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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Frugality (Part XV): Holiday Shopping

I meant to post this last week, but it just didn't happen. I wanted to get this posted before too long, so I may have to come back to revise it later.

We have a few gift giving holidays coming up rather quickly. Those of you who aren't finished with your holiday shopping are probably trying to figure out what you will get for everyone, or everyone else, on your list. I am going to suggest a few things, some that will be useful for next year and the others that might help this year.

One thing that is fairly obvious, though doesn't always get accomplished around here is to shop for Christmas presents (and birthday presents and other presents) all year round. I am better at this some years than others. This would not be one of those years. Not to mention, I gave away a whole lot of my present stash when we moved so we wouldn't have to move it with us. You will need to set aside a specific place for these gifts, otherwise, you will just end up forgetting about them, losing them, or not being able to find what you were sure you picked up for Aunt Helen in May. Shopping year round means you can take advantage of clearance and other sales and not be subject to the whims of the market after Thanksgiving.

Something I've been doing to reduce the cost of books and other things this year is to do my searches on Swagbucks (I will get a couple points if you sign up using my link and you will get a few as start up). I use the points to get gift cards that I either use to reduce the price of things I am buying or to use as gifts themselves. I don't rack up points as fast as some people do, because I don't use all the gizmos they have. I occasionally have a code that gives me an extra point or two, but mostly I gain points from my searches.

Something we have done several years is to have a homemade/handmade Christmas. Now, it is very easy to make things that cost more than you'd buy them, so you do have to be a little careful and plan this. It also helps to start making your gifts early in the year, unless you really work quickly. There are too many online resources, recipes, patterns and ideas to post here. Do you knit? Crochet? Sew? Cook? Can you put together a cocoa mix or cookie mix? There are so many things you can do that would make beautiful and useful presents.

Last year I made candies and snack mix to give to people. Our house was decorated with spun sugar for weeks. We often give away some of our preserves. Usually, this is a tandem thing. I make some sort of knit or food item and Rich makes something that is artistic and pretty. One year he made carved wood light houses, one year he painted glass ball ornaments (from the inside!). He has made wooden planes for our children, a wooden rocking boat for them to share and I have made stuffed toys for them, knit clothes, hats, sweaters, mittens, slippers, you name it.

A few years ago, we had a rather low key Christmas. We had been reading the Little House books with our children and we decided to have a Little House Christmas. Everything we did was made, including what we gave to the children and what they gave to each other, mostly with things we either already had or bought regularly. That has led to our children planning and making gifts for each other and us that has been touching to watch in the years since.

My only warning about hand made holidays is that you need to know your audience. Sometimes the person receiving the gift does not understand the effort (and money) that went into it and can receive it poorly, thinking that you were opting only to be "cheap." I wouldn't waste time trying to educate those people during gift giving times. Just swallow your retort and find something else to give them next time (or this time, if you know that is how they will react). We jokingly talk about knit-worthy people in our household, for instance.

In our home, we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas and give small gifts to everyone in their stockings then, we celebrate all 12 days of Christmas, ending with Epiphany and give the last presents then. The children have talked about doing all of our gifts at Epiphany, since the tradition prior to the 19th century was to give gifts on the feast that honors the visit of the Magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. We have not done that yet, but we do give some gifts for Epiphany as well.

If you wish, you could spread out the gift giving and smaller, less expensive gifts each day of the 12 days of Christmas. A few years we have forgone lots of presents and given something large to all the children or a couple larger gifts that are for all of them. One family in our extended family asked the children if they would like to forgo presents altogether if they used that money to go on a really neat trip at a great resort. They did, and none of them regretted it.

Something we took advantage of this year was all of the freebies offered at VistaPrint (take a look down the sidebar on the left). We made a personalized sticky notes, notepads, invitations, Christmas return address labels, regular return address labels, postcards, thank you cards, all of which can be personalized, for the price of shipping. You can even make your own Christmas letter on their website, including pictures for some of them, gift labels, business cards, calendars, magnets, all for the cost of shipping.

Remember, too, that just because it says it's a return address label, for instance, you don't have to use it that way. I know of someone who turned hers into "This item belongs to" type labels to put in books, backpacks, jackets and such. I used their business card template to make my knit gift labels, with lines for what the material is, washing instructions and size.

We are using many of the things we ordered for stocking stuffers for our children. Children love their own little note pads and cards on which they can write or draw whatever they want. They had cute little things which you could make caricatures of the whole family, but the one we liked stopped at seven people. We would pay for it if we could get every one of our family on them.

If you are ordering online for some or many of your gifts this year, please check Retail Me Not for coupons. You can search on the name of the company or product and a list of known coupons with a percentage rate on how well it worked will come up. I have saved us a lot of money online using this website.

If you are a food person, you may already know about The Spice House. What you may not already know is that they offer many freebies on their site as well, for the cost of shipping. These make great stocking stuffers for other foodies or are a fun way to try out something you wouldn't otherwise buy.

We are big on consumable gifts here. The two main exceptions being clothes and books. We love giving and receiving food or ingredients, art supplies, paper goods, things that will get used up during the year. We are also big on games and experiences. Some of the things we have received that were the best gifts were family passes to zoos or museums that offered experiences that we could share. It also meant that it wasn't a big deal if we only went for an hour or two, we could always come back. We are not huge on cheap toys that will break or go into disuse as soon as the decorations come down. Things that can be used creatively, like blocks, are much more appreciated here. We love anything hand made, so those will always be winners here. Many of these things are also, conveniently, inexpensive to give. They do take an investment of your time, which is a great part of them, in my opinion.

I have written from our perspective here. We celebrate St. Nicholas, the 12 days of Christmas and Epiphany. Obviously, you may insert whatever you celebrate. I hope these suggestions help make your holiday shopping easier. Maybe next year, I'll get an earlier start than I did this year!

Previous Posts:
Make it at Home
Grocery Shopping
Waste Not, Want Not
The Celery Stalks at Midnight
Use What You Have
Combining Trips
Storing Bulk Purchases
Turn It Off
Grow Your Own
Buying in Bulk
Entertainment on the Down Low
Finding Fun Locally

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Great ideas, thank you. One year I made those 'cookie mix in a jar' things and people seemed to like them. Plastic canvas is something I made a lot with when I was little:)
jeez louise!! you are a superwoman!!! ohhhh! to have a live webcam in your house to watch you work, would be an inspiration that's for sure!!!

thanks for sharing, you are amazing!!

~Bella (from the homeschool yahoo group)
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