Early Thursday morning, we got back from our trip to Guatemala. It was a lot of fun! There is more I'd like to write about that trip, but I am going to save it for another post. Because... we returned smack-dab in the middle of Christmas season!
In the past, I had far more time to made decorations and gifts from scratch. This year my Christmas activities were limited, but I was still able to do some frugal things.
We strung up some lights in the house for decorations, and put up a tree. I put cuttings from the tree into different vases and jars; one each for the kitchen table, bathroom, and bedroom. Ideally I'll make an actual table arrangement before Christmas rolls around... we'll see.
Other ideas for multipurpose decorations are food or consumables like soap, candles, etc. Last year I went to Bath and Body Works' semi-annual sale in January and got two bottles of very nice hand soap. Of course, the soap was Christmas-themed, but I used it all year round anyway. This year I think I'll save a bottle or two especially for the holiday season, or even for some gifts. Soap doesn't really "expire" until it's several years old.
Ideally, I'd make a few strategic changes to my menu plan to make our regular dinners a little more festive. Since this holiday season was cut short by vacation, I'm only doing special recipes for parties, not meals at home. I guess there's always next year!
Hubs and I are pretty frugal, but we don't like to cheap out on gifts. If there is something a family member needs or really wants, we don't have a problem spending more money on that thing. That being said, sometimes it's "just not your year". If someone on my list doesn't give me any ideas, and I don't find "the perfect thing" for him, he will probably get something edible or useful, but not very expensive. My first priority is matching a good gift with the recipient, not spending a certain amount of money.
Finding a good gift is not easy. Some people are very picky about what clothes they wear or what kitchen tools they buy, for example. And just because someone likes fishing does not mean they'll read a book about fishing, because many folks are not readers. Just because someone likes to eat strawberries does not mean they'll want a strawberry decor item for their kitchen. I'll bet over half of all Christmas gifts do not last a year before being donated, thrown away or banished to a closet somewhere, never to be used. I'm willing to spend a little more for a gift that is guaranteed to be used. If in doubt, spend less. Don't waste money on junk that will end up in someone's former sewing room. We generally exchange gifts with family; I try to stick with a $10-$20 per person budget, but sometimes it's more and oftentimes it's less. For white elephant gifts and small gifts for friends, I try to spend less than $5.00 per gift. Cookie plates, for example, often cost less than $2.00 each; sometimes less than a dollar.
Shopping for your kids: Research shows that most gift spending goes toward children, with the "average" parent spending almost $500.00 per child. Whoa! What a great opportunity to save. Kids under 10 are often not picky at all about what kind of toys they play with, so why are we spending so much money? Kids under three, as the saying goes, "would rather play with the packaging than the toy". Expensive gifts are often bought because it makes the parent feel good. I've spent far more on our daughter than I ever imagined I would.
That being said, I want to give our little girl good gifts. I don't want it to all be cheap, plastic junk. Instead of just buying her something at the store, Hubs and I chose to make her Christmas gifts this year. It was more sentimental for us—not to mention cheaper. Hubs made her a little wooden chair. He found the plans online and made a prototype out of scrap lumber. The first chair was a bit too wide, so he modified the plan somewhat and built a second chair out of scrap lumber. The second chair was perfect! I think we will probably stain it at some point.
The total cost for this project was about $25.00. Each blank wood doll costs $0.50, but the paints will hopefully last for many dolls and other projects. I'd estimate the cost per finished doll at around $0.60. It took me between 30 and 60 minutes per doll (I did them all at the same time, for several evenings in a row). I only used 12 of the dolls for her Christmas present, which brings the total cost to around $7.20. I know they will last for years, plus they have the added benefit of being more or less gender-neutral. The options for customization are virtually limitless. I can see myself painting cowboys and Indians, presidents, peasants, pilgrims and all sorts of other characters. Hopefully the little figurines will not only be fun to play with, but useful as a teaching tool as well.
Boy, do I love Christmas food... especially the desserts and snacks. All that junk made with cereal and marshmallows, pretzels, chocolate and peanut butter. Chex mix, puppy chow, corn flake wreaths, haystacks, buckeyes, I love it all. Except peanut brittle, but I don't know anyone who likes peanut brittle.
Thankfully, food is one of the more affordable aspects of Christmas. For our first party, I made puppy chow with a $1.50 bag of cereal, one cup of chocolate chips, a half cup of peanut butter and a few cups of powdered sugar. The total cost was less than $3.00. My recipe made enough chow to fill the bowl to overflowing and have some extra to keep at home. For the second party, I took another bag of cereal ($1.00, on sale) and mixed it with butter and marshmallows to make rice crispy treats. Again we came home with delicious leftovers, so the recipe did double duty! Total cost for that was less than $2.00. I will most likely be bringing vegetables and possibly more Christmas-y snacks to the four remaining parties. Estimated cost: $5.00 per party or less.
There are a lot of other things you can do for Christmas that are free or inexpensive. We are going Christmas caroling this week with friends. We'll probably be watching at least one Christmas movie on Netflix or some other streaming service. You can also find free Christmas movies at your library, or rent them. Our local video store has weekly rentals for $1.00, and they are always giving out coupons of some sort as well. I am hoping this year to make a gingerbread house, which costs just a few dollars and doubles as a dessert and decoration. You can also celebrate the Christian side of Christmas by doing an advent calendar or wreath, or reading aloud the story of Jesus' birth. There is no way one family can do all things "Christmas" in one year! The 2018 holiday season was kind of short for us, but I'm always banking ideas for next year.
Til next time,