Tag Archives: gifts

Child Christmas Gifts for $6 Each

Every year one of the presents I give my niece is nephew is my reading them a book, recorded on CD. I’ve been reading Chronicles of Narnia for my niece, and Roald Dahl books for my nephew.

This year I decided to supplement those gifts with another homemade gift: personalized “Find Its.” This is the finished product:

Homemade Find Its

I used a couple of sites for information and inspiration: for the Find It and for dying rice. I’ve included the steps I used and my observations below.

1. Find and prepare a clear, plastic container. I used peanut jars, and removed the sticky residue after I removed their labels by rubbing them down with oil, then dish soap.

2. Gather the items to include. I was all about using existing material, but I really didn’t have enough small items that would be fun for almost-4-year-old Bean and 2-year-old Peanut. I asked my friends with kids to supplement the items, which they did very helpfully.

The smaller the item, the better. I initially had a few larger items (2″ or so) in them, but it kept everything else from being able to move around.

Here’s what I included:

Find It itemsFind It objectsThe only thing I bought was the foam letters.

3. Dye the rice. The rice will take a day or two to dry, so make sure you give yourself enough time. I included 10-20 drops of food coloring with a few tablespoons of vinegar, then mixed it in yogurt containers with the rice. I didn’t like the color of the purple, so I ended up replacing that rice with rice I dyed yellow.

Dyed rice in yogurt containers

To help them dry, I spread the rice out on paper plates.

dyed rice drying

4. Take a picture of the objects you’re including, if desired. I’m printing out the above pictures and laminating them.

5. Once the rice is fully dry and you’ve taken a picture of your items, combine the rice and items in your container. I used 2 different colors of rice in each container. It mixes together as shown above very quickly.

6. Super glue or hot glue the lid onto the container, so that nothing escapes.

For this project I spent:

$7.98 on rice and peanuts (I’m saving the peanuts for future trail mix, and just used the containers)
$1.52 on printing and laminating the pictures
$1.93 on foam letters
$11.46 total

At $5.73 a Find It, that’s 1/3 the price they would be at Walmart, plus you can personalize them to the kid’s interests.

Amanda’s Christmas Secret

69681668-3243-45d2-8de0-15cd197bc0dfI have a secret to share with you.

I went into this holiday season without a set budget for Christmas gifts.

So now that the big secret is out, let me explain.

I’m not proud of this tidbit.  Initially, I had a budget lined up (if little else), but that was before the recipient list widened considerably.

Due to many factors, there wound up being seventeen people on our Christmas list this year, and three December birthdays to plan for.  That is a whole lot of dough to spend, particularly if one is an “average” American.  Let’s just say we didn’t have several hundred dollars at our disposal.  (In that respect, I suppose our budget was, “As cheap as possible.”)

I briefly considered going the craft/homemade gift route, but realized I did not have the time necessary to create a thoughtful and creative gift.  Instead I opted to do one of four things for each recipient on our list.

We had family pictures taken and ordered prints. With a coupon coupled with an amazing online sale, this turned out to be a really great idea.  The recipients of this gift (grandparents, etc.) are always appreciative of a personal gift…especially where our kiddos are involved. Bonus:  we got family pictures for ourselves as well, which were long overdue.

We gave a donation.  Using points sites, we were able to give charitable donations in the gift recipient’s honor.  Bonus:  it made us feel like we were contributing to something greater than ourselves.

We gave an experience.  Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like taking someone out to eat at a favorite restaurant.  Bonus:  the restaurant is a favorite of all in attendance!

We gave gift cards and cookies, or traditional gifts.  Although these were among the more expensive gifts on our list, for these recipients, gift cards were preferred gifts, and the cookies added a personal touch, as well as something to “unwrap.” We were able to choose our denomination for the gift cards, which helped keep costs down.

Our kids (and Riley) are the primary recipients of the traditional gifts.  To keep things simple, I adhered to the, “Something you want, something to read, something to wear, and something you need” gift-giving philosophy, so each kiddo is getting just four small gifts from us.  Bonus:  We get to see their little faces light up when they see their gifts. (Although they are very easy to please.  Peanut, for example, would be thrilled with just the wrapping paper.)

Each recipient has either already received their gift, or knows of it, or (as in the case of our kids) can’t read yet, so this post should not spoil anyone’s surprises. But I do want to share one more thing.

We spent around $250 total.

While certainly far below the national average, that is still a lot of money to spend in the span of just a few weeks, and I blame going into it without a Christmas budget.  Note:  there are a couple of gifts under the tree for me from Riley and the kids, and those are not factored into the total…because I have no idea what was spent (though Riley and I are on the same page as far as family finances are concerned, so I doubt it is a huge sum!).

Bonus:  now we know just how important budgeting is.  And this has also served as a great reminder of the true meaning of the season…and reminded me how important simplifying the holidays is.

Christmas Prep

156362_904223042779_1338120_nI don’t think there has ever been a year where I have waited so long to start planning for Christmas as this one.  (Yes, even a Striving Stewardess procrastinates.)

That is not to say I haven’t determined various aspects of the holidays–the logistics, for example, likely won’t deviate from holidays of the past.  We know where we will be and when.

No, I mean gifts.  Experience-based or not, I have dropped the ball in this arena.  About as far as I have gotten in this is the budget and a few ideas for each person on the list.

I have figured out a common gift for extended family that will serve the four of us as well; now I just need to execute my plan!  The challenge I am running up against is buying for those in my own household:  my husband, two children, and yes, budget permitting, the pets.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas–as noted above, I absolutely do–but the budget is pretty tight this year.  Saving a lot throughout the year was next to impossible for a variety of reasons, so the gift budget is coming in at a pretty small sum; I won’t disclose the amount here (yet), but suffice it to say that it is what most people would spend on one gift for one person…not several gifts for several people.

Stay tuned to see what we wind up doing for gifts.  Experience-based?  Traditional gifts under the tree?  Forgo gifts altogether?  We shall see!

Are you ready for the holiday season?

Teachable Opportunities and the Holidays

unnamed (2)In case you missed it, I have two little ones:  an almost-three-year-old, and a newly-minted one-year-old.

One of the things I’ve struggled with this holiday season is how to effectively convey the spirit and true meaning of the Christmas season to two kiddos who 1) act as if they could not care less, and 2) don’t seem to get much of anything I tell them.

Things really came to a head during a recent conversation with Bean (the almost-three-year-old).  When I told her that Christmas was coming (and her birthday too), the first response I got was, “Presents Mama!”

Now, I know she’s a toddler, and the world obviously revolves around her.  Nevertheless, this was something of a wake-up call for me.  Was this really what she thought the Christmas season was all about?

Both Ronnica and myself have waxed poetic on rethinking gift-giving this holiday season, to say nothing of traditions, but my husband and I felt that more could be done to help convey our values to our kids a bit better.  You might call this a prime opportunity for a “teachable opportunity” for all involved.

This holiday season, in addition to the usual gifts, delicious food and family gatherings, we have put special emphasis on our Christian beliefs, as well as the traditions of others, especially when interacting with Bean. (Peanut is a little too young to absorb much, but he is pretty mesmerized by the tree lights and Christmas carols, so he probably gets more out of things than we think!)

The Advent calendar.  Never mind the fact that behind each door is a piece of chocolate, and that it doesn’t technically coincide with the official start date of the 2014 Advent season.  The point is, Bean is learning that waiting and anticipation are a vital component of the Christmas season, as we contemplate the One who was, who is, and is to come. Each day, Bean opens a door on the calendar, and we do a modified devotion from the book Celebrating Advent: Family Devotions and Activities for the Christmas Season by Ann Hibbard.  The possibilities for honoring Advent are endless; Ronnica also mentioned trying a new-to-me idea of the Jesse Tree, which we will implement next year.  Counting the days on the Advent calendar are a great visual reminder for my visual learner…and provide a tasty treat, too!

The Sunday School Christmas program.  Our church may be small, but its Christian Education program is mighty!  Learning the traditional Christmas carols, such as “Away in a Manger” (actions included!), and discussing what was talked about after each rehearsal have started many good family discussions.  Bean understands the basics of the Christmas story now–a step towards understanding that Christmas isn’t just about the gifts.

Charity activities.  As I write this, we are planning to go as a family to a community card-making event for folks at an area nursing home.  This season offers many opportunities to give back, and we hope this will be a fun, tangible way to expose the kiddos to that.

Discussing other traditions.  We live in an urban area, where Lutheran Christians are just one part of the equation, but even if we didn’t, Bean and Peanut are growing up in an incredibly diverse culture, and we want them to be aware of how others celebrate (or don’t celebrate) the holiday season.  This has been educational for us as adults, too!

How have you turned the holidays into a “teachable opportunity” for the kids in your life?

Rethinking Gift Giving: Amanda’s Take

unnamed (5)I’m pretty sure my basement isn’t the only one that looks like this:  a graveyard for forgotten toys and possessions.

I truly do love the holidays–both the reason behind the season, the music, and the family time.  I love giving small tokens of affection, and I love receiving meaningful, thought-filled gifts (my slow cooker cookbook ranks in my top five favorite gifts received!).  We are fortunate to have incredibly generous family and friends who love to give us things that we need and use often.

What bothers me is the “stuff” that invariably slips in, all too often in lieu of experiences or time spent with the gift recipient (guilty as charged!).

Yesterday, Ronnica discussed her principles on gift-giving–especially timely given that the holidays are just around the corner.  Please permit this mama to do the same.

Don’t go into debt.  To my knowledge, Christmas has not moved.  Budget accordingly throughout the year.  We budget approximately $200 each Christmas to buy gifts for approximately ten people–and yes, that includes our kids.  Do the math, and that adds up to $20 per person, meaning our kiddos do not wind up with any fancy gadgets from us.  More often than not, we don’t even spend half of that amount, either due to using gift cards earned throughout the year on points sites (more on that in a later post), or because we make the gift.  Which brings me to the next point…

Favor experiences over things.  If you must give a physical gift, then consider opting for the meaningful handmade variety.  Invariably after the holidays, I find myself going through the kids’ loot and purging those items that are inappropriate, impractical, or duplicates.  Opt for experiences (like a season pass to a museum, a dinner “date” with a child, or even a financial gift for a college savings fund–college IS an experience!) or homemade one-of-a-kinds, and you increase the chance of the gift not landing in basement somewhere, to say nothing of being appreciated AND used.

Focus on the meaning of the season, rather than gifts.  It is all too easy to forget the meaning of the season, and to focus on the shopping and preparing inherent with this time of year.  It’s important to remember that gifts do not make Christmas special; while we should remember those less fortunate year-round, Christmas affords ample opportunity to share with others.  Whether you are single, part of a young family, or retired, consider giving back this holiday.  Our family plans to take part in a community card-making session for an area nursing home, but I know other families who are serving at soup kitchens, churches, or giving other gifts they have to benefit others.  The Christmas season seems to have more chances to serve others than the rest of the year–find something that works for you!

And as for this picture…be sure to come back on Thursday, December 11 to learn about how I approached simplifying our (many) possessions.  Subscribe to our feed to make sure you don’t miss out!

Rethinking Gift Giving: Ronnica’s Take

Christmas giftsSince Christmas is fast approaching, we wanted to take some time to talk gifts. That’s what the holiday is all about, right?

I think almost all of us (even the Whos in Whoville) would agree that that is not the case. Yet our actions — and the commercials the last 3 months of the year — seem to indicate otherwise.

As I was researching to find out what the average family spends at Christmas, every story I found talked about the increased level of spending year-over-year as positive. I’m sure it is better for the economy for people to outspend themselves, but is it really good?

Americans estimate they’ll spend $781 at Christmas this year.* I budget $180.

It’s not about the numbers, though. If I had children, I’d undoubtedly choose to spend more. Gift giving is good: God is a gift giver, graciously giving us what we don’t deserve.

No matter how much you spend, Christmas is not worth going into debt over. Especially when you consider how many gifts end up in closets, lining Goodwill’s shelves or in landfills.

That said, here are the principles I use to guide my gift giving:

Budget for Christmas throughout the year. I budget $15 each month for Christmas. This also allows me to spend it early when I find a good deal, since I don’t have to wait for a bonus or a special credit card offer.

Focus on gifts that encourage accumulation of experiences, not possessions. I love giving games, for example. This is something I want to get more creative with in the coming years.

Gifts that require your time are more valuable than those that require your money. One of my favorite gifts each year is reading  and recording books for my niece and nephew. I’m reading The Chronicles of Narnia for Bean and Roald Dahl books for Peanut, giving them a new installment each year. They’re still too young to appreciate it, but I hope they find it precious as they grow up.

Avoid gifts that require batteries, especially for kids. My niece and nephew get enough of those already; I want to stimulate their imaginations and grow their view of the world. Books are great, as are puzzles, blocks, art supplies and imaginative play items.

Try to have all your gifts ready by Thanksgiving. I’m not always good at this one, but I find the holiday season more enjoyable when this is done. Shopping early also discourages overspending, as I’m not just buying whatever I can find that works. For gifts that I buy, I love to shop online as I’m much better about considering purchases without the distractions of other shoppers and items.

Don’t give a gift just because you think they’re going to give a gift to you. Obligation gifts feel like obligations to both involved. Give gifts as an expression of love.

Tomorrow, Amanda will talk about how she and her family handle gift giving. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll find out what I’m getting for Christmas this year, right?

Photo by Jennifer C.

* “Americans’ Initial Christmas Spending Estimate Is Positive”, http://www.gallup.com/poll/178859/americans-initial-christmas-spending-estimate-positive.aspx .