Don’t be Scrooge: How to Set Up a Christmas Budget That Works

‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, la la la.”  It is, right? If you don’t have money set aside for Christmas spending, the holidays are NOT quite as jolly.

A LOT of money is spent this time of year.

set up a Christmas budget title

Gifts for everyone on your list.

Buying Christmas cards.

Stamps to mail Christmas cards. Does anyone remember when a stamp was $0.25?

Ingredients for all the baking you want to do.

Food for dishes to pass for every party or family gathering you are attending.

Donations – it seems everyone wants a little bit of your money this time of year. The guilt I have every time I walk by a Salvation Army bell ringer (I promise I give, but not every time I walk by) or say no to rounding up on my bill at a store.

Eating out more because you have less time at home to cook. You’re spending more time tracking down gifts for everyone on your list.

Is there any limit to the spending we do in November and December?

There can be, and the answer is simple . . . A Christmas budget.

Oh boy, there’s that Big Bad B word again that I love to use so much.

Honestly, though instead of being restrictive, a Christmas budget can be freeing. It allows you to spend money and enjoy doing so.

credit cary paying for Christmas expenses

Follow my simple “steps” for how to set up a Christmas budget, and you’ll be singing Christmas carols right along with me all season next year.

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Declutter before Christmas

The holidays are coming, and it is the perfect time to declutter before Christmas. Out with the old and in with the new!

Any holiday that means gifts are coming into your house is a great time to assess what you have and what you don’t need anymore.

If you are like me, being asked what you or your children want for Christmas queues anxiety to kick in. My immediate thoughts are, what could any of us possibly need, and more importantly, where will I put all the “stuff.”

I know, I know, gift gifting at Christmas isn’t really about what we need, but what we want or what would be fun. As a person who wants to simplify her life and home, acquiring more “stuff” is the opposite of what I want.

4 things to declutter before Christmas

I know it’s not fair to my children to put my values on them. Plus both of my daughters LOVE their “stuff” and think of it all as treasures. Yes, even the ridiculous McDonald’s toys are treasured by both of them.

There is a way to find a happy medium and keep my anxiety in check – at least a little bit.

4 Things to Declutter Before Christmas

  1. Toys

Big shocker to see this one on the list. You know that new toys will be coming into your house, so it’s the perfect time to declutter toys. Have your children go through their toys and make some decisions on what they want to donate. If you have children like mine, who treasure everything, be sure to check out, “How to help a pack-rat get organized.” The tips will work great for decluttering with your children.

toy declutter before Christmas

When we declutter toys, we have the girls decide which ones they don’t play with any more. Toys that are being decluttered will be donated, sold (they get to keep the money), or put away in storage for future grandchildren. Only our absolute favorites are put away for future grandchildren and then kept in the attic.

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Five Great Game Recommendations for Kids

My family loves to play games: party games, board games, strategy games, and cards games. We love them all. Who better to give you game recommendations for kids than a family of gamers.

Yes, we are a gamer family.

At our house, we have family game night often. It’s not a set day of the week, but it happens often depending on Brian’s work schedule. Brian and I have both always loved games, and many of our “dates” in college revolved around playing board and card games.

Game recommendations for kids

It was natural that games would continue to be important in our family and whether our daughters like it or not they’ve become gamers too. So far, Cassidy has not resisted our love of game playing and only time will tell with Amelia.

Our love of games, also means that we own A LOT of games.

A wall full of game recommendations for kids

In fact one year, I put a moratorium on any news games in our house for Christmas.

Guess what happened that year. . .

There was a box under the tree

Darn that Santa, he never listens to anything I say.

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Deals After Christmas

Remember those great deals after Halloween. Well, they are back and even better. Now it is time for the deals after Christmas.

Halloween tends to be the preview of what is to come, but there are usually a lot more deals after Christmas.

If you have leftover money from your current year Christmas budget, you can use that to stock up on holiday products for next year. Maybe you have already set up your Christmas budget for the coming year. If you make purchases now for next year, you can easily deduct them from that budget and document what you bought. I guarantee in 11 months you’ll have forgotten what you bought.  We did this last year with LED lights for outside and containers for cookie gift giving. What a great surprise when I discovered the new items we had and that was already paid for and part of the budget!

The best deals after Christmas

So let’s talk deals and what you should be on the lookout for.

The discounts will start right away on December 26. Some stores will be busy with lots of people out seeking these discounts, but they will be more crowded at customer service with returns. (side note: if you have a return try to do it when the store is least busy and definitely not on December 26. Nothing says your return must be done the day after you receive it)

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Debt Snowball Progress- November 2017

Wow, another month has passed, and we are quickly closing in on the end of 2017.

I can’t believe it.

Call me a nerd, but the end of the year means I soon get to do our end of the year financial recap. Yes, I like calculating numbers, creating debt payoff projections and setting financial goals.

debt snowball motivation

I have felt defeated a lot recently in regards to our debt payoff. It feels like that stupid student loan is going to be around forever. I probably spend more time feeling defeated than empowered in our ability to get rid of this debt.

I was lamenting its existence, yet again, and the staggering amount we still have left. When I shared this with Brian, he was quick to remind me that we have come a long way. We are now under $30,000. That amount is still scary, but given where we started it is quite amazing.

Sometimes when the road gets long, we forget how far we’ve come and how many obstacles we have overcome to get where we are.

To fully comprehend how far we’ve come, I took some time to sit down and think about where we started.

Since June 2013 we have paid approximately $64,000 towards student loan debt, and we cash flowed $33,000 for the following: roof and siding on our garage, a complete kitchen remodel, refinancing our home and two vacations to Disney World.

That means in 4 ½ years we have paid off $97,000 that equals about $1800/month.

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Creative Christmas Card Ideas

Have you ever gotten one of those Christmas cards that makes your jaw drop?

Not because of what is written in it, but how it is written.

I have.

Some people just have a gift for creativity and writing.

creative Christmas card ideas

Honestly, to me it doesn’t even matter if you’re not a great writer, I still love getting your Christmas card. I love to hear how families are doing and see the kids growing.

There are many ways to approach writing your Christmas letter if you choose to do so, which you must have chosen, otherwise, why are you reading this?

You can write a simple letter about what each member of your family has been up to. It’s informative, but not necessarily the most creative. We sent this type of letter for several years.

Of course, if you are like me, you try to write the letter, so it is informative, but not bragging.

This can be a difficult thing to achieve because typically we want to share the highlights of our year. No one wants to read my letter if it’s depressing and talks about how horrible our year was.

There is a way to find that balance, if you’re willing to be a little more creative than the generic “what we’ve been up to letter.”

Creative Christmas Cards we’ve done:

Top Ten

We highlighted the top ten events from the year in 2013.

Christmas Letter 2013

A year recap in numbers

We used a template from Shutterfly and recapped 2014 using mostly numbers and short memories. This year’s card also included a QR code that when activated had the whole family wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Christmas card 2014

From the perspective of our youngest

In 2015 Amelia was 1 ½, and I wrote the Christmas letter from her perspective with a little spin. She was telling our friends and family the “True Story of the Gerkens” not the version her parents were sharing with everyone.

Christmas letter 2015

Twitter style

I wrote our Christmas letter in multiple 140 character tweets including hashtags. We thought fully embracing modern technology in 2016 would be fun.

christmas card 2016

Other Creative Card Ideas we have not yet tried:

  • Write the letter from your pet’s perspective
  • Make the letter a quiz where the reader has to guess the family member who did each thing
  • Make the letter into a game (think life board game)
  • Top ten list of places you visited or things you’ve done
  • Use song lyrics or a famous book/story and change it around to your family’s story for the year
  • Make your letter the front page of a newspaper with important headlines
  • Write a poem
  • Use an acronym
  • Announce the year’s awards to different family members- make them funny, not pretentious
  • Write the letter with your child (think Mad libs)
  • Do a famous quotes letter. If you keep track of quotable things that your family says throughout the year use those.
  • Write it as a letter to Santa
  • Write the letter as if you are canceling Christmas and why
  • Make a crossword puzzle
  • Police mugshots with what the family member did to get into trouble, of course, they will be funny.
  • Write it as if each family member is a superhero and what their superpower is, who their enemy is, etc.
Christmas card
2016 Christmas Card

Ultimately, it does not matter how you write or design your letter as long as you enjoy doing it. It’s a great opportunity to share your creative side and share what your family has been up to for the last year as well.

 

Please share in the comments below what other creative Christmas card ideas you have.

Christmas Cards: Do You Send Them or Not?

Christmas cards and letters.

Do you send them?

Do you like to receive them?

Do you enjoy them or feel they are obligatory?

Christmas cards

Personally, I fall into the “LOVE” category.

I love sending them, and I love receiving them even more.

The picture cards with a letter are the best.

I don’t even care if your letter is braggadocious (it’s a word. It means bragging too much). I will still enjoy reading it.

Just know that I’m onto you and your life is not as perfect as the Christmas letter indicates.

I choose to send a picture card and letter, but mainly because I assume everyone else loves them as much as I do. I just love to see everyone’s families and hear what they are up to. The more creative the letter, the more I enjoy it.

My cousin, Janelle, has done the most creative letters for years. I know her husband does not love sending the letters, and it’s an argument in their house every year (Dave let it be known that many of us LOVE them. I’m just glad I make it on the “A” list, so I get the picture and letter.)

Perhaps, it’s because I’m a scrapbooker so naturally I love pictures more than the average person. As a scrapbooker, no picture is complete without a few words and maybe a story or two.

How to display/store the Christmas cards and letters you receive:

  • Hang around a large entryway. This is how we display ours. That way we can see them often, and the girls love to see who sends us cards. They often stop and ask who each person and family is and how we know them. The new cards that come in the mail are not hung up until everyone has seen them.
  • Put them in a basket on a coffee table or next to a favorite chair. My in-laws put theirs in a basket that they can easily pull out to look through and add more to. When we visit they usually share the photo cards, and letters from families we know.
  • Hang from a decorative display that you make or buy on Etsy. There are so many ideas on Etsy and Pinterest that you will be overwhelmed with the options.
  • Hang on your refrigerator. What better place to see the pictures and cards often.
  • Hang on your kitchen cabinets. A little ribbon and some clothespins can make even your kitchen cabinets festive with all of those Christmas cards.entryway christmas cards

After Christmas is over what do you do with the cards?

Given my “Love” of Christmas cards and letters, I bet it’s no surprise that mine do not get thrown away. If you too love receiving photo cards and have a hard time getting rid of them at the end of the year, I have a solution.

If you scrapbook or simply put pictures in albums, then you can put your cards in there too. Every year you can look back and see who sent you a card and how their family has changed over the years. (idea courtesy of my cousin Janelle)

scrapbook with christmas cards

If you do not scrapbook or put photos in albums, then you could get a simple photo album just for putting the cards in and then display that on your coffee table every Christmas season.

If you don’t love sending Christmas cards or photo cards or writing letters, then don’t do it.

Remember to think about why you’re doing what you do. Do not feel pressured to send them just because other people do. Those people may just be like me and enjoy sending them.  It might just be one of the non-negotiables from their simplify the holiday list.

And it is okay if your Christmas card list changes every year – ours does.

People come in and out of our lives, and so our list of card recipients changes. With the advent of social media, it almost feels like our list of “friends” is endless, that doesn’t mean all of those people NEED to receive a card.

Sit back and enjoy the cards you receive and wish those who send them well, but don’t feel obligated to reciprocate.  Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

 

Do you display your Christmas Cards during the season? What do you do with them after the holidays? Please share in the comments.

 

How to Simplify the Holidays

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Did you sing that? You should have.  Singing it immediately puts me into the holiday spirit.

I know, I can hardly believe it is already the holidays, but it is.

Do you ever feel exhausted and overwhelmed during and after the holidays?

Do you resent making cookies?

Then don’t.

Do you hate spending time and money figuring out and sending Christmas cards?

Then don’t.

Make this the year you take back Christmas (reference to Bad Moms 2= hilarious)

Last time I checked, Christmas was about celebrating Christ’s birth (even though he wasn’t born in December but off topic)

Don’t let the “I should’s” take control this Christmas.

Who cares what you should do? And seriously who says you should?

simplify the holidays

I am giving you permission to say NO.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can say no to everything because if you have kids, there are probably some things they want to do that you may not be interested in. There are times we have to sacrifice for our kids, but along with that, kids don’t need to get everything they want.

I’m betting as a kid you didn’t get to do everything you wanted either. Remember we’re raising kids who know disappointment and know how to deal with it.

You can simplify the holidays and it’s quite simple.

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9 Things that Simplified My Life This Year

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share 9 things I am thankful for this year.

I have chosen these 9 things specifically because of how they have helped to simplify my life this year.

Do you ever feel like life is more stressful than not?

Can you never seem to find time to sit and relax?

Is your mind constantly running with things that need to be done?

Maybe one of my 9 things can help you simplify your life and provide relaxation in 2018.

Without further ado here they are!

simplify your life

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What to Buy on Black Friday

Everyone knows Black Friday is a big day for holiday shopping, but I bet you didn’t realize the variety of things you can get deals on.

This doesn’t mean I think you should spend all your money or go into debt because something is a deal. However, if you were in the market for any of these items, now is the time to buy.

what to buy on Black Friday

7 Things to buy on Black Friday

  • Vacations—Yes, there are some great deals on vacations on Black Friday. All you have to do is book the vacation on that day. If I had the disposable income right now, I’d be booking a nice beach vacation for the dead of winter for Brian and I. Maybe next year when we’re, fingers crossed, debt-free.

beach vacation

  • Pictures, Holiday Cards, Calendars – Typically, Snapfish and Shutterfly offer great deals on Black Friday. Bonus both are on Ebates. In years past, Snapfish has been as much as 20% cash back on Black Friday. Be sure to plan and have your Christmas cards ready, your calendars made and your pictures uploaded. Then all you need to do is order them on Black Friday. This is also a great time to order any holiday picture gifts such as ornaments, photo albums, calendars, etc. A family favorite picture gift that we gave one year was a puzzle that had the image of my parents and all of the grandkids. Everyone had a great time putting that together.

picture puzzle from snapfish

  • Toiletries and Medicine – Seriously, check the CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid ads. You can get free or deeply discounted items such as toothpaste, razors and over the counter medicines. If there is a rebate, don’t forget to submit them before the deadline. Check your coupons because you may even be able to make money on some of those things.
  • Household Items – You may not be thinking about items for your house, but Black Friday is a great time to replace old Tupperware, towels, dishes. If you like Zak kitchen items like I do, they are offering my readers a great Black Friday discount. Be sure to check it out. Several years in a row we got the huge Tupperware set at Wal-Mart. The price was amazing (less than $10), and we love it. It stores nicely in my drawer, and it’s easy to find a lid. At the great price, I don’t even mind replacing it every couple of years if need be.                                      rubbermaid tupperware
  • Wrapping Paper – The best deal I have found on wrapping paper is Black Friday at Walgreens. If I know I will need more wrapping paper for the holiday, I stop by there and pick it up. The price is always the cheapest. I also look over the paper designs. Some are generic enough to use for other holidays or birthdays. I have found generic roles most years.
    wrapping paper
    This was “holiday” wrapping paper that can be used any time of year.

    Appliances –Not many people think about buying appliances on Black Friday, but they are usually on sale. If you are remodeling, buying a new house, or just need a new appliance, this is a great time to consider making that purchase. This is both small kitchen appliances (mixers, blenders, crockpots, etc.) and big household appliances (washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, etc.). In fact, if an appliance is on its last leg and you can swing waiting until Black Friday, it’s not a bad idea.

  • Electronics – They are usually discounted very well on Black Friday. The products on the front page of the ads, the door buster sales, are not always the best purchase. They look the same as something that is good quality but they are low-quality. They are made cheaply so they can be sold cheaply to lure shoppers in on Black Friday. The better deal is the rest of the electronics that are on sale. One year we got a great deal on an iPads from Target online.

I hope this list has helped you to consider some new things you may want to buy on Black Friday. Buying now could save you a lot of money later. December is also a great time to save money all year on gift cards and certificates.

*Planning to shop on Black Friday, be sure to check out “7 Tips to Make the Most of Black Friday Shopping.

*Remember if you plan to shop online you MUST sign up for Ebates.  If you don’t, you are throwing money away.

What other things should bargain hunters buy on Black Friday?

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