Budget Tip: Christmas in September

There’s nothing like trying to find ways to save money when you don’t make much money. These budget series posts were created out of the desire to share what I have learned about alleviating some of the soul-crushing stress of living paycheck to paycheck – and the things I’ve learned that have helped me move away from that life. Please note that I am not, in any way, a licensed financial professional. None of these tips are guaranteed to make you money or save you money; they’re simply different ways of thinking about and using money that one person who doesn’t make much has learned over time.


Christmas in September

I love Christmas. I love twinkly lights and freshly baked cookies and laughing with my sisters so hard we cry and giving presents. I want to give all the presents in the world.

Last year, D and I went in 50/50 on presents. With five parents, nine siblings (including brothers-in-law) and six kiddos we adore, 50/50 still added up to a whole bunch really fast.

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We set different price caps based on how our families work, or what parents would prefer for their children. This year, I went the homemade route for my sisters and mom to save some cash. I made them personalized hand towels and hot pads that match their kitchens. I really prefer this, and will be doing it again this year.

 

For everyone else, though, we bought from the store.

So why bother talking about this now? Because I bought my first Christmas present in July.

Yep.

Tip #1: Shop Early & Often

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D and I had certain things we knew we wanted to get for folks – things like a nice set of towels, or classic, wooden toys for specific age ranges. So, every paycheck, we either buy something or set aside money for when we figure it out. That way, it doesn’t feel like we’re suddenly bleeding a ton of money, we don’t have to rush to the stores during the crazy holiday season, and we can spend our time doing things for others, like taking on an extra dish for a family event so our moms don’t have to, or planning a family service trip. Which leads me to my next tip:

Tip #2: Plan it Out

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There’s an (a) and a (b) to this idea.
(a) When it comes to time, start writing down your Holiday events as soon as you find out they exist. You can use an electronic or paper calendar. But make sure you include time for things like getting ready, driving to and from (especially if there’s snow) and rest. For goodness sake, make sure you allow yourself space and time for rest. Write it in now, as you’re reading this even. Maybe I’ll do a post with more details about how I plan this out in the future. Would that be something you’d enjoy?

(b.1) I have been using this holiday gift tracker from IHeart Organizing since it came out a few years ago (six years? Maybe?).

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I print it out at the start of the year and as I think of a gift, I write it down. For example, D and I went to Florida in March and saw something we just know his nephews will love, but it wasn’t Florida-y enough for us to buy as their trip-gift. So I wrote it on here so we wouldn’t forget.
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(b.2) The gift tracker is amazing because it doesn’t let you spend too much. I actually keep the “budget” and “actual” columns filled in as the year goes along. But, I keep a running “presents” lists on Amazon too. This has things like the nursery rhyme book is always get for babies, and things that could work well for a birthday party for a coworkers kid that I don’t really know. I also pop Christmas presents there.
In the case of the Florida gift for D’s nephews, I added it to this list while we were looking at it.

Tip #3: Plan to Wrap Away!

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So, this is going to sound nuts, but I actually bought wrapping paper in August. And March. I love cutesy paper for kiddos and will probably do that forever, but for my family – which doesn’t have younger children – I usually go with some kind of Hallmark swirly, classy, beautiful paper (like the top photo). So when I find a coupon or see a sale, I grab some up.

This goes for bags too. The Christmas themed ones are adorable and I definitely buy them. But I also buy the five-pack of brown gift bags and add embellishments in the same colors as my papers.

I also buy the cutesy paper at the start of the year, usually, when it all goes on sale. I’ve done that paper different ways and always end up needing to buy extra of it, so I just try to account for it in the budget.

One of my sisters wrapped all her presents in butcher paper for many years, and spent her money on ribbons and dried flowers. Her gifts always look gorgeous. I had a year where I bought a bunch of white tissue paper at the dollar store and then hand-made my gift tags with brightly colored construction paper. Thinking outside the box is another helpful way to save.

I write gift wrapping into my planner on the day after I plan to have all my gifts bought and I put on a cheesy Christmas movie or some music and wrap all in one session. It’s like a backwards Christmas surprise when I wake up the next morning to a tree full of presents for other people – exactly the kind of gift I want to give myself!

What kinds of things do you do to save money at the holidays?

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What’s with All the Questions?

You may have noticed that I end nearly every post with series of questions, asking you what you would do/ what you think/ how you do things.

I have a love/hate relationship with this concept – sometimes when I read a blog, it feels like someone scraping from comments; and sometimes I need someone to push me to that next step with a concept and the question does it for me.

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I started this blog back up because I want to share with the world; but sharing doesn’t just go one way.

I don’t know if you’re this way, too, but I have a hard time being vulnerable. No matter how many Berne Brown TEDTalks I watch or books I read, there is still this part of me that struggles to ask for help, admit my faults, and listen to the wisdom of others.

I don’t mean to need to be right. Maybe it’s just youngest child syndrome. Maybe it’s insecurity.

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Those tiniest of feet are mine

So as I’ve been thinking about the kinds of intentions I want to put into this incredibly public space, I’ve decided to use it as practice for the rest of life. I try to think through the process of each post and ask the questions that I don’t have the answer to right now, so that I can lean on the world to find them.

It’s helping. In case you were wondering. And I really would like to know if this is hard for you too, and what kinds of things you do to practice being vulnerable.

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Mind / Body / Spirit

I’ve been wanting to write down my thoughts on the connection between the mind, body and spirit for a long time, but I haven’t been able to find the words lately.

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I’m a pretty dedicated user of the HeadSpace app, I’ve been doing yoga since I was 15 and I work really hard at loving my body for the life it gives me.

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I started out thinking I’d like to write a post about what I believe the connection between the two is, how to facilitate it and what to do when you fall off-course. But, I decided that instead of that, I’d rather hear from you: what do you do to calm down? What provides balance in your life? What little things are part of your day that without them you would be struggling?

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For me, some of those things include: meditation, yoga, being barefoot, making lists, singing and laughing. I’ve been trying to focus more on being balanced. I tend to take on too much and then later wonder why I’m overwhelmed (how many of you can relate?). So I’m interested in hearing from you. Let me know in the comments how you stay balanced.

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House List Update!

So, many moons ago, before I needed a break from blogging, I shared with you my House List, and how to prioritize that list. As of my most recent update about my couch, here’s what the list looked like:

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In my absence, I made some changes and now, here’s where we are:

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I’ve got some posts brewing about having made those changes, so I can explain the processes. But the real reason I wanted to give this update is because I first started talking about this a little less than a year ago and I’m not even halfway done.

That feels a little pathetic.

It also feels more than a little realistic.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of how quickly things should happen, or to compare ourselves to the work / rate of others. But, when I really think about, for as much as I love to tackle house projects and make my little apartment feel cozy, I’d rather lay out in the sunshine, or have some lemonade with my mom, or laugh with my friends.

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I don’t actually think that life is too short. I think life is incredibly long and we should get everything we can out of it. And that means that some days I want to be barefoot in the sunshine, and other days, I want to paint little flowers on a flower pot.

I make a million lists and like to check things off of them and love the feeling of accomplishing both big and small projects – that will never not be true for me.

It’s also true that I still have a hard time not feeling guilty when I pick to hang out and live rather than be task-oriented, almost like I need permission to take a break.

So, here you go: an updated house list and permission to go take a break and play in the sunshine, or the rain; permission to go have the life you want.A. Rose (1)

I Came Back

I took a break from blogging a little while ago. The things happening in schools halted me, and required me to take a step back and look at what I care about, and what I’m doing to impact the things that I care about.

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I’m glad I took the time away, because what I learned is that I don’t want to be away.

I have always loved to write, and I’ve always cared more about the process of doing something than the finished product of what got done. The two together make this the perfect place for me.

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And so I’m here, with a plan, and a lot in my head I want to get down, and a lot of your voices I want to honor. I hope this goes well for both of us. & I hope you’ll continue to join me here, where the intricate details of life are perfectly imperfect.

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The Sound of Silence

I have a million posts in my head and pictures that need using and ideas I want to share.

But I have been halted.

Some background: I grew up in South Florida, not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. I work in a college, not far from Central Michigan University. I am working in and studying Higher Education (basically, the college version of studying K-12) because I care about what happens in grade schools: I care about what happens to each individual life of a young person. I care so much that I elected for my schedule to be chaotic and to not get enough sleep. Most days, education is all I can think about.

On Friday,  I found myself numb. Not numb because the feelings were too real to access, but desensitized to what was going on. I was here to listen, to hear the voices of the people around me and care for them. I wasn’t in a place to voice my own fears because they had been smashed by repetition.

In a class two weeks ago, I said that Columbine was in my bones. I was 11 years old and grown ups were scared and for the first time in my life, I understood that sometimes schools weren’t the safest place to be. This violence has been my childhood, and my adulthood.

I wrote to a friend / mentor on Friday:

“I’m worn out on all the talking. So I snuck away from conversations and tried to remember what it felt like to not be scared, to feel like a difference could be made.

I thought of that Loris Malaguzzi poem about the child being made of one hundred, and how life tries to tell them the hundred is not there. I thought about how the children I know say “No way,” like Malaguzzi says. And I thought about how they don’t know what will happen in school today; they just believe their school will be safe.”

He wrote me back with comforting words, and reminded me that we must work to be aware of the violence within ourselves; that we must be conscious of our ability to choose kindness or wrath. He urged that we set aside the questions of motive – that we all acknowledge that we want to be God and have power – we just need to find better ways to do it.

And so I’ll go back to regular posting soon. But for right now, I need to sit here, in the deafening silence of fears. I need to shake the dust that has settled around my spirit and raise my consciousness, and focus on kindness.

 

xoxo

 

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Valentines Day

Valentines Day is actually my favorite holiday.

I know it’s made up. I know it’s this commercialized mess. I know it puts unnecessary pressure on couples and partners. I know.

But I also really like to talk about love, in all it’s forms. And I like flowers and candy and the color red.

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The unruly little one is me.

When I think about love, D isn’t actually the first thing that comes to my mind. My family is (he gets grouped in with them). I believe that the love of the family, whatever family may look like for an individual, is the place where strength comes from, and is the central root that connects us to society in an unbreakable way.

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My friends come next. If family roots us in our community, our friends are the trunk of the tree – the steady base that lets our branches move outward, with love and careful reflection.

It’s been tricky to be in a new state with a new culture. It makes it hard to make friends, especially when most of the town grew up together. I’ve lucked out with a core group of great people who keep me grounded.

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After that, I think about romance. It tends to fall toward the bottom of my priority list, and lately I’ve been trying to do a better job of changing that. Even though I don’t think it’s the most important part of being in a relationship, I do still think it’s important.

At one point in my life, my mother told me that the most romantic thing about my father is that he knows her 2:30pm coffee is taken differently than her morning coffee. I’ve been trying to think about ways that I show care, and spaces where care is absent and bump it up.

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I hope that this Valentine’s Day gets to be about all the varied forms of love for you.