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Posts tagged with: cheap gifts

Ashley’s Year In Review (2015)


I know we’re now a full week into the new year, but I always like to look back and reflect on the previous year around this time. So indulge me in a week-late review of some of the big highlights of 2015.

Personal and Financial Goals

The year began (or really was preceded by) setting some big goals. We had one list of financial goals, and a second list of goals related to “growing up” (in my mind this meant doing things like getting wills, life insurance, etc.). By the end of the year we hadn’t quite met all of our financial goals, but we’d made incredible progress. In all, we paid off over $26,000 in debt!!! We did even better on our “year of becoming an adult” goals. We fully accomplished 3 of our 4 goals and are well underway on the 4th goal (see update here). We’ve set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2016, too!


In early January, we made some pretty big changes to the way we did our budget. This eventually lead us to using YNAB for budgeting (we’d previously used an Excel file). I still can’t say enough great things about YNAB. I really think it’s made a huge impact on how well we’ve been able to stick to our budget and, therefore, how well we’ve done with paying off debt (see my full review here).

One of the categories in our budget that we really struggled with this year was our grocery budget. I talked several times about our efforts to make cheap meals, saving money by making homemade yogurt (super easy and so tasty!), DIY-ing pumpkin spice coffee (a personal fave), and trying my hardest to meal plan (which was much easier when I worked from home compared to an office-setting, and I’m still learning to balance competing needs).

I also saved a lot of money on self-maintenance this year. With the exception of 2 professional cut/colors (which I did prior to big job interviews), I’ve saved money in our budget by cutting and coloring my own hair for the past 21 months (but who’s counting? hehe). I’ve even received compliments on my self-maintained hair and really like my new darker color. To be transparent, I did just barely receive a professional cut/color from my Mom as a birthday gift, so this totals 3 professional jobs (only 2 that I personally paid for) in nearly 2 years.


I interviewed for 3 separate jobs in 2015:  one in January (recap), one in March, and one in June. I was offered the third job (third times a charm!) and accepted the position soon thereafter. I started the position in July and have been very happy in the job ever since (though I have plans to try to negotiate for a title change and more money).




Before I started our debt reduction mission we really spent a ton of money on gift-giving. Since starting to blog here, I’ve drastically reduced the amount spent on gifts. I now try to spend an average of about $15-20 per gift (though hubs and I set a $50 limit on gifts to each other). I talked about a cheap classroom gift here and waxed poetic about the impact of a hand-written thank you note (as opposed to an expensive flower delivery). I also talked about a cheap going away gift basket, a cheap Mother-in-Law (or grandparent) gift, an inexpensive alternative wedding gift, and relatively inexpensive ($50 limit) anniversary gifts.

Kids Crafts


The kids did lots of fun and cheap crafts this year. A sampling of crafts include: a  Valentine’s craft, a Mother’s Day craft, and an Easter craft. All of these doubled as cheap cards/gifts for family, too!


Our entertainment budget was really bare bones this year as we tried to funnel all our extra money toward debt. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun! I talked about a free family activity here and a free painting class (courtesy of Yelp Elite) here. I also shared how we got cheap Halloween costumes for the kids and had fun with a cheap-ish birthday day date for hubs’ 33rd birthday.



In April we celebrated kicking hubs’ license fee debt to the curb! That left us with only the car loan, some medical debt, and the monstrous student loans to contend with. That same month I did a balance transfer of a higher-interest student loan (8.5%) to a 0% APR credit card to pay off one of my Navient student loans at a lower rate (just paid a 2% initiation fee). I also celebrated when we paid off another of my Navient student loans back in October. It’s no secret that I freaking hate Navient, so I can’t wait to rid them from my life!


In June I let you know something I’d been keeping a bit of a secret. I have a very close family member experiencing a debilitating illness for which there is no cure. I later told you all that the “close family member” is my father and divulged that his diagnosis is frontotemporal degeneration (a type of dementia). I had a rough time in regard to processing this information. I was painfully honest about the scary feelings and emotions experienced knowing that his health is quickly declining and my siblings and I will be tasked with becoming his caretaker and all of the other financial implications of the situation. I also discussed prioritizing the costs of therapy so I could take care of myself. I never updated, but I did in fact search for therapists but there was only one person who really stood out to me as a good fit. Of course, that person was not accepting new clients at the time and, feeling overwhelmed by life, the new job, etc., I never pursued any other options. To be honest, I do think I’ll try again to find someone to talk to in the New Year. I feel like I am in a much better place mentally than I was when I first wrote this post (or this one, too), but I know my Dad’s health issues will continue to be a HUGE deal in my life and I would like to see someone at least occasionally to help me process everything as his disease progresses.


2015 was a wild year! Lots of great successes – Can I get a high five for that $26,000+ of debt that was paid off!?! and some tough times, too. In 2016 we plan to split our priorities a bit between saving for a house and continuing to pay off debt, but I know that we’ll continue to make great progress along the way. I’ve admitted before that I may loosen up the purse strings slightly. I think it’s important to have more regular date nights and such. But I also can’t wait to make some big dents to our debt this year. This will be the first full year of me having a full-time job and income (in addition to my part-time job & hubs’ job). With the additional money we really hope to do some crazy things in 2016. A house, a car (not a new one, but our current one being paid off), punching Navient in the nose, and so on. Great things ahead, friends! Thank you for joining me on life’s wild ride!

Friend’s Birthdays (and their kid’s birthdays)


Hi friends!

I’m back for a quick third post today!

I’d like to ask your thoughts about birthday gifts. Since I’ve started this debt reduction journey I really haven’t done anything for friends’ birthdays. Not that I’d go overboard in the past either, but it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to take a friend out for dinner or drinks or to a movie or something. Since starting the debt-reduction mission – I’ve really done nothing. (Note:  this has really been limited to friends only, as I still do something small for parents’ and siblings’ birthdays).

At the beginning of the month I was looking at my calendar and trying to budget and figure out all my gift-giving occasions for the month. I noticed that I have 2 friends’ birthdays in my calendar and one friends’ kid’s birthday.

I’m kind of at a loss. I have two other gift-giving obligations this month:  a gift for my step-brother’s wedding, plus one of our preschool teachers is leaving and I’d like to give her a small gift. I try to keep gifts in the $15-$20 range as a rule of thumb, but I’d like to give a little more for the wedding gift (maybe $25), and if I add in those birthday gifts, it’s just too much. It simply doesn’t fit in the budget to spend nearly $100 on gift-giving (I’m figuring $15 per birthday x 3; + $15 for teacher + $25 for step-brother).

Soooo, what do you do about friends’ birthdays?

Would it be weird to just send a card by itself (no gift or gift card inside) or would you still consider it to be thoughtful?

I will say that both of these people are very good friends and I received small birthday gifts from each of them this past December (my birthday is December 31st).

And…where do we stand on the gift for the friend’s kid’s birthday?

In the past, I’ve usually bought a small gift for a baby shower (again – in the $15-$20 range) and sometimes another small gift when the baby is born. But do you start then buying gifts for the friends’ kid’s birthday every year?

One more aspect of this is that 2 of the birthday gifts for this month are in the same household. It’s one of my long-time best friend’s (friends from when I was 10 years old through today!) AND her son’s birthday in the same month. So maybe I could send one little gift that has a couple small things for both of them (spending maybe $20ish total between the two)?

Really this is just an opinion-gathering post.

I don’t want to feel like a social loafer if I receive presents from friends and never return the sentiment or birthday well wishes.

But its also so strange as an adult. It doesn’t feel like birthday gift-giving should be a mandatory thing, right? So would a card be enough? Or is that just me being super cheap? (And there’s a difference between frugal and cheap!)

Tell me what you think and tell me what you do! I’d love to hear some different opinions on the matter!


Teacher Presents, Revisited


When Hope recently mentioned getting teacher gifts it made me think, “uh oh!” I hadn’t considered or budgeted for teacher gifts!!

Our girls (twin 2.5 year olds) are in the same preschool classroom where they have 1 lead teacher and 2 assistant teachers. These teachers are absolute saints! They have the patience of angels and hearts of gold! I have NO IDEA how they do what they do! It surely takes something special, as I could never ever be so patient day-in and day-out working with 18 toddlers I’m not even related to (makes it a bit easier when they’re your own!)

I was thinking I’d set a super low limit ($5) and buy Starbucks gift cards for each ($15 total) and have the girls draw some pretty pictures and write a nice note expressing our thanks and appreciation for their hard work.

Then on Monday I noticed a new “Wish List” sign up on the classroom door. Basically, its a list of items that they would like to have for the classroom. Example items include:  plastic baggies, buttons, bottle caps, pipe cleaners, etc. etc. etc. It made me wonder….would buying some classroom items be considered an appropriate “teacher gift” or would these items be extra/in addition to a teacher gift??? If buying “wish list” items would work I think I’d prefer to do that, as it would probably be cheaper and I would be contributing directly to crafts/games/activities for my girls. But is it “cheap” to not give the teachers their own individual gifts (like the gift cards I was thinking of gifting)???

Just wanted to get some opinions on this regarding what would be reasonable and appropriate.



Giving Gifts for Cheaper


Hi all!

I know some of you may be rolling your eyes after reading the title of this post (especially after I admitted to buying my boss some pricey flowers last month), but overall I’ve done really, really well with cutting down on the amount that I’ve been spending on gift giving since I started my debt reduction journey.

I now average about $15/gift, a full $10-$15 less per gift than I used to average.

I want to give one of my little tips about how I like to give gifts that the recipient will love, while saving some cash!

Whenever there’s a big gift-giving occasion on the horizon (lately I’ve had a few baby shower invites and, of course, my friend’s wedding), here’s a little trick I use. I will browse the Momma-to-be (or bride-to-be)’s gift registry, but then use those ideas to find the perfect gift somewhere else for cheaper.

Here’s an example….

One of my life-long best friends (since 10 years old!!!) is having a baby shower this month. Sadly, I won’t be able to make it as she still lives in Austin. But I want to send her something she’ll appreciate. She is registered at two places:  Babies R Us and Amazon. I don’t particularly love either of those online sites. Babies R Us is pretty pricey. And although I can find deals on Amazon, I am not a Prime member (and have no interest in it whatsoever, as I don’t do a lot of online shopping), so I would have to pay an extra fee for shipping.

So what do I do?

I check out the registry and notice the types of things my bestie has registered for. I don’t zero in on one specific thing, but rather look at several of the options she has selected. Then I do a  little research to find the same or similar products for less.

In this particular example, I noticed that my friend had registered for a smattering of Burt’s Bees products (to the tune of about $14.99 each at Babies R Us, not including shipping). Instead of only giving a single bottle of baby wash, I did some googling and found a lovely gift package with all of the baby basics (lotion, diaper cream, baby wash, and more) at Target for only $17.99. Plus, I have a Target card so I can get 5% off and free shipping (side note:  Not sure if I’ve ever mentioned my Target card because it’s never carried a balance the whole time I’ve been blogging. But I do like to use it for this type of thing since I get free shipping. I still track any purchases like normal – gifts come out of my “other” budget – and I pay the balance in full each month).

I did find a couple Burt’s Bees gift packages cheaper (like this one on Amazon for $11.69), but I didn’t like them nearly as much. The packages were smaller, had far less product, and just weren’t packaged as nicely (and, again, the cost doesn’t include shipping, which would take the price up to being the same as the Target package).

I like using this method to find gifts for cheaper because then I know its something the recipient will use and appreciate (it’s basically the same as the things she’s registered for – just put together in a package instead of being separate bottles), and I’m able to score it at a price that works for my budget! Plus, who doesn’t like gift packages? It just looks more “put together” than receiving a single bottle of baby shampoo and its essentially the same price. Am I right or am I right?

BONUS:  Buy your product through the swagbucks website to get even more bang for your buck! Why not??

What tricks do you use to save money on gift-giving???

Disclosure: There were several links provided in this post. NONE of the item links (to Target or Amazon) were affiliate links. The Swagbucks link does give me a referral bonus if you sign up, but it’s tied to points (not straight cash) and if you’re a member you can use it to refer your friends/family to earn points, too!

Father’s Day on the Cheap!


Father’s Day is coming up! T-minus (less than) 1 week!

Fathers never seem to get the same appreciation mothers do. I know of several comedy sketches about this discrepancy. But regardless of rhyme or reason, Father’s Day doesn’t seem to have the same costs associated with it that Mother’s Day might. I think (for myself, personally), I have no problem simply sending a nice card to the special Dads in our lives, whereas I always feel like Moms deserve a special gift. Why is this?

My family, specifically, also doesn’t have as many Dads in it as Moms.

By comparison, between the husband and myself, we have 2 Moms and 3 Grandmas/Nanas. But between the two of us we only have 1 Dad, 1 StepDad, and no living Grandpas. This alone dramatically reduces the financial impact of Father’s Day.

But, by and away, the most special “Father” in my life is my husband – father to our children. And I want to do something special for him. But, being on a budget, it needs to be cheap!

So here’s what I came up with….

Last year (pre-budget) I paid for my husband to have professional golf lessons and gave him this fun framed photo of our girls (barely 11 months at the time)


At first, I thought I would recreate this photo session with our (now) 23-month-olds! But a quick search for the letters in some craft boxes left me empty handed. I know they’re somewhere, but I lacked the time and energy to search more thoroughly (we have several craft boxes and they may have even ended up in the attic). Instead, I thought it might be fun to do a similar picture using different props.

I whipped up some homemade signs that said: We (heart) Dad!

My plan is to have them printed and put back into this same frame – costing only the amount of the prints (about 10 cents each = 30 cents total)! I just did the photo shoot this weekend so I don’t have them printed yet but here are a couple fun “outtake” photos:

IMG_3531 IMG_3542 IMG_3554

You get the idea. Have I ever mentioned how challenging it is to work with toddlers as the photo subjects? ; )

And, although this would still be a loving and heart-felt gift on its own, I felt like I needed something else. I did a little googling and decided on a funny shirt. Husband loves to laze around in t-shirts on his days off and he’s always in need of t-shirts since his often become converted into “work shirts” after awhile (and then become destroyed).

So….don’t be offended(!!), I just thought this was a funny shirt that husband might appreciate


Have I ever told you guys the story about how we found out we were having twins (we didn’t find out until 20 weeks into the pregnancy)? Shock of a lifetime! Ha! I’ll have to share it sometime!

At any rate, the shirt only cost $12. With shipping it was $15. Add that to the 30 cents for printing the photos and I think that’s a pretty reasonably priced Father’s Day gift. One part sweet/sentimental and one part funny/practical.

What are you doing for Father’s Day? Any other good gift ideas?




Gift-Giving (Second Try)


Editor’s Note: Sorry guys! I had intended for this to be published on Friday! I goofed and accidentally set it to publish on Thursday. I pulled it immediately when I discovered my error so I apologize to Stephannie (for hijacking her day!) and to you for the confusion! I still value any discussion surrounding this topic, so please feel free to comment! For those of you who commented yesterday, I did see your comments (and THANKS!!! for your suggestions). I just wanted to let you know they didn’t fall on deaf ears! When I pulled the post they were deleted but I DID see them!!

On Monday I’m going to do a full budget update so you can see how I did for the month of April (I already told you here that I went over budget in one specific category).

Something came up in the comments that I’d love to get readers’ opinions on…..


I had told myself that we were only going to do cards right now (from the Dollar Store – 2 for $1), until we get out of credit card debt. I’ll probably spend a little on Christmas, but not on regular birthdays and other special occasions.

Well, I’ll just admit….that didn’t go so well last month.

I’ll spill the beans and say the category I went “over” on in my budget was…miscellaneous. Shocker.

One of the reasons is I went out and got a couple gifts for people! I spent $15 each on 2 separate people (so $30 total) for birthday gift cards to tuck inside the cards. These are close friends of mine that have sent me things for my birthday and I feel indebted to each of them for going above-and-beyond to help me out when Chris was sick at the end of last year. We don’t live in the same city, but they sent care packages and cards and were just beyond sweet. All of this to “justify” (I know, there’s no justification!) why I spent the money.

Well, then May rolls around.

I check out the calendar and – to my dismay – realize that we have FOUR family birthdays this month: My Dad, my husband’s Mom, and both of husband’s brothers. Plus, there’s Mother’s Day.

If we were to spend $15 per person per event (birthday/mothers’ day), we’re looking at $90!!! Just so you know, my “other” budget only allots $125 per month, so $90 basically wipes it out!

What should we do??

The only answer is to NOT send gifts. I am struggling with it.

I know our parents want us to be out of debt more than they’d want some little trinket or something for $15 or less, but there’s an emotional aspect to a gift, too. It says, “I love you! I am thankful for and appreciative of all you do! I wish we were spending Mother’s Day/Birthday together! We miss you!!”

I feel like it’d be easier if we lived in the same place because we could cook for our Moms and have them over, or same thing for the birthdays. But we don’t. So……yeah. I’m at a loss.

What do you do for loved one’s birthdays/Mother’s Day/special occasions?

I’m leaning toward maybe sending some pictures for Mother’s Day inside a card (the cost would be less than $2 each for both cards & pictures). But what about the birthdays? I know my Dad and husband’s Mom don’t care about gifts (maybe I can send more pictures?), but the husband’s brothers probably expect some sort of gift. Ugh! This is one part of budgeting that is no fun! Surely everyone will understand in the end, but I still want to do more than just send a card with a couple pictures. I just don’t have the funds to do so! : (


Since this post is a repeat for those who saw it yesterday, I wanted to ask one additional “Bonus” question for your opinions.

Here in Tucson it is already H.O.T. Really hot. We had hit the mid-90s almost 3 weeks ago. This weekend was a bit cooler (mid-80s), but now we’re right back into the mid-90s.

I had been holding out on turning on the A/C for as long as possible. But when its in the mid-90s and upper-90s its too hot to not have air conditioning running.

So my question to you is…..At what point do you turn on your air conditioning? And what temperature do you have yours set at?

I have our A/C set to 82 degrees when it runs during the day (and turn it down to 78 at night), and I try to not turn it on for as long as possible in the Spring but I cave and turn it on when the outdoor-temperatures hit 90 or higher. What about you?