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How We Lowered Our Christmas Budget, Reduced our Clutter, and Created More Family Time!

Try this one simple thing to lower your Christmas budget, reduce clutter, and create more family time this year!

Reader testimonial from Tami

We are a family of 4 —  me, my husband, and 2 kids (ages 13 and 7.5).

Recently, our income dropped significantly… and because of this, we made a few changes to how we do Christmas gifts. These simple changes helped eliminate the stress on our budget, reduce the amount of clutter in my kid’s rooms, and increase our time together as a family!

I created a “box of fun” for each child.

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.

In the end, we have the perfect reason to have our “family time” and most of it is already paid for, so we cannot use the excuse that there is no money in the budget.

I plan on doing the same thing in 2014, and have already adjusted our budget to cover the cost of buying a gift card once a month.

The best part about this was the fact that my kids seemed to love the “box of fun” and it was the first thing they mentioned whenever someone asked them what they got for Christmas. It really made me feel like I made the right choice by deciding not to give them just “stuff” for Christmas.

photo source

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  • Rita says:

    This is a great idea, I am going to start this month – my kids are getting older and it’s getting harder every year and for those of you who belong to swag bucks – great way to get them for free!!

    • Sissy says:

      My kids are older too. I started making a list of experiences I could give them for next Christmas and their birthdays. I love this idea!

    • Kathi says:

      I realize I’m late to the party…just now reading this post. Was wondering if you could tell me about Swag Bucks and how they work? Thank you!

      • Lauren says:

        Swagbucks is a website/toolbar you can use to earn points for searching things like google, you can watch commercials and take surveys and even use their shop & earn feature to get rewards for online purchases. I have accumulated a lot over the last few years, I have about 16,000 right now (or enough for about $150-200 worth of gift cards) and thats just from since January.

  • Jodi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. It’s inspired me to give the gift of together-ness and experiences. I sell scrip which is gift cards that benefits my kids’ school this would be such a nice article to add to our gift card sales while saving money and giving families good ideas on staying united. Awesome!

  • Christy says:

    I did essentially this for my husband for his birthday last December — 12 months of pre-planned, mostly pre-paid dates. Put each in an envelope to be opened at the beginning of the month. Two or three were pricey, but I made sure to keep several of them under $10-15 (or even free). I just warned him in advance that the gift budget would be stretched a bit last year, but we’d recoup the costs this year when we didn’t have to pay for entertainment.

    I got several discounts by cashing in Recyclebank points, if you get those points — just be careful, because some expire within a month or two or are for specific locations. A few I just made myself a note to cash in the points when that month rolled around.

  • I love this is great my boys will love this.

  • matilda says:

    I think I’ll do this for my grandchildren for next year.. TIME with the kids, especially one-on-one, is so precious to me, since I have a terminal illness, and they are all under 12. My disability income doesn’t go very far, but I can do the gift-card-per-month idea- – thanks!

    • Jiya says:

      Love the idea — my son is starting to get hard to buy for (he’s growing out of toys & only wants video games — which this mom does NOT like to buy), so this is a great idea. He would love gift cards for the frozen yogurt place, the movies, Chuck E Cheese or mini golf.

      One way to save $$$ & still do this is to use gift cards that you earn at Swagbucks or MyPoints or similar sites.

  • Cathy R says:

    Such a great idea! My husband and I have only been buying for one grown son and Nephew, niece and their two children, but what a wonderful way to budget things out for the year for them! I’m excited about that, and have more ideas how to get things we want or need individually for each other …… budget it! Thanks for the idea that can be individualized for each family’s situation!

  • Em says:

    I love this idea! I have children that are getting harder and harder to buy for. The idea of increasing time as well as still giving gifts is a great idea!!!!!

  • Shana Juarez says:

    When our kids were younger, we would buy the family a yearly membership for the California Space Center in Los Angeles. Most museums across the country honor free entry with a yearly membership to any of the 300+ museums on the list.
    We have 6 museums with in a 2 hour drive from us. Pack a lunch and go! The hands on museums were the best for the kids!
    Average cost for entry each is $20. Family of 4 going out for a day is an easy $100+. Yearly memberships have varied prices. We would grab the mid level membership ($125yr)and enjoy a few freebee’s! And it is a donation! Tax deductible.
    This makes a great gift from family too!

  • Tina says:

    I am so glad I saw this in January. We are doing this for sure!!

  • Judy Brandt says:

    that is such a great idea I am going to start this for my family myself and three kids thank you

  • laura says:

    Love this idea! This year for Christmas we bought the boys lift passes to the local ski place (to go with Dad) and season passes for the Zoo and science center (to go with mom since I teach and we can do those during the breaks).

    If you have a Kroger near by they give extra points when you buy gift cards there (then the points can save you money per gallon – I got all my gift cards for extended family there this December then saved 30 cents a gallon when I road tripped to visit family). Win-Win!

  • Rose Wild says:

    Thank you for this post !
    I’m so glad I started this a few months ago. Having several older kids is really hard to shop for.
    I go to my local Randals and buy gift cards each month. We buy gift cards for restaurants or home improvement resteraunts just about everything. It saves us around a $1 a gallon 2x”s a month !

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