Thursday, 26 September 2013 21:40

Christmas Budget Tips & Planner

We would all love to buy gifts for our family and friends without considering (and sticking to) a budget, but alas, budgeting is a must.

After all, you don’t want to be paying for your Christmas indulgences well into the following year, but you don’t have to be a scrooge either.   Here some easy tips to help you get something special for everyone on your “been good” list this year without going broke!

Published in Organized Living

School Supplies

It's starting to feel like the school year is just around the corner and it's only July!  Are you beginning to get ready?


With a troubled economy and the cost of many family necessities on the rise, most of us are looking for practical and easy ways to cut our spending this fall with our back-to-school shopping list.

Did you know that the back-to-school season is the 2nd largest consumer event behind the holidays? According to the National Retail Federation, an average family will spend about $450.76 on back-to-school items. Families with children going to college will spend much more!  Saving money is not easy, especially when our kids seem to be wired to want the latest and most fashionable things out there! Check out the following tips, they can help you avoid emptying your wallet this back-to-school season while still getting everyone what they need.

Tips for Saving on Back-to-School Shopping:

1. Take Inventory

Look at what your children have from the previous school year and determine what can be reused for this year. Not only will you save money if you reuse, but it’s also eco-friendly. Rulers, pencil cases, backpacks, lunch boxes, sharpeners, and calculators don’t typically need to be replaced each new school year. Once you have located all the school supplies in your home, place them in a central bin so you can take a good look at what you already own before you head out to shop for new supplies.

2.  Do a closet sweep

Has your child really outgrown last year’s clothes? On average, a family spends about 30% of their back to school budget on clothes, so not buying even a few items can really save you a significant amount of money. After you have assessed what clothing your child can still wear this school year you can buy what they still need.   If your children are older, discuss with them what items you will be purchasing for the new school year and your budget, so they don't expect a brand new wardrobe.

3.  Set your budget

Know how much you have to spend and only spend that much.  This is hard for me to do, I love the feel of a new school year and part of me feels like my children should have new supplies and clothes, but even grownups can learn that it's perfectly fine to reuse and to not always have the latest must-have items.  It’s helpful to bring the cash that you will need on your shopping trip and limit your purchases to just what is in your purse.  I allow our kids one small extra purchase that’s not on the supply list.

Some parents set a limit to the number of character-based supplies they will purchase since they tend to be more expensive than the store brands.  With older kids you may want to determine ahead of time how you will handle their requests for non-essential items. Here are some suggestions:

  • They can pay for anything not only list.

  • They can pay the difference between what you will spend on an item and what they want to spend.

  • Let them spend more on a certain item, as long as they are aware that they must then spend less on another.

  • Back-to-school season is a good opportunity to teach children between needs and wants.

4.  Steer towards Store Brands

Unless your child’s back-to-school supply list asks for a particular brand, buy the store brand when possible. Many store brands work just as well and are typically about 30% cheaper than name brands.

Supplies 25. Buy Quality

While tempting, it’s not always best to buy the cheaper option. Buy quality items where they matter. I don’t care if my kids have name brands markers or crayons, but I will invest in a good backpack that will last more than one school year. Hint: For backpacks it’s a good idea to look for ones with a lifetime warranty and that are non-character based. They will last longer and your child won’t outgrow the characters.  I also like to get the notebooks with the plastic covers because they are very durable and I look for cloth pencil pouches that can be washed.

6. Leave the Kids at Home

I tend to spend more when the kids are with me.   I can't focus on making sure that I am getting the best deals on the items in my shopping cart and somehow “extra” stuff not on the list ends up in our cart. It’s great to involve your kids with back-to-school shopping, just be strategic as to how do this.  It makes sense to bring the children with you when shopping for new clothes but you can leave them behind when shopping for school supplies, especially if they are younger.   If you bring them with you make your children aware that you have a budget and will limit your purchases to it.

7. DIY

I have to admit that I am not drawn towards the plain school supplies, so I don’t expect my kids to ask for them. However, my girls do love stickers. Buy the plain school supplies and let your kids decorate them with stickers, markers, pictures, etc.

8. Shop online

Shopping online is great for back-to-school items because you can instantly compare prices at stores without spending time or gas getting to the stores.  Try sites like for finding great deals on back-to-school supplies.  Shopping online is especially helpful for bigger ticket items, like calculators.

9.  Think Ahead and Buy in Bulk

Buy products that your children will need during the school year now, when they are on sale, and in bulk. You may even buy some basic supplies in bulk and share the cost with a friend. Consider having a box or shelf where you keep extra school supplies handy for your kids, so when they need crayons in a few months or need a new notebook you are all set. If you can think ahead to the holidays (they will be here before you know it), go back to the store after the school year has started and take advantage of the steep discounts on school supplies – they make great stocking stuffers!  You can also donate some of the school supplies that you buy in bulk to local kids in need.   My children's school does a big back-to-school campaign for a local less fortunate school, so we always buy extra basic supplies to donate.  Local after-school programs, shelters or churches may know of places to donate your extra school supplies.

10.  Shop Early

The more time that you give yourself to shop for school supplies this season, the more time that you will have to keep an eye out for good deals.  If you buy school supplies over the course of a few weeks and stick to your budget, the cost won't seem as bad if you buy everything at once.  Many stores start their back-to-school sales in early July!

Happy back-to-school shopping!

Published in Kids' Stuff
Wednesday, 15 December 2010 22:39

Top Christmas Budget Tips

Top Christmas Budget Tips

We would all love to buy gifts for our family and friends without considering (and sticking to) a budget, but alas, budgeting is a must, otherwise the joys of the Christmas season can be hard to enjoy.

After all, you don’t want to be paying for your Christmas indulgences well into the following year, but you don’t have to be a scrooge either.   Here some easy tips to help you get something special for everyone on your “been good” list this year without going broke!

1Establish an Overall Budget

It is very important that you have an overall budget in place prior to beginning your Christmas shopping. This way, you are less likely to end up overspending and regretting any shopping debt.  When considering your budget, keep these things in mind:

  • How much did I spend last year?   How did I feel about that amount?
  • Consider what you already have that can be reused.  Do you really need new decorations or can you simply update a few key items?
  • Make a complete list of everything you need to buy this season.
  • Factor in the “extras” – the ribbon, gift tags, stocking stuffers, tape, greeting cards, and party supplies all add up!
  • Make sure to leave a small safety net for unexpected expenses.
  • Consider saving for your shopping with anticipation.
  • Try saving throughout the year so you don’t feel the financial burden of the season in a few short weeks or get tempted to use credit cards.  Many people like to shop throughout the year too, buying gifts when they find a great deal.
  • The smart folks over at suggest that you spend only 1.5% of you annual income on your Christmas budget.  That means that if your family income is $40,000 year you can allocate $600 for your budget; with a  $50,000 income, $750; with a $75,000 income, $1,125.
  • Remember that the hard part is not in making your budget, but sticking to it!

2Make a Gift List, and Check It Twice

Decide whom you want or need to buy gifts for and how much you will spend on each person on your list, keeping your overall bottom line in mind.  Without a gift list, we end up spending money on people we really don’t need to buy for or want to buy for – it’s ok to not buy everyone a gift.

  • When deciding how much to spend on each person, use personal judgment, but stick to your pre-determined amount once out shopping.
  • It’s ok to discuss gift expectations with family members and close friends.  If you can’t or don’t want to spend as much as you have in past years on gifts, let those close to you know that you would like to scale back.
  • This way you won’t find yourself giving a small gift to someone and feeling awkward that they gifted you something expensive.
  • Instead of buying each child in your extended family a gift, consider buying the family one gift they can all enjoy, like a yearly membership to their local zoo or children’s museum.  If the children are close in age, they may enjoy one larger gift to share, like a movie theater gift card.
  • Keep non-family and friend gifts to a minimum. For your co-workers and some groups of friends, consider organizing a gift exchange with a price limit.  Then you only have to get one gift instead of a few.  If your co-workers are simply acquaintances, then make or pick up your favorite edible holiday treat to share with the group.

3Shop On Your Time

While some of us may enjoy the thrill of getting all our Christmas shopping done in one big mall trip, it’s wiser to spread your shopping over a period time.

  • Consider that retail stores tend to hold sales on product categories.  So, electronics may be cheaper one week versus home goods the following week.   By spreading your shopping over time you can keep an eye put for great sales!
  • Giving yourself more time to shop will allow you to take advantage of any layaway plans at many popular stores.  You can skip using your credit card and make smaller cash or debit card payments for an item until it’s paid off and you can take it home.
  • But don’t procrastinate!  You will more stressed out, anxious and overspend it you do.
  • It’s better to shop alone than with a group of people.  There is no pressure to outdo each other on gifts purchased, you are on your own schedule and won’t be pressured to buy unnecessary gifts.
  • It’s ok to shop AFTER Christmas.  Are you going to see relatives or friends after Christmas?  Then why not wait to hit the great after Christmas sales for their gifts?  The Christmas season doesn’t necessarily end on the 25th; after all, in the Latino community it’s a common tradition to celebrate the season until The Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th!

4Leave The Plastic At Home

Make it your motto to not go into debt this Christmas season.  It’s safe to say that the majority of us have been watching how much we spend more closely the past few years, but the Christmas season is an easy temptation to blow off budgets and say “just charge it.”

  • Remember to use your credit card as least as possible or not all.  You may regret that credit card bill come January!
  • Use cash if you can to pay for gifts – it helps keep you on budget and reminds you how much you have actually spent.  Spending $50 on a gift versus $100 when you use a credit feels almost the same, but if you pay with cash or your debit card you will notice the price difference immediately
  • Try taking out ONLY the cash that you need for a shopping trip from the ATM.  When it’s gone, you know that you’re done.

5Empower Yourself - Resist Impulse Buying

For many of us, this is one of the hardest things to do!  Have a plan on what you want to buy before you hit the mall or your favorite store and stick to it.  Remember a few rules:

  • As cute as the cheap stocking stuffers at the check out counter may be, those purchases add up!
  • Stores are designed so that you leave your hard earned money at the store, not in your wallet.   Remind yourself that stores want you to buy that one extra and unplanned item that will add to your budget and their profit!
  • Remember your budget for each person or item on our list and stick to it, no matter how much better a more expensive gift or item may seem.

6Give Warmly, Not Opulently

Think about how many Christmas gifts you’ve received that you didn’t use or even like.  We can all benefit from the “less is more” motto when it comes to gift giving.   Try these tips when planning your gift list:

  • Gift Exchanges are great!   If you can, make a no gifts for adults rule and just buy presents for the little believers.   If you want to include adults, then try drawing names from a hat and then every adult can receive just one nice gift. 
    Do you have a talent or skill that you can share?   Maybe you can offer your family member or friend an hour’s worth of your time/trade/talent.
  • Encourage the teenagers in your life to give of their talents and time too – maybe they can mow their grandparents or neighbor’s lawn? Can they babysit for a new mom in the family that lives nearby or offer to run some errands for an older family member?
  • DIY gifts are great.   How about making a DVD with your favorite Christmas music? All you need are the appropriate blank CDs, labels and downloaded music.    Last year, my daughters and I made small gift packages of handmade soaps and stationary.  The total cost for the materials for all 10 gifts, including wrapping supplies, was less than $80.  These types of gifts are great for children’s teachers, car pool friends and even colleagues.

7Keep Décor Simple

While many of us would love for our homes to look like the picture perfect decorated ones in magazines this Christmas season, remember that you can keep your decorations simple and tasteful without spending a fortune. Try a few of our tips:

  • A simple pinecone arrangement spray painted with very inexpensive gold paint from the craft store and arranged on a mantle is perfect or use it as stylish centerpiece.
  • A metallic sash tied around your chairs with simple accent accessories on your dining room table makes for a chic and lovely look.
  • Don’t forget the kids - they tend to love doing arts and crafts and that’s a great and simple way to add seasonal flare to your home.
  • After the Christmas season, store your decorative items for next year in recycled plastic containers over cardboard boxes. They will help your decorations safe and you won’t have to buy more decorations next year.

8Finally, Avoid Easy Money Drainers

  • Just say “no thank you” when the cashier asks you “Would you like to save an extra x% today by signing up for our store credit card?”  Store credit cards usually have higher rates than other credit cards and they all tend to have strict late fees.
  • Remember to be Internet savvy, compare prices and look for coupons on sites like Bizrate and CouponCabin.   A simple Google search for those “promo codes” at checkout time can save you a few dollars.
  • Most online orders will tag on extra shipping charges after a certain date, so place your order accordingly.
  • Before you place your Christmas card order, think about how many you are ordering.  Do you really that many?  Take some time to organize and update your address list this season so you know how many cards to buy, most of us buy too many and they end up getting tossed in the garage.   Choose standard-sized envelopes for your cards, the unique sizes will require extra postage.
  • Business related clients and eco-conscious friends might appreciate an e-card rather than a card in the mail.
  • Always check if a store offers complimentary gift-wrapping, you’ll be surprised how much you can save!
Published in La Oficina
Tuesday, 04 May 2010 16:50

Summer Plans

Family on VacationWhat are your travel plans for the upcoming summer?

Are you planning a staycation?  Are you going to keep your traveling local? Perhaps an exotic or tropical location in is your near future?

About 5 years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Hawaii for a friend's wedding - that was the last time we went away for a vacation. However, we have had no shortage of staycations and short getaways. We live in Southern California, so there are lots of opportunities for local adventures.  We’ve stayed at Disneyland for a night, gone up to Santa Barbara for a weekend, stayed with friends at their home in the mountains, or gone just down the street to the resort style hotel for a night.  Lately, I seem to be drawn to the idea of renting an RV and driving out to the Grand Canyon - maybe next year!

Since my parents live in Chicago, our trips to see them are the only real time we go away for more than a night or two.  And I just booked my tickets to Chicago!  I will fly with my 3 young kids from Los Angeles to Chicago to see my family for 2 ½ weeks this summer.  It’s gotten more expensive and difficult to travel with a growing family, but we’ve decided that once a year during the summer vacation months we will take a longer trip to Chicago so that the kids can spend time with their abuelitos.

Even though the troubled economy is still on our minds, 82% of Americans are planning some sort of summer getaway.  That number seems high to me, but many people are planning to stay local and keep vacations simple, spending less than $1000 on their vacation.  Whatever your plans may be, have a safe and happy time!  Stay tuned for lots of great tips on traveling with children and packing…

Published in Family & Culture