Christmas is about so much more than spending money and buying gifts. However, if we are honest most kids REALLY like the gift part of the holiday. My kids are no exceptions. They like getting gifts. We have always budgeted the holidays, but this year we had to be very mindful of the amount of money being spent for Christmas. Here are some ideas of things we did this year to make the money go farther while still blessing our kids with Christmas gifts:
1. In times past we bought a nice gift as a combined gift for all the kids. Several years ago, Michael bought our kids a Playstation 3. It was for all the kids and it was the big gift of the year. This year we couldn't do something like that so we decided to add to what the kids already had. We bought one child a new game for the Playstation 3. We purchased a new controller for another child. This was a way to spice up something nice that they already had. Our youngest child loves Thomas the Train. We have spent several years collecting the wooden train pieces. This year we were able to find a train table on sale. Since he already had the trains, we could buy the train table without having to spend a lot of money for the trains. He will be thrilled, and it stretched our dollars! My mom bought our daughter an American Girl doll. We bought a few things to go with it. I just added to a nice gift purchased by my mom. Hope will be thrilled. One of my kids adore puzzles. I bought him a nice puzzle that we will all enjoy together. For stockings, I bought a large pack of candy to share between the 5 kids. I also knew that they would need gloves for the cold weather. I decided that those would make a nice stocking stuffer. My kids love gum so I purchased several large packs of gum to stuff in the stockings.
2. Michael and I have never exchanged Christmas gifts. When we were first married, we just didn't have the money. We scraped every penny together to buy gas to travel to Ky to see our family. This is something that we resolved years ago, and even when money wasn't as big of a factor we still haven't changed our plan. It works for us, but for others it might not go over so well. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page.
3. I have one child that loves to go to the mall and shop. I could have taken money that my mom sends for his Christmas and purchase clothes for him. Instead, I give him the money as a gift from her on Christmas, and he can go to the mall the day after Christmas. He gets more bang for his buck that way. He also enjoys the craziness of the mall the day after Christmas! In times past, I have purchased mall gift cards to be given as gifts. That way the person receiving it could go and get the great deals.
4. One thing to keep in mind is that just because something is homemade doesn't mean it is cheap. Usually I put together candy baskets with lots of homemade candies and goodies to give as gifts for people outside of our home. This can get very costly and do some major damage to the grocery budget. This year I am going to deviate a bit. I am still going to put together baskets to share, but instead I am going to make bread baskets. It is much cheaper to bake homemade bread than expensive homemade candies so I will still be keeping my grocery budget in mind. I can also tuck in a jar of homemade jam or honey butter. I still have several loaves of Amish Friendship Bread left in my freezer from Thanksgiving. I will thaw these and include them in my bread baskets. Neighbors and friends always love homemade bread. Most people don't get to indulge in a warm loaf of homemade bread very often.
5. This year Matthew has a girlfriend that has become a stable fixture in our family. We wanted to do something nice for her for Christmas without spending a lot of money. I considered buying her a gift card to the mall, but that just wasn't what I wanted to give to her. It was too generic. I wanted something special. For the last 6 months, she has told me over and over that she wants me to teach her to cook. If she really likes something on the table, she will ask me if I will teach her to make it. I bought her a small journal type cookbook. I wrote a few of the recipes for her favorite dishes. I included a note that said that we will spend the next few years together filling her book and teaching her to cook. It was a gift from my heart sharing the treasures of our family with her. She will be pleased.
6. The lady that taught me to bake bread was always creative about gift giving. She knew I wanted to learn to bake bread so one day she showed up at my house with a gift. It was a loaf of homemade bread, 2 bread pans, and a few of her favorite recipes. She spent the next few hours teaching me to make bread. I was thrilled. Over the years, she still sends me bread pans and bread recipes because she knows that I use them. In fact, I have never bought a bread pan for myself. She has given me all the ones I have used these last 22 years! She is also a famous maker of muffins. She will bake a batch of muffins and place them in a new muffin tin. She will wrap the muffin tin and muffins with ribbon. She will include some of her yummy recipes and give those as gifts. Let's just say we ALL love to get gifts from her!
7. My biggest gift giving challenge involves the older people of our family. What do you give somebody that already has everything? I choose to give them a gift card for a nice meal at a restaurant that they both enjoy. This is what I am doing this year for Michael's mom and husband. It didn't cost me a lot of money, but they will enjoy it nonetheless. If we have more to spend, I can choose a really nice restaurant and maybe also include 2 tickets to the movies. If we are having to watch our money more carefully, then I can choose a less expensive restaurant and forget the movie tickets!
8. Christmas was my dad's birthday. I wanted to acknowledge his special day, but it was always hard to come up with extra money. When I was first married, he told me a story that he had heard on Paul Harvey. It was about a little girl that gave her Daddy a beautiful bag for Christmas. When he opened it up, it was empty. He told his daughter that she shouldn't give empty bags for gifts. She looked at him with big eyes and said, "Daddy, that bag isn't empty. It is full of my love for you." It meant enough to my own father to share the story with me so I started including that in my gift giving to him. I wanted the gift to be special so I started buying the prettiest gift bag I could find. Then I always bought a package of candy kisses and candy hugs to place in the gift bag. I gave him this gift each year. It was my way of showing him how much he meant to me, and it cost me less than $10.
9. We do not exchange gifts with our extended family. We stopped this tradition several years ago. This has trimmed our gift giving list down a lot. If I needed to do something special for one of them, I would put together a game or movie basket. In the pretty basket, I would put a new game or movie. I would include homemade hot chocolate mix, homemade caramel popcorn, and a few other treats.
These are just a few ways that we have handled the expense of Christmas. As much as we like to say we are going to enjoy a stress free holiday season, the truth is spending money can be stressful especially if we just don't have it in the budget. By being creative and spending some time, we can handle most of the extras that come along with the Christmas season. I just wish I could get myself together enough throughout the year to start Christmas shopping in the spring in order to space out the spending. For 22 years now, I have said that I am going to do that. For 22 years now, I have never been able to accomplish this mostly due to lack of planning and motivation. Maybe next year????!!!!
grace and peace,