Sunday, October 17, 2010

#12 - still October: Are You Prepared Yet? and Brenda's Top Ten Frugal Gift Ideas

October 17: it’s now 44 days till December 1, our goal date for having our Christmas preparations completed! It’s 68 days from today until Christmas Day, but in the event that you are reading this at a later date, I added a Christmas countdown widget to the sidebar so that you can see for yourself how much time is left. Have you spent some time this month getting your thoughts and plans organized?

A friend asked for tips for frugal gifts, and so I compiled a list to share with you in case you have more family than funds but still enjoy giving gifts. Because my love language is gifts, I can’t stand not having something to offer; it’s how I express my love for friends and family.  From the years of being a poor newlywed to the years of being a struggling single parent, I’ve found thrifty ways to satisfy my desire to provide presents for my loved ones without going into debt. One way is to shop throughout the year, starting with the January clearance sales! When I see a good deal on something I know someone on my list would enjoy, I buy it and stash it in my gift cabinet. Spreading out the spending like that helps a lot. My friend Ann does something similar; she buys gift cards throughout the year, stockpiling them as gifts to give when December rolls around! That’s a smart move that is gentler on the budget than buying them all at once.

However, it’s a bit late in the year for that advice to be helpful for now.  If a moth flew out of your wallet the last time you opened it, maybe you’ll like a few gift ideas on the following list, or maybe they will help spark an idea of your own!

Brenda’s Top Ten Ideas for Thrifty Gift-giving

1. Photo collage in a thrift store frame – can take 20 or so photos and automatically arrange them in an 8 x 10 collage for cheap. You may be able to do the same on your computer. Either way, it makes a cool gift (don’t tell my mom, but I made her one for Christmas!). You can usually find cheap photo frames that are new, but you might find a unique one in a thrift store that is good as is or that you could paint or decorate to suit the recipient’s tastes. It all depends on how crafty you are and how much time you have.

2. Homemade cookbook – if you enjoy cooking and others enjoy the pleasure of eating the dishes you’ve made, you might put together a cookbook. This is an especially thoughtful gift for your young adult kids who are out on their own and might be missing your home cooking. I once gathered family recipes and compiled them in a family cookbook to share with my relatives.

3. Since we’re on the subject of food, consider gifts of jar mixes for homemade soup, cookies, or muffins. You don't even have to know how to cook to put this type of gift together. You can find recipes online and at the library. You’ll have to create a tag to go with this gift so that the recipient knows what ingredients to add as well as how to turn the mix into a delicious treat!

4. We’re not done with the subject of food yet.  Do you can foods or otherwise enjoy cooking? Canned preserves, jams, and jellies are a sweet treat, and nothing tastes better than my mom’s home grown, canned green beans! Yes, that’s right; I’m saying that my eyes would light up if I found some of those green beans under my tree! I’ve given my own homemade peach butter as gifts. Other ideas are gifts of homemade cookies and candies, bread, muffins, or croutons. Yes, croutons! My daughter and I discovered the joy of homemade croutons this past summer and have plans to bless others with that joy this Christmas. Last of all are jar cakes – cakes baked directly in a canning jar in the oven. The batter from my favorite recipe makes 6-1/2 jar cakes! (We eat the half cake ourselves – a bonus!) When properly sealed, these can be saved and eaten a month or two later. I’ve seen them sell in stores for $12; making them yourself saves big bucks.

5. Made of food items but not edible are cinnamon-applesauce dough ornaments.  My son made some in kindergarten. Fourteen years later, they still smell of cinnamon! You can easily find the recipe for these ornaments online. Use cookie cutters for the ornament shape and a drinking straw to cut out a hole for hanging. You can add a touch of gold or silver paint for added interest.

6. Homemade candles – When I was little, my mom used to make candles to give as gifts. She made round snowball ones (I don’t know how) and tall pillar candles using empty Pringles cans as molds and broken crayon pieces for coloring the wax. If you buy supplies with half-off coupons in the Sunday paper, this would be a frugal but pretty gift and not time-consuming, either.

7. Especially for kids: an arts/crafts kit you put together. Any time Mom wasn’t sure what toy a child would like, she’d put together one of these kits. Construction paper, glue sticks, glitter or glitter glue, pipe cleaners, crayons, kid scissors, stickers, and stencils. Well, the list could go on, but you get the idea. You can put the supplies in a shoe box or maybe a tote bag found in a thrift shop.

8. Repurposed items are becoming popular as a way of recycling. Jean legs cut from worn out jeans can easily be made into neck roll pillows. Any favorite-but-outgrown item of clothing could become part of a pillow! In addition, I’ve seen old, men’s shirts and ties turned into funky skirts. Be sure your intended recipient has the personality and taste for such a gift.

9. Most teens and young adults enjoy money as a gift, and it’s easier than shopping. If you’re on a limited budget, you can still dress up a smaller amount and make it a fun gift. Origami animals made from dollar bills would be fun – if you know origami. (I don’t.) If it were me, I’d roll up a few dollars into tight rolls, and push them into balloons. Then I’d blow up the balloons and tie them together with pretty, curled ribbons.  Warning: this is a terrible gift idea for a child who hates the sound of popping balloons. Otherwise, it’s a fun package to pop!

10. My teenage daughter loves bath baskets, but those can be pricey and not have much in them. If you know someone who enjoys that kind of pampering gift, buy (or re-use) a basket or decorative box and fill it with bath items found at a dollar store. If you have time to make bath salts to add to a small jar, do that as well. Coloring and scenting Epsom salts is a simple thing to do, and you could use the recipient’s favorite perfume for the scent!

I hope you are getting excited about Christmas this year. So often it’s an overwhelming ordeal to get through, but it doesn’t have to be. With advance planning, it can be as simple or as elaborate as you’ve always wanted, and you can finally have time to savor each moment.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

#11 - October: Gearing up for Christmas!

Guess what! As of October 2, it's only SIXTY days till December 1! If you don't want to be rushing around at the last moment trying to make your family's Christmas dreams come true while your dream of having time to enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the flavors of the holiday turns into a nightmare of never-ending chores, pull yourself together and start preparing now.

I hope your gift shopping and stashing are done or nearly done. If you're planning to give handmade items and homemade edibles that aren't made yet, you need to pull out a calendar and devise a plan. When do your gifts need to be finished? What dates will you be home and able to work on them? If you don't make a plan and plan for time to complete your projects, time will fly by and leave you gift-less. You know it's happened before; don't let it happen this year!

Next on your to-do list is your decorations. While you're getting out your fall harvest home decór, take time to check on your strings of Christmas lights. Plug them in and see first whether the strings work and second, whether each bulb works. Throwing out damaged strings and replacing burned out bulbs now will save time and stress later. Plus, you'll know how many strings need to be replaced and can buy replacements before "decorating day" comes.

Take time this month to think about a theme, if such things delight you. (They delight me!) Some of us enjoy wrapping gifts in coordinating gift wrap and decorative bows, making an impressive tableau around the Christmas tree. Some even select a theme for the tree decorations and the family's matching pajamas! I enjoy seeing all the different theme trees at the Festival of Trees, but I tend to just use the collection of ornaments I've already amassed rather than making or purchasing ornaments to go with a new theme. If your idea of a special Christmas is one where the tree, the gifts, the cards, and the kids all match, then make it happen while you have time to plan! One year I embraced the red plaid theme. My gifts had red plaid ribbon around them, and the whole family had red plaid pj's (gowns for the girls, pajama pants and tops for the boys). One year I went crazy with snowflakes: I bought some flocked snowflake ornaments to add to the upstairs tree, found pajamas featuring snowflakes for me and my teenage kids, and wrapped gifts in snowman gift wrap. If that sort of thing brings you joy, then go for it! However, if the very idea of that much planning makes you panic, then forget about it. If someone else in your family is willing and anxious to plan and carry out a theme, then let them handle it while you put your feet up and relax! (NOTE: other themes can involve a favorite color, angels, Santas, stars, polka dots, candles, candy, or country!) Don't feel guilty about not having a theme. This blog is not about guilt, it's about celebrating Christmas the way you want to without the usual hustle and bustle and last-minute rush to get ready!

Plan your volunteer activities. Will you sing in the Christmas choir, help collect or deliver gifts or food to needy families, go caroling at a nursing home, or adopt a needy child or missionary for Christmas giving? Planning in advance will save you from taking on too much on the spur of the moment -- or from missing an opportunity.

Have you planned where you are going to spend Christmas? (I haven't. I need to discuss this with my mother tonight. Either she is coming here, or we are going there!) Knowing whether you will be at home or visiting family or friends will make a difference in your holiday planning. It's not too early to plan your feast! Lack of planning keeps us relying on the same old recipes every year. That's fine if a certain meal is a tradition everyone enjoys and looks forward to. However, if you've been bored with the same ol' same ol' and want this year to be different, plan now! You'll make it happen.

[UPDATE: Mom has decided to drive the 500 miles to spend Christmas with me and any grandkids who are here, and she will bring her best friend, widowed this year, with her so that the friend (who is like a second Grandma to my kids) doesn't have to spend her first Christmas as a widow alone. I am excited to play hostess for an extra person this year!]

I'll check back in a couple of weeks to see how you're doing. Time is of essence! I really want all of us to be able to enjoy the celebration of our Savior's birth without regrets, without guilt, and without wishing that we'd been more organized. The more you do in advance, the more time you'll have to enjoy your family, your friends, and the message of God's love.