7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 7

christmas tree 4photo credit to Pamthida

Welcome to day 7 of the 7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas Series.  If you have been following along for the past week and have made efforts at tackling the projects we have talked about, give yourself a big pat on the back.  You have just made your Christmas a little bit less stressful.  If you have been following along, but haven’t quite jumped in yet, give it a try this weekend.  Make it a point to tackle some of the projects mentioned.  I promise it will make life run at least a little bit smoother this holiday season.

If you are new here you can see the previous posts in this series:

By now you pretty much have an idea of your goals and the goals for your family for the season.  Take some time to think about these goals and think about what you can do to make them happen.  Write your goals down as a reminder for the times when things get a little bit hectic.

Remember that it’s okay to say no.  Too many times we feel like we should attend an event because we were invited.  It’s not always possible or necessary to attend every function.  Politely decline any invitations with a short response that fits your goals.  If you are declining to spend more time with your family, just say it.  Don’t feel bad or guilty.

You are not superwoman or superman.  You cannot do everything, be everywhere and buy everything that everyone else does.  Stop comparing yourself to others, wishing you could do what others do or have what others have.  Do the things that are right for your family and budget.  Do what makes you feel good.  Do what fits in with the goals you have planned.

If you have the time take some time to volunteer, donate some non perishable goods to a food bank, some pet supplies to a shelter or toys to a hospital or anywhere that is accepting donations.  Put a smile on your face, enjoy the season and perform random acts of kindness.  It is so easy to get in a negative mood when you are out shopping at this very busy time of the year.  Take a moment to do something nice for a complete stranger and see how it makes you feel.  I bet that smile creeps back on your face.

Don’t forget a date night with your spouse or significant other.  It’s easy to get caught up in the season and forget about taking some special time with a loved one.  Enjoy a night alone, a movie, dinner or just a late night shopping together followed by coffee and a treat. Make some time for these special relationships.

Turn on the holiday music.  It’s amazing how music can relax you and get you in the spirit.

Have some cookies and milk.  It’s not just for kids.

Relax and remember what the season means to your family.  Take the time to strengthen relationships, take part in traditions or create your own traditions and make some very special memories.

Thanks for following along in the series.  I hope you have enjoyed it and that it has helped you in some special way.  Here’s to a less stressful season!  

Making a habit out of living frugal…..

7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 6

christmas tree 4
photo credit to Pamthida

Now that you have planned your gift lists, calendar, cards and shopping, it’s time to think about preparing your house for the holidays.  Not just the decorating part, but the cleaning too.  Last minute cleaning seems to make many of us into scrooge.  Today we are going to talk about a few ways to save your family from meeting momma Scrooge, as well as some ideas to save on decorating.

If you are just joining us for the series, you can see the previous posts as follows:

The best way to save yourself stress on house cleaning and decorating for the holidays is to start now with little pieces each day.  Break these tasks down into doing a few little things or one big thing each day.  Breaking tasks down will make the projects seem less overwhelming.

Take out that December calendar and add in cleaning projects for each day that has time. Make this calendar realistic.  Get the whole family involved.  Obviously, if you have a function taking up your whole evening, you may not be able to tackle something that takes more than a few minutes, but maybe you can fit in a 10 minute project.  Many times projects seem overwhelming until we just do them, and then we find out that it didn’t take as much effort and time as we thought.  We just have to do it.

Remember that you will need to keep up the places you have already tackled, but you can also do this a few minutes each day.  Talk to your family and get them on board with helping with the upkeep of the areas that have already been done.  Explain to them that this is really important to you and that you really don’t want anyone to meet momma Scrooge!

Decorating shouldn’t break the bank or take away from the holidays.  We all love beautiful decorations, but who nobody needs to spend their whole Christmas budget on decorations.  The best way to save money on decorations is to use what you have, but if you are in need of some craft supplies or decorations, don’t forget to use a Michaels or Hobby Lobby coupon.

Tip: If I have more than one item that is not on sale, I will let K pay for one item to increase our savings.

Try decorating with traditional colors (green, red, brown) to help keep the cost down from year to year.  You can then add in gold or silver accents to pick things up a bit.  If you like different colors, stick to the same ones year after year so that you do not have to buy new. The “in” colors change widely from year to year.  This is more of a marketing ploy than anything, don’t fall for it if you cannot afford to, or do not wish to buy new each year.

Change things around each year so that it never looks the same.  Changing things around will not only give you a different look, but may keep you from spending money on new decorations.

Consider natural decorations.  Last year we used pine cones, holly berries, leaves, cedar branches and evergreen branches for decorations in our home.  You can also use things like cranberries, walnuts (you can paint them or leave natural), citrus studded with cloves, cinnamon sticks and  twigs.

Let your kids help decorate the house.  You never know what creative little minds will come up with.  It’s also a great way to spend time together making memories that will be cherished forever.

Some other places you can get Christmas decorations on a budget are; yard sales, thrift stores, after season clearance sales and decoration swaps with friends.

The main goal here is to plan things out, take things a little bit at a time and savor the season.  So turn on that Christmas music and enjoy!

What is your favorite decorating idea?  Are you a minimalist or do you go all out on decorations?  How do you handle your holiday cleaning?  Leave a comment letting us know. 

Making a a habit out of living frugal…..

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7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 5

photo credit to Pimthida

All the talk about planning holiday baking and cooking got me just a little bit excited and hungry!  My waistline sure doesn’t need it, but I do love making and eating baked goods.  I’m sure I am not the only one :-)  I will just need to make sure I amp up the exercise, so that I can enjoy some goodies!

If you are just joining us for the series, you can see the previous posts as follows:

Today we get to talk about going out and doing the actual shopping.  For some this may be their favorite thing to do, but for others it may be something they normally dread.  Having your lists made should help ease things quite a bit for everyone.  I know it makes my shopping go much more smoothly.  I can usually get everything I need in just one or two trips.
Before heading out to the stores to buy gifts, be sure to visit retail me not to print coupons for stores you will be shopping at.  Search for each store you plan on going to and print coupons.  You can also check the websites of retailer’s like Target for coupons as well.
Before heading to the grocery store, be sure to check coupons.com, Target and any other websites for the stores you plan to shop at for any available printable coupons.  Be sure to check your pantry and freezer to see what you already have.
If you are shopping with kids, bring a drink, snacks and an activity for them to do while you are shopping.  Notebooks and dry erase boards let them pretend they are shopping too.  My last princess has a large calculator that she likes to bring along.
When you get to each of the stores you plan to shop at, check the ads at the front of the store for store coupons or ask the sales clerk.  I have gotten many coupons for stores by doing this.
Shop early in the season if your budget allows, but if you can’t, just try shopping during off hours like early mornings and late nights.  I try my best to avoid shopping on the weekends at any time of the year, but sometimes you just gotta do it.  Try shopping on line.  Don’t forget that December 17 is free ship day.  Many retailers will ship many items for free to get to you by Christmas Eve.
If at all possible think about buying local and American made.  Try supporting your small businesses whenever possible.  I used to have a huge “it’s cheaper at the big box store” mindset, but as I started paying more attention to the quality of items as well as environmental impact and safe working practices, I have started to shift away from the big box stores and their cheap plastic made items.  I’m not saying I don’t buy from these stores, not yet anyways, but I think much more about my purchases.
Think about giving while you are shopping.  If you find a great deal, buy a couple more to give to your local collection drive for food, toys or other items needed.  I have found that the most frugal people are sometimes the biggest givers!  Shopping frugal and saving wherever you can allows you to have extra to give to others.  If you just don’t have extra money to help, maybe you can give your time.  Many elderly are without a way to go anywhere or do anything to their home or yard.  The things they need seem so simple to us.  Maybe you can help them get something done or do some shopping for them.  What a great way to give back.

How are you doing planning your shopping?  Are you done yet?  What kinds of gifts are you giving this year?  How to you like to give back or volunteer?  

Making a habit out of living frugal…..

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7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 4

Happy December everyone!

christmas tree 4
photo credit to Pimthida

I hope everyone is feeling a little less stressed as you follow along and plan out your month.  If you are just joining us, you can see the posts for Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

Now that you know you pretty much know your schedule for the month, it’s time to start planning for cooking and baking this month.  This includes your regular meals, holiday meals, party foods, gift baking, or any other cooking and baking you may be doing.

We will start this task by making a list of all the items you will need for the baking and cooking.  This includes the items to make everything as well as the items needed for packaging for gifts or parties. You can keep this list separate from your weekly groceries to avoid confusion.  I like to put a date next to special items you will need, so you can prioritize your shopping, which in turn will help you stay within your budget.  Having this list with you will help you take advantage of a super sale you may find or a great coupon deal.  You will know exactly what you will need for your cooking and baking.  Compiling the list now will also reduce your stress as the month goes on and gets busier.  Be sure to add items to the list and take items purchased off the list throughout the month.

Plan your nightly meals for the week or even your whole month.  I know this task seems daunting, but take a look at your calendar for the week and decide what kind of meal you will need to cook for certain nights.  You may have a bunch of activities planned that will provide a meal, or you may have activities that will require you to have a quick and simple meal before leaving home.  December is a great time to put that slow cooker to good use.  By planning and checking ahead you can save yourself some last minute meal time stress or even a trip though the drive thru!

Before heading out to the store take an inventory of what items from your list you already have, so that you won’t buy items you already have.  This will allow you to buy more of the items you need by not spending money on items you actually have on hand.

December will usually bring great sales on turkey, ham, rolls, pies, instant potatoes, gravies, baking products, canned soup, broth, vegetables and fruit.  Take advantage of loss leaders (a product sold at a deep discount to attract shoppers to the store) at many stores.  Don’t feel like you have to buy all your groceries in that one store.  You can go to as many stores as you want or have time for to buy loss leaders as well as great deals with coupons.  If you don’t have time for that, you can also ad match at Walmart.  Whatever you do, just make a plan and you will save money!  Planning always saves money ….. and stress!

I will leave you today with 4 simple tips for making your baking easier:

  1. Make the cookie dough that needs to chill in the refrigerator first.  This gives it time to chill while you are making any other types of dough.
  2. Parchment paper is quick and easy.  It is also a BIG help when you are cooking sugar cookies with kids and sprinkles.
  3. Clean as you go.  I think this was one of the very first things I was ever taught about cooking and baking.  It sure does make cooking and baking more enjoyable.
  4. Package baked goods for giving in their gift containers right after they cool.  This will save you time.  They will already be sorted, packaged and ready to give.

How are your plans for the month coming along?  Are you enjoying the series?  Have any hints that help you with the holidays?

Making a habit out of living frugal…..

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7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 3

christmas tree 4
photo credit to Pimthida

If you are just joining us for this series you can click these links to read about Day 1 and Day 2.

By now you have survived making your Christmas budget, gift list and planning your calendar for the holidays.  Congratulations, these are some great accomplishments that are sure to help you get things accomplished and allow you to enjoy the holidays ahead.

Today we are going to talk about Christmas cards.  For the past several years I seriously thought about skipping this part of the holidays, but much of my extended family and friends are in a different state.  We do not get to see them very much, and some we haven’t seen in years.  I know how much my family enjoys getting their cards, photos, and/or Christmas letters.  So Christmas cards stay on my list of things to do.

Sending out cards can be time consuming and expensive.  I recently ordered our cards from Cardstore for a great price and I am super impressed with how they turned out.

We took our own pictures in the woods behind the house posing in, on an around an old truck.

Some ideas for places to take your own pictures are:

  • parks
  • sporting events
  • old buildings
  • fence
  • tall grass fields
  • old cars and trucks
  • woods, trees, rocks
  • a local tourist/historic attraction

Probably one of the biggest mistakes, in my purely non professional opinion, that you can make when taking family portraits is being too far away from the subjects.  You want the beautiful background to provide just that.  You don’t want it to take over the picture.  You should see more of your subjects than background.

Relax and have fun in the pictures.  Take shots while everyone is just standing around waiting or being silly.  Think out of the box.  It’s digital, you can delete the ones you don’t like!  Don’t be afraid to push that button and push it a lot.

Our pictures were not supposed to include the dog, but he was not taking no for an answer.  He doesn’t exactly pose either, so he had the girls just laughing so hard as we tried to get pictures of him looking away from them.  He even tried to get in the old truck with them.  This helped the last princess with her smile.  In posed pictures she has such a fake smile, but not in this one.

What do you do if you want everyone in the picture?  Use the timer setting on your camera.  Many cameras now have a timer setting.  Check your camera manual or look online for the manual at the manufacturer’s website.  You can use a tripod if you have one or a something sturdy like a stool or tree stump.  Just make sure it’s level, high enough and sturdy.  Be sure to zoom to the right distance before hitting the button.  Be prepared for some funny shots of the camera operator getting in the shot!

Try not to take your pictures mid day when the sun is shining right overhead.  We took ours in the late morning after my little vampires finally got up and dressed.  For many of our individual and group shots we used a golf umbrella to shield the sun.  It worked wonderfully.  No expensive equipment needed here!

This is the picture I used on the back of the card.  It’s just a black and white shot of the girls in their boots.  It was one of those random shots, but I think it’s so cute.

Don’t be afraid to get creative.  Sometimes the best pictures are those that are not planned or posed.  Get creative.  Get button happy and have fun.

Once you have taken pictures you can decide whether you want to do a newsletter, or card or just print a picture and include it in a card.  If you are really pressed for time you can send an email newsletter with pictures attached.  Your recipients will just be happy to see your family and how everyone has grown.  Do what works for you and what you are comfortable with.

Don’t forget that these pictures as well as many you may already have can make some great photo gifts too.  You can make everything from mouse pads, photo books and canvas prints to beautiful blankets.

If you want to print cards or pictures there are many deals out their right now for photo sites and stores.  Search retail me not for printable and on line coupons.

If your interested in the wonderful deal I got (good until 12/11/12), this is what I did:

Remember to shop through Shop at Home for 10% back or Ebates for 7.5% back.

Go to Cardstore and roll your mouse over the words “holiday card” to choose the type of holiday card you want (for me it was value Christmas cards found in the bottom right of the drop down).  The cheapest cards are $1.09 each and come in 4″ x 8″ or 8″ x 4″ sizes (some of these sizes cost more, but the $1.09 cards are only in these sizes).  If you choose value cards you will see all the cards that are $1.09 each.  Select “list view” on the left side under the refine search area and it will show more information about each card.  At the time of this post there are 29 different cards to chose from at $1.09 each.

Value cards have photos on them, but are not the shiny photo cards.  At least mine aren’t.  They are printed on sustainable sourced paper card-stock.

If you order a large quantity, you will get a discount off of the $1.09 price.  The picture below shows what the prices are for the $1.09 cards.

Select the card you want and click on “make card”.  Click on the grey area in the card where it says “your photo goes here, click to upload your own photo”.  You will then have the option to upload photos.  My card had a monogram on it.  To change the monogram I clicked on the monogram on the card and was given the option to change it.  I did the same for the family name under the monogram.  You can also add photos and text to the back of many of the cards.  When ready click “finish” and you can preview your card.  After you review your card and put a check in the box, you can click “next” for shipping options.  This is where the best part of the deal comes in.  You can choose to have the cards sent directly to your recipients and you will save 75% with coupon code THANKS4U on the cards and the shipping to your recipients!  Any cards delivered to you will ship free too!  Your not going to get a better deal than that.  The postal service is not in the habit of issuing coupons or sales, so this is a super great deal.  If you choose to ship to the recipients you will then get the option to enter all the addresses.  Type in the recipient information and click “select recipient”.  You will see the address in a list to the right.  Be sure to double check that you entered everything correctly.  Do this for each address/person you need to send a card to.  After you have entered all your recipients you will select when you want the cards delivered and then you will add your return address information.  When you are finished you can click “add to cart”.

If you are like me and had a few people you did not know addresses to, you can click “duplicate” on this next screen under options.  This will add another item just like the card you created to your cart.  Be sure to select “ship to me” on this one and update the quantity. If you are ready to checkout, click “checkout”.  If you do not have an account you will create one now.  Then you will be taken to the shipping screen.  This is where you will enter the promotional code THANKS4U.  Enter the code in the box on the far left and click “apply”.  Your order summary should reflect the discounts.  You will now need to enter your address information for the part of the order being sent to you.  Click “next” and enter your billing information and checkout information and continue to complete your checkout.

FYI:  If you order cards shipped to you and then cards shipped to other recipients at a certain date, they will show up at two different times on your card statement.

I purchased 10 cards to be shipped to me and 30 cards to be shipped to the recipients I entered and my total was $8.90.  Postage on 30 cards alone would be $13.50, not to mention buying cards or getting cards made!  That’s what makes this deal so incredible!

Do you send out Christmas cards, letters or emails?  Would you miss it if your family quit sending them out?  

Making a habit out of living frugal…..

70% off Holiday Cards & Invites at Cardstore

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7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 2

christmas tree 4
Photo credit to Pimthida

If you missed the first post in this series you can find it here.

Hopefully you made it through day 1 where I tried to scare everyone with that “b” word.  I know I keep saying this over and over again, but proper planning is the key to getting things done.  It can be used in just about every aspect of your life to help things run a little better for you.  Proper planning can help reduce stress.

I get comments from friends that I am just so organized.  I may be organized in some aspects of my life, but I am far from being totally organized.  Organization is a constant battle, but a little bit at a time will make your life run smoother.  I’m a planner.  I plan things out and I write them down.  I use my notebook religiously.  It keeps me organized.  It’s a big help in keeping me from forgetting things.  If I think of something I need to do, I write it in there.  I have lists of things I am looking for at thrift stores, auctions or yard sales.  I have a list of things I need for the house when I find a rock bottom price.  I’m a visual person so these lists on paper work great for me.  If your not a planner, why not give it a try and see how much it can help you keep from being stressed and frazzled?

Today we are going to talk about planning our calendar for the month of December.  You can use any type of calendar you want or you can print this one I use quite a bit from The Peaceful Mom.

On this calendar you will need to fill in all the activities, parties, gift exchanges, appointment times that you have.  Fill in the day your kids get out of school.  Fill in the day you would like to have Christmas cards mailed by.  Fill in the day presents need to be shipped.  Fill in everything you can.

Make a note with each event the item(s) you will need to take such as gift(s), drinks, food or anything else you may be taking.  It may help you to highlight these so that they will stand out a bit and let you know that they require some type of preparation.  You can even note on the calendar when you will prepare the item if that will help you.  *If it’s a party and you said you would bring your scrabble game, make a note of it!  

Now it’s time to get with your family and talk about the activities that you would like to do together as a family.  This may include ice skating, driving around looking at lights, caroling, volunteering, concerts, picking out a tree, decorating the tree, date night, taking children to shop for their gift giving, baking, story/movie time, making gingerbread houses or whatever you would like to do as a family.  Prioritize the list so that you can do the most important things first.  It is likely that you may not get to do all the activities, but this way you will know what you want to do and what is most important.

Now that you have the list of family activities, try to find a place on the calendar for them.  If nothing else just fill in “family activity” on the dates you have open.  You can then list the activities in order at the bottom of the calendar or to the side so that you will be able to remember what you wanted to do.  Keep your calendar as simple as you can.  If you have to say no to an event that’s not that important to you so you can spend time with your family, just do it.  The season is about family, building relationships, making memories and celebrating the birth of Jesus.  It may not always seem like it at the time, but these are the important things.  The things that matter the most.

If you prefer to print pages for your planning, The Peaceful Mom has some printable holiday planners to help get started on your holiday planning.

You can also find some holiday planners at Christmas Your Way.

Do you plan a holiday calendar?  Has this post helped you get excited about planning for the holidays?  What activities does your family like to do together?  

Making a habit out of living frugal…..

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7 Days to a Stress Free Christmas: Day 1

christmas tree 4photo credit to Pimthida

I’m going to tell you an honest little truth about me.  I used to let Christmas stress me out so much and just couldn’t enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.  It seemed that I dreaded the holiday coming around, and it’s honestly my favorite holiday of the year.

Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus.  That’s it.  Instead, as humans, we make it about the decorations, the gifts, the food and so much more.  We let it cause so much stress in our lives that we forget the true meaning.

For the next 7 days I am going to share some ways to help lower our stress, so we can enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.  Enjoy spending time with family and friends.  Enjoy the time we have to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Just like with our household bills and expenses, we need to create a budget.  I know everyone really hates the “b” word, but it is a really important step in a less stressful Christmas.  You wouldn’t want to be shopping, and run out of money before you are finished purchasing the gifts you need.  You wouldn’t want January to get here along with the credit card bill that knocks your socks off.

First you need to decide where the money will come from.  Where will you get your Christmas money?  How much will you have?  What will this amount cover?  Presents? Decorations?  Food?

I like to keep this money separate from my bill paying money.  You can keep it in an envelope as cash or have a separate debit account for it.  I have used both methods.  Just make sure you don’t go over budget on any gifts so that you have enough money for all.  If you are using debit, keep a running tally of what you have spent on the back of your list.  I am quite a visual person and this helps so much.  If you are using cash, you can keep your tally on the envelope you keep your cash in.  If you are using the cash method and will be ordering presents online, you can make a payment to your credit card online right away for the money you have just spent.  I did this last year and it really worked out great.

**If you do not currently budget for Christmas, make a note to do this starting in January.  I prefer the cash method for Christmas, but if you must use credit, you should also plan and budget.  You would not want to be hit with a credit card bill that you cannot afford in January.  You wouldn’t want to have to pay for this Christmas all the way until the next. These tips will help are for everyone regardless of payment method.** 

After you have decided how much money you have for gift giving, it’s time to plan out a list of who you would like to buy for, and write their names down on a sheet of paper.  Along with that, decide on a reasonable amount of money to spend on that person. List any ideas you may have for gifts next to their name.  It’s not necessary to buy gifts for every person you know.  If there are people you feel obligated to buy for, consider homemade or handmade gifts.  If you are making homemade or handmade gifts, include what supplies you will need for those gifts on the list.

It’s also helpful to list beside the item the store that you need to go to for each gift.  Then you can tally up the different stores at the bottom of the list so you know everywhere you need to go.  Reminder:  Before you head out search retail me not and coupon cabin for printable coupons for those stores

Generally I like to start this process in November, but it is never too late to plan for Christmas spending.  Having a plan will reduce your stress level so much by giving you a list of what you need to buy, where you need to go, who you are buying for, and how much money you will need.

Do you budget for Christmas?  Make a list?  Stick to it?  What has helped you stay in budget at Christmas?  How do you save for Christmas?  Have a question or comment? Leave a comment letting me know.  

Making a habit out of living frugal…..

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