I’ll Have a Frugal Christmas

I love everything about the upcoming Christmas holiday and I suspect the majority of my posts from here on out will have some connection to the Christmas theme. I apologize in advance to any real-life Scrooge’s out there. The warm glow of twinkly lights, smell of pine needles and romance of freshly fallen snow is just too much for my weak psyche to resist. And cute babies…yes, incredibly, babies are even cuter at Christmas.

Every year when this time rolls around I succumb to the bittersweet nostalgia (does that make me sound old? I’m not even 30 yet) of Christmas past, and settle into a “nesting” phase not unlike that which attacked before Abby was born. Ornaments must hang just so and special mementos take their familiar place on our shelf. Each year, when certain Christmas traditions re-enter our lives, I’m struck by how quickly time passes. Like the (original) Grinch that Stole Christmas – I only watch it once a year, and every.single.year when I see it, I could swear it was only a matter of a few weeks that had passed. I love that. Being sentimental is just a way of life for me, and I love to reminisce about Christmases growing up which were, in many ways, of the Hallmark variety.

What makes that comment all the more special – our Christmases were virtually “perfect”, yet my parents never had much excess money for presents. So my fond memories of Christmas revolve around traditions and caroling and church pageants, not around toys and fancy gadgets. I read a statistic recently that the average Canadian spends about $750 on Christmas gifts. That’s a whole lotta molah. And while we might have a bit more to spare than my parents did back in the day…we still put considerable effort into keeping the financial burden to a minimum. Here are just a few of our ideas.

1. Limit Gift Giving

Maybe the simplest tactic of all. Take a long, hard look at all those sweet folks on your gift-giving list – do they all belong? Sometimes a Christmas card and small stack of cookies will suffice. For other situations, try suggesting a name exchange. This can drastically limit the number of gifts you have to buy (especially in large families) and it means you can afford to splurge and give that one person a much nicer gift than would be possible if your funds were stretched for gift-giving to endless siblings etc.,

2. Buy Early

This is likely my favourite tip because it’s something I fall back on each and every year. Buying early runs deep in my veins; when my sisters would return to the US after their university Christmas Break, they would shuttle back a carload of Christmas gifts. The border guards would always make a crack about them delivering their gifts late (this would have been a week after Christmas). They got some pretty strange looks when they’d tell them…each and every year…that these were actually gifts for the NEXT Christmas, as in 340-some-odd days away, and my parents didn’t want to have to mail them down.

Try keeping a running list of items you’re looking for (when dear hubby mentions something in passing, add it to the list immediately, or you’ll both forget the request). When an item comes on sale or you manage to snag a great coupon (there are limitless websites dedicated to couponing/deal-finding etc – in Canada my favourites are Mrs January and Save a Loonie), buy it. Not only does it save time and energy during the holidays, it spreads the financial stress over the whole year AND will almost inevitably save you money.

The best example is Christmas-related paraphernalia. Don’t forget about the cost of bags and bows and wrapping and cards – these can add up quickly, especially if you’re looking for high quality merchandise. Get things a week after Christmas at 75% off and you’ll be laughing when others are forking out full price the following year. I always pick up some Christmas platters, pretty ornaments and Christmas books too – all make great gifts for friends and family and I get them at a fraction of the cost.

3. Start a tradition.

I give one friend a Christmas ornament every year (which, true to form, I snag for a few bucks heavily reduced after Christmas – sorry Julia, the cat’s out of the bag). Two of my closest friends receive earrings every year. Instead of being boring, I enjoy the thrill of finding the perfect set (at a good price), but am never stressed because I know what I’m going to end up giving them. Every Christmas Eve John and I (and now Abby) exchange a new ornament; again, we buy them right after Christmas the preceding year at a fraction of the cost.

4. Give necessities/consumables

My parents never had an excess of money when we were growing up, but our Christmas stockings were always overflowing. [Don’t let that fool you; one year the only thing I asked for was an alarm clock (I was like 7), and I got the world’s worst alarm clock that they bought at a pawn shop]. We would get a few splurges, but the majority of gifts were necessities. Toothpaste, deodorant, and socks (I have a whole new appreciation for this now – socks are expensive!). Funnily, we would all sit around with our stash of toothpaste and soap and other bathroom paraphernalia and as soon as the gifts were all unwrapped every one of us would trudge to the bathroom and put every last item back under the sink – into the stockpile from which it came. Mom knew the thrill of opening gifts was just as important to us as what was actually inside.

Food items are a nice compromise – a smidgen less personal than underwear, but something sure to be used: I buy John his favourite chocolate bar (Skor), his favourite mustard, some smoked gouda, and usually some specialty cashew or peanut. Nice chocolate, a specialty olive oil…food is a great option.

When we were married I was blessed with THREE wedding showers – my favourite, by far, was one thrown by my sister. She hosted a “household supplies” party, and I’m STILL using some of the items I received: clothespins, matches, pot holders, bucket and mop, dishtowels…think about gifting a new bride with a nice set of oven mitts stuffed with kitchen supplies or a college student a laundry basket with dryer balls, detergent, and some fabric covered hangers.

5. Give gift cards (but be creative)

I love gift cards (or money in general). In fact the hubby and I decided unanimously to request gift cards and money from our wedding guests. Giving a modest sized gift card, along with a few inexpensive extras can be a great, and simple idea. I buy gift cards in bulk when there is a promotion (ie: get store points if you spend $150 on gift cards – Shoppers does this in Canada). A quick Google search would provide far more insightful ideas I’m sure, but off the top of my head:

a) Movie Pack: get a gift card to a local theatre/rental store (do those even exist now) and place it in a popcorn bowl (DollarStore) with a bag of skittles (or candy of your choice), some popcorn seasoning, and a bottle of pop.

b) Shopping card: get a store card and place it inside a fun wallet (you can find these new or gently used at consignment shops for a few dollars) or coin purse (LOVE these ones by Zesty Notion)

c) Clothing store card: buy some socks or a scarf and tuck the card in along with the clothing item

d) Grocery card: buy a small reusable bag and fill it with a grocery list pad, pen, and any other grocery shopping essentials.

6. Think homemade

The explosion of Pinterest has put more than ample crafty/DIY gifts at our fingertips. This is a great way to spread Christmas cheer to the neighbours and bus driver without breaking the bank. A standard batch of cookies is a good start; my sister used small springform pans to make miniature coffee cakes – these were a big hit with pre-school teachers and the like. A lot of it is in the packaging too; have the kids help make homemade tags out of construction paper (and kill two birds with one stone: entertain child -check; complete gift – check…they can make tags whilst you make the cookies).

I make custom framed sayings sometimes – I use Microsoft Office or Photoshop, and print off using the highest quality printer settings.

A caveat to this: time IS money, so homemade projects can quickly become an obsession that just don’t make much sense economically.

7. Give Your Time:

“Get Out of Bed Free Cards” for late bedtimes for the kiddos; give your husband a certificate to vacuum the car; offer to shovel your neighbour’s driveway every Monday in January…

Just a few more things:

Keep track of purchases: it’s easy to keep seeing more and more presents that are so “X”…if you have a list of ideas, work from that and don’t deviate (think shopping with a full tummy and armed with a grocery list vs. shopping on an empty stomach and whimsy)

Set a limit: decide how much you can/want to afford per person, and stay within the budget

Don’t discount used: my sister bought my nephew a gently-used Foosball table one year for Christmas off Kijiji for less than $40. While used gifts are obviously not always appropriate, you can get some things new-and-in-package or for larger items, gently used could be quite appropriate (a children’s play set) at thrift shops of off Kijiji.

This post is getting longer than my list for Santa this year, so I’ll be back later with some specific suggestions of inexpensive gift ideas (until then, here’s a good start for ideas from Jenna’s Journey).


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