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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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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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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