Frugally Forward

If you’re like me, you are putting away decorations from this years’ holiday, trying to get back to normal while proclaiming “THIS YEAR I’m going to start shopping early!”  

…also if you’re like me, you say this every year… it’s almost tradition really.

Being an avid frugalite, I don’t buy Christmas presents on credit.  I pay cash for everything, no additional bills to anticipate for the coming months to pay off.  Which means there’s less wiggle room without being creative.. partial utility bill, late payment, etc.  It was hard to stockpile gifts during the year, either due to space or because they may be discovered.  Of course as the family gets older the presents get smaller and more expensive… and easier to hide.  For me, everyone lives separately now, not the same as when all the kids were little and everyone was at each other’s homes all the time.  

If you’re anything like my mom was, you hide things so well that you can’t find them when it’s time to put them under the tree.  She was famous for handing out Christmas “discoveries” in the spring and summer months as she would clean closets and find what she had put away!

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My sister and I used to be very competitive when it came to gift buying, not wanting to be outdone by the other.  While they were all still heartfelt gifts (we weren’t just buying random things to gift with), what we did was hurt our finances tremendously due to our lack of restraint.

What finally ended our excessive behavior was being on the phone one day, commiserating about cleaning our respective homes to get ready for the coming holiday and realizing that we were picking up and disposing of last years gifts!

It was right then and there that we decided to institute a “Very Crapless Christmas”.  The rules were simple, any gifts were to be purchased/made with the intent that it would be used at least once a week.  Gift cards were the only exception since they generally are only used once, but you know they’ll be used and not sitting on an end table collecting dust.

That year we spent the least we ever had on gifts and had the most spectacular holiday!  I’ve got to tell you it took a bit of serious thought in the beginning; we also took to asking others what they wanted with those rules in place.  Silly as it may sound, it really took some practice and rethinking.

For my sister and brother-in-law, they decided to ask for “good” king-size pillows.  It was something they always talked about but could never justify the expense to purchase within their budget.  It’s not something I would have ever considered giving as a gift.  I was happy to spend $100 on pillows for them knowing they would use them everyday and they got a gift that they literally enjoyed every day of the year.

After taking on the “crapless” attitude, even when I’m not buying, I’m still looking for better gifts through the year with more meaning and use.  I now take more time to see what my family is really spending their time doing over the course of the year so that I can get the most joy for my buck and also “gift ahead” to where their interests are taking them.

Summer camp is a great Christmas gift!  So are swimming or wall climbing lessons! Of course you want to give them something they can use now but you can also something to look forward too.

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“Frugally Creative” or is it “Creatively Frugal”?

“Back in the day” banks used to offer “Christmas Club” accounts.  You decided the amount you wanted to save and you made regular payments as if it were a bill.  Then after Thanksgiving, you would get a check in the mail for the entire balance of the account for your shopping.  Of course that was before “Black Friday” grew to the monster that it is today.  I haven’t seen a bank offer this in years.

So how do we budget now when finances are so fluid.  I personally get knots in my stomach at the thought of a Christmas Club account from the standpoint of needing money in the event of an emergency.  I’m funny that way… well, and, Murphy is my patron Saint.  

I found an article on Money Saving Mom highlighting one reader’s family budget plan:

It took me all of 2013 to put these boxes together because I stretched the budget a little every month in order to buy all the gift cards, but it was so much fun and the kids loved it! This box has something fun for every month of the year in 2014:

      • January = $20 gift card for movies (for one child) — enough for 2 visits
      • February = $20 gift card for movies (for the other child) — enough for 2 visits
      • March = two $50 gift cards for a year-round sports park membership that offers snow tubing, go-karts, miniature golf, etc. I used income tax refund money to pay for this — which is why I was able to spend $100 this month.
      • April = $25 gift card for Barnes & Noble
      • May = $25-gift card for Barnes & Noble.
      • June = $20 gift card for a pedicure (for the girl)
      • July = $20 gift card for iTunes (for the boy)
      • August = $25 gift card for a pizza/arcade place
      • September = $25 gift card for a pizza/arcade place
      • October = $25 gift card for Sky Zone (trampoline place) — enough for 2 visits
      • November  = $25 gift card for Sky Zone — enough for 2 visits
      • December = I bought “Santa gifts” (3 each)
This amounted to enough gift cards to give us 8 or 9 family activities throughout the year with the stipulation is that they can only use 1 gift in a month.
We realized that by doing this, we would still need to pay for my husband and me to do the activities, however, when buying some of these gift cards for the kids, we also earned free gift cards for ourselves. In addition, when our family asked my husband and I what we wanted for Christmas, we requested gift cards to some of the same places — so that will help with the budget as well!
I also made up a coupon book for my kids and put that in the box, too.
For example, they both love baking and cooking with mom, so I made a few coupons for cooking a meal with me. They are able to pick a recipe, make a shopping list for that meal, and then help cook it.
Another one was for date night/day with mom and one with dad. We figure this is when they could use their movie gift cards. :)
Another one was for game night, movie, and popcorn at home, a family activity of their choice (such as going on a bike ride), etc. All simple things that they love to do and are essentially free for us.
We told them they could use 1 to 2 of these coupons per month.
 

I love these ideas and her budgeting!  I’ve always been a fan of handmade coupons offering the gift of time.  It’s something we run so short on so often.  

One thing to watch when purchasing gift cards though is the expiration dates.  Many of them are only good for a year with a “use it or lose it” policy.  It really limits how long the recipient can use or hold on to the gift especially if you purchased it in January or February.  

So I’ve actually come up with a few creative suggestions to help.

Giant Eagle is a grocery store in my area that offers “gas perks” for groceries purchased and double for gift cards purchased… and boy do they carry a large selection of gift cards!  You may have a similar store in your area and can use them.  I’m just using them as my example.

  • Keep a list “ear marking” the money to be spent, but purchase a gift card for the store.  For example, if you’re planning on purchasing a $25 gift card in January for movie tickets, purchase a $25 Giant Eagle gift card.
  • Come December you can use that same Giant Eagle gift card to purchase the AMC gift card off the rack.
  • You’ll get the gas perks TWICE (once for purchasing the Giant Eagle gift card and again for the AMC gift card)
  • The recipient will be able to use that gift card all year long, not just for the few weeks in January till it expires.
  • In February, add money to the Giant Eagle gift card that you have keeping it current and ear mark the dollar amount for your next holiday purchase along with getting another bonus of gas discounts.

The same can be done with big box stores such as Walmart, Meijer, Kroger Marketplace, etc.  Anywhere you shop normally for gifts rather than gift cards or even places like Walgreens or Rite Aid.  The key is to add money to your working gift card during the year so that it stays current or make sure it will be good through the end of the year.

There are several advantages to doing this:

  • Fuel discounts, need I say more?
  • If you get in a financial pinch, you have the availability to buy gas or groceries.  
  • Since the money is on a gift card and not in an envelope, it’s not burning a hole in your pocket because technically, you already spent it.  
  • Need to convert it to cash for an emergency so you can use it somewhere else (utility bill or car repair)?  Buy a Visa gift card, problem solved!  It may have a $5 activation fee, but you’re getting it back in fuel discounts so you’re really not out any money.

A little creativity can go a long way and save you money in the long run!

… But Gift Cards Look Horrible Under the Tree!

You’re right, I couldn’t agree more.  In a world where size matters, they barely are worthy of being a stocking stuffer.  This is where the real fun comes in.  Be creative!

  • Giving an iTunes gift card? – Put it in an iPod or iPhone case to go with what they have already.
  • Giving gift certificate to a restaurant? – Make a gift basket with some dessert items and a nice coffee for their after dinner treat or even a bottle of wine!
  • Giving a gift certificate to the movies? – Make a gift basket with big boxes of candy or pair it with a nice coupon for a night of babysitting if they have kids.
  • A gift certificate from a nail or hair salon would go great with some bath salts, candles, nail polish, etc.

Two of my most memorable gifts from my parents….

The first was a ring that they had gotten me that was pretty special. I collected frogs all my life and mom found a gold ring with a frog on it.  It had white stones (diamonds, CZ, ?) for the eyes and emeralds on the body.  She didn’t want to just give me a tiny little ring box.  So the ring box was placed on a brick and put in a large box and wrapped… which was put in a larger box and wrappped… etc, etc.  You get the idea.  All told there were I think around 8 boxes!

The second was a directors chair.  Really difficult to wrap to say the least.  So mom did a series of small boxes, all with clues to find the next box.  It was like some Indiana Jones adventure.  I found and opened several of these before being led to the directors chair which they had slid under MY bed while I was out!

Not only did I get two really cool gifts, but I got two awesome memories to go with them.

Having a year to prepare, you really have the opportunity for some great creativity!  If you haven’t seen it already, take a look at how these kids gave their parents a puppy!

So get your wheels going for next year and make planning one of your resolutions instead of one of your regrets.  I know I am!  Please be sure to share your great ideas too!

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