Christmas Combos: Spend Less, Give More

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Shopping for kids at Christmas can be daunting. Buying multiple gifts for multiple children can be expensive under the best of circumstances. If you are someone who picks things up throughout the year, it can also be hard to make sure that everyone has an equitable sort of Christmas without just throwing money at it come December. But those old Christmas combos your parents used to use can be a helpful way to keep the shopping – and spending – under control.

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What are Christmas Combos?

What is a Christmas combo? Remember the adage of “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read”? This is a what I call a Christmas combo. It does three things that make your holiday shopping easier. First it sets a limit on the number of gifts that each child will have. Second, it sets categories, which can be flexibly applied, but ensure that each child has an equitable set of gifts. Third, if you set a budget for each child or each part of the combo, it can help control your spending as you think creatively about filling each category.

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Building your own Christmas Combo

In the past I always thought that four-part Christmas combo was too restrictive, and besides I wanted my kids to open more than four gifts on Christmas morning. But my thinking on that has changed, especially as my kids have grown. I start with those four categories to cover the basics, and then build the rest of the combo around other gift ideas. It stretches my creativity a bit, and is fun!

Here are some other ideas for other things to add to your Christmas combo:

Something to do – a gift of experience, such as concert tickets, a trip to a museum or gallery, music lessons, an online class, an overnight camping trip, a hike on a new trail – really the choices are endless and don’t have to cost much or anything at all.

Something to eat – a variety of Christmas cookies, homemade jam or chocolate sauce, their favorite dinner with a friend once a month, gift cards to their favorite after school snack spots – all easily made or reasonably purchased.

Something homemade – a sweater, scarf, blanket, pajamas or doll clothes, if you like to sew, knit or crochet; gift baskets of skin or shaving products, yummy snacks, or art materials – these are cherished gifts that allow for a lot of creativity on your part and not a lot of expense, especially if you start early!

Something to learn – sewing or guitar lessons, a session with a personal trainer, online language courses, computer coding classes, a gift card to Masterclass, Udemy, or Skillshare – now is a great time to give the gift of a new hobby or a familiar passion.

While you can see that each of these categories can overlap, that’s OK because it allows you a little flexibility when tallying all the gifts and making sure each child is receiving something for each part of your combo.

Have fun creating your own Christmas combo, and see how much easier and less expensive your Christmas shopping can be!

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Planning for a Covid Christmas Season

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Christmas 2020 looks like it will be as different as the whole year has been, and like me, you may be starting to realize that all the usual Christmas traditions aren’t going to be possible this year. With disrupted travel, social distancing, greater demands for online shopping and the usual holiday stresses compounded by the presence of Covid-19, it is hard to anticipate the usual joys this holiday season. Now is the time to start planning for a Covid Christmas season – one that creatively adapts to the “new normal” while still giving the whole family a very Merry Christmas!

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Here are some ideas to consider as you begin your holiday planning:

Entertaining: This will probably be the most impacted part of the Christmas season, and it will be important to think creatively about alternatives. Depending on where you live, it may be permitted to have small gatherings – or not. Know what the restrictions are for your area, and ask yourself what you and your guests will feel comfortable with.

Each year for the past 20 years, I have hosted a 20-30 person neighborhood ornament exchange. With winter and a closed up house, I am not sure that it will be worth the risk this year, and I would hate to be responsible for one of my friends becoming sick. One alternative that I am considering is just a small porch pick-up grab bag or maybe cocoa and the exchange at a forest preserve shelter some Saturday afternoon. Whatever we do, we can make it fun!

Gift Giving: There are two things to be thinking of when it comes to gift giving. The first is that shopping this year is bound to be more difficult, with limited store hours in many cases, and restrictions on the number of people who can be in a store at one time. It will be a good idea to make a list and start early, going at off hours whenever possible. Likewise, many of us do a lot of holiday shopping online. But with everyone doing online shopping for necessities as well as Christmas gifts, there are bound to be delays in shipping and availability of certain items. Again, starting early will be key.

It will be important to consider the types of gifts you are giving as well. Particularly for friends or family who have had to self-quarantine or shelter in place for any length of time, a gift of an online activity (like a cooking class or live streamed concert) may be greatly appreciated. Think outside the box and remember that anyone who has been lonely or depressed during the pandemic is likely to appreciate something to do with someone they love more than anything else.

Decorating: Not much to change here, except that it is likely going to be harder to get into the Christmas spirit for many people this year. Maybe decorating the outside of your house, lighting up your neighborhood, will be more important this season! And as you make the inside of your house as festive as possible, remember to light candles for scent and play music for mood. If possible send photos of the decorations to family or friends who are sheltered-in-place so that they can feel a part of the festivities, too.

As with every holiday season, planning is essential, but because there is so much uncertainty now, it is also important to remember to be flexible and that everyone else is in the same situation. We can make this a Christmas to remember despite the limitations imposed by Covid-19!

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Developing New Gift Ideas This Christmas Season

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You know you’re in a gift-giving rut when you accidentally buy the very same gift for someone two years in a row, as I recently did for a family member’s birthday. Fortunately I caught myself before sending it and could make a switch, but what I switched to wasn’t all that creative either. It got me thinking – am I too predictable with my Christmas gift-giving? And how can I develop new gift ideas for this Christmas season?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes – but I am not overly predictable with everybody. In fact, I can be quite creative with my daughters’ or significant other’s gifts, but others get the usual sweater each year. Of course time and cost factor into each gift, but by starting now to think creatively and specifically of each person, and by keeping my eyes open for the unique and special, I know I can do better!

Here are five strategies that can make your gifts stand out this season, and give you a head start on your Christmas shopping:

  • Decide on a formula. Last year, I used a tried-and-true formula with a handmade twist for my kids. Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, something to do, and something I made – it all added up to six quality gifts to open. I have to admit that was a lot harder for me to come up with some of these gift ideas than to just buy the same old things,, but I enjoyed the challenge, and they were delighted to be truly surprised on Christmas morning!
  • Brainstorm for each person. The key to being creative with gifts is having (and taking) the time to really think about each person, and their interests, hopes, likes and dislikes, before deciding on a gift. It is hard to do this in November and December, however, when time becomes an issue and you just need to find something to give everyone. Taking a day or two now to really think about each person, and to list their interests and gift ideas, will make your shopping much easier no matter when you start!
  • Experiment with new stores or sites. Part of why gift-giving becomes predictable is we fall back on the same “big box” stores or sites such as Amazon when time is an issue. Why not take treat yourself to a small business shopping excursion each month? Go to smaller boutiques or specialty shops in a nearby town, or check out curated lists of exceptional but lesser known shopping sites. You can see what’s out there that might delight someone on your list, while you get a head start on your Christmas shopping, too!
  • Don’t forget handmade gifts. Last year I had grand ideas to make something special for everyone in my immediate family. However, I waited too long to do anything substantial. Not wanting to give up that piece of my formula, though, I made small gift boxes with sweets, cocoa and a cute mug in each. It was not what I originally planned, but it was handmade-ish and still very much appreciated. Start now to think about what you could make yourself, check out Etsy or use the gift basket/box approach to up your creativity game this Christmas.
  • Consider gifts of time or experience. One way to get creative with Christmas giving is not to give “stuff” at all! I once gave my mother the gift of taking her to lunch at a different restaurant each month for a year. It ended up being a global culinary tour as we tried all types of cuisines, and it was lots of fun for me as well! Consider tickets to a show, a museum pass, an online course or a tour of some unique local feature. Try a service such as cleaning, yard work, babysitting or cooking. The only caveat with a gift like this, though, is to make sure you actually follow through with whatever you promise to do!

Now is the perfect time to start thinking creatively about your Christmas giving. Have fun and happy hunting!

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Dos and Don’ts of Early Christmas Shopping

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When spring arrives, everything winter goes on sale. And with those sales comes the possibility of finding deals on the perfect Christmas gifts for the upcoming season. It is worth trying, of course, because the special prices will help you stay within your Christmas budget, and potentially save lots of time in the fall.

But it isn’t always easy to make the most of early Christmas shopping. First, we aren’t always in the mood to think about Christmas just as it is getting warm outside and flowers are starting to bloom. Also, how do you know what your family and friends will even want next Christmas season? And of course there is the age-old problem of forgetting what you’ve bought or not liking what you chose for someone when you look at it six months later.

Make the most of early Christmas shopping.

Here are some dos and don’ts to make the most of early Christmas shopping:

Do make a point of browsing the sales racks whenever you shop, keeping family and friends in mind.

Don’t buy anything just because it is on sale. Make sure it is something that you would want to give as a gift.

Do add what ever you find to your gift list, so that you don’t forget what you’ve bought come fall.

Don’t store the gifts in such an obscure place that you forget where they are. Designate a corner of a closet, or high shelf away from prying eyes.

Do mark the gifts by recipient and store them in an airtight container if possible. This will prevent them from becoming dusty or damaged in some way.

Don’t limit yourself to sales items. When you are able, take the time to try a new store or a different department. You may not find early gifts, but you’ll like have some new ideas for family and friends.

Do remember to look for more little novelty items that can be used as hostess gifts, stocking stuffers, or workplace surprises.

With no time pressure, lots of sales, and of course new spring and summer inventory to look forward to, you can find the perfect gift and save time and money later. Just follow these dos and don’ts to make the most of your early Christmas shopping!

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Handmade Gifts and How to Plan for Them

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One thing that I love to do at Christmas is to surprise those closest to me with something handmade in addition to, or even instead of, other gifts. Handmade gifts can really reflect what you know and love about the other person, and they always show how much you care.

I have always wanted (but have never quite achieved) a Christmas where each person on my list received a handmade something from me. There are no shortage of gift ideas online and in craft books, of course, so it is never a question of picking things to make for my family and friends. In fact, I usually save gift ideas in my Christmas planner, or just in a list on my phone.

For me, it all comes down to time and planning. In order to have my handmade gifts ready for Christmas – and to enjoy the process of making them – it is essential to begin early. Handmade gifts should be made with love, not stress!

Now is a good time to start.

Decide which handmade gifts to make (and for whom).

The first thing to decide is to whom you’d like to give handmade gifts. Maybe you’ve seen a pattern or two for DIY gifts that would be perfect for a few people on your list. Start with those ideas or, conversely, begin with the recipients in mind. Either way, the first step is to list who will receive a handmade gift and what you plan to make for each person. The gift ideas should be fluid, as not every project will work the way you hoped, but by being flexible, you will be able to treat everyone on your list to something made by you.

Buy the materials now.

Two weeks ago I was at the fabric store and noticed that they already have a limited selection of Christmas fabrics. Within the coming months, there will be much more. But for most handmade gifts, specific Christmas materials are not needed. General craft supplies, fabrics and other materials may be purchased now, so that you have what you need and can work on the projects when you have the time over the coming months. Print out any patterns for your projects and keep them in your planner. Make a list of supplies and watch for sales.

Organize materials by project.

Because life is busy, you’ll want to be able to pull out your handmade gift projects whenever you have a chance to work on them – and without having to hunt for the pattern or materials. Use shoeboxes, or other small containers (even the extra-large Hefty zipper bags work great!) to keep all the related materials with the pattern so that you can easily pick up where you left off and complete the projects over time.

Store the handmade gifts safely.

As you complete your projects, store them in a gift closet or wherever you keep your early Christmas purchases. Make sure to note them on your planner and to congratulate yourself on a job well done!

Handmade Christmas gifts make the holiday extra special for the you, the giver, as well as the recipient. So enjoy a little Christmas spirit anytime, and start planning for handmade gifts today.

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Save Now for a Simpler Christmas Season

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It is only March, but now is a great time to begin a savings plan for the holiday season. By starting to save now, you will have a simpler Christmas season later!

Get Started

Start by making a comprehensive Christmas list. Include not only the gifts you buy, but all the extras you will need (decorations, lights, wrapping paper, etc.) Now, put what you want to spend on a gift next to each name and add a rough total amount that you’d like to spend on the extras. Once you have your total, make any adjustments to arrive at an amount that you are comfortable with and that is affordable – and then divide by the nine months that are remaining until Christmas. That is the amount you must save each month between now and December.

Shocked? That’s good! So often, we shop under pressure during the holidays and don’t even realize until the credit card bills come in January how much has actually been spent. With a budget in hand, you can save now and pay cash for holiday expenses, as well as take advantage of early gift purchases when you see something special.

Take Simple Steps

So, let’s say that you’d like to save around $1200 for Christmas, and you have nine months to do it. If you save roughly $135 a month between now and mid-December, your holidays will be paid for and you will not have the shock of January bills. Sounds good, but how?

In his article, “How to Save Money: 20 Simple Tips”, Dave Ramsey suggests ways to “find” money that can be saved for a special purpose, such as a holiday fund:

  • Cancel subscriptions you don’t use. I recently went through my Amazon charges and realized I have been paying for a subscription to a movie service that I apparently signed up for when renting a film one evening. I was also paying for Kindle Unlimited, which I had never used. By cancelling these, I save $25 each month. What subscriptions do you no longer use?
  • Cut your grocery bill. This could be an easy place to save at least $50 – $75 each month. Plan a few meals each week, look at what you have already before you shop, stick to the grocery list, and buy generic when you can. You may find your entire Christmas budget at the supermarket!
  • Explore cell phone and cable options. By streaming TV, rather than paying cable, you can save $50-$60 a month, and the same with switching cell phone carriers or eliminating features you don’t use or need.
  • Borrow or buy at a discount. When you do need to purchase something significant, check online marketplaces or even a Buy Nothing Group, if you have one in your area. Often you can find what you need for free, or at a greatly reduced cost – and save something from the landfill in the process.

Saving for Christmas may seen strange when spring is just arriving, but when the holiday crunch hits, you will be glad you did!

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The Perfect Time to Make a Gift List

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The end of February is near, and maybe you are thinking ahead to spring planting or a summer vacation. But now is also the perfect time to think ahead to those who will be on your Christmas 2020 gift list!

This may seem a little absurd, especially if, like many, you have just finished paying for all the gifts you gave this season. But that is precisely why it is a good idea to plan now for giving at the end of the year. By planning ahead, you can take advantage of unique gift ideas and sales, which will save you time and money in November and December.

If you have a created a Christmas planner, you may already have a gift list started. If not, creating a gift list is a great way to begin planning. I keep a running gift list on my computer, which I usually update once immediately after Christmas, and again in September when I start looking for gifts in earnest.

For Family First

I am someone who likes to wake up Christmas morning to a huge pile of presents under the tree. I always have numerous gifts for my immediate family to open. My gift list reflects this: next to each family name, I add spaces for the number of gifts I want to have them unwrap.

My immediate family page also has a section for stocking stuffers, where again I add spaces for the number of things I want to put in their stockings. Extended family and friends are on the next page, where their names are simply listed down the side, with one space for each.

And Everyone Else…

Here I also include the more general gifts that I know I’ll need, such as small hostess gifts, gifts for exchanges, something for neighbors, work colleagues, or household helpers (babysitters, dogwalkers, etc.). and a couple of “emergency” gifts, good for last minute giving to anyone. By putting those smaller items here, no occasion or person is forgotten and you will always be prepared for any last minute needs.

Giving the right gift to everyone on my list is, for me, the most fun part of the Christmas season. By making my list early and keeping it updated throughout the year, I can be sure to make everyone on it feel special!

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Making (and Using) a Christmas Planner

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Now is a great time to create a Christmas planner! Why? Because the best way to have lots of good ideas for the upcoming Christmas season is to have a place to save and organize your ideas as they come.

My Christmas planner is a large binder, where I have sections for things that are most important to me: Gifts, Cards, Cooking, Decorating, Entertaining, and Crafts. Each section holds the key to what has worked well in the past, as well as new ideas I’d like to try.

Organize Your Ideas Section by Section

Gifts: This section has a computer-generated gift list that I update each year, adding new friends, family members or colleagues, and removing those for whom a gift is no longer appropriate. After each name, there is a space for recording gifts that have been purchased throughout the year. At the end of the list, there is a space for writing ideas for certain people as I think of them. I also keep gift ideas torn from magazines with notations on whom may like them.

Cards: In this section is another computer-generated Christmas card list that also serves as an address book when necessary. Each entry has the contact names and addresses (including names of children) and I keep it updated with each address change I receive. I also keep favorite past Christmas cards in the divider pocket for inspiration.

Cooking: Here I keep my favorite recipes that I plan to use again, as well as new recipes that I’ve found and know will fit my needs during the busy Christmas season, including those for large groups and that can be made ahead.

Decorating: For this section, I tear out and keep Christmas images that speak to me, that create the kind of vibe or color scheme I want for my home at Christmas time. When it comes time to decorate, I have inspiration at my fingertips.

Entertaining: I host an ornament exchange mid-December, and Christmas Day each year. In the past, I have also hosted a Christmas luncheon for friends. I love creating a festive setting and picking up new ideas to make these events special.

Crafts: Christmas crafts always make me smile. I keep patterns and directions for handmade items in this section, and when i am thinking of making a gift or a special decoration, I look here first.

Create a Christmas planner and use it to organize all your good ideas throughout the year. Come November and December (and even before then), you’ll be glad you did!

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Getting Organized for Next Christmas Season

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By the end of January, Christmas is a happy memory. The decorations are put away, the carols are off, and the house is back to its normal state. But rather than put the holidays out of your mind, now is the perfect time to get organized for next Christmas season!

While there are certainly obvious things to do in January, like hit the Christmas sales and return gifts that didn’t work out, now is really a great time to sit down and think clearly – and yes, strategically – about next Christmas.

Grab a pen, and write down your ideas as you consider these questions:

What worked this Christmas? Maybe your party was a smash, or you were able to finally bake cookies with your kids. Maybe you started gift shopping earlier so you were less stressed in December. What will you want to do the very same way next year because it went so smoothly?

What didn’t work this Christmas? This year I wasn’t able to make gifts for my kids like I wanted to, and I never planted the paperwhite bulbs I usually plant to be in bloom on Christmas Day. Those are two things I’d like to do differently next year, and I am sure there are others. What will you want to do differently next year to make your Christmas all you’ve dreamed it could be?

What do you know you need? As I put away my Christmas decorations this year, I took stock of what I have and what I will need next year. To keep this list handy, as I am sure I will think of other things throughout the year, I started a Note on my phone. Already it lists “Lights for the tree” and an “Extension cord for outside” among other things. What do you know that you’ll need for next season? Don’t try to remember later, start a list now!

What do you know you want? Maybe you’d like to host a party next year, or like me, you’d like to make more of your gifts. Maybe you know you want a family portrait taken for the cards or you want to do more baking. Write down whatever will make your holidays ideal. Many of these things a can be done during the year and that will save you stress next season.

Finally, what are your Christmas priorities? For me, it is hosting Christmas Day and having as many from the family as possible be a part of the celebration. It is being personal in my gift-giving and as stress-free as possible come December. Keep these priorities in mind as we go through this year and prepare for Christmas 2020!

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After Christmas Sale Savvy

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If you’re like me, on December 26th, the last thing you feel like doing is fighting a crowd at an After Christmas Sale. And maybe, like me, you have thought that by mid-January, everything is so picked over that the time for Christmas deals is long past. But here are six things worth looking for now that will save you time and money next Christmas season:

  • Indoor and outdoor lights – Check the Christmas clearance bins for specialty lights such as icicles, snowflakes, larger globe ot LED strand lights that might still be left. Home maintenance and hardware stores may have a larger selection on sale through the end of the month.
  • Christmas fabrics – These actually go on sale before Christmas arrives, so the selection may be dwindling, but you can still pick up festive plaid flannels and winter motifs for quilting or pajamas, or whatever sewing projects you’ll want to start in the summer months.
  • Wired ribbon – Honestly, I don’t think you can ever have enough wired ribbon. Great for wrapping, of course, but it also can be used in a million different ways for decorating the house and tree. Look for unusual patterns or colors you know you’ll use.
  • Odd ornaments – Most of the ornaments will be picked over by this time, it’s true, but it is worth a look for the odd, one-of-a-kind or funny ornament that will make a great topper for a gift or stocking stuffer for someone special.
  • Food containers – Often tin containers for cookies and other treats are still available, as are unusual containers, such as the “Chinese food” boxes in Christmas prints I found last year. So do a quick count of anticipated hostess or neighbor gifts and stock up now.
  • Boxed Christmas cards or invitations – If you don’t use personalized, printed cards and invitations (or even if you do, but always need a few extras), now is a great time to pick up a box or two of cute Christmas cards to use as needed next season.

Finally, don’t forget to shop the outlet or sale pages of your favorite online stores in January, where you’ll often find cute decorations, ornaments, and specialty gift items that can be easily stored for next Christmas.

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