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.

IMG_3791

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

img_4789

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

img_4891

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?).

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 5.07.39 PM

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.
Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 5.11.58 PM
(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!

IMG_3663-EFFECTS.jpg

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?

A. Rose (1)

Advertisements

Class Schedule Management

It’s that wonderful time of year again, when the weather starts to turn and every now and then you see a leaf that’s a vibrant orange or red. I love the beginnings of fall. My absolute favorite part? Back to school!

I’m not even being sarcastic – I really love everything about school and learning and school supplies and assignments and readings. #hardcorenerd #lifelonglearner

The toughest part of school, to me, is managing the schedule alongside a full-time job and a new part-time job. I shared a little while ago about how I figure it all out, through a process I’ve been using since I started undergrad (12 years ago!) but I wanted to show you all some extra steps I learned over the Spring/Winter Semester!

 

I’m trying to stop using so much paper. I will probably always be a paper planner person, but I thought I’d try my hand at doing this in Excel. I pulled up both syllabi and reviewed them, looking for common themes. I realized there were four categories the work could be split into:

  1. Readings
  2. Major Assignments
  3. Minor Assignments
  4. Discussion Boards

So I made a spreadsheet and key that looks like this:

Step 1 of Organizing School

I have a hard time keeping the “EDH” and “EDF”‘s separate, so I gave myself a little reminder of what each class was. Then, I started plugging things in, based on the syllabus. But, I did it one week ahead of what the syllabus said. So if something is listed there for the week of October 14, I listed it under the week of October 7, because that’s the week I’ll actually be doing that work in. Does that make sense?

It looked something like this:

Step 2 of Organizing School

You can see how the color coding on the side went. I also made one class blue and the other purple. Last year, I did everything in the same color and wrote the name of the class next to the assignment. I much prefer this way in Excel. Here’s what it started to look like towards the time I was done:

Step 3 of Organizing School

So then, I created a new category called “Working Ahead.” For the items in yellow, I looked at them and what the syllabus says is involved and assumed what that means I’ll need to do. So for example, the week of September 2, we’re picking an issue we care about and we’ll be part of a group that writes and presents on that topic. So, that means, the week of August 26, I had to review the Topics:

Step 4 of Organizing School

I continued that process until the end of the semester for both classes, then I printed it out. I only printed it because I knew I had some times the day I made this when I could put some of these into my planner, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have.

I put the items for each week on long Post Its just like I did last time:

img_5073

BUT, I looked at my calendar as I did this: when are Birthdays? other work stuff? evening events? For those weeks, I printed out some of these great sheets (link is at the bottom of the post; I just wanted to be sure to give you the chance to read her whole post) made by Megan at Honey We’re Home (who, btw, is amazing, y’all). For my really crazy weeks, I just went ahead and filled these out and stuck them in my planner for that week, so I don’t have to use my mental energy to figure it out at that point! #BAM

img_5076

And, for two weeks a head of time, rather than working off a sticky note, I just went ahead and broke the assignments up in to how much I thought I could get done on each day:

img_5075

My hope is that this pre-planning keeps me from feeling the crushing weight of all the things I’m juggling. I keep trying to remind myself that this is a choice I’ve made; these are all things that make me happy, and that it’s okay if I can’t always manage it all.

What kinds of things help you survive hectic times? What do you think is the most useful piece of going to (any level of) school that you carry with you now?

A. Rose (1)