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Controlling My Christmas Shopping

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Christmas shopping bags

I read today that consumers plan to spend an average of $1047.83 this year on Christmas shopping and holiday purchases. My first thought is what a ton of money to spend in one month! But then I realized I usually have no idea how much we’re spending each Christmas or where our money is going.

We’ve never saved for or created a clear Christmas budget. I just try to keep things low and hope it turns out okay. I start early, I use sales, and I’m skilled at convincing my kids they still want the toy they told me about in November and that I already bought. So far this year I’ve just been using our budget’s gift category to the max these past few months, and then supplementing with earnings from my freelance work. It sounds sloppy because it is.

We can’t keep this up. Luckily there’s still time to control my Christmas shopping. Here are some things I’m trying:

1. Limiting the Number of Gifts We Give

For our kids we’re doing the trendy-though-controversial gift-giving concept of “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Then they’ll get a board game for the whole family.

My husband and I decided to just do small stocking stuffers for each other, nothing more. But we also pondered if some other gifts could be omitted. We both come from large families that do gift exchanges, and as our families keep growing and moving far apart, this has started to cause stress, overwhelm, and loss of the true spirit of giving and receiving. At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge, I proposed to each side of the family the idea of no longer exchanging gifts. It was… not popular. But it did start a good conversation, and I think next year we may just say no thank you and bow out entirely.

2. Planning Ahead and Looking for Sales and Freebies

I always look for deals, but now I’m sticking only to the things on the list (no emotional, “come on, it’s Christmas” shopping). I’m also making better use of free items, like a cousin’s hand-me-down plane my son will love. I was even able to score a free 21-pound turkey when I spent $100 at our grocery store the week before Thanksgiving. Booya.

3. Consolidating and Simplifying

I love the chance to connect with a few close neighbors and friends at Christmas, but I’m keeping it simple and giving everyone the same thing—Christmas potpourri. I made it last year, and it was a hit. It’s easy to assemble, I have leftover supplies from last December, and I only need to buy oranges and cranberries.

4. Using Gift Cards and Store Credit

Close to $1 billion of gift cards went unredeemed in 2015. I plan to use the stash of random cards in my purse for gifts. Our local bookstore also offers store credit when you sell them used books, so I have some unused credit I’ll put towards the kids (“Darth Vader and Son” books here we come).

Controlling our Christmas shopping is changing our behavior and it hurts sometimes. My husband and I had a moment of truth standing in Target on the afternoon of Black Friday. We had gone there for something specific for the business, but the displays of DVDs on sale sucked my movie-loving husband in. As he showed me a stack of of movies we could buy, we had to look each other in the eye and accept they just weren’t in the budget. It was a buzzkill, but it frees us up for the purchases we really do want to make this time of year.

How do you save on gift-giving during the holidays?


The Latest in my Spending Journey – Weekend Spending Diary

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Hello! I thought I’d give you a peek into how I spent money on the weekend. This spending diary wasn’t planned, so I definitely wasn’t on my best behaviour. I think being radically honest is going to be a big part of this journey.

First, a note on last week

I didn’t spend any money between Sept 30 and the afternoon of Oct 4. The hand ended up causing me extreme and unbearable pain from the surgery. I worked from home Monday in pain. I went to work on Tuesday and left in tears, and didn’t go back to work the rest of the week. There was a Friendsgiving dinner at my place for 15 people the weekend prior, and I had lots of leftovers. Once I got through those, I made a big pot of turkey soup and lived on that for days on end. Mike bought us Swiss Chalet (a classic Canadian rotisserie chicken chain) with coupons we got in the mail one night to break up the monotony. I spent nada!

Friday, October 4th

I worked from home and left around 2pm for a break. For years now, I’ve used loyalty points cards to reduce my grocery bill. PC Optimum points came in handy to buy acetaminophen and ibuprofen for the hand pain (I alternate taking the two per the advice of my surgeon). The meds and a bottle of Gatorade came to $24 (I got economy-sized pill bottles). I cashed in $20 worth of points and as such, only spent $4 out of pocket.

On to the grocery store.

I bought kale, blue cheese, apple, red onion, and pork tenderloin for $21. With a nice dinner, one might enjoy a glass of wine. A decent bottle was procured for $14.95.

I made a giant massaged kale salad with toasted walnuts, blue cheese, apple, dried cranberry, and red onion that I nibbled on for three days. I served that with half a baked potato and scoop of greek yogurt, and jerk pork tenderloin (weird, but it all worked together).

Total spent: $39.95

Saturday, October 5th

I made eggs to eat with that kale salad for brunch. I’m lucky in that I really don’t mind eating the same foods over and over again. In the early evening, I walked to KFC for a dirty ol’ bucket of chicken, but there was a lineup out the door. Everyone received the same mailer coupons as me! I admitted defeat and walked home to eat leftover jerk pork and salad. I was VERY close to stopping for Hakka food on my way home (my neighborhood’s specialty!) but I didn’t want to blow $20 for no good reason.

That evening, I had plans to go to Nuit Blanche. It’s an all night art festival in Toronto, with large installations of interactive and immersive art all over the city. I hailed an Uber because I was late meeting my friends. Curling my hair with my injured hand took forever (I didn’t think that one through). That cost me $26 after tip. Mike purchased us a bunch of cans of cider, which we loaded in a backpack to wander around the city with. Toronto is kind of like a big street party during Nuit Blanche, and while drinking in the street isn’t legal, cops don’t bother you if you’re being courteous and orderly. Especially during Nuit Blanche.

I ended up getting an Uber for a very dear friend who uses a flip phone – $12.

Uber was also my way home alone at 5:30 am – $25

I ordered Uber Eats Mcdonalds breakfast for Mike and I – $18

Total spent: $81. All on Uber. Spending fail. 

Sunday, October 6th

Sunday, I slept until the early afternoon. I imagine a good deal of Torontonians did this.

In the afternoon, I went out for weekly groceries. Toilet paper, chicken, shrimp, laundry supplies, and cat food were the larger purchases. My pantry needed a few things stocked up as well. I spent $104, but have what I need for work lunches and dinner til Thursday or Friday. I made cajun shrimp and kale salad for dinner and called it an early night.

Total spent: $104

Weekend total: $224.95

Overall, I think this is a fair example of my routine weekend spending. The ride shares are gratuitous over this weekend. Other weekends, my food spending is off the rails. I have work to do here.


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