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Christmas Combos: Spend Less, Give More

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.


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.


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

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!


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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Save Now for a Simpler Christmas Season

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

Presents under a Christmas tree

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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Getting Organized for Next Christmas Season

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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