Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to save a TON of money on your Christmas





Had to start off with pictures of some cute kids :)


     We are a family of 8 in our home, with many many other people in our extended family and quite a few friends that we are so close to that we consider them family and celebrate the holidays with them.  At least once a week, it's normal for us to have 15-20 people in our home for dinner - and even more for Thanksgiving & Christmas.

     Now - those of you who know me, know I love Christmas.  It's magical for me... and it's my goal to make it magical for everyone around me.  It's truly a celebration of Jesus' birth, and is the time of year for family to be together and celebrate with one another.   I completely understand that some families don't celebrate with presents and gifts - and that is very much ok.  I'm not too keen on "presents".  Presents to me are generic.  It's giving someone something with no meaning behind it other than for them to have something they might like to unwrap.   A gift is so much more.

     A gift is something you've put thought into.  Something you may have made.  A scarf you knitted while praying for the recipient, hair clips you've made picking out the perfect colors for someone, personalized ornaments, or anything bought in a store that ties the gift giver and gift getter together... such as a wine bottle opener for a dear friend who is moving away after sharing many "wine nights" together.  I can't bring myself to give presents very often... and hate doing so.

    Being thrifty, frugal, cheap, etc - whatever you want to call it is as important to me year round as Christmas is to me this time of year.  With a little planning, some time spent scouring the internet for good deals, shopping clearance items in the off season, and FREEBIES - everything comes together nicely while I spend about 25% of what things normally cost.

     Here are a few tips:





*** FREE STUFF (Or almost free stuff). 
  
     It's everywhere all year long - you just have to find it.  This year, the Paper Coterie (www.papercoterie.com) had 2 offers for new/existing customers to get $40 worth of their products for FREE.  Their personalized photo journals are $18 each.  I uploaded a picture, added a cover caption for each of the 2 books I ordered - and it was just under $9 to have them shipped.  Then Brandt did the same.  For $18 in shipping, we got 4 GORGEOUS (Seriously - their products are VERY VERY high quality) personalized photo journals to give as 4 gifts.  This NORMALLY would have cost $90 to have purchased and had shipped.  We paid 20% of what it would normally cost.  $4.50 for a gift I am excited to give - and that the recipients will LOVE.

     Yesterday, a blogger, Heather at the EO gave away a $20 photo book from The Blurb to her first 50 commenters.  I was lucky and was one of them.  However - when I got to their website - they had such great deals on other items (50% off 2nd copies too!) that I ordered more photo gifts (like Instagram books, and Facebook picture books) for people too.  Watch blogs for giveaways on items that would make great gifts!!

     SWAGBUCKS  Use their site as your search engine - and earn swagbucks.  Which in turn can be redeemed for Amazon.com giftcards.  Which in turn can buy almost anything you need, want, or wish for to survive... including some awesome Christmas gifts that can be purchased during their Black Friday Deals Event or Cyber Week Deals Event...  I used Swagbucks casually this past year - and was able to redeem them for $225 in Amazon Giftcards.  I used that FREE $225 to buy over $750 worth of gifts during their Black Friday sales this past week.  Total NO-BRAINER.




*** MAKE STUFF  (It's MUCH easier than you think - and SO much better!!!)

             Handprints for Grandparents are an awesome gift... portrait ornaments are nearly free when you buy the ornaments after Christmas on clearance for the following years gifts.  I bought 4 boxes of picture ornaments (snowflakes) for $1.90 a box last year on clearance.  I snapped pictures of the kids in their Christmas clothes - popped them into the frames - and have 4 gifts to give to the grandparents and great grandparents for about $11 total.

          Name ornaments.  For $30 on ebay I was able to purchase a BUNCH of scrabble tiles and scrabble trays.  B cut the trays down to size for me - to fit 3, 4, 5, and 6 letter words/names - and everyone got their own name + a couple of seasonal words (Hope, Joy, Love, Gift, Fir, Tree, Jesus, etc) for a gift.  I made 10+ gifts that everyone LOVED.  Some hot glue to secure the tiles to the boards, and a red ribbon glued behind the middle tile in a loop for hanging - and Voila!  Perfect gift!

     Bath Bombs:   For about $50, I was able to buy everything I needed to make a TON of homemade bath balls in some pretty incredible scents (epsom salts & essential oils are the 2 main ingredients - add a drop of food coloring for some beautiful colors).  Martha Stewart has an awesome recipe and guide on how to make these.  I made over 100 large bath balls, decorated some tins/jars to "wrap" them in - and had 15 + really REALLY nice gifts to give to some very deserving ladies who said these were better than any store bought bath balls they'd ever used.  

     Sugar Body Scrub:  For about $35, I bought everything needed to make these jars of body scrub in scents like Gingerbread, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Citrus & Basil Lemon.  It's just sugar, coconut oil, essential oil(s),  a pretty jar with a printable label for the lid, and a ribbon to finish it.  Package it inside a box with some tissue paper and wrap it nicely - and for about $2.50 each, you have a $20 gift to give.

     Scarves:   For $10 at Walmart, you can buy a circle knitter (which is re-used for each scarf) - and for $6 more you can buy enough yard to make a gorgeous scarf for someone.  $6 for a homemade scarf is a GREAT deal.  Add a nice card - pray for the person while you make it - and you have a gift anyone would love to receive.

     Holiday treats:   Bake some cookies or some fudge.  Go to your thrift store and buy all the old metal tins you can find (ya know - the ones some cookies come in).  Buy some beautiful holiday colored spray paint and paint the tins.  Buy a paper doily, and paint a 2nd color over the tin through the doily (OR leave it just a solid color or use some Holiday rub-on decals).  Package cookies inside wrapped in tissue paper or wax paper...  you have a beautiful handmade, homecooked gift for less than a few bucks each. 
     







*** SHOP WISELY:  Clearance is your friend!!!

     I shop clearance year round for stocking stuffers - and gifts too.  Target has a wonderful after the Holidays toy clearance.  We're talking 70% off!!!  I buy much of the kids clothes a year ahead in the off season - just find the clearance rack, and buy a size or two bigger than your kids are now.  Next year - those $3.50 Christmas PJ's will fit them - and you'll save yourself some money!

     Each year, everyone gets a pair of Christmas socks in their stocking - and we take a picture of our feet all lined up.   These socks are just over $1-2 on clearance and are normally $5-10.

     Even if it's not for Christmas - it's a good idea to stock up on Birthday presents when you can.  Each of my kids get invited to a few parties throughout the year - and it's so nice to pull out a $5 gift when the time comes than go shopping and pay $25+ for one.   

     Restaurant Gift Cards ROCK this time of year.  So many places offer you an extra $25 if you buy $100 of their giftcards.  I gladly do this for places we typically eat out at.  It's like feeding the 3 little kids for free!   Restaurant.com has some wonderful deals (literally $5 for $50) too - just read the fine print... sometimes you can only use them on certain days - or have to spend a certain amount.  I've used their gift cards several times with no issues and LOVE them!

     Groupon has wonderful deals too - Just pick your city/state - and you'll get some awesome bargains!  Yesterday - I bought an indoor waterpark pass for $10 that's normally $35... VERY cheap entertainment for our larger family!  I've purchased Pumpkin Patch tickets for less than 50% off there too...  I check it daily to see if there is anything ridiculously cheap that I'd use.


     Zulilly.  If you're a mom - check this out.  I've clothed my kids with their unbelievable bargains for the past several years.  I bought this years Christmas clothes there for UNDER $30 total for the 3 little kids.  It would have been almost $100 had I bought them through another store.  Zulilly also carries many many other items besides clothing for kids.  I've brand name clothes for our whole family, shoes, boots, Christmas decor, household items and MUCH more for 60-80% off.







WHEN IN DOUBT - Stuff a Stocking!

     Anyone who spend any part of Christmas with us, gets a stocking to open.  Stockings can be bought for $0.50 to $5.00 each after Christmas on clearance.  I always keep a handful of the $0.50 ones.  Personalize them with some Elmers glue and glitter - and stuff away!   With what?

     Gum, Candy, Candles, Handsoaps (trust me on this one -nobody can tell the difference from clearance Christmas hand soap from Bath & Body works even if it's a year old!), fishing lures, nail polish, nail polish remover, matchbox cars, a bottle of microbrew/imported beer, single serving bottles of liquor - coloring books, crayons, and SO SO SO much more... 

     It's really simple to make a stocking for someone... to personalize it or tailor it to their liking - and finding stocking stuffers on clearance year round is a cinch.  Anything small enough to fit in a stocking is fair game!  I typically keep a large laundry basket FULL of stuff I've found on hand and can almost always find a stocking for it to fill!



I hope this helps!  I'll be posting again tomorrow with a MASSIVE Stocking Stuffer list sorted by whose stocking you'd put it in!   
    
    


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

As Random As Can Be...

I FINALLY made time to take the little girls Christmas pictures for our Christmas cards that I WILL get out this year!  For those of you who know me, you'll remember that in the past my good intentions haven't always helped much.  I've even gone so far as to order the cards, address the cards, STAMP the cards, and procrastinate my way out of mailing them.   YAY me!  It takes talent to be THAT absent-minded :)







     It's deer hunting opener (gun season) here this coming weekend.  Brandt & Dad will hopefully  each come home with a big buck!

     I can't EVER walk past the snow-globes without shaking at least one of them.  I reminded myself of this today at Target.


     The girls BOTH went to the schools first dance this past Friday night with their friends.  Can you tell it was an Eighties dance theme?  

    


     It's hard to believe this picture was taken exactly 7 years ago... I can't believe how much they have changed... 

    

     There are LESS than 60 days before Christmas!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'm BAAAAAACKKKKKK :)

     I have to admit, in real life, I'm the friend who will send you a card a day the week of your birthday, pick out a wonderful gift for you, make you a fabulous birthday dinner... and then proceed to disappear off the face of the earth for the next 4 days not returning any text messages, e-mails, or phone calls.  I'm that girl. 

     It's never because I'm angry or upset about anything - but most likely have just gotten busy (busier) with life and children and work and crafting and most recently wrapping Christmas gifts.  So please use this as an excuse for my not-so-current-blog if you will.


     We've been taking pictures and more pictures and then for good measure even more pictures. 




      Then we napped.  Though not enough in my opinion.



    

     We had our first day of Kindergarten.




     We've been crafting everything from camera strap covers to HERDS of wine-cork reindeer ornaments to cinnamon scented wax dipped pine-cones... and hair clips, and lit garland, and wreaths, and a dozen other different kinds of ornaments...

    


     We've been busy.  In a good, it's almost the Holiday Season kinda way.  

And we've been dreaming of what we'd like for Christmas.

Newer, longer pants are definitely on the list!




And we've been taking some time to have a relaxing bonfires with friends & family.



So while we're preoccupied with things like making cookies & chili & homemade bread...  I'm GOING to find time to write more often.  I promise!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Garden Update #4

     Things have really grown well this summer thanks to the massive amounts of rain we had as well as the recent hot, sunny weather.  I don't think I've ever seen cabbage heads this big, and there are more peas, pickles, beans, and tomatoes than we'll know what to do with.

   

     The pressure cooker/canning stuff arrived earlier this week, and as I type this Dad has his first try at Sun Pickles sitting outside.  Uncle Frank was kind enough to deliver massive amounts of canning jars, and everything seems to be ripening almost all at once.




     This year, I learned (from Dad) that keeping JUST the root of the onion covered grows some HUGE onions.  These are going to be GIANTS!




 


     See?   HUGE.  




    I think I'd like to sleep in the dill tonight.  
It smells SOOOOOOO good!
 






     30+ plants?
I think we'll have enough tomatoes to make
Juice, spaghetti sauce, marinara sauce, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, fresh & canned salsa & any other tomato product of our liking...  





     Our 2nd batch of peas (the 3rd batch is up and growing already!)



1st of 2 long rows of pickles.  



2 rows of beans




One dirty garden boy


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Calm Amidst Chaos

I think all Moms feel this at some point during their day.  Whether it's when the kids are napping in the middle of a completely torn apart livingroom...  or when they are dressed for church and walk past Mt. Laundry as we're leaving.  It might even be when our families sit down for dinner together and only a few feet away is a kitchen sink full of dishes.  The point is, as Moms, we always have some chaos happening within an arms distance.





     We took the big kids (and a couple of their friends) to Valleyfair yesterday.  Going on a Tuesday made for short lines, and not so much of a crowd even in the waterpark area!  We met up with a friend & his family, and they had been nice enough to hook us up with a cabana near the wave pool, so our day was spent sitting and relaxing while the big kids went off to play.  Elle was stuck with us, but had a great time swimming and splashing!

     Being allowed to sit quietly with my own thoughts for a few minutes, I was able to realize what a huge change there was in my life over the past 15 years.  Back then, I ran through the gates when we came here.  I rode every ride twice if not more.  I played the games that were nearly impossible to win.  And I'm more than sure I ate my fair share of fair food.  Back then, my chaos was going to an amusement park. 

     As I sat on my chair yesterday, my mind stayed home with the chaos.  The pile of work on my desk... the dishes... the cleaning of our bedroom & bathroom that I've skipped over for several weeks now.  I thought about Mom things.

     And I wished for awhile, that I could think about kid things once again.  I want to be excited that we're having spaghetti and garlic bread ~ not just think about how I've got to clean up the mess it took to make it.  I want to focus on church and not the pile of clothes waiting for me when I get home.  I want to float among the waves in the pool while my mind joins me. 


    
    

     And I want to get my chaos in order enough so there comes a time when I can be calm.  Right here in this picture.  On the beach.  Where no cell phone or internet service can find me. 

     I think this is simply another example of how us Moms are tied together.  We are the calm amidst their chaos. 


Friday, July 6, 2012

Quiet Little 4th...



     For the first time in my life, I didn't go to a fireworks show on the 4th of July.  It was just TOO hot.  We're talking 100 degrees with a dewpoint of 75.  Hot, Humid, Sticky, and downright uncomfortable.  It was even too hot for my camera to be outside as my lenses kept fogging up. 

     We pretty much spent this whole week in the pool due to this heatwave we've been experiencing.  Nothing below 79 and in the upper 90's each day with heat indexes reaching 112 degrees.  Give us a few months and we'll complain about the freezing cold.  It's how we are here in Minnesota.

     We have had a housefull of people almost daily and I love it.  That's truly what summer is about!   This weekend will be a little quieter and cooler thankfully.  Hopefully time to catch a nap and relax!

     Happy 4th :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Subtly Loud



     After chatting via e-mail with one of my best friends ever, I realized something pretty important:  Actions do speak louder than words.  She had recently had a confrontation with her significant other about something, and he had gone from basically saying He'd do whatever he had to do to fix the problem, to saying "If you need me to do that, I will"... 

     The way their argument played out was an old story in our house.  Neither Brandt nor I are perfect, but there are days I forget this.  In fact, I forget this much much more often than he does.  There are plenty of reasons I love Brandt, and even more reasons why I'm still "in love" with him.  It's because he's subtly loud with his faith and his actions. 

     He's never once nagged me to do something.  I get reminded, but it's always nicely.   When I moved his truck for him a couple weeks ago, it was left on KTIS (our local Christian Station).  He owns a bible and has read it.  He has more patience with our children than I ever thought possible, but is also very stern with them when it matters.  He doesn't preach religion.  He doesn't tell the kids or I what he thinks is right or wrong.  He shows us.  He will work a 14 hour day and then stay up to help one of them with their homework.  He is very much responsible for all 7 of us financially, and will still take a day off in the middle of the work week to treat us to a day at Valley Fair, knowing he'll have to squeeze in the extra work somewhere along the line.  He will spend a HUGE amount of time teaching our 3 year old how to swim across the pool because I'm sure he's heard me worry about anyone drowning once too many times.   He will give 4-wheeler rides in 100 degree heat and is very open to trips to Dairy Queen after we have our jammies on.  He's quick to forgive, and has a zest for life like I've never seen in anyone else before. 

     Actions speak louder than words.  And today, I'm very thankful for him and for this!


    

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Whew!

     I'm surprised it's been almost a week since I've posted.  I'm more surprised I have time to write tonight.   In a nutshell, Stomach Bug 2012 has hit and it hasn't been pretty.  Lars was home last Thursday & Friday, made a somewhat miraculous recovery on Saturday - only after we'd cancelled our hotel and weekend get-away plans.  It's a good thing he's so cute.  He's passed his sickness along to his big sisters and is doing pretty good these days.




We managed to take a completely spur-of-the-moment day trip "Up North" on Saturday.  I got in the car thinking we'd head up to Target after Brandt stopped at a customers house, and we ended up heading to Brainerd for the day.  The kids napped for a good part of the 2 hour drive there, and were super on the way home too!  They LOVED Poncho & Leftys mexican restaurant, and it was the first time we did something without planning in YEARS. 







     Abby has been home sick all day today, I worked all day and all evening yesterday so I feel at least a little caught up.  I threw together a huge pan of lasagna this afternoon, made an extra small one for Brandt's Grandparents, took Elle & Em to swim lessons while Grandpa & Meg stayed home with Abby & Lars, dropped off my lasagna present, ran to Target to get more Gatorade and came home. 

     Swimming was a little more interesting this year.  Elle started Level I tonight, and was a hit with the kids:  she taught them all how to blow air boobs into their swimsuits... her instructors caught me after class to thank me for the laugh and suggest that I put her in Level II.  Wasn't sure if I should be a proud Momma, or if she was a little too mature for the other 5 year olds.  ;) 

     She had a BLAST, and I'm looking forward to Thursday nights class!






     Tonight has been quiet - Brandt is working with a couple of new sales reps, Abby is settled onto the couch and seemingly feeling better.  Elle has made a floor bed for her and Lars and they are quiet.  Quiet in that "My back is gonna kill me carrying these big kids up to bed" sorta way.  The big girls rode their bikes to their friends house and are having a sleepover until tomorrow morning.  Grandpa Jim is enjoying his final night of snacking before he starts his "cleanse" for his upcoming colonoscopy on Thursday.  Fun times :) 



      Best way to dry off after swim lessons is to bike yourself dry!






 Dads wildflower bed.  We were afraid it was just going to be white... but lots of other flowers are blooming the last couple of days!





 She's sick.  If it makes her feel better to ride her bike in just her undies and flip-flops and not fasten her helmet, then I'm just gonna roll with it.  
I'm that Mom.   





      After begging to have Em's old bike, and after falling off it several times because it really is too big even if she really really wants it, she decided to write to Santa to ask for a new one.  

Yes, I see the tacky bottle of Budweiser on the porch.  No, it's not mine, so it's really not that tacky.  It has, however been there for a few days, so we're back to being tacky again.  





    
     Killer "skeeto's" this year.  He ate PLENTY of Oreo's tonight, so I'm guessing he tastes pretty darn sweet. 


Goodnight Everyone!