Hello to all of you out there in Millie and Mollie land!
It's been a while since I've been able to think of anything good to post, so today I'm cheating a little bit and asking for help with a quandary of my own. Phil and I are slowly starting the process of trying to buy a house, and as such we're taking steps to save as much money as we can. So far this hasn't made too big a difference in our day-to-day lives, but with the holidays coming up I'm feeling a little down. For the last two years (and for my entire childhood) we always pulled out all the stops, especially at Christmas, and spoiled rotten our families and each other. This year, since we'll be out of town for almost a week and we don't want the cats to destroy it, we're not even going to put up a tree (although we might get a tiny one that will fit on a bookshelf or something). This is something we've been planning for months, but as the holiday season draws ever nearer, I must confess that I've been feeling a little down about it.
So, all that being said, my question to you is this. What suggestions can you offer in the way of making a special Christmas on not a lot of money? I'm sure there's a lot of great advice out there and I would love to hear from any and all of you. Fire away!!!
What a timely question. This is a topic many of us are considering at this time of the year even if we're not saving up for a house; budgets are tighter now than they have been for a long time, and we don't want to short-change our families by making Christmas seem like a bargain-basement exercise.
Fortunately there are a lot of ways to make your holidays as merry and bright as they have always been; and as a matter of fact, the extra thought and love that goes into each gift, decoration and celebratory occasion may make this Christmas your best one yet. Take heart, dear May!
1. Do something every single day. Starting on December 1 (or the day after Thanksgiving, if you can't stand to wait that long), have a small ceremony, project or outing planned for each day between then and Christmas Eve. It doesn't have to be a big thing: Sending out your Christmas cards (even if they're free e-cards), lighting a pine-scented candle, baking cookies or watching a library DVD of National Lampoon's Christmas are all examples of things you can do that don't cost a dime. The important thing is to have something to look forward to; it makes Christmas last longer!
2. Have clear expectations. Since right now it's just you and Phil at home, you don't need to worry about disappointing children. Talk to your extended families as soon as you can and let them know your plans; let them know that you'll be giving home-made gifts or even skipping gifts this year, and that you'd like them to cut back on what they give you (so you won't have as much to pack and move). If you do exchange gifts, you could make matching knitted stocking caps, small caricatures or any other home-made items that feature your particular skills. Be clear with each other, too. Decide on the number of gifts you'll exchange if you worry that it will be extremely lopsided. Have a talk about what traditions are really important to you and which ones you'd be willing to skip this year, then just do the important ones. If you don't care much about sending cards but it wouldn't be Christmas without stocking-stuffers, concentrate on picking up a bunch of little whimsical gifts and forget about buying envelopes and postage this year.
3. Give dreams. Buying a house is a huge, wonderful milestone, and it's a super-fantastic gift you are giving each other. Consider having a house-themed Christmas celebration! Make a gingerbread house together. Find a fancy skeleton key at a secondhand store or a locksmithy and present it as the "key to your heart." Haunt the Goodwill for "house" movies like The Money Pit or Mouse Hunt and wrap them in the "For Sale - Houses" section of the Sunday paper. Check out used bookstores for "How To" manuals on plumbing, roofing, basic carpentry and other necessary homeowner skills.
4. Remember to live where you are now. Even though you will be out of town a lot during the holiday season, when you ARE home make the most of it. Don't put Christmas off until next year. Get the small tabletop tree and put it high on a shelf, or make it portable so that you can lock it in a closed room when you are away. Put a fresh wreath on your front door so that you can have the smell of Christmas even if you don't have a live tree this year. Decorate your windows with garlands, artificial snow, window clings - whatever says "Christmas!" to you. As you know, Christmas is more than just spending a few frenzied hours one early morning ripping open presents; Christmas proper is the whole season. Don't just flop on the couch and watch TV after work in December; spend a little time treasuring your home and your relationship.
5. Opt for the experience. There are a lot of things to do this time of year that you can't do at any other time, and it sounds like this might be your year to collect these experiences! Take a picnic lunch in a basket out to a cut-your-own tree farm and ride the hay wagon into the woods; you don't need to actually be cutting a tree to enjoy the farm. Eat your picnic while you enjoy the sights, sounds and smells, then ride the wagon back to the farm and buy a wreath, some evergreen garland or some jams or honey for your Christmas morning breakfast. Round up your friends and go caroling, the way you've been talking about since seventh grade. Go to a high-school music concert. Wander through church bazaars. See how many Salvation Army bell-ringers you can locate in an hour; put a quarter in each pot you find.
6. Be Christmas elves. There is nothing that will bring you out of the doldrums faster than doing something for somebody else for no reward but the goodwill you will feel. Shovel and sand (or sweep) an elderly neighbor's walkway. Crochet a snowflake ornament, wrap it neatly and leave it on someone's porch with a "Merry Christmas!" label - ring the bell and run! As you're packing things away in preparation for your move, go through your kitchen cupboards and dig out those canned and packaged foods you never got around to using; donate them to your local Food Bank. Many schools have coat drives this time of year; donate good-condition cast-off coats, hats and scarves to a drive, or good-condition clothes of all kinds to your city's PTA Clothes Closet.
7. Go for quantity over quality. This is not the time for the carefully-chosen, once-in-a-lifetime gift; this is the time for 10 gaily-wrapped packages from the Dollar Store and the Goodwill. Select things that are consumable - candy, drawing paper and colored pencils, jigsaw puzzles, assortments of coffees - and spread them out around the room as much as you can for Christmas morning. The impressive display will help to reassure that tiny voice that chirps, "but . . . where's CHRISTMAS?" even though Adult You knows you're saving for a house.
8. Enjoy the differences. While this year may not bring the sort of Christmas you're used to, you're actually in what many people would consider an enviable position. You're young, you're beautiful, you're healthy, you're madly in love with your husband and it's Christmas-time! Revel in it! In a few years you'll be a homeowner and mother, with all the joy these two things bring. Right now, though, you don't have a leaky roof, a leaky bank account or a leaky baby puking down your neck. Make 2010 the year you dress up in high heels and go dancing every night in December (even if it's in your living room)! Accept every party invitation you get! Go to concerts and movies and banquets! Enjoy being alive and successful and in love.
9. Give yourself a break. Don't be too rigid with yourself or with each other. If you're both feeling sad, agree to loosen the reins just a bit. In the long run it won't affect your home-buying timeline very much if you splurge a tiny bit, very carefully. Often just giving yourselves permission to cut loose a smidge relieves the compulsion to do so.
10. Count your blessings. Starting on Thanksgiving morning, each of you take a sticky note and write down something in your life for which you're grateful. Exchange the notes and read them out loud, then post the sticky notes above your bed. Add to them each morning, and at bedtime spend a moment reviewing what you've written so far. As the notes build up, you will begin to look at your life through more appreciative eyes; spending time each day thinking about how much you have together, and how wonderfully your life will continue to grow, will remind you that you have already given each other the best Christmas gifts of all.
John and I have had our lean years, too. Peter and Roger probably didn't notice because we substituted a lot of underwear, socks, sweatshirts, etc. for the luxury gifts. But we did make a point of buying each of you boys one nice thing.
Have fun with what you have. Remember all those tacky Christmas stockings? We put odor-eaters, cough drops, Bic pens, tylenol, Bean-o and other silly things in 'em. Oh, yeah, you're getting tacky ones this year, too. We started this tradition one year when things were a little lean, and we've kept it going.
Give coupons! I'd love a coupon for baby snuggles whenever my kids become parents. Just be sure to give Millie and Mollie the most. You don't want to leave us out in the cold - so be sure we get plenty, and don't favor a Millie over a Mollie. Remember Sleeping Beauty? You can have fun decorating them and I can't imagine anything sweeter or more precious than this.
Another coupon could be a weekend to visit you in your new future home. Personally, I'd LOVE this!
Watch a whole lotta Christmas movies. Do the "Christmas Story" one, or "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Home Alone" or whatever. Get dressed up like the characters and have friends over. Have key phrases like "you'll put your eye out" so that you can each have a handful of popcorn or a swig of soda pop when it comes up.
Over the years, John and I have learned what NOT to give each other. John will never again give me a port-a-potty for camping, and I will never, never, EVER give him anything electronic. So have some fun and make lists of exactly what you DON'T want for Christmas. Start with fruitcake. Think of all the future Christmases you'll save by thinking ahead like this!
I'll post more as the spirit moves me, but here's a good start!