How We Bought Christmas Gifts on a $0 Budget

frugal christmas gifts

Guest post from Ai of Less to More

It was 2 years ago. Thanksgiving was fast approaching and after all the feasting and pounds gained, the days following would be filled with lots of shopping and gift wrapping. Or at least, that’s how it was in the past.

When, normally, my husband and I would have a budget set for Christmas gifts, this particular year, we had nothing. My husband had been out of work for a few months, and we had been rapidly depleting our emergency savings.

We were prepared to let our families know that we wouldn’t participate in any gifts exchanges that year. We knew they would understand.

Then, it occurred to me. We had money, “hidden” in store loyalty rewards and forgotten gift cards.

Store Loyalty Rewards

Much of our reward dollars were from drugstores and office supply stores. Not your typically Black Friday destinations, but we definitely avoided the crowds by shopping at these places. We actually found some nice gifts at these stores.

Gifts that Give Back

Typically on Black Friday, the stores with customer loyalty programs mark even more items that generate reward dollars or gift cards. By focusing on these items, we essentially got them for free … paying for them with our rewards and walking out with more rewards to use for the next trip.

Cash-Back Incentives

Before my husband left his job, he often met with clients outside the office, and his employer reimbursed him for all his expenses: meals, mileage, etc.

We rarely use a credit card, but to keep his business expenses separate from our personal ones, my husband used our credit card whenever he was working. By the time holiday shopping season came around, we realized that all those credit card charges accumulated a nice amount of cash-back for us.

Lost Gift Cards, Found

Don’t you get excited when you empty pockets before doing the laundry, and you find a $10 bill all crumpled up next to the pocket lint? That’s how I felt when I realized there were gift cards in my purse from I-don’t-know-how-long ago.

Being forgetful did pay off that time!

Though this is the busiest shopping season of the year, I know not everyone can afford to buy presents for Christmas.

With no income coming in, we certainly thought we couldn’t. But after digging a little deeper, we realized we still had some resources to be able to give to our loved ones, even during such a lean financial time.

And of course, not every gift can be bought from a store. Sometimes, those made with love are the best kind.

What are some of your frugal gift ideas?

Ai is a follower of Christ, a wife, and a homeschooling mother of 4. She loves to spend time with her family, savoring every moment that she has with them. One great lesson in life is that everything is a gift, whether money or time or food or shelter or relationships. She blogs about making the most of the gifts that we have at Less to More.

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7 Frugal Family Christmas Traditions

frugal christmas traditions

Guest post from Sara of Save Money, Live Joyfully:

Being on a budget can be especially discouraging during the holidays. It’s easy to look at what we “can’t afford” or what we “don’t have”, that we lose sight of the beauty of the things and people around us…the lifelong memories we can create with little or no money.

Here are 7 of our family’s favorite frugal Holiday Traditions.

1. Decorating Christmas Cookies

My husband and I started this tradition when we were first married 10 years ago, and have carried it on with our two children. We start with a simple sugar cookie recipe, cut out shapes using Christmas cookie cutters, and decorate with whatever we have on hand (like sprinkles, chocolate chips, or even marshmallows).

It’s an inexpensive way to get into the holiday mood, (most baking supplies go on sale this time of year), and we look forward to kicking off the Christmas season with some goodies to share with friends and neighbors.

2. Making Homemade Ornaments

I do a homemade ornament with my kids each year to hang on our tree. It’s been as simple as tracing their handprint onto construction paper, cutting it out and sticking a pipe cleaner through it — but it’s a beautiful reminder to cherish the moments since each progressing ornament shows how quickly they’ve grown from year to year!

3. Looking at Christmas Lights

Our town has many beautiful light displays, and on several evenings before Christmas, we like to take a few sugar cookies, maybe put some apple cider into respective sippy cups, and drive around looking at all the lights while blasting our favorite Christmas music CD.

4. Christmas Eve Pajamas

Following a tradition dating back three generations in my family, our kids get to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it’s always a pair of pajamas and a book.

I try to find clearance items throughout the year, so the pajamas may have cost less than $5 and the book may have been from the dollar store, but it’s still one of our favorite traditions.

5. “Adopting” Someone

Helping someone out during the holidays doesn’t have to cost money, but we always try to find a way to bless at least one family during the Christmas season.

Whether it’s giving them some of the gift cards we’ve collected through Swagbucks so they are able to buy a gift for their children, babysitting for a single mom so she can get some shopping done, visiting a nursing home and bringing handmade cards and a listening ear, or inviting someone who has no family over for Christmas dinner, you don’t have to spend a lot to bless someone else.

A small gesture to you may mean to world to someone else.

6. The Sounds of the Season

My two year old was born deaf, and last year received cochlear implant surgery that gave him the incredible gift of sound. Our newest tradition (but one of the most meaningful) is listening for specific “sounds of the season” wherever we go (bells, carolers, wrapping paper, even the timer on the oven I use when baking), that our son is now able to hear.

“Junior can hear _____!” we’ll exclaim when we hear a new sound, as a reminder that the best gifts in life have nothing to do with packages and bows.

7. Christmas Morning Communion

It’s a simple act, but before opening any stockings or presents, our family takes communion using some toast and apple cider as a reminder that Christmas isn’t about the WHAT, it’s about the WHO, and His perfect gift to us.

These are a few of our family’s favorite frugal family traditions — I’d love to hear about some of your in the comments!

Sara is a homeschooling momma to 6-year old Tater and 2-year old Junior. Her hobbies used to include sleeping, reading, and cooking for fun, but then she had children. She blogs about special needs, money (and time) saving recipes, and homeschooling at Save Money, Live Joyfully

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5 Money-Making Ideas for Food Lovers

5 money-making ideas

Guest post from Holly of The Work at Home Woman

It’s no secret that Americans are foodies! In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent an average of $6,602 a year on groceries and eating out alone (source).

If you’ve been looking to launch your own home-based business and you love to create culinary delights here are 5 different food careers to consider:

1. Teach Cooking Classes

Do people always rave about your cooking? Then perhaps you should launch a home-based cooking class business. Gather individuals or small groups of people in your home and teach them how to cook or bake like a pro.

Don’t want to mess with a business plan and all the logistics of setting up a business? Consider joining Healthy Hands Cooking. It’s a home-based franchise that certifies instructors to teach kids how to cook healthy meals and snacks. Start-up fees are minimal and include training, certification, marketing tools, business materials, as well as ongoing support.

2. Create Gourmet Goodies

Are you a whiz in the kitchen? Then consider starting your own gourmet food business. Foodies not only love to consume delicious goodies, they also make make great gifts! From fancy gourmet sauces and treats, to healthy and specialty snack items.

Set up your own website or use an e-commerce platform like Foodoro and you’re ready to start selling your custom treats.

3. Become a Direct Sales Consultant

Would you love to own your own cafe or bistro but don’t have the funds to invest in a brick and mortar storefront? No problem. The direct sales industry has made it easier than ever to have your very own home-based business within the food industry.

Companies like the Traveling Vineyard, Tastefully Simple, and Dove Chocolate Discoveries offer home-based business opportunities selling products like wine, gourmet mixes, spices, desserts, chocolates, and gift sets.

As a direct sales consultant you will be paid a commission on each product that you sell. Most direct sales companies will also pay you a small bonus commission from consultants who you refer into the program.

4. Start a Food Blog

Do you enjoy writing? Do you love to test out new recipes? Then join the ranks of Julie Powell, who set out to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Not only did Julie’s blog quickly generate a huge following, but she went on to the write the bestselling book Julie & Julia, which was later turned into a movie. While you can make money through book sales, bloggers can also make money through direct ad sales, affiliate marketing, as well as working with brands.

Tip: Read more on how to make money blogging here.

5. Food Stylist

Do you have an eye for detail? Then working as a food stylist may be your calling. Food Stylists prep and prepare food items for displays, cookbooks, photo shoots, advertisements, and menus. Becoming a Food Stylist requires knowledge of the culinary industry as well as additional training or apprenticeship.

Denise Vivaldo, a seasoned food professional with over 27 years of experience has created workshops and classes for those who are interested in this field. You can also check out her book on Amazon, The Food Stylist’s Handbook.

For more information on ways to make money, visit The Work at Home Woman, where you can read about topics like how to make money completing short tasks, selling your used stuff online, and businesses you can start with no money.

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10 Experience Gift Ideas

experience gifts

Guest post from Mridu of Life Is Organized

It’s no surprise to hear that experiences mean more than things. Material items bring us immediate, yet fleeting, joy. It’s memories and feelings that stay with us forever. But figuring out how to create a memory can leave you overwhelmed, and cost a pretty penny.

Here are 10 easy ways to create memorable holiday gifts, that are low on cost and high on value:

1. Create a coupon book.

Print (or write) 5-10 coupons for your loved one and staple them together to make a small booklet. These can be tasks that get someone “off the hook” like: No Dishes For A Week, or a Free Bed-Making Pass. It could also be “treats” like: A Massage or Sundaes For Dinner.

2. Make a conversation jar.

Decorate a jar with ribbon, get small notes of paper and a card with instructions that say: “Start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen. Then, on New Year’s Eve, open it and read what awesome things happened over the year.”

3. Show off your culinary prowess.

The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, right? Bake or cook a family favorite and spoil someone you care about.

TIP: Place your freshly baked goods in a decorative tin that can be reused throughout the year.

4. Create a night out.

Why not invite friends and/or family for a night of fun at your place? Create an invite for a memorable way to enjoy time with your loved ones after you’ve recovered from the holiday madness.

5. Give a gratitude journal.

Help someone create an experience for themselves all year long. Often times people have the intention of starting this meaningful habit, but need the tools to get it started.

6. Make a themed gift basket.

Add fun and useful items to create an enjoyable memory for someone special.

- Movie baskets including popcorn, a couple of DVD’s, a box of M&M’s and a soft blanket or fuzzy socks.
– A Family Night basket with a board game, pack of cards, bag of chips and a liter of lemonade.
– A Girl’s Night basket including nail polishes, magazines, drinks, and furry slippers.

7. Give a gift certificate or lessons.

Base this gift on hobbies your friend or family member are interested in — a sewing class, dance lesson, painting class, or cooking lesson. It’s especially memorable when it’s something they’ve never tried, but have wanted to do.

8. Create a photo calendar.

Grandparents can’t get enough of these! It’s not only customized and meaningful but useful for throughout the year.

TIP: If the thought of picking a bunch of photos is overwhelming, get the type of calendar that has just one photo that you can use for the whole year.

9. Monogram anything.

No matter what item anyone has, a monogrammed version of it makes it so much more memorable. It can be as simple as a pair of hand towels or a beach bag.

10. Wow them with tickets.

If tickets for movies, concerts, plays, amusement parks, sporting events, and museums are personalized to a person’s likes, they’re always appreciated.

TIP: You can get discounts on movie tickets and some events if you buy at bulk at places like Costco or Sam’s Clubs and then split them up for different friends.

“Experience gifts” evoke a distinct feeling of love, care and thoughtfulness. And if the gift is an event you can both participate in, it becomes a shared memory, something far beyond what a physical gift can offer.

What experience can you create for someone this holiday season, without breaking the bank?

Mridu Parikh is a Simplicity and Organization Junkie for women who are tired of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. She’ll show you how to get your life running smoothly – without the drama. Prepare to smile, get uber motivated and take action with Mridu’s 5-day free organizing series.

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7 FREE Ways to Create a Memorable Family Christmas

memorable family christmas

Guest post from Becky of My Ink Dance

I’d like to say that December only brings cozy opportunities for family bonding and reflecting on the meaning of the season. The reality is, however, that we are bombarded with long lists of things to do. And the list is only part of the problem. The tightened purse strings make it feel even more difficult to shower people with love.

If you’d like this coming December to be different, you can! Here are 7 ideas to show your children how much you love them without throwing out your list or digging deeper in your pockets.

1. Read to Them

This is about more than homework reading assignments. This is about time and bonding.

There are few things more special than reading a book with your little (or not so little) one. Take 10 minutes, because usually that’s about all it takes, and snuggle up. Get close, grab a blanket and share a great Christmas story. You can find plenty at the library to enjoy together. You can even wrap a library book for a special surprise.

Some of our family’s favorite books are:

2. Have a Winter Picnic

Who says picnics are just for summertime? Not kids!

Make some hot chocolate or some tea and put it in a thermos. Bundle up and head outside with a big blanket or two and some mugs. You don’t have to go anywhere fancy; we’ve even done this on our back deck! Just enjoy being together in the fresh air.

The kids may give you a crazy look at first, but giggles are soon to follow. For an extra special treat, try doing this under the stars.

3. Enjoy a Candlelight Dinner

Think about what everyday life was like when Jesus was born. Enjoy dinner by candlelight and feel how peaceful it can be to sit by the warm glow of a flickering flame.

Kids are sure to love blowing out the candles when you’re done… so make sure to have a candle for each child!

4. Give a “Gift for a Day”

Before you think this involves reaching for your wallet, keep reading.

My kids are almost always asking to use something that belongs to my husband or me. Maybe it is a lip gloss or a flashlight or tool. It could be a pretty scarf or even a special mug.

Wrap up the coveted item and give it to your child with a note reading, “This is something of Mommy’s that is usually just for me. I’d like for you to use it today because you are special as can be.”

5. Bake Together

The holidays usually have us mixing and baking at some point. Take some extra time and hand over the wooden spoon.

Sure, it may take longer. Yes, it will be messier. But letting children help shows that you value their abilities, and that they are more important than a stress-filled to do list.

And I’ve never met a child (young or old) who doesn’t like to lick the spoon!

6. Enjoy the Lights

There are few things that evoke squeals like twinkling Christmas lights. You don’t have to make a big night of searching for lights (although that’s fun too!) Just take time to enjoy the ones you see.

Maybe take a different route home from basketball so you can see the great lights on the street you don’t usually drive on. Go a block or two out of your way to drive by the town tree.

If little ones cry, “I didn’t get to see it,” like mine sometimes do, make a quick u-turn and go back by again. You’ll only be losing minutes, but it sure adds up to them. And the squeals are worth it!

7. Designate Family Movie Time

Christmas is filled with all kinds of movies. Whether you’re looking for something funny or heartwarming, taking an evening and watching a Christmas movie together is a memory worth making.

There is a bonding that occurs when you sit together and enjoy a holiday movie. So don’t worry about addressing the Christmas cards for a night. No one will remember when they got the card anyway.

A tradition of the family watching a Christmas movie together will be held dear for years to come. Whether it’s Buddy the Elf, Charlie Brown, or A Wonderful Life, you’ll feel good knowing you took the time to be together.

These are just a few of the ways we’ve been able to show our children love and create memorable family Christmases without spending a dime. However, I’d love to know…

What would you add to my list?

Becky is a wife and mom of three who believes the things that matter don’t cost a lot of money. After all, she’s just as happy with Hershey as Godiva. A juxtaposition of head and heart, Becky explores life at My Ink Dance.

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4 Tips to Get Crafty on a Budget

crafty on a budget

Guest post from SK Bell of Nursing, Naps, Nostalgia

Although I’ve only recently called myself a crafter, I’ve been working on a project of some kind for most of my adult life. I’m a long-time MoneySavingMom.com reader and we proudly use a cash envelope system. We recently added a craft fund to our list.

I’ve noticed crafting can be really expensive. The first week, I spent the whole fund on fabric and didn’t get any other supplies I needed. I wasn’t able to work on any projects for the rest of the pay period. That was disappointing since I’ve discovered this outlet is important to me.

I’ve since learned a few tricks to stretching that budget — and I’m sharing them with you today!

1. Price Shop.

I’ve seen Mod Podge at the dollar store. When a local quilting store went out of business, I snatched up three of the most expensive items on my list since their prices had been reduced to less than 50%.

I am signed up for text coupons through Michael’s and JoAnn’s. Those, mail coupons, and coupons at the door/cash wrap will help get you through when you combine with sale prices.

2. Go Used!

My favorite and first stop is the thrift store. I recently paid $.50 for enough fabric for two projects already on my list.

Thrift stores have inexpensive shelves and picture frames for painting and re-purposing, fabric remnants, linens, already-cut sewing patterns, embroidery hoops, yarn, half-full jars of glitter, etc. etc.

3. Research First.

I recently found inspiration from an Instagram account, @DollarTreeCrafts. I often see cute, affordable crafts on other blogs that I’d like to try for myself and save a picture to a folder on my computer.

I am constantly finding free or very inexpensive Pinterest projects (like the wood pallet bookshelves we’re working on for our children’s room and many kid crafts using recycled items!) The library also has a lot of great books (some sewing books even come with patterns on a disc).

If I have an idea of my own in mind, I’ll draw it and brainstorm it, talk to my husband or a friend about it, and see if their fresh perspective might remind me of a less expensive item I can use, a cheaper way to do it, the best place to buy the materials.

4. Take Your Time

This one is easy for me at the moment, since I’m chasing a toddler around all day and rubbing my tired, pregnant belly in the evenings… but there have been times I found myself burning the midnight oil to finish a project I was excited about.

Now, I allow myself a little optional crafting time every day, and then I move on so a project lasts longer. Sometimes taking a break gives me new perspective any ways!

I’m curious… what are your tips for crafting inexpensively?

What have you made recently that fulfilled your crafting need but didn’t break the bank?

SK Bell is a happily married mother who enjoys traveling, crafting, and doing both frugally. She blogs positively about marriage and parenthood at Nursing, Naps, Nostalgia.

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