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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Did Christmas Wreck Your Budget? Ten Ways to Do Better Next Year

Christmas 2013 has now come and gone. We had a very nice celebration and I hope you did too. We have five children, three of whom have significant others, and we have two grandchildren. We get gifts for all of them as well as for my husband's parents, my three younger sisters, some nieces and nephews, a few co-workers, and we pay cash for everything.

We don't have a big budget with which to purchase all these gifts and we don't generally purchase big ticket items but everyone is usually pretty happy with what they receive. Let me share some of my tips and techniques that I have used to accomplish this feat each year.

  • Keep a gift notebook. I use a plain old spiral notebook but you might like to set up something in your phone or computer. I allot a page to each family member and I pay close attention to anything they say that they would like to get. I write this info on their page and keep my eyes open all year for these items to give to them for Christmas or birthday gifts. 

  • Use the Kohl's or other store gift cards that come in the mail to you. I received three $10.00 Kohl's gift cards in my mailbox. The first one I used to help purchase some lovely Melissa & Doug puzzles for my grandsons. Kohl's had the puzzles on sale at 20% off their regular price and I applied the $10.00 gift card to the purchase and got two nice wooden puzzles valued at $27.00 for a total of $11.50. The second $10.00 card was used to purchase a $56.00 sweater for my youngest son for only $11.99. The sweater was on sale for $21.99 and I applied the $10.00 card towards it, making it an amazing deal. My son was delighted with his sweater and wore it to his grandparents' house for Christmas. The third $10.00 gift card helped me to purchase $52.00 of items for only $17.99. I bought my older daughter a pair of Lauren Conrad leggings on sale for $9.99 (were $20.00) and I bought some very nice bath and body items for my son's girlfriend at 50% off the regular price, then applied the $10.00 card and went home very happy with my purchases. The young ladies were also very happy when they opened their gifts on Christmas Day. If you are keeping track, you will note that I purchased $135.00 of items for five people for only $41.48! That is nearly 70% off the original retail price of the items. Even on a very limited income, shopping this way allows me to stretch my precious dollars and bless my family.

  • Watch for bargains all year: I have a spot in my closet where I store items I bought on clearance for future events such as birthdays and holidays. I purchased a plaque for my daughter's boyfriend that said Man Cave. It was on clearance at Target for $5.00 but was originally $12.00. Colin loves his man room so I knew this would be a fun addition to his room. I saw it and purchased it in March 2013 and held on to it until Christmas. When I see a sign that says “Clearance” or see those wonderful orange clearance tags, I make a beeline to that area and go through that section to see if there are any items that would make great gifts.
    I bought this after Christmas last
    year to save for my younger grandson.
    I only paid $5.00 but I count it as a
    $10.00 gift. 

  •  Shop thrift stores: Yes, even for Christmas! Thrift stores are full of brand new and like new items. It is true that you cannot return the items that were purchased at thrift stores but don't let that discourage you from shopping there- you just need to know the person very well for whom you will be shopping to make this work. I have gotten many new items at my favorite thrift store that still have the retail tags attached. My thrift store runs a different daily special each day. A few weeks ago when I stopped in, the specials were: 50% off all books, puzzles, and bagged toys. I got six new condition board books for my younger grandson for $1.50, a new condition wooden puzzle for the same child for $1.00, and several amusing paperback books to tuck into stockings for 12 cents each! Earlier in the year, I bought a new 4-piece sushi serving set for $4.00 to give to my younger daughter.

  1. At retail price, these books would have
    cost me $13.00, but I paid 75 cents!

    What little boy or girl wouldn't love this
    puzzle for Christmas?


  •  Purchase memberships to certain stores to get discounts all year long: my youngest son has a memberships to Game Stop which enables him to get a 10% discount on purchases. He allowed me to use his discount to purchase items for my daughter's boyfriend for Christmas. I bought one game brand new and one game previously owned and saved 10% on the whole purchase. 

  • Many stores offer a bonus gift card for the purchase of a certain dollar amount of gift cards. Case in point: Half-Price books offered a $5.00 gift card good in January for each $25.00 gift card purchased in December. I had a lot of books on my list for Christmas gifts so when I went into the store, I bought gift cards, got my bonus gift cards to use in January, made my selections, and then used the gift cards I had just gotten to purchase my Christmas gifts. In January, I get to take $15.00 in bonus gift cards to go shopping for myself or get a head start on 2014 Christmas shopping.

I took $75.00 in gift cards and turned into
$90.00 worth of purchasing power

  • Shop discount stores: I live in a fairly small, semi-rural town so shopping options were, until recently, quite limited. This year, just before Christmas, a Ross store opened in our town. My middle son wanted an electric shaver for Christmas and when I looked at Walmart and some other stores I felt that this item would be out of my means to get for him. While in Ross, I went to the men's section and noticed a Remington shaver with the specifications he wanted for under $25.00 dollars. This same razor was nearly $50.00 in other stores! Thank you, Ross, for making my son happy this Christmas.   

  • Buy in bulk when you see a great item at a great price: a couple years ago, I walked into my local Walgreen's and saw that they had an end cap full of really nice jar candles originally priced at $9.99 marked down to $2.00. I bought five candles and gave them as Christmas gifts to folks with whom I worked. They got $10.00 gifts and I got to stay within my budget. I do this whenever I can as often as I can.

  • Use the discount coupons that various stores publish in the Sunday paper. We shopped at Hobby Lobby using 40% off coupons to purchase a hobby knife set and portfolio for our middle son. The items together would have retailed at $38.99 but using the coupons we only paid $24.00 which freed up our money to be used to purchase more gifts for more folks on our list. 
And finally my tenth way to do my gift giving affordably-

  • Sell books to Amazon: I sell my college children's used textbooks to Amazon when I have items they are interested in buying. This year I only had one book that was on the list of items they wanted. This book brought me $11.44 in Amazon credit. I also earned a $10.00 Amazon credit for doing a survey for a company so I had $21.44 in credit with Amazon. I let whatever credits I earn just accrue until it is time to start Christmas shopping. The small amount I had was enough to purchase 12-month magazine subscriptions for four people for Christmas gifts. Note that I was able to give four gifts without spending a dollar out of pocket.

I hope these ideas will help you to enjoy shopping for the holidays regardless of the size of your budget. I would love to hear what you do and how you save on these types of purchases, too!

Monday, December 2, 2013

After Thanksgiving Course Correction

Thanksgiving dinner was so yummy this year. The turkey was moist and tasty. There were lots of vegetables to eat so I was able to make healthy food choices...until I started eating the gluten-free brownies my mother-in-law had made and the gluten-free dairy-free pumpkin pie! Then, fueled by the influence of sugar, I went CRAZY eating too many portions of these treats.

How did you do with your Thanksgiving eating? Did you eat mindfully or did you do what I did?

I have a habit of weighing myself daily so when I go off the skids, I can see pretty quickly the effect it has on my weight and I pull myself back into good behavior within a day or two.

After enjoying the tasty treasures and gaining a couple pounds I upped my activity levels and signed up for a new challenge on LoseIt! This challenge encourages the participants to walk at least 4,000 steps each day this December.

In years past, if I over-indulged and gained some weight, I would beat myself up with recriminations. Then I would feel worse and eat badly. Now if I go on a food bender, I just resume my healthy eating habits, work out a bit more for a week or two, and get back to my "fighting" weight. I don't get too crazed about it.

These little off course events happen less and less often the longer I have been on the healthier path that I began in 2009. I have built up many good habits that keep me out of temptation.

I usually carry appropriate foods with me when I leave the house each day, including at least 16 ounces of water. I have at least an apple with me to help stave off hunger pangs until I can get home to eat something nutritious. I also exercise at least three days a week and usually work out five days a week.

It is hard to get too far off course sticking to good habits consistently.

What do you do if you get off course in your eating or exercising?