December 2017


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.

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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.