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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?


Gratitude and Debt

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Gratitude sign

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Unsurprisingly, gratitude has been on my mind this week. Our family has been writing things we’re grateful for on a pumpkin (totally a #pinterestidea), and it’s actually been really great. Some highlights include “the ocean,” “music,” “Lego Batman,” “Harry Potter,” and “gumballs.”

One thing I’ve been thinking about is how being grateful has helped as we’ve paid off our debts. Debt can make me feel like we don’t have enough—enough money, enough time, enough things for our kids, etc. But when I look at that pumpkin or the cute weirdos writing on it, those feelings start to fade away.

The  Science on Gratitude
Research shows that being thankful makes you feel better. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has studied the effects of gratitude on physical health for over a decade. When people keep gratitude journals, they enjoy stronger immune systems, better sleep, and more joy and pleasure, and they feel less lonely and isolated. 

How Gratitude Can Help You When You’re in Debt 
The more I think about it, the more I see how gratitude has made our debt journey better:

  1. I have a more positive outlook.
    When I focus only on the big gaping black hole of our debt, I feel scared and panicked and empty. But when instead I focus on what we do have and what (and who) brings me joy, I feel so much happier and calmer. I can appreciate the plan for our finances and I have more hope.
  2. I spend less. So much of my excess spending and money-wasting comes from feeling like (again) I don’t have enough—enough shoes, enough cool vacations, enough plants (too nerdy? just me?). It makes it easy to impulse-buy, overspend, and buy things in a vain attempt to fill that void. But when I start to count my blessings, I remember there’s such a thing as enough so I try to use what we have and feel content with what we already own.
  3. I don’t turn to retail therapy to feel better. I used to run to Target after the kids were in bed so I could walk the aisles like a tired, burnt-out zombie, buying things we didn’t need. And since mindless shopping ain’t ever in the budget, I’d feel guilty and frustrated afterwards. Finding healthier ways to deal with hard days—like writing down what I’m grateful for or taking a walk with someone I appreciate—makes me feel so much better than a new shirt ever could.
  4. I can enjoy where I am right now. Yes, we’re still in debt. Yes, I wish we’d already paid it all off. But I don’t want to wish my life away, so it helps to check in and recognize what I love about the stage we’re in. Right now our kids are younger and they like being home with us. They don’t want a fancy or complicated life—they’re happy with movie nights at home and camping trips at the lake. I could focus on what will be better in the future, but then I’d miss all the good about today.

Gratitude is a powerful tool. I’d like to say I’m grateful all the time and I’m never down or bratty, but of course that’s not true. But it’s been good to write this out and see just how much gratitude matters. It helps, it gives perspective, and it turns what we have into enough.

What are you grateful for today?


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