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My Christmas Budget – Things Change and They Remain the Same

J Money’s post about his budget from years ago inspired me to look up my past too.  My husband and I set a budget of $500 for Christmas for the last 4-5 years, and we generally do pretty well.  The main difference has become that we used to hang out with 20 or less people including family…now it’s 35-40.  I consider that an amazing life change.  But it has changed our shopping habits.

Christmas Budget

Our Christmas Budget in 2011

We spent $510 on our families and friends in 2011.  There were 18 people – 9 family members and 9 friends.  If you do the math, those numbers mean that we spent an average of $25-$30 per person.  There were some $40-$50’s and some $10-$15’s, but we definitely spent more per person back then than now.  It helped that it was a great financial year.  That was the year that I went self-employed, still had a classic day job for 6 of those months, and my husband was a public school teacher.  I had very little time away from the computer, but I was excited about a new path.

Our Christmas Budget Now in 2014

This year, we have spent $470.   There are 35 people on our list – 12 family members and 23 friends.  More friends is a “problem” that I am so thankful to have.  :-D  It just takes a little extra planning and some serious thoughts on people’s inner wants, lol.  These numbers mean that we are now spending an average of $13.50 per person.  That’s about half of what we used to spend on each person, yet I think our gifts are more thoughtful and will be better-received.  I’ll let you know if I’m wrong.

We made some of our gifts, splurged in some places, but also found amazing deals right before Black Friday.  Honestly, the 30% off at Think Geek, Groupon Good sales, and good deals on Amazon accounted for the majority of our gift list.  I also made beer bread and Mr. BFS mixed up some homemade spice mixes since one of our friends needed stuff to fit in a small living space.  About $40 was spent on little extras here and there like stocking stuffers.

How has your Christmas budget changed over the last few years?

My Cheap but Awesome Tree Topper and Skirt

I started decorating for Christmas yesterday.  My roommate, Mandy, was helping me and we kept talking about things as they came out of the box.  That’s when she met my tree topper and skirt…

My Tree Topper and Skirt

Mandy saw me take Santa’s hat and a fitted sheet with a snowflake pattern out of the ornament box and looked a little quizzical.

I replied, “Oh yeah, that’s the Santa hat for the top of the tree and a fitted sheet for the tree skirt.  I didn’t have a star or angel or skirt the first time I decorated this in my first apartment in 2004, so I stuck the hat up there and the fitted sheet down there.  It’s been a tradition ever since.”

Our Christmas Trees

This is the same tree that I decorated growing up with my sisters.  I love the Santa hat topper and the fitted sheet as a tree skirt.

The hat was about $3 and the fitted sheet was part of a hand-me-down set that was too warm to use.  They have made a great tree topper and skirt for 10 years now.  If you like this idea, you can find $1 Santa’s hats at Dollar Tree and probably other dollar stores.

For the fitted sheet, just take a look at your extra sheet sets.  You may also find them at garage sales or resale shops for less than you’d buy them retail.  Or if that is a bust, buy some cheap fabric and you can cut out your own tree skirt pretty easily.  No reason to spend a ton on something that will be covered in wrapped presents anyway.  :-)

Overall, decorating your Christmas tree doesn’t have to cost you a chunk of your holiday budget.  It’s about having fun, celebrating the holidays, and finding your own traditions.

What sort of holiday decoration tips do you have for all of us?  Please share!

Whew! That Was Quite a Week!!!

I have a lot to catch you all up on!  It’s not extremely finance-related, but it’s a bunch none-the-less.

Board Game Geek Convention 2014

The Board Game Geek Convention is an annual board gaming extravaganza in Dallas, TX.  I usually spend the time socializing and playing social games like Reverse Charades.  This year, I volunteered to be on Team Geek for the first time.  From November 18-23, I was supposed to be volunteering a grand total of around 16-20 hours.  I ended up volunteering about 35 hours.  Oops.  But it was fun and I’d do it again.  I got to know some amazing people, was Cat Woman yet again for a day or two, and generally had an amazing time.  Since we shared our hotel room, it ended up costing us about $600 total:

  • My husband’s ticket – $85
  • Hotel – $350
  • Gas – $25
  • Food – $150
  • Total = $610

Friends Thanksgiving

We got back from BGG Con on November 23, and then got ready to host Friends Thanksgiving November 26.  This was my husband’s third year of inviting some friends over the day before Thanksgiving for a feast and general, stress-free hangout time.  Mr. BFS cooks absolutely everything except the sweet potatoes (that’s me, lol):

  • A 23-Pound Turkey
  • Sausage Cornbread Dressing
  • 5 Pounds of Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes (I’ve cut back the butter and brown sugar about 25-35%)
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Butternut Squash
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green Beans
  • Peas
  • Corn Bread
  • Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
  • 2 Apple Pies
  • Total Paid for Groceries = $105

Family

We saw both sides of our family last week too.  I made more sweet potatoes for my in-laws’ Thanksgiving for Thursday, and my family stopped by after cutting down their Christmas tree on Black Friday.  On Saturday, I watched my little sister’s first 3D sonogram live through a streaming site.  How cool is it that she’s in Austin and I got to see everything in Houston at the same time?!  Here are some creepy yet super cool pictures of my upcoming nephew…I should be an Aunt in about 3 months…

Okay, so these pictures remind me of aliens, but it's amazingly cool that my sister is growing a little person inside of her!

Okay, so these pictures remind me of aliens, but it’s amazingly cool that my sister is growing a little person inside of her!

Pet Sitting (and the Lack of Internet)

I also may have mentioned in passing that I was pet sitting at someone else’s home from November 15 through this morning, December 1. Well, minus the time we were at BGG Con in Dallas.  Anyway, it went great, but their internet stopped working for me around Thanksgiving, so I’ve been working mainly from my phone for the last few days.  It’s nice to be back online.

Like I said, whew!!!  Hope your last two weeks were awesome but maybe less busy!

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

funny-thanksgiving-eat-beef-joke

Between returning from the 2014 Board Game Geek Convention, pet sitting, routine doctor’s appointments, a surprise foster dog arrival 3 weeks early, and cooking enough sweet potatoes for 32 people, I will simply wish you all a HAPPY THANKSGIVING and get back to work, LOL.

Hug your loved ones, eat good food, and have a relaxed week.  I’ll be back on Monday!!!  Oh, and remember to enter the Great Thanksgiving Charity Giveaway!

It Feels Like the Holidays! My Tips for Holiday Gift Ideas…

I woke up yesterday in the mood for hot chocolate and a fuzzy robe even though it was 80 degrees outside.  And I started Christmas shopping.  Yep, I’m in the holiday mood.

Christmas Card Tree 2012

Sometimes the best traditions don’t have to cost anything but a bit of time…your gifts don’t have to break the bank either.

Holiday Organization

What this means is that I started my annual Christmas list – a list of everyone I know and what ideas I have for presents.  I also write down what I end up getting each person and highlight the people I need to work on next.  It’s a process.

I started this a few years ago when I realized that we are close with more than 40 people.  A handful of them don’t enjoy the gift exchange thing, so they are even on my list with a note by them to remind me that they are covered by not being covered.  ;-)  Everyone else is a close friend or family member that I want to spoil a little.

A big part of my process is trying to find a good, yet inexpensive, present for those who I shop for.  With 25-30 people to cover, I try to keep all gifts at $15 or less.  $10 or less is the big win, but I do inch it higher when I find the perfect fit.  Our main goal is to stay under the $500 mark for gifts for others each year.

Tips for Inexpensive but Awesome Gifts

I know that you will read a bunch about cutting back on holiday waste spending.  I also know that Secret Santa’s and White Elephant Gift Exchanges kick butt and do keep costs low.  I am not arguing that Christmas can’t be done without much money involved at all.  Honestly, more power to you if you and your family and friends celebrate without the spending!

I, personally, still want to buy specific gifts for specific people.  It is technically unnecessary, but I enjoy it.  I enjoy the hunt.  I enjoy finding that little thing that makes each person smile.  Even when I’m stumped, I like the fact that I am spending brain energy on the important people in my life.

We, my group, spoil each other with time and food and whatnot year round, but Christmas is special to me.  It gives me a real kick in the butt to think.  It feels happier in general.  And slower.  I love the holidays.

If you are like me, here are some tips on spending less but still grabbing awesome gifts for others…

Food and Crafts

If you are an amazing baker, have a special recipe, or are handy with your hands, MAKE YOUR GIFTS FOR OTHERS!  We non-craftsy people LOVE them!  I know my roommate is making me a crazy quilt.  I think it will KICK BUTT.  One of my other friends is baking cookies for everyone – YUMMY!  Last year, I got a mason jar of cookie mix and it made amazing cookies.  COOL BEANS!

Homemade means love.  Love is good.  Never undervalue the awesomeness of homemade.  Heck, I am spoiling a bunch of people on my list with food-by-me.  I won’t tell you what since some of my friends and family read my blog, but I am making some yummy stuff!  I bet they’ll all love it, because who doesn’t like yumminess?!

Cookie-Basket-1

Inside Jokes / Funny Mannerisms

Inside jokes are the best fodder for ideas!  Funny can be priceless.

My husband is one of those people that seems pretty blah around groups on a regular basis until he gets a wild hair and chatters away.  I am a like-everyone-until-they-get-on-my-sh*t-list type of person.  He’s a people-suck-unless-they-don’t kind of person.  Last year, he got the coolest shirts ever from several of our friends.  They all said “Meh” and nothing else.  Different fonts, a couple of different themes, but “Meh” was the underlying factor.  He LOVES those shirts and still wears them.

This year, I’m getting a t-shirt for one of my self-proclaimed klutzy friends (who doesn’t read my blog, lol).  It says “I’m the Reason Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”.  They had every size imaginable.  It’s just too funny for that klutz you love or random child in your life.  It was $10 on Think Geek.

Hobbies

Hobbies are the next best idea trees.  My favorite t-shirt ever says “Careful or You’ll End Up On My Blog”.  It was a birthday gift from Isabelle.  I’ve worn it a ton for 4+ years now!  It has been joined with “It’s a Blog” shirt that has a Blob motif and a t-shirt with a dachshund typing away on a laptop.

Blog

My husband is a varsity sports official and enjoys the little $5-$10 goofy gifts his family, friends, and I find for him.  He truly enjoys his referee rubber ducky.  He also like the different ref-themed gag gifts around the house like the one that yells ref stuff at you when you leave the bathroom (we only turn it on for game days), the stuffed ref that was made to be torn apart and put back together, and the ref-themed groom’s cake that his mom made for him for our wedding.

The best thing hobby-wise could be to simply provide more supplies for whatever may be used up doing what they love.  An artist may need more paints, pencils, poster board, etc.  A person who sews may need fabrics, better supplies, yarn, thread, a pin cushion that goes on their wrist, etc.  A golfer always needs balls.  A tennis player may appreciate some wrist wraps.  There are all sorts of gifts for hobbies!

Things They Won’t Buy Themselves

I have some friends that won’t splurge on themselves, even for little stuff.  I use Christmas to fill in a few of those blanks.

I have gotten a fantastic used sewing machine for Mandy for FREE from a great neighbor that answered my classified on Nextdoor.com.  I am scouring Craigslist for cheap aquarium setups for my Little Brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program since his mom was happy with the idea of me getting him a fish.  I might go the Sea Monkey route instead though.  Or a large bowl and a Beta.  We’ll see…

Sea Monkeys

Overall, gift ideas seem hard because we put a ton of pressure on ourselves usually.  Don’t.  Make it fun.  Don’t overthink it.  Aim for a smile or a giggle as opposed to the great shocker every time.  Sure, you may go crazy on a specific person some day, but it doesn’t have to be for every birthday or Christmas.  Don’t kill your budget for no true reason – your loved ones should already know that you love them.  This is just little, physical reminders.  ;-)

Have you started holiday shopping yet?  What are your tips and tricks?

Happy Halloween!!!

I LOVE HALLOWEEN!!!  What exciting plans do you have today?!  Make sure they kick butt! It’s a rule!

Love Halloween on a Friday

I’m going to finish up work as soon as I can. Then I’ll help turn the guy that fixed my roof into a zombie.  Long story short, he was fixing our roof and ceiling and met Mandy, my roommate that also does costume makeup.  He’s hiring her to turn him into a creepy zombie.  :-)

Then we’re going to eat grilled chicken and mashed potatoes that I’m making for girls’ nights, hand out candy to all of the goblins and goblinettes, and then we’re hitting an 80’s dance club with a costume party.  Woot!  A $5 entry fee and $1.50 well drinks – Cat Woman will ride again!!!

Oh, and I give extra candy to the kids that know the Weeping Angel reference from my garage door.  If your kid knows Doctor Who, they deserve more sugar.  And I give out awesome candy – Snickers, Skittles, Starbursts, and gummy body parts.  :-D

Garage Door Halloween Decorations

This is my absolute favorite. Please try to really understand the detail work involved with this. I watched Will make the cuts into the poster board with a box cutter, and I still have no idea how it turned into something so amazing!

Anyway, Halloween is happening at the Stemberger house! Be merrily spooky, everybody!!!

How to Make a Yard Spider – Our Newest Halloween Addition

Despite our house issues, I did start decorating for Halloween last week.  Yesterday and today became the big push though.  I even went to Lowe’s to create a new addition to our Halloween decoration family…

The Giant Yard Spider

Meet Elspira – she makes me smile.  Just finished her yesterday afternoon.  :-)

Giant Yard Spider

This is Elspira (pronounced like Elvira).  ;-) She’s exactly as awesome as she looks. I got the idea from several places online like http://www.momendeavors.com/2013/09/diy-halloween-yard-decor-giant-spider-in-spiderweb.html and made adjustments.

Here is how you can make a giant yard spider of your own.

Things to Gather

  • Foam pipe covers (enough to make sixteen 2 foot parts) – $10
  • Eight 1/2 inch elbow socket pipe parts – $1.75
  • Black electrical tape – $3
  • Two Black plastic bags – $1
  • Filler (we used newspaper and a spare brick for the body) – $N/A
  • Foam plate (or something to make the eyes and extras) – $N/A
  • Two wire coat hangers (or something to make spikes) – $N/A
  • Total Cost = $15.75

Steps to Making a Yard Spider

  1. Cut the foam into sixteen, 2 foot sections.
  2. Join two sections of the foam together using an elbow socket pipe part and black electrical tape.
  3. Repeat 7 times.
  4. Fill one plastic bag to nearly full of newspaper or the filler of your choice along with something heavy (like the brick we used).
  5. Fill the other plastic bag just enough to make a proportionally correct head.
  6. Cut the wire coat hangers into eight 4-6 inch straight sections to use as stakes.
  7. Take all body parts to where you want to set up your spider.
  8. Use the black electrical tape to attach the legs to the torso.Legs Taped to Torso
  9. Use more black electrical tape to attach the head to the legs and torso.Head to Torso
  10. When in doubt in any step, use black electrical tape.
  11. Use the wire pieces to stake each leg into the ground.
  12. Cut out foam eyes and other facial features.
  13. Attach the eyes using black electrical tape (we rolled a piece up for each thing to make it double-sided sticky).

Voila!  You now have an awesome yard spider too!

What about you?  What awesome do-it-yourself Halloween decorations do you enjoy?