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 Practicalmoneyskills.com 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!
Thursday, 21 October 2010 02:36

School Messages Made Easier

School Message Template by VidaCoco.comAre you looking for a better way to communicate with your child’s teacher/school?

Check out our new School Message template! Simply print out the template in the available Word or PDF format on a 8.5 x 11 piece of paper.  Two templates will print per page.  You may have to adjust your margins in order for the template to properly print.   Sending messages to school will be much easier with these notes, we promise.   Keep them handy in your kitchen for added ease with a few envelopes (for field trip/lunch money, added privacy, etc).   They will save you time on many busy mornings!

PDF format file:

[School Message Template - PDF]

Thursday, 06 May 2010 01:11

Stocking Your Pantry for Quick Meals

PantryI have created a list of food items that I keep on hand in my pantry, refrigerator, freezer, etc.  I did this for a friend of mine about a year ago when she asked me what I eat to stay healthy.  She also asked me how I always seem to have to have the ability to have a dinner ready in a pinch – even if I didn’t just step out of the grocery store.

While these may not be staples in your house, this list can give you a good idea of what you can try to keep on hand so you can make flavorful, homemade recipes ALL the time.  The key here is to stay relatively stocked up, make things you can freeze (like the turkey chili, spaghetti sauce, and even the turkey burger patties – recipes in “Pantry Meals” article), and have plenty of variety to keep things interesting, available and yummy!

Pantry Items

Staples:

Brown Rice
Whole Wheat Pasta - your choice
Low Sodium Chicken Broth
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned Tomato Sauce
Canned Tomato Paste
Seasoned Breadcrumbs
Reduced or Low Fat Refried Beans
Kosher Salt
Canellini Beans
Red Kidney Beans
Enchilada Sauce
Fresh Ground Pepper

Oils for cooking:

Olive Oil
Canola Oil
Sesame Oil

Condiments for cooking:

Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Hoisen Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Rice Vinegar
Balsamic Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Cooking Spray (Pam)
Chili Powder
Cumin
Garlic Powder
Garlic Salt
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Red Pepper Flakes

Baking Items:

Whole Wheat Flour
All Purpose Flour
White Sugar
Brown Sugar
Splenda
Baking Powder
Baking Soda
Table Salt
Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Snacks:

Dried Mango
Tortilla Chips – Baked are better, but I get the real tortilla chips
Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Almonds
Reduced Fat Microwave Popcorn

Refrigerator Items

Condiments:

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray
Butter or Spread
Almond Butter
Sugar Free or Low Sugar Strawberry Jam
Jarred Jalapeños
Jarred Roasted Red Peppers
Wheat Germ
Low Fat or Fat Free Dressing
Salsa

Dairy:

Reduced Fat Milk
Sugar Free Coffee Creamer
Medium Cheddar Cheese
Parmesan Cheese
Eggs
Low Fat Yogurt

Carbs:

Corn Tortillas
Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas
Whole Wheat Bread
Sourdough – optional
Whole Wheat Buns

Vegetables:

Green Bell Peppers
Red Bell Peppers
Romaine Lettuce
Broccoli
Jarred Jalapeños
Carrots
Cucumber
Tomatoes
Green Onion
Yellow Onion
Garlic
Cilantro
Potatoes

Fruits:

Bananas
Apples
Lemons
Anything Seasonal

Freezer Items

Fruits:

Bag of FROZEN Mixed Veggies
Bag of FROZEN Berries
Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (if you get these at Costco – one breast for 2 people – pound it!)
Halibut – when on sale
Ground Turkey (portioned out in ½ pound increments)
Sirloin – trimmed of excess fat and portioned out

Friday, 12 March 2010 01:01

Using a Menu Planner

Weekly Menu Planner by Vidacoco.com Menu planners: A terrific tool to help you save time and money.

They help you remember which items to buy at the grocery store and which coupons to bring with you.  For many families, groceries are one of the largest monthly expenses.   Creating a weekly menu can help you save on your monthly budget because you are less likely to rely on last minute and more expensive options like eating out or delivery.   You are also less likely to buy on impulse once at the store.

The kind of weekly menu planner that you decide to keep can be as simple as a writing your planned meals on your grocery list, using an online menu planner that will save your grocery lists from week to week, or you can try one of our free templates [Word format - PDF format].   Remember to check back often for new templates!

Friday, 29 January 2010 01:05

Should I Keep It or Toss It?

Shredding paperThe start of the year is a great time to get rid of the paper clutter around the house.

Perhaps you want to be able to see the office floor again or simply not have piles of paper that come back week after week. When I do get around to purging paper around the home, I find myself sometimes wondering which records to keep or toss.

There are some documents that you want to permanently keep in a safe place - birth/death certificates, marriage license, deed to your house, and Wills. Documents like investment statements, bank statements and even tax returns do not need to be kept permanently. Credit card statements can be tossed once you have verified the changes. The guidelines below from Good Housekeeping can help you determine which records to keep and how long to keep them.

Once you have determined which documents to toss, remember to shred! A personal story…..my parents were the victims of identity theft. Resolving the incident involved countless hours dedicated to writing letters, filing reports with credit bureaus and making many many phone calls.

Unfortunately, identity theft is on the rise, affecting almost 10 million victims in 2008 (a 22% increase from 2007). It’s a situation that you do not want to find yourself in and that you can help avoid. To reduce your risk of becoming an identity theft victim make sure that you always shred all documents containing your social security, financial information, birthdates or passwords.

Yes, even those letters that come in the mail informing you you’ve been preapproved for such and such offer (especially if it’s for a credit card) should go in the shredder. Local office supply stores carry good quality paper shredders or you can bring your confidential waste paper to free shred events across the country. Click here to find a local event near you!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 23:29

Bedtime Made Easier

Do you feel like you're losing the bedtime battle?

Going to Bed Checklist - PinkYou can find a great deal of research by sleep experts on how establishing a good night time routine with young children is important to their overall well being.

KGoing to Bed Checklist - Boysids know what the next step is and what the result will be – sleep! Establishing a routine requires consistency and allows for your child to have some choices. For example, the adult must establish the bedtime and how much sleep the child needs. The child may choose their pajamas or bedtime stuffed animal, if they sleep with one.

The National Sleep Foundation has some very helpful guidelines on how much sleep your child should be getting and other helpful sleep resources here.

Try using one of our Going to Bed Checklists to help your child practice establishing a night time routine.

Going to Bed Checklist - for Girls and BoysPrint the document once a week for each child and place in a location where your child can see it as they get ready for bed, like near their bed or bedroom door. Feel free to personalize it, like by adding a picture of your child brushing their teeth in the bottom right hand corner.” As extra motivation, you may consider giving your child a sticker next to each day that they complete all the tasks.

Word format files:

[BLUE Checklist-DOC] [PINK Checklist-DOC]  [Boy/Girl Checklist-DOC]

PDF format files:

[BLUE Checklist-PDF] [PINK Checklist-PDF]  [Boy/Girl Checklist-PDF]

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 21:59

Never Miss Another Important Day

Birthday Calendar Countdown Template 1We all have a hard time remembering special days – who can keep track of all the birthdays, anniversaries, etc?

Our handy calendar can help with this often daunting task. Type in all those dates that you want to remember and place in a location where you will see it. Using the Word format version, you can type directly into the template and then print it; or print the PDF version and write in the dates by hand.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010 21:39

Finances

Family Budget Planner There are simple spreadsheets available online that can help you establish a household budget.

This one by Vertex42 is nice because you can delete or add rows to fit your needs.