Sunday, December 19, 2010

Our Little Christmas

(Leila yellow / Hadley pink)

Merry Christmas! We celebrated with our little foursome on Saturday, since we'll be with our extended family on Christmas day. As I said before, we only got the girls one present to share. We did that for two reasons: 1) it was large in size, and 2) they're not old enough to know any better yet! Also, Tony and I didn't get each other presents. I guess you could say that we're "quality time" people instead of "gift" people: most of the time, we celebrate special occasions by doing something together instead. So, we opened one present yesterday. We're very exciting, I know. :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Deck the Haul: The Finale

The gifts have been purchased and wrapped! I debated about waiting until our Christmas gifts had actually been given to show you the final results of my Christmas Challenge, but I'm not great at waiting. For anything. Just ask Tony about how I ruined his wedding proposal. Seriously. :)

Here is the rundown: I've purchased presents for all 10 people on our list. That number may seem low, considering the size of our families, but all of our gatherings use name drawings now, and the adults on my side of the family are giving to charity instead of gifting for the first time this year. Also, we purchased one present for the twins to share (I'll show you later), and that's been in the garage since this summer, so I didn't factor that into the budget.

Our budget for those gifts was $100. And, really, I wasn't sure I could do it and have
any money left over, since that's only $10 per person, and in the past we usually spent about $20 - $25 per person.

But, as you saw in my other post, I ended up getting really nice, quality things, like this all-natural set of six paints:
And this yoyo doll:
...and those are the only things I'm going to share, because I know the adults read my blog and I don't want to ruin their surprises!

Total cost for all of our gifts: $34
(An average of $3.40 per person!)
Total we'll be giving to help others: $66

As you know, we don't have a lot of wiggle room in the ol' budget, so I'm pumped to be able to make a difference in somebody's life solely by bargain shopping! What a great challenge. Definitely one I'm already looking forward to doing again!

This Little Piggy

This is definitely my favorite phase yet. (I'm pretty sure I say that about every phase.) The talking, interacting, responding ... cuteness! ... is just a blast. We've been playing "This Little Piggy" and the girls think it's absolutely hilarious. Leila has learned "oosh" (shoes), and brings shoes to us to put on her feet ... usually more shoes than feet. Hadley has a new love for music, and when she's playing with our musical toys or listening to music, she enters The Zone, which is pretty entertaining.

Speaking of piggies, here's a new development: pigtails! (Leila/Hadley) Smiling for the camera is *not* something I get to enjoy in this phase. :) Also, you'll see Hadley's battle scar from the coffee table last week. *Sigh* Look at my TODDLERS!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Deck the Haul: The Strategy

Before I unveil the amount that we're giving to charity this year, I wanted to let you in on the gift shopping strategies which are allowing us to spend less and give more this year.
  • Sites like Groupon and Eversave have daily deals that cost about 50% of their retail price. Plus, most of the time, you get a credit for signing up, which can be used toward any deal. ---> I purchased a gift certificate to an online toy store for 80% off!
  • There's a new fad in internet shopping -- "private sale" sites which are "members only" and offer "designer" items at a discount for a few days. (Do you like my use of quotations?) In my opinion, these sites are kind of worthless EXCEPT that they've all been giving free money to use in their store when you sign up! If you use the credit to pay shipping as well, you can get totally free items. I honestly don't know if they're still giving money when you sign up, but here are the sites I think might if you want to try: Hautelook, Modnique, Rue La La.
    ---> I scored this floor puzzle (isn't the case cute?) for totally free ... and have spent several other of these promotional credits on our family.
  • I stay up-to-date with bargain blogs like Springs Bargains and Money Saving Mom for coupons at stores that have gifts that I want to purchase.
    ---> J.C. Penney released an online code for $10 off a $10 purchase. (My savings: 80%)
    ---> Target releases several game/toy coupons each Christmas, which I combined with in-store sales. (My savings: 80%)
    ---> had a great Black Friday weekend sale. (My savings: 70%)
  • I use a search engine called Swagbucks, which gives points as you search and releases codes for points randomly. You can redeem those points for prizes. I always get the $5 Amazon gift card.
    --> I've only earned one prize this holiday season, but the gift I purchased on Amazon was already on sale, so my savings on that gift was 85%.
  • Lastly, for every online purchase I make, I check Ebates to see if I can earn cash back at that retailer. The concept is that retailers pay Ebates a commission for sending them customers, and Ebates splits the money 50/50 with the customer. It's really easy, too. The most I've earned is $11 on a purchase, but most of the time I earn a dollar or two. Every penny counts!
Are you overloaded with information yet? I guess one thing that I want to add is that this doesn't take as much time as it looks. I'm not making a full-time job out of buying Christmas gifts. I have a list of items I want to purchase, check my email and read bargain blog updates a few times a day, and if something looks good, I'll check it out and do a little bit of shopping in the evening.

Stay tuned ... I'll give you the grand total as soon as I can.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

18 Months

My sweet babies are 18 months old today! Which means I shouldn't call them babies anymore. But I'm going to anyway.

Here's the latest news: Hadley started walking! She took her first steps on Thanksgiving day. Unlike Leila, Hadley waited until she was absolutely sure, then casually walked over to Grandma like it was nothing special. She still prefers to crawl, but she isn't fooling anybody anymore.

Leila, always breaking new ground, has learned to climb. She hasn't made it to the couch yet, but she climbs on the ottoman, and had fun climbing on a bench instead of the play equipment at a play date the other day.

I'm seeing changes in them as they move toward being toddlers. They like "thinking" toys instead of things with lots of movement and colors now. They can repeat sounds and they add new words to their vocabulary every day. Oh, and they express displeasure when things don't go their way. Time to pull out the books on discipline!

Here are a couple of unedited "outtakes" from our Christmas photo shoot with my sister. While you look at those, I'm going to go pat myself on the back for keeping them alive for over 540 days. :)

(Hadley top/Leila bottom)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deck the Haul: My Christmas Challenge

Last Christmas, I read on my friend Anna's blog that Americans spend more on Christmas than it would take to provide clean, sustainable drinking water for the entire world.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

While we're not fully involved in Advent Conspiracy like many people, Tony and I agree: we are going to spend less and give more this year. And every year. However, we also want to celebrate with our families and friends by giving gifts. So here's what I came up with:

  1. We will set a firm Christmas budget, based on what we normally spend for gifts.
  2. We will give to our loved ones without skimping on quality, but I will do my best to get those items by spending very little money out of pocket.
  3. Whatever is left from our Christmas budget after gifts, will be given to a charity such as Samaritan's Purse.
So, you know I love to coupon, but I just raised the stakes for myself. And let me tell you, I am succeeding more than I thought was possible with this challenge.

I have a few more gifts to buy, so I'll wait until my shopping is done to tell you the results. I promise I'll write a detailed post in the next couple of weeks. But I want to encourage you to think about where your money is going this Christmas. Straight into retailers' pockets, spent on gifts that aren't necessary and won't be used? Or celebrating the real reason for the season, by giving to others who have needs that we can't even imagine?