Posts filed under ‘gifts’

Tricks to Spending Less on Christmas Gifts


I managed to limit Christmas spending this year through a variety of techniques.

First, I took advantage of Kohl’s Veteran’s Day sale. The store offered $10 off a $50 toy purchase plus $10 off a $25 purchase and an additional 20% off. I bought $54 worth of toys for roughly $29.

If you aren’t aware Kohl’s has a Yes2You Rewards program that offers one point for every $1 you spend in store or online. For every 100 points you earn Kohl’s will email you $5 worth of Kohl’s cash. It’s free to join and a good deal if you plan to shop there anyway. If you join via referral you’ll receive $5 worth of Kohl’s cash just for signing up with a referral link. If you’d like an invitation leave me a comment with your email and I’ll send you one.

In December I used $10 worth of Kohl’s cash and a 30% off coupon to buy a $50 toy for $28. I returned an unwanted baby gift to the store earlier this year and used $15 worth of merchandise credit to whittle down the cost to just over $13.

As a side note: Kohl’s prices are often much higher than other stores, but through a combination of dollar off coupons and percentage off coupons I can often buy items at roughly half price.

Chase card holders received a $15 credit for purchasing items via Visa Checkout. I bought a cute little Christmas outfit from Crazy8 for the little guy and pajamas for the older one. I took advantage of this promotion with both of my credit cards.

Amazon also ran a number of promotions for Chase credit card holders this year. I received $15 off one purchase and $10 off another. As an extra perk Chase Freedom card holders will earn 10% cash back on Amazon orders. Hooray!

I also took advantage of the 30% and 20% promotions on books. Although we typically use the library these days it’s still nice to maintain a small shelf or two of my children’s favorites. Books also make great gifts, especially when the sea of Christmas toys seems to overwhelm me.

I used CamelCamelCamel to track various toys and books and purchased items only when when my target prices were reached. I tried to wait until prices were near record lows. I also used CamelCamelCamel as a way to track prices after I purchased items. I received a refund when the price dropped five days after I ordered my son’s present.

I used Google shopping to compare prices across stores. Amazon is not included, so I just searched for the item on Amazon and then compared it to the stores listed. While Amazon was often the cheapest option it wasn’t always. If I used a store other than Amazon I used Mr. Rebates to receive additional cash back on my purchase. There are other cash back sites but Mr. Rebates seems to work more consistently than others and they have really prompt and helpful customer service reps.

I also spent previously unused credits from a variety of stores including BeyondTheRack, which offered me $10 worth of credit for absolutely no reason at all.

How did you do with your holiday shopping? Did you use any special promotions or tricks to spend less?

December 22, 2015 at 5:04 PM Leave a comment

A Mother’s Day Gift to Myself


My husband came home this week and told me his coworkers seemed stressed and annoyed with the expectations of Mother’s Day and the gifts they need to buy their wives. I’m not a fan of all the fluff and stuff associated with major holidays. A few years back a male coworker said “I don’t want to disappoint my wife, but I have no idea what to buy.” That seems like a lot of unwanted stress; a husband feeling stressed over his wife’s disappointment.

I’m a fan of giving gifts and performing nice gestures at random times throughout the year. I’d give up holidays like Mother’s Day in a heartbeat for a nice back massage on a Tuesday evening or french toast cooked on a Sunday morning alongside my newborn and three year old. Forget fancy jewelry and roses, both seem like a complete waste to me.

The best thing my husband could do is exactly what he did. Yesterday he processed the hundreds of photos I shot over the past two weeks.

I’ve always been a perfectionist and before my children were born I absolutely refused to pick up my husband’s camera. I didn’t think I’d master the art of photography so why even bother.When my son was born my perspective changed completely.

The first photographs I took were too dark, improperly focused and poorly balanced, but I didn’t care. The sweet face looking at me through the other side of the lens was worth capturing no matter the end result.

I’ve picked up that camera multiple times a week for the past three and a half years and now have two beautiful children to capture.

One of the best mother’s day gifts is one I gave to myself. The ability to look back over thousands of photographs that capture the tiny, miniscule changes as my infant son transformed into a little boy.

Alongside the photographs are hundreds of videos that capture the sights and sounds from a baby who cooed and giggled to a toddler just learning to speak. I pull that video camera out a few times a week and record events that seem utterly mundane. There we are cooking dinner together. There we are watering the flowers, washing rocks and picking flowers.

When I look back I remember how my son talked, the sounds he could or couldn’t make, the phrases he repeated and the way he skipped and hopped throughout the rooms in our house. I have memories of many of these events, but its so easy to forget the tiny details.

When my son was just a few months old I began writing a journal. My initial intent was to record my thoughts and feelings so that he could know how much I loved him. As time progressed I realized the journal was a gift to myself. It’s like a time capsule that I can open anytime I want. A time capsule that reveals my most intimate feelings.

On this Mother’s Day I looked through the photos, both new and old, watched a few videos and revisited the journal I began so long ago. My intention was to leave these gifts as a legacy to my children. I now realize the true gift is for myself.

May 10, 2015 at 5:42 PM 1 comment

Gift Exchanges: Really Crappy Gifts

wrapping paper

Two years ago my brother and I officially stopped giving each other gifts for Christmas. I can say without a bit of remorse that I’m glad we ended the exchange. Every year it became more difficult to decide on a gift and the added stress and cost just wasn’t worth it anymore. It was a mutual agreement; my brother was just as happy to end the swap as I was.

Honestly, I wish I could end the majority of my gift exchanges. I’d prefer Christmas to work like Thanksgiving where we drive to someone’s house, eat good food, spend quality time together and head home.

More often than not I spend a lot of time thinking about what people will like and find that I receive generic, thoughtless gifts in return. Last year I received a particularly crappy, five dollar present as part of a family exchange. (Before anyone jumps in and says “maybe the gift giver can’t afford more than that” I will say with absolutely certainty that they can.) This particular person had no problem providing more thoughtful, expensive gifts to other family members.

I spent a good deal of time and money buying gifts for that person, but as the calendar rolls into December I’m not certain that I want to get burned again. I’m not really sure how to handle the exchange of gifts this year.

Do I continue to spend energy searching for gifts when I know full well that I won’t get anything decent in return or do I throw in the towel and buy this particular person something equally crappy? Ninety-nine percent of me says do the right thing and buy a nice gift. The other one percent says forget that; put very little thought or money into it and call it a day.

Unfortunately I cannot envision a way to end the exchange all together. That would be my preferable solution to this problem, but I just don’t see a way to make it happen without a larger conflict arising.

So what do you think? Have you ever been faced with a terrible gift giver? Do you have advice on how to handle my situation?

Photo Credit

November 21, 2014 at 11:02 PM 11 comments

A Three Year Old Birthday Party and Sticking With My Minimum Gift Rule

Very Hungry Caterpillar

After much contemplation I decided against a big party for my son’s third birthday. We invited our families to the celebration but chose not to invite any of my son’s friends. I am so happy we took this approach. We don’t see my brother’s children very often and it was great to see my son playing along side his two older cousins without any distractions from other children.

Rather than focusing on a large celebration we spent time baking a cake with my son. He helped measure, add the ingredients, mix and even pour the batter into the pan. Once the cake cooled we let him choose the icing color, (with the help of a little food coloring), and helped him cover the cake with it. He added a few little decorations on top too.

I didn’t stick to the two gift rule, but I wish I had. Last year I only bought one gift for my son and this year I think I could have stuck to that model. One of his favorite presents was a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that I purchased for $3.99.

I bought four gifts for less than $20. My son loved all the presents I bought, but in retrospect I wish I’d only given him two and saved the other two for some other time.

I chose to buy him one puzzle, one book, one tub toy and one just for fun toy. On the night before his birthday my husband and I also filled my son’s bedroom with a dozen helium balloons. On one hand you can say balloons are a complete waste of money, after all they deflate in a matter of days. On the other hand I can honestly say that the experience of waking up to a room full of balloons was probably more thrilling than any gift my son received.

As always our families purchased an inordinate number of gifts for the little tike. The pile of presents stood at least eight or ten high. Just another reason I should have stuck with only one or two gifts this year. There were so many gifts in our living room that I have absolutely no idea how we’ll handle Christmas two and a half months from now.

I still have a few of the new toys in boxes and I’m hoping I can sneak them down to the basement for a bit and then add them to the toy rotation at some future point in time.

My son seemed to enjoy the festivities. At night we tell stories about the day’s adventures and he seemed most proud that everyone enjoyed the cake he baked. It just goes so show that the experiences of life are much more important than the things.

October 20, 2014 at 1:04 PM 5 comments

A Tradition Worth Passing On

Baby Shower Gifts

When I was pregnant with my son I received a giant box in the mail filled with wrapped gifts. My husband’s aunt passed on the tradition of providing me with one gift for each prenatal appointment. I loved that I idea so much that I bought presents for my husband’s friend who was expecting their first bundle of joy last year. As fate would have it their child was born much earlier than expected and our goody bag of gifts turned into an impromptu baby shower of sorts.

When a friend of mine from college announced her pregnancy last year I knew that I wanted to continue the tradition once more. This is not the most practical way to provide for a new baby. It doesn’t involve buying items off their registry or buying one big ticket item they might really need. Instead it revolves around buying lots of tiny gifts that the parents-to-be can open each time they visit the doctor. The practical side of me says, “just wait and pick from their registry.” The part that loves this tradition says, “go find fifteen or twenty cute gifts the mother-t0-be will love.”

And so with that philosophy in my mind I went to the store in search of gifts for my friend. I took pictures of all the treasures I found, but unfortunately I cannot seem to locate most of them. It’s unfortunate because some of the most adorable items aren’t included in the photos below. Here are a couple of things I bought:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


All told I purchased seventeen items. I actually can’t believe I bought that many and didn’t notice how long the list had become until I wrote them all down! The practical side of me one out after all. In addition to all of these items I gave my friend an old stroller that was a bit too short for my liking. It was in perfectly good shape and I told her honestly that I was giving it away because I hated bending over to use it. For those who might be wondering… she is much shorter so the height shouldn’t be a problem.

July 10, 2014 at 9:31 PM Leave a comment

Creating a Baby Registry: How to Get Friends and Family Members to Buy What You Want

Many expecting parents pour through websites and baby stores in search of perfect, must-have items for their registries. Mothers and fathers-to-be create long lists in the hopes that everyone will buy items they want, but many parents don’t receive the things they selected. I’ve watched many expecting parents receive a room full of gifts, most of which were not on the registry.

While every gift should certainly be appreciated there are a couple of things you can do to facilitate the gift giving process and ensure you receive more of the items you want and need.

First, register at two stores. One should be an online site, preferably Amazon. The other can be a major retailer like Target or a baby store. There are a number of reasons to choose two.  First, online sites like Amazon typically charge much less than the big name baby stores.

Before a baby shower attendee goes shopping, either online or in store, she will probably have a target price range in mind. The price will vary depending on how close the person is to the parents-to-be, how long they have known each other and how much they can afford. This isn’t always the case but most people pick a specific number before they start shopping. The common price points are $25, $50, $75 and $100.

Let’s start with an example; you want to register for a play yard/playpen/pack-n-play. At the baby store the item costs $115 which is just out of reach of the person who is willing to buy you a $100 gift. At Amazon the item costs $95 and includes shipping, which might make it the prefect present.

Think carefully about the price points of items on your registry. Think through the list of people you would like to invite to your shower and how much each might spend. Your favorite aunt might be willing to spend somewhere between $100 and $150, but the coworker you’ve known for two years might not want to spend more than $25. Make sure you include a number of items on your registry within each range.

When I registered, which was over two years ago, I found the biggest price differences on big ticket items like strollers, car seats, high chairs, bouncy seats and pack-and-plays. Brick and mortar stores were consistently higher and the price difference ranged from a few dollars more to nearly $40 for a few items. A few dollars here and there don’t sound like a lot, but it could be the difference between matching someone’s price point and going over.

Another reason to register at Amazon; most people who are buying big ticket items won’t need to see or touch these objects in person. They’ll be happy you registered online so they do not have to lift and drag it these large, cumbersome items through a store and into their car. You actually save them a whole lot of hassle by providing the means to have it shipped directly to their door. A lot of brick-and-mortar stores have websites, but not all of them offer free shipping. Many of Amazon’s larger baby items ship for free. 

So if Amazon prices are cheaper why register at brick-and-mortar stores at all? There are two main reasons. First, the baby shower attendee may want to go shopping. She may want to touch the soft baby blankets and look at the sweet, pint-sized baby clothes. Second, the world is made up of procrastinators. You would be amazed by the number of people that receive an invitation a month before an event and actually buy the gift only a day or two before attending.

If you register solely online you discourage the people who want to see and touch things in person from buying what’s on your list. You will also ensure that the procrastinators who put off shopping until the last minute will go rogue. They will quickly realize that the gifts they order will not arrive in time and will randomly buy something else for you.

Okay. So now you know you should register at two places, compare prices for all big ticket items and consider price points when registering. What else?

Try to put aside your urge to pick the cutest things. Prices for the same item in a different pattern or color can vary dramatically. Take the rock ‘n play sleeper as an example.

The SnugaMonkey version costs $75.99 SnugaMonkey

The Rain Forest version costs $44.99. Rain Forest

Now the person who was going to spend $75 for an item can easily buy the more expensive version, but by choosing the less expensive item you create a new option for someone willing to spend less than $50. One version might be slightly cuter than the other, but the truth is your baby is going to lay in the middle of this contraption so you won’t be able to see that snuggly monkey design anyway. Another piece of advice, if you know you are having a boy or girl, still consider gender neutral colors. When I registered I noticed a lot of items were cheaper in green and yellow.

Also, keep in mind the age range for certain items and the amount of time your child may spend using it. You may think you need the cutest, most expensive baby apparatus, but realize your child will only use it for a few months. I’m not suggesting that you always register for the least expensive item, but rather that you weigh the decision to choose pricier items. If you cannot live without the snugamonkey and it’s not in someone’s price range you will be forced to buy it yourself. Would you rather have a slightly less cute design or pay $75 out of pocket for something you find irresistible? I’d opt for choosing something less adorable if someone else was willing to pay for it. Maybe you wouldn’t. That’s fine, just think about your price points and what matters most when selecting.

This doesn’t mean you should always register for the cheapest item. If you plan to jog with your baby or take long walks with him or her you will want a comfortable stroller. I registered and received a less expensive stroller at my baby shower and grew to hate it. In my case it turned out that the stroller handle was not high enough to fit my 6 foot stature. I kept that stroller for a year but absolutely hated it. I ultimately purchased a new one, but I disliked the fact that a close family member spent good money for one I disliked so much.

Think carefully when you select items and be extremely cognizant of prices. Unless you have wealthy friends and family members don’t register for a $50 sleep sack. No one wants to spend $50 for that. Register for a good quality, but less expensive brand and you might receive three or four. Your child is bound to spit up or pee on them and you’ll want to have a couple on hand for late night changes. Remember that items like this can be purchased at Marshalls, Ross and similar stores at a fraction of the price. Last week I spotted ten or twelve hanging from the clearance rack for four dollars. In fact, I suggest walking through non-baby stores to see what’s available and how much things cost.

Another key piece of advice. Do not register for clothing, wash cloths, bibs, burp cloths, hooded towels or baby blankets. I can pretty much guarantee that you will receive these anyway. Women love to buy soft, cutesy things like these and the expecting parents will inevitably receive a bunch of them. If you have friends or family members that knit you may also receive handmade booties, blankets, hats and even mittens. I have never been to shower where a mother-to-be didn’t receive at least a couple of these items.

Also keep in mind that some baby sized gear is cute, but certainly not necessary. Full sized towels work better than the hooded baby versions and extra soft wash cloths will work perfectly fine for a baby. In other words you can find work arounds for these types of items so it is not crucial that you receive them. They may not have baby motifs on them, but they will last long beyond the baby years.

Lastly, make certain people know where you are registered. If your friend or family member is hosting the shower ask them to include the details on the invitation. If people don’t know where you registered you are bound to get a whole lot of stuff you really don’t need or want.

Do you have any other advice for creating a baby registry? If so, please leave a comment below.

February 3, 2014 at 10:45 PM 2 comments

Know Your Store’s Return Policies: My Big Mistake

For as long as I can remember my mom has prefaced the gifts she presents with the sentiment “if you don’t like this then let me know. I would rather return it then waste the money.”  I heard this every time I opened a present for the last 30+ years of my life. I heard it so many times that I didn’t think it was an unusual statement to make. In fact it was an extended family member that first told me it seemed odd.

Having grown up with this idea it didn’t seem like a particularly strange one. It seemed sensible to return an unwanted gift in exchange for something that you might like better. The rule didn’t apply to all gifts or all people who presented me with gifts. I was not allowed to tell everyone I disliked their gifts; just my mother.

Of course, it goes without saying that this scenario puts me in an awkward position. My mom wants to know the truth, but sometimes when I know she searched long and hard for the perfect present I don’t want to crush her spirit by telling her I don’t like it.

In the past I probably told her the truth about 80% of the time. The other 20% I feigned excitement and then moved the item to the back of my closet. These days I am much more honest. I no longer hold on to things I don’t like, which means those unwanted items would go directly from the gift bag to the donation center. Since my mom asks for my honesty I now tell her the truth. To be honest I also don’t want to waste her hard earned money.

Outside of my own household I have never heard anyone echo the same sentiment. When we receive gifts from other family members we smile, thank them and then quietly donate everything we can’t use or didn’t like.

Every year my husband receives clothing that he has no intentions of wearing. There isn’t anything he likes about it. The colors are not right, the material is too thin and the style is not at all similar to anything else he wears. Every year we pile these up and send them off for donation fully knowing that next year we will receive another bag filled with similar clothing.

For some reason this time around I decided to research the store’s return policy.  I always assumed we could not return the clothing without gift slips or receipts, but it turns out I was horribly wrong!

Honestly I have absolutely no idea why I never looked into the store policy before. It seems like so many stores make you jump through hoops to return things and I just assumed I would be tough-out-of-luck without a receipt. For the record I do feel like a complete and utter idiot for not researching the return policy sooner.

It seems this particular store will accept our unwanted merchandise without any documentation. They will simply refund the lowest sale price offered in the last 30 days. I don’t care about the price, because some store credit is certainly better than nothing.

I was elated to know the store policy, but ridiculously upset with myself for not looking into this before. The bag of items I returned was valued at just under $50. If you assume $50 every year for the past five years you are easily looking at $250 worth of store merchandise we could have used to purchase other things.

This was one of those ugh moments for me. I was happy to know that I can now exchange the items we don’t want for things we do need, but ever so frustrated that I didn’t research the policy sooner.

Of course, it’s not the worst thing in the world. While we didn’t receive store credit, I am happy to know that someone out there was able to purchase brand new clothing at our local donation center. But I must admit that I will not make the same mistake again. The next time we receive a bag of unwanted clothing I plan to return it to the store.

January 24, 2014 at 2:05 PM Leave a comment

A Breakdown of My Christmas Expenses


Did you set a holiday budget? Did you stick to it? I did really well this year.

  • Mom’s Gift – Purchased at Macy’s using a gift card I earned for completing online surveys. I actually purchased this in August. It was marked down significantly and I used a $10 coupon I received in the mail. Final cost: $28. Original price: $85.
  • Dad’s Gift – A BJ’s Membership and a $25 gift card. I earn $10 for every Groupon member that signs up and makes a purchase through this link and thanks to the generous Groupon referral program I earned enough credits to get this for free.
  • Son’s Gift – A used book purchased from Amazon. It cost one cent and shipping added another $3.99. I also bought him a used Lite Brite toy from eBay. I’m not sure if he’ll have the dexterity to use this yet, but if not I’ll put it back in the box until next year.
  • Niece’s Gift – $12 for a do-it-yourself craft that is currently listed on Amazon for $28 plus shipping.
  • Nephew’s Gift – $15 for a game currently listed on Amazon for $25.
  • Husband’s Gifts – Three main presents and one gag gift. Final cost just under $90.
  • Brother – No gift. (We decided not to buy each other presents anymore.)
  • Sister-In-Law #1 – No gift. (Ditto on the no gift rule.)
  • Sister-In-Law #2 – Gift card (received for taking surveys), beauty products (it was actually cheaper to buy a large set and then divide the products between us.), clothes (purchased on sale).

Total amount spent. Less than $200.

We didn’t spend a lot of money on gifts but we did spend a bit on experiences for the little guy.

  • $25 to see lighted displays at one location
  • $10 to see different displays somewhere else.
  • $20 worth of museum entrance fees.
  • $8 for a gingerbread house
  • Lots of time spent outdoors. Free!

Photo Credit

December 17, 2013 at 5:36 PM 3 comments

A Christmas Gift: One of My Son’s Favorite Things


As we all know children cycle through toys quickly. I’m always on the lookout for gifts that my son will continue to treasure for a long time to come. I recently dug through the mound of toys in his playroom in an effort to move some out of the way and bring others to the forefront. He receives so many gifts between his birthday and Christmas that I often don’t know where to put them and have resorted to a toy rotation of sorts, where I box up a bunch and then bring them back into the playroom a few weeks later.

As I was reorganizing the toys I also did my best to corral his books into boxes. Along the bottom of the stack I found a recordable book my parents purchased for him on his first birthday. It’s a hallmark book that allows you to record your voice as you read the story. I specifically asked my parents to buy this for my son when he turned a year old.

Ever since he was born my son has loved to listen to stories. While other children tend to wiggle off of your lap after a few seconds or minutes my son can sit with a stack of books and read for an hour. I wasn’t sure how he would respond to a book that spoke to him, but from the minute he opened it he fell in love with it. He would find a comfy spot on the couch or floor and listen to the story two or three times before setting it aside.

He loved it so much that I bought four additional books on clearance after Christmas. In one of the books rather than recording the story I recorded my voice asking questions like “where is the dog” or “where is the train.” After he read through the book a few times I would record over the previous version asking him to point out new images.

Over time the books were lost under the stack, but when I dug them out a few weeks ago my son climbed up onto the couch and read them over and over again. He still loves the book my parents recorded the best. He listens to it every day and tells me who is speaking on each page. He can’t say “grandma” or “grandpa”, but he has nicknames for each and shouts them out as soon as he hears their voices.

This is one of those gifts that serves as two gifts in one. It is a gift for my son as much as it is a gift for my parents. My parents loved reading the story aloud to my son and my son loves hearing their voices.

It’s a great gift for connecting family. I recently bought one for a friend of mine whose parents live in Europe. His daughter can’t see her grandparents every day but she can hear their voices.

You can find the books at Hallmark, but I’ve saved a few dollars here and there by searching for cheaper versions on Amazon.

December 10, 2013 at 4:03 PM 1 comment

Gifts That Require Wrapping But Aren’t Toys?

Wilbur Under the Tree

Before giving birth to an October baby I never factored in the number of gift list requests that would come between the time the first leaves fall and Christmas begins. I don’t know what to include on these lists anymore. I feel quite inundated by the number of toys currently overflowing in our living room and that doesn’t count the droves of items I’ve already moved to the basement.

I need help! No seriously. I really could use some advice on this topic. I know that everyone wants to see the little guy’s eyes light up when he rips open the wrapping paper and reveals his gifts, but I don’t want another mound of toys joining the piles we already have to contend with.

I’ve told everyone in my family that time is really the best gift of all, but with that suggestion they all seem to shrug their shoulders and say “uh-huh, but what can I buy the little guy?”

A few friends have suggested sticking to the good old rhyme:

  • something they WANT
  • something they NEED
  • something to WEAR
  • something to READ

I’ve also thought about asking them to wrap gifts of food and other consumable items. My kid loves fruit. Maybe they could just wrap up some oranges and apples. I know it sounds crazy, but at this age I think he’d love that more than any big box they’d give him. Perhaps they could buy a paint brush, paints and paper all wrapped separately. Maybe they could wrap a helium inflated balloon. Hmm, maybe these ideas do sound a bit crazy?

It’s not that I’m trying to deny him toys. If he didn’t have a room full of them I wouldn’t think twice about adding a few to his wish list. And if his birthday didn’t occur two months before Christmas he might be in need of some new ones.

I’ve written about this topic more times than I can count, but I can’t seem to find a real resolution for the problem. I’m open to any and all suggestions! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any ideas!

November 26, 2013 at 5:15 PM 6 comments

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