam and didn’t get the photo cards made in time. I decided not to make them and it was fine and I haven’t done them since. I still usually send regular Christmas cards because I chose to and want to.
  • If you’re making a photo gift, before you go through Shutterfly or the like, check and see if it’s something you can instead make through your local photo shop  or a drug store. The online places have great deals, but the shipping costs basically makes the promos useless.
  • If you can’t afford it, then it’s not a good deal.
  • You don’t have to buy presents for people who voted for Trump.
  • Take people off your list if you need to. In previous years (and also this year) I didn’t have money to buy gifts for some people who are normally on my list, so I didn’t buy anything. And we remained family.
  • Cut out the fritter: gift bags, pricey cards, ribbons, end-cap deals, dollar spots. If the gift doesn’t add value and only serves as an extra object to be opened, it’s not necessary.
  • Avoid Target in general and do all your shopping at a big Kroger. Or whichever are your stores where you spend too much money at and the stores where you can save money on the items you actually need.
  • I’m going to try this out this year: finish shopping early. If you wrap it up with weeks to spare, there is less panic shopping and less “buying one more thing” if you consider yourself done.


I want to talk about money but I’m trying to think of the perfect opener to explain my spending habits and where I am today. I’ll have to settle for a bunch of statements.

  • I don’t like buying things I can’t afford. I save for things I want and if I don’t have the money then I try not to want it.
  • I save money with every paycheck, no matter how little. I’m glad I put away those $10 deposits when I need them.
  • Until last year I didn’t have any credit card debt. I use cards with cash back/points and (ULY, again) paid off the balances every month.
  • I try to spend smartly when I have to buy something.
  • I’m the kind of person who brings $20 to a group dinner and eats $17 worth of food and then dies a little because I have to split a bill and feel terrible and pay $50, or worse, someone pays for me because they know I meant to spend $20.
  • I say “I” but I have roommates. I’m married and we have two kids and two dogs and a cat and we own a house and have two cars. I’m the primary breadwinner (winning bread is a great way to save money on bread). While I can control spending by no longer buying clothes or eating out, I can’t control that people are expensive, and we sometimes have to spend money we don’t have.
  • About last year: I used savings to partially pay for a new roof (ours was both leaking and was a couple years overdue to be replaced). I had to put some of it on a credit card and I planned to pay it off within a couple months. Hey, guess what happened right after that? My car needed about $1000 in repairs, plus we had another unexpected bill, and then it was Christmas 2016. When I got a tax refund, instead of paying off the credit card, I decided to get a minor bathroom issue looked at. And the floor of the bathroom was so rotted the contractor wasn’t sure how the tub hadn’t fallen in yet. We had to have an emergency bathroom renovation, paid mostly by credit card.
  • No big deal. We can handle credit card debt. I was paying $200+ every month to pay off the balance and plan to continue paying that much and –
  • -Oh, shit. That doesn’t work because life costs too much money. We have to keep using the credit card so the regular payments only pay off the debt that accrues each month.
  • Now I hate buying all things, because when you have $10,700 in credit card debt after a decade of no credit card debt, it’s hard to think about anything else.

I think those statements cover it. I’m going to weep into my fleece blanket that I use for crying. The crying fleece was a gift, I didn’t pay anything for it. Stop judging me.

Ok back from the fleece. I ended up doing some light shouting and then I looked at the new tile in my not-rotting bathroom and now I feel better.

I have credit card debt! You probably do, too. Maybe more or less or exactly the same. The same? Jinx! You owe me $10,700! Unsecured debt. More like insecure debt, right? I feel trapped but also know that it will get better or worse, that’s how life is.

I make my monthly payments and then some. Bills are paid on time and we’re well fed, and have all mod cons, and if I save $10 a month maybe I can get a crossbody bag from Awl Snap next year. There is no disposable income when you have that much unsecured debt, but I still save money for emergencies, travel, my kids, and try to donate money every other month to something, in addition to making credit card payments. Because otherwise, what’s the point? Some things do actually matter; I lied when I said before that nothing does.

Also, I save for Christmas spending for half of the year. I have a direct deposit set up for a savings account at a bank that’s not my primary credit union. Ideally for Christmas I should spend zero dollars and put all that I saved to paying off debt. I can’t do that. I mean, I could, but I can’t. Wait, can I? Let’s put a pin in that.

Unless I need it for something else (emergencies happen, y’all), I’ll have $446.04 in my Christmas savings by the end of the year. I’m rounding up to $500 because I’m sure I can add to the pot in the next few paychecks. I have 15 non-roommate family members on my list, plus 7 people in my community of caregivers/give carers that I’d like to do something for.

Here’s how I’m breaking it down:

  • My kids: $200 (total, not each)
  • The 15: $300 ($20 a person)

That math already doesn’t work out. Let’s readjust.

  • The 15: $250 ($16.6 a person)
  • My kids: $180
  • Misc. gifts: $70

The $500 is for gifts only. I’ll have to readjust my grocery budget in December to cover additional food costs. I don’t need to buy decorations, and I can count the Christmas tree purchase as what I budget for school since I’ll get it through a PTA fundraiser)(#supportourschools).

As for the $96,000 (the post title that you read an hour ago) that figure has nothing to do with anything, but now the word “thousand” makes me think of the song “96,000” from “In the Heights,” and that’s been one of my favorite songs to listen to while I run.

$500 is a crazy amount of money. I could put that to such better use, but it’s Christmas. Back to the crying fleece!



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