Category Archives: Budget

The Three Present Rule

There’s a guideline I have used that I think could make the lives of parents who celebrate Christmas a lot easier. That guideline involves setting some limits around Christmas presents.

I’ve always believed that Christmas is more than presents. There are so many wonderful things to celebrate about Christmas — Advent, music, cards, food, stories, good works, donations, movies, lights, decorations, the tree, church. Presents are nice but only a small part of the celebration.

But if you’re not careful, commercialism can take over your Christmas. And you definitely don’t want to pass down a legacy of commericalism to your impressionable children. So consider the three-present rule this Christmas.

  1. It is tempting to buy your children a lot of presents because you love them, or maybe you feel guilty for not spending more time with them. However, consider that no one with more “stuff” is happier for it. Remember the number one thing children want from their parents is their time: their love and attention. Don’t buy your chlld $200 worth of “stuff” at Christmas. Take walks with them. Bake cookies together. Teach them how to do things. Build snowmen. Color pictures. Volunteer. Pray. Snuggle and read together.
  2. The key to contentment is moderation. Exercise some restraint over your personal holiday spending and limit Santa’s contributions to three presents, maximum, per child. My son received three presents from Santa Claus. I did not make a big point about it. That’s just what he got. It was manageable for shopping and manageable for Christmas morning. Usually there was one “big” wish present and two more, less expensive ones. So, if your child receives a bike, guitar or dollhouse from Santa, the other gifts might be a board game, book or teddy bear. The stocking might contain a few small trinkets in addition to the candy.
  3. Teach your children to ask for one to three presents from Santa Claus, early in life, especially when they go to see Santa Claus. Some children make lists of many presents. If you want your child to grow up to grateful, gracious, balanced and generous, you must teach them also what greed looks like and to not be greedy.
  4. In addition to the Santa presents, my son also got a present from his Mom. The single present practice is a wise one for any family with school-age children. One present from a parent/parents and three presents from Santa. Mom gets one present from the child. One present from Grandma would also be a good rule to curb holiday excess. If you choose to exchange gifts with adult relatives, you might put a limt on it, like nothing over $25 or just one present.
  5. Home-made presents are very special. Show your child how to make home-made presents and give some yourself.
  6. Don’t choose necessities, like clothing or socks, for Santa presents or parent presents for children under 12. Choose games, toys, sports equipment, music, craft supplies and books, instead.
  7. Purchase gifts you can pay for in cash. Avoid going into debt for Christmas presents. If you are on a budget, your children will the acquire the value of living within your means from your example. Used toy trains and bikes play the same.
  8. Turn off the commercials. Children’s television programming markets to children. Naturally, they will want what they see on television. There is one really good way to get around this dilemma. Teach your children how to read, play games and do imaginative play. Get rid of your television. I am serious! My son did not have a television in my house growing up. We were SO happy without it. We were healthier without it. Otherwise, limit your child’s exposure to television. My elementary school students routinely report watching R-rated programming on television at home. If they could not see it legally in a movie theater, they should not be watching it at home. Your family will not be deprived without cable television. It is a terrible babysitter and an even worse teacher. You can watch Rudolph online or with a DVD player. Invest in YouTube premium for PBS programming (Sesame Street, etc).
  9. Make your house a video-game free zone. My son did not grow up with video games and he turned out just fine. Not only are videogames and the players expensive, but they make terrible babysitters. I teach children who do not do their homework or study because they play video games every day. There is some research that says video games teach problem-solving. That may be true but so does everything else in life. Fortnite, for example, is a violently bloody, technological plague for children. It is recommended for teens because of the violence yet it is actively marketed to young children, who play it. I did not have an elementary school student who did not play Fortnite. There is nothing remotely Christmasy about combat video games. You say they want them? Children should not get everything they want, especially if if it is not good for them. Would you give your children candy for breakfast, if they wanted that? Your children will not be deprived in your video-game-free home. They will find ways to play video games at the homes of their friends. If your teen wants them, your teen can work at a job and buy their own video games. But do yourself a favor and keep them off your holiday list.

Do you practice the three-present rule in your family? How do you teach your children to be content and grateful with what they receive and what they have?



5 Cool Yule Tips for Saving Money on Beauty this Holiday

Dress from Dress Barn; necklace from Claire’s.

The recession changed the way I spend money.  I thought I would share some money-saving beauty tips with you.

  1. Do your own nails. You know, the look is for shorter nails, which is great because they are low-maintenance and easy to shape and lacquer yourself.  Thanks to the recession, I have saved a small fortune since I gave up salon manicures and pedicures.  Polish your nails with a trendy shade from Sephora for less than $5 a bottle (look for the small bottles), like a sophisticated silvery grey, or try a sexy Christmas red glistened with gold lustre; like my favorite Revlon shade, “Frankly Scarlet” (just under $5 bottle).
  2. Shop smart for holiday dresses. If you absolutely must have something new this season for your holiday parties, and you usually shop at Ann Taylor or Macy’s for dresses, consider budget-friendly shopping alternatives.  I purchased one of the prettiest cocktail dresses I own, a teal satin number, from Wal-Mart! I also found a great sleeveless top. The dress was — brand new, not on sale — $18, I kid you not.  The top was $15. So, if you’re on a recession budget, keep an open mind about discount stores. Dress Barn has some of the prettiest dresses I have seen anywhere this season. That’s just my personal taste, perhaps, but they really are nice, and they also have plus size versions. The dresses at Dress Barn top off, when they’re not on sale, at about $79, which is about half what you’d pay at a higher-end department store. But there are also plenty of great dresses at Dress Barn for $39 and $49. There is no reason to buy more when you might only wear the dress a few times or maybe even once.
  3. Shop smart for jewelry, accessories and evening bags. Costume jewelry can get pretty pricey.  Because I don’t have pierced ears, I have long been a fan of Claire’s for their clip earrings.  It’s really not just for kids!  I have received many compliments on the jewelry I have purchased there.  I once saw the identical scarf sold elsewhere for more than $20 in department stores for less than $15 at Claire’s.  And everyone was wearing that style scarf this fall. Target should be your destination for unique and gorgeous evening handbags for fantastic prices.  The look this year is not too matchy-matchy; go for a contrasting bright color, or skip matching your bag and shoes.
  4. Festive shoes for less. The most comfortable pair of black satin evening heels I wear that everybody goes crazy for was bought at Payless on sale for less than $20.  I also have a pair of silver flats I bought there that really kick up jeans that I snagged for less than $15.
  5. Scent and sparkle. Bath and Body Works often has a terrific deals on lightly scented, sparkly moisturizers; $5 a tube.  My favorite is Warm Vanilla Sugar.  I think a little lustre on your shouders, cheeks, and decolletage is really delightful during the holidays. I also like the their scented body sprays (3 for $10), which I find less cloying than expensive perfumes.

5 Cool Yule Tips for Saving Money when Shopping

How to Save Money on Shopping

1. Shop early, before Thanksgiving if you can manage it. There are lots of reasons for this.  First of all, the selection is best and you can find plenty of sales.  For example, this year I found great Hallmark Christmas cards at $5 a box, which is the lowest I have ever seen.  Also there are fewer crowds, which means the shopping experience will be less fatiguing and you will make smarter decisions.  Nothing beat the feeling this year when I found a whole cache of beautiful Christmas candle sets and knocked out 14 people in one fell swoop!  Not having the pressure of deadlines will also help curb impulse purchases.  It also gives you time to put some thoughtfulness into your gifting.  I have worked plenty of Christmas Eves and always felt sorry for the poor people who would buy anything, at any price, just to get off the hook for Christmas.

2. After Thanksgiving, just don’t go to the mall (or Target, etc.). If you get your shopping done in advance, you can spend all that time you would have spent looking for parking spaces and standing in line at the cash register doing really fun stuff — like ice skating, baking, or going to tree lightings or Christmas concerts.  And you may be very glad you planned ahead this year.  One very good reason is to stay well.  Ever notice how the poor salespeople get sick in December?  I hate being sick around Christmas, so I avoid elevators and any crowded places when I can manage it.  But I also like to shop, just to look around.  So, my advice is when you get a shopping bug, go on a Tuesday night, or other low-volume night, and buy yourself one small present, such as a piece of costume jewelry from Claire’s or a nice scented candle.  Or check out the wonderful museum shops in our area.

3. Lose (or unplug) your television. Do you know, I have not had a television for nine years?  Not only do I save loads on cable bills, but I am not exposed to all those commercials.  If I watched TV, I am sure I would buy a lot more stuff, probably stuff I didn’t need in the first place.  A TV-free life is awesome.  We spend so much time doing fun things that we would have ordinarily wasted in front of the TV.  I get my news from the Internet, and I also download shows for free, and rent movies from iTunes, so when I need a TV fix, I can always do that.  But on balance, I spend a lot less time in front of the computer watching those shows than if I had a TV.  If you’re brave, just try unplugging your TV for the holidays.  The empty space is PERFECT for a Christmas tree 🙂

4. Buy the same thing for everyone on  your list. The reason why this saves money is because you can often find bargains this way and you don’t spend a lot of time trying to find presents and then spending more than you intended in frustration.  For example, I have to buy more presents for more than a dozen people who work with my son at his school.  It can get very expensive buying fourteen or more presents.  When you buy gift bags in bulk, or you find a nice deal on candles on ornaments, snap them up.  I also have three women in my life: my mom, my sister, and her girlfriend.  It is pretty easy to get them all the same thing (such as shower gel, but in different scents).

5. Buy small presents that you supplement with home-baked cookies. Most years, I am on a budget.  If the present is really small, I try to throw in a small cellophane bag of homemade cookies and candy.  Make up a cellophane bag (or a dozen) with some Tollhouse cookies, sugar cookies, little chocolate candies, and a candy cane.   If you like to bake, this is a nice solution to consider.  Very sweet gift for neighbors, the mailman, etc.  It really is the thought that counts.