Posts filed under ‘holiday’

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

Black Friday and Cyber Monday: I Own Too Much Already


I typically spend Black Friday cleaning out my house. The goal is simple: to find better homes for all of my unwanted items and to make room for any new gifts that might appear between now and Christmas.

Five or six years ago I spent the day after Thanksgiving decluttering and ever since that day I’ve found the experience quite cathartic.

It feels good to get rid of the clutter and even better to pass it on to someone else who might need it more than I do.

Why spend the day shopping when I own too much already? I stopped exchanging gifts with my brother and sister-in-law and hope to do the same on the other side of the family.

Other than toys-for-tots and my niece and nephews I have no need to purchase gifts anymore.

So instead of shopping I spend the day decluttering and counting my blessings for all that I already have and own. I am so grateful for everything.

November 29, 2015 at 2:14 PM Leave a comment



A few days before Halloween my husband looked into the massive bowl of candy and said “you did not buy enough.” “You don’t think that’s enough,” I asked, “It’s ten bags of candy!”

I really didn’t want to run to the store to buy more, but I had a sinking feeling he was right. A few years ago we greeted a few dozen trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, but things have changed recently and children are now arriving in droves.

Our tiny upscale neighborhood is surrounded by lower income housing. New high rises have altered the landscape and multi-generational housing is the norm in neighboring communities.

In the past children would walk door-to-door, but now they hop out of cars that line up on our street. It is clear they are driving in from somewhere else. To accommodate the increase our little bowl of candy grows larger and larger each year.

My son enjoys Halloween more than any other holiday. Forget his birthday or Christmas or any other occasion; Halloween is his absolute favorite time of the year. Every year we create a count down chain on October 1st with thirty-one links. He removes one every day and gets downright giddy as we approach the final week before Halloween.

When my son was two and three he enjoyed giving out candy even more than he enjoyed receiving it. In fact, last year we only walked to two or three houses before he asked to return home to hand out more candy.

This year he wanted to go trick-or-treating but he was also just as excited to answer the door. Whenever he heard a knock he went running to the front of the house. He even lined up the candy so he could quickly dole it out when children came.

He answered the door for an hour or so and then my husband and I took him out to collect candy.  We walked down one street and back up another before he told us he was too tired to continue.

My mom gave out candy in our absence and when we returned there were only a few pieces left in the bowl. My son planted himself in the front entrance and waited. Within a few minutes we had only one piece of candy left so I turned off the light above our front door.

When a group of children knocked on the door he started to cry. “Mama I want to give them candy,” he said. I calmly explained that we were out of candy and that we didn’t have anything left to give the trick-or-treaters. “But I have candy,” he said.

I asked if he was referring to the candy in his bucket. The candy he collected walking door-to-door. “Yes,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I want to give them MY candy.” I handed over his bucket and watched him dig inside it. Within seconds he was handing over HIS candy to a group of four girls.

The oldest girl in the group asked “Is this your candy?” and when my son nodded she dug into her own bag and pulled out the biggest candy bar she could find. As he was handing her a piece of candy she secretly slid that candy bar into his bucket. She recognized his generosity and wanted to return the favor. The two other girls she was with reached into their bags and did the same. Each picked out a piece of candy he might enjoy.

When we stepped back inside I set those pieces of candy aside.  My son returned to his spot inside the front door and patiently waited for more trick-or-treaters to arrive. He held proudly onto that bucket and gave away all but one piece of candy he collected that evening. (He set aside one piece for me and kept a lollipop for himself.)

It’s one of those moments I wish I could have captured on video. There was my son, a little four year old boy so excited about Halloween and so excited to make the other children happy.

November 1, 2015 at 10:25 PM 3 comments

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

The Christmas Rundown


I spent so much time organizing the house that Christmas became a bit of an after thought. With the big day approaching I buckled down, bought gifts and checked off names on our rather short list. So far I’ve managed to keep the costs to a minimum. While I didn’t shop on Black Friday I did visit a local toy shop on Small Business Saturday to take advantage of the American Express $30 promotion. The toy shop offered a 20% discount and American Express provided up to three $10 statement credits for purchasing $10 or more from a local business on that day. I bought three toys, each at just over $10, and received an immediate email notification that all three purchases qualified. After tax I paid just $3.89 for three quality products and supported a small business in my community!

I also used a combination of coupons and Yes2You rewards from Kohl’s to purchase gifts for my niece and nephew. I bought five toys discounted at 50% off and beat even the lowest Amazon prices. A few of these gifts will be wrapped and saved as birthday gifts. Our baby is due right around the time of their birthdays and while I’m not sure we’ll attend the celebrations I do want to have gifts on hand for them. While I have a few months to purchase gifts I’m not certain I can beat the incredibly low holiday prices. Kohl’s has a killer return policy they’ll sill have plenty of time to return anything they don’t like.

For the past three years my husband and I have focused on experiences over presents and purchased just two Christmas gifts for my son. This year his primary gift will be a LeapFrog LeapReader that I purchased just after his birthday. It was on sale for $31.99 and included a free set of books that currently retails for $9.99.

I’m afraid to admit that the deeply discounted Amazon deals convinced me to buy a few additional items, but after coming to my senses I offered those gifts to my parents. My folks weren’t exactly sure what to buy our son so I decided to give them the ones I purchased. They refused to accept them for free and wrote me a check for the exact amount I spent. It was actually a great solution. They didn’t have to spend any time in stores searching for presents and I feel good knowing they bought the items at unbelievably good prices. In fact, this worked out so well I may do it for the next holiday season.

I’m happy to report that I also convinced my parents not to buy too many presents this year. I told them my son is just as thrilled with the idea of a gift than the gift itself and suggested wrapping snacks and bubble bath in favor of expensive items. They decided to contribute the money they would have spent to his 529 plan.

In general we cut back on giving gifts to the adults in our lives, which means we have fewer presents to buy. I made a free photo calendar for my grandmother and uncle thanks to the Pampers Gifts to Grow Program. I also used gift cards to buy a number of gifts for my mom as well as gifts for my son’s preschool teachers. Speaking of preschool teachers I spent a good deal of time writing quality thank you/holiday cards for them. Tears welled up in my eyes when I wrote of my son’s first few days of school and I hope that they enjoy reading those letters as much as I enjoyed writing them.

My Christmas shopping is now complete. I need to wrap a few remaining presents in holiday paper and a few more in brightly colored birthday designs. Then I can officially sit back and enjoy the holidays!

Photo Credit

December 20, 2014 at 12:49 AM 4 comments

Avoiding the Urge to Spend Money By Counting My Blessings


So far I’ve managed to avoid the plethora of store emails streaming into my inbox. I’m deleting the majority of unread feeds in my reader too. Fifty percent off, free shipping, buy-one-get-one and every other type of sale tactic in between flashes on my screen, but so far I haven’t pulled out my credit card to purchase anything unexpected.

I did purchase snow boots for my son and underwear for myself. I held out on buying these for the last month or so in the hopes that Black Friday sales would include cheaper prices and free shipping. I was right on both counts.

It’s a good thing my crazy nesting urge started a few weeks ago. Digging through those plastic tubs in the basement allowed me to see just how much excess stuff we already own.

After my son was born I was blessed with box after box of hand-me-down toys. I can easily fill two large plastic tubs with toys ranging from zero to twenty-four months. And although I gave a few things away to friends with children, I still own the majority of big ticket items like swings and car seats that we’ll need. I am tempted to buy a few more onesies and sleepers in the 0 to 6 months range, but so far I’m keeping that urge at bay.

To be perfectly honest I haven’t shopped Black Friday sales for the last ten years. Rather than shopping on the days leading up to and after Thanksgiving I maintain the tradition of removing clutter and finding homes for those things we no longer need. My son and I have loaded so many bags into the car in the last three weeks that we’ve written a short song about donating to those in need.

Since this is a season for giving I decided to donate many of the toys in my gift box to toys-for-tots. I will admit that this was more of a struggle than I wanted it to be. I bought all of the items on sale at some point or another in the last few years with the intention of providing them as gifts for my son’s friends or niece and nephews. But as I cleaned out the house I could not help but feel those toys needed a new home right now, not months or possibly even years from now, so I boxed up a few of them and intend to gather up even more for the charity box at my son’s preschool.

This morning my husband took my son on a few adventures and I traveled to town alone singing and counting my blessings. As I drove across a busy intersection I was almost hit by a young woman who ran a red light at over fifty miles per hour. Seconds before that incident I decided to drive just a little bit slower. My light had been green for quite some time, but I wasn’t in a hurry and took my foot ever so slightly off the gas as I approached the intersection. Had I been traveling one to two seconds faster I am almost certain she would have struck my driver’s side door head on. Luckily I saw the car out of the corner of my eye and hit the brakes just in time to avoid her.

Despite a few medical ups and downs, my life has been filled with nothing but blessings. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

Photo Credit

November 27, 2014 at 5:38 PM 1 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

At This Stage It Is Not About the Toys


My little tike turned two just before the holidays. He is at a glorious age. An age where Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with toys and everything to do with activities. We pile into the car on blustery nights to look at Christmas lights in the neighborhood. We spend half an hour decorating a gingerbread house and another hour dumping colored sugar onto cookies. We drive to various gardens and other locations to see lighted displays, we watch Santa fly in to the airport and visit museums to see miniature train displays.

It seems I had forgotten about the magic of Christmas. My mind was clouded with finding the perfect gift, spending hours online and in the mall, fighting big crowds and getting annoyed with drivers who can’t get in and out of parking spaces too slowly.

As I look at Christmas through the eyes of my son I see the excitement of walking around the Christmas tree farm, finding the perfect branch to hang ornaments, (typically in a clump at the bottom of the tree), peeking out of the windows at night to see the lights we hung on the bushes and counting the number of Santa Claus figurines sitting on top of the mantle.

He doesn’t have a Christmas wish list and could care less about the wrapped presents that are under the tree. I know I won’t be able to keep him this naive forever. Eventually he will circle toys in the catalog and tell me everything he wants Santa to bring, but for now I will treasure the moments we spend together. There is nothing I love more than seeing his red, runny nose and pink cheeks when we play outside in the cold together.

It has been an utter joy to experience all of the events and activities that make the holiday special. I have not wasted a single minute online or in stores. This winter we are enjoying every minute together.

Photo Credit

December 16, 2013 at 4:23 PM 1 comment

Unsubscribe, Delete and Remove Me From Your Mailing List


Temptation is probably the worst part of the holiday season for me. I am enticed by the scrumptious food displayed on holiday tables, seduced by the brightly colored boxes filled with decadent chocolates and lured to the deeply discounted promotions constantly appearing in my inbox.

Some time in early October the unsolicited catalogs began arriving. I seem to spend a couple of minutes every day contacting companies and politely asking for my address to be removed. They each tell me it will take 6 to 12 weeks to process my requests, which means I’ll continue receiving catalogs right up until Christmas.

These days I rip off the back page and immediately throw the paper in the recycle bin. If I don’t look inside those shiny pages I won’t be tempted to buy something I really don’t need. I unsubscribed from the majority of bargain blogs earlier this year, but since that time a few have crept back into my RSS feed. From Black Friday until now four blogs, (just four), have posted over three hundred times. I’m inundated with titles that read “buy this toy for $10”, “pick up children’s pajamas for $4.80”, “BOGO sales on this that and something else”.

I’m finding it difficult to keep my wallet in my pocket. I find myself thinking,  “That would make a great birthday gift for my son’s friend”, “I need to buy a baby gift for an upcoming shower” and “I’m almost certain the cat destroyed a couple of comforters.”

In reality I don’t need anything. In fact, my gift box, (a plastic bin where I store toys, baby gear and other bargains), is already overflowing in the basement and odds are that the cat will destroy another blanket, so I might as well just live with the one we already own.

It’s true that you can find remarkable bargains around the holidays, but in order to avoid the larger temptations I’m choosing to put my head in the sand. I am unsubscribing from bargain blogs and stopping all catalogs and other direct mailings. I’m no longer opening the email in my inbox either. If the sender is a manufacturer or store I simply click delete without ever reading the contents.

So far I’ve avoided buying anything we don’t need. Will I kick myself three months from now when I pay full price for a toy for little Johnny’s birthday? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.

Photo Credit

December 6, 2013 at 4:23 PM 2 comments

My Black Friday Tradition… It Doesn’t Involve Shopping


While many people are out shopping the day after Thanksgiving, you can often find me at home, digging through my closets, bookshelves and drawers. The goal is simple: to find better homes for all of my unwanted items and to make room for any new items that might make their way into my home.

Since I can’t get loved ones to stop buying me presents I typically ask for experience related gifts or consumable products like food. While this works more often than not, it’s inevitable that I’ll wind up with a few new things that need space in already crowded closets and drawers.

Every black Friday I perform a major deep clean and try my best to reorganize everything. I know that charities are always on the look out for donated clothes this time of year so I do my best to get things packed up into boxes in anticipation of the holidays.

I start by digging through the back of my closets and drawers and trying on each and every item that I’m just not sure about anymore. Then I move on to the linen closets and sort through sheets, blankets and towels.

Next I take a stab at the overflowing shelves lined with freebies like razors, toothpaste and shampoo. I keep one or two of each item as backups and then bundle the rest up for donation drives in our area. Last year I also provided small baskets filled with these types of products to family members.

Once that’s all wrapped up I typically move on to the gift closet. I take stock of what’s inside and pile up Christmas gifts I purchased throughout the year.

Lastly I clear out the rest of the house. I walk around and remove unwanted magazines, which can also be donated, along with odds and ends that have made their way into the various spaces of my home.

I also look for any items that we haven’t used in awhile. I’m always surprised by the number of things in our home that go unused over time. This includes everything from books to kitchen utensils. Sometimes I just box up items and move them out of the way, other times I try to sell or donate the unwanted items.

It can take a few hours to organize all of the nooks and crannies of my home, but when I’m finished I typically find at least a few boxes worth of items that I no longer want. I always feel a little bit lighter when I clean out the house and I’m happy to send those items off to those in need.

These days decluttering on Thanksgiving Day or the day after is an annual ritual. It feels good to get rid of all that clutter, but it feels even better knowing that it’s helping other people who need it more than we do.

How about you? Do you plan to shop on Black Friday? If not what do you plan to do?

This post was originally published on November 25, 2010.

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November 27, 2013 at 2:44 PM 3 comments

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