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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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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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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