Friday, November 25, 2011

cut the cost, not the traditions

Our family Christmas card, 2010

Dear Em,
I love the holidays. It has always been my favorite time of year. I love the music, the lights, & celebrating with friends & family. This season is something that I look forward to all year long. That's why I was a little surprised when I had a mini-melt down last year.

I mean, when did the holidays get so expensive? I know that this season is about giving, but there gets to be a point when I just feel like we're passing gift cards back & forth. Instead of holiday bliss, I was feeling financial stress. I hated it. This feeling was ruining our Christmas spirit, my Christmas spirit. Instead of falling victim to the holiday burn-out so many feel this time of year, we looked at ways we could cut the costs without cutting the traditions.

Black Friday Shopping
I've been Black Friday shopping for years. What's better than waking up at 3am to fight a sea of shoppers over a Wii that's $50 off? I can't think of anything. You can get what your special someone really wants for a fraction of the cost. Last year, instead of suffering in the crowds, we did most of our Black Friday shopping online. From my comfy seat I was able to get incredible deals. We bought the TV in our family room at a reduced Black Friday price & chose the in-store pick-up option. We didn't have to stand in line before dawn or pay for shipping. It was amazing. I like to make my list each year, scan the online & newspaper ads, & then make my plan of action. Black Friday saves me a ton of money, I get 75% of my shopping done in one day, & it's fun to do with friends & family.

As I talked about here, I'm the oldest of 5 kids. Exchanging Christmas gifts with just my immediate family is quite an ordeal & can become quite pricey. In order to cut costs but not tradition, we decided to do Secret Santa this year. Instead of buying gifts for all, we have a $50 limit to buy for only one. The problem: we weren't all going to be in the same room together to pick names out of a hat. How were we going to secretly assign names? I learned about Elfster from another blog. It's an online way to secretly assign names & create wish lists without us all having to be together for the planning stages. You can ask your assigned person questions without the person knowing who the questions are coming from. So far, so good. Although, it seems that the public can also see our wish lists, & that freaks me out a little. Many of us have been asked weird questions. So, either someone in our family is a comedian, or weird strangers are asking us personal questions about our gift preferences. We haven't decided if we're going to use it again next year or have a Secret Santa that's not secret at all.

Yankee Swap
We have so many unbelievable friends. We'd love to give gifts to all of them to let them know how much they mean to us, but that just becomes too costly. Instead, we open our house to our friends for dinner & celebration each year. We call it Thanksmas Swap, & we host it on a weekend night between Thanksgiving & Christmas. It's one of my favorite nights of the whole year. We prepare a thanksgiving meal at our house & everyone else brings hors d'oeuvres, drinks, or dessert. We sit down for dinner with some of our dearest friends & give thanks for having them in our lives. After dinner we gather around the Christmas tree & have a fun (& competitive) Yankee Swap. Have you ever had a Yankee Swap? This site does a great job of explaining how it works. Our Yankee Swaps typically provide eruptions of laughter, at least one "must have" present, & us being able to share such a fun experience with some of the people we love most. We try to keep our gifts in the 10-15 dollar range. This year will be our 3rd annual Thanksmas Swap. It's such an inexpensive way to celebrate with friends & we hope to host it every year.

Christmas Cards
For our friends & family that are unable to make it for Thanksmas Swap, we've asked if instead of presents we could just exchange Christmas/Holiday Cards. Some people still use traditional cards, & I can tell you that their words of love & friendship mean more than any gifts they could give. Most of our friends & family send photo cards. We have a great big cork board in our entryway that I pin the cards to. Most of the Christmas photo cards stay up on the cork board all year through. It's a beautiful reminder of those we love. It's amazing to see how everyone has grown year after year. Last year we used for our Christmas cards. If we ordered before December 1st, there was an amazing deal. This year I am so drawn to the styles of the & they're 35% off. I'm thinking we're going to design our cards on their site this year.

I'm so thankful that we've been able to cut the cost & stress of the holiday season without cutting the traditions & celebrations with our friends. I'm looking forward to the precious moments & memories this holiday season brings us.

I love you so,

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