Thursday, November 18, 2010

Doing More with Less: Survival of the Holidays

Week 3: As we approach another holiday season jobless I am having to rethink my strategy again, to make sure that I keep spending under control while still keeping the season in perspective.

Its not about stuff
While the commercial machine revs up for what is usually the biggest spending season of the year, its hard not to get excited about all the deals that are out there. Televisions and computers for $300 can get a person pretty excited, especially when you are a techno-nut like me. Having a computer dinosaur from 2005 is still a blessing...and I keep telling myself that when I have to reboot it each and every time I accidentally let it fall asleep. But its even harder when you have kids that you want to shower with gifts. Now don't get me wrong, my kids for the most part would never dream of asking for piles of the latest and greatest.  Especially right now, when they know we are having such a hard time. I know they would love to have the latest phone or laptop and my son would just about fall over for one of those huge Lego star wars ships, but they also know it probably ain't gonna happen unless momma finds a *really* good black friday deal!

Finding the right deals
Black Friday kicks off the "last minute" shopping for me. I collect gifts all year long. From clearance items to special markdowns, I am always thinking birthday and Christmas, so I already have gifts lined up for special people in my life. However, Black Friday is my real focus as I can usually find some insane deals on the one special thing that each of my loved ones really wants. I like to use special sites like Black Friday ads. Here, you make a user account and you can create lists of what you want and then print them out and take them with you as you shop. You can comparison shop what is going to be in the paper on Thanksgiving Day, now! Its a wonderful tool that I have used for years. I make sure I know what those special things are that each child really wants and then I look for the deals. Sometimes I can get exactly what they want at an amazing price and other times, I completely surprise them with something they never dreamed of asking for because it was too expensive.

I also make gifts. There are tons of great blogs and websites out there with sewing ideas, patterns, craft ideas and recipes. Last year I found some marked-down fuzzy fabric and made pillows for my girls' rooms. I sewed mittens with matching scarves and made herbal pillows to heat and help warm their beds. I was able to get all the materials with discount coupons and through sales and materials that I had on hand. These little extras are what make the holidays special.

I use extra ECB bucks and WAGS bucks to get stocking candy and a few odds and ends. Once I have rolled all the extra ones over for deals, I usually have some that I know will expire over the Christmas/New years holiday week that I won't use. So they go for extra goodies that I wouldn't normally buy.

The key in all of this is to not get what is outside of your budget. 

  • Set your spending limits it up front, make a list and stick to it. 
  • Don't use credit cards-unless you pay it off IN FULL each month

If you can't get it with cash or pay for it when the bill comes, don't get it. Paying for Christmas in June doesn't make it a deal because you have certainly paid more in interest than if you had bought the item at full price! If  a person's(aka child's) Christmas is going to be ruined by the fact that they didn't get something you cannot afford then the bigger issue might be the fact that their Christmas was ruined by lack of "stuff." What an awful expectation to have to continually fulfill year after year. Especially in this economy!

Making the meals
Even the Holiday meals can end up being extremely expensive if you aren't careful. Coupons for holiday cooking are in abundance this time of year. In fact, this past Sunday had four coupon circulars in it. Hundreds of dollars in savings there for the clipping.

For Convenience Sake: While I am all about getting a ready-made pie crust if I can for free, I will make one from scratch if I can't. I already have those ingredients in the house and purchasing one, while convenient, when added to all the other "convenient" items is not very frugal. I'd much rather save a dollar here and there and then use those dollars to add something under the tree for my kids. By planning carefully, I can have most of my holiday cooking done ahead of time. Broths are canned year around, flour is already available, oil may have been purchased the last super doubles I shopped at Harris Teeter. Pumpkin was baked after I located some free uncarved pumpkins after Halloween. Butter is easily frozen and when its on sale, I buy extra and stack it in the freezer. Did you know you can butter too? Did you know you can make pie crusts and freeze the dough for later use? You can also save some more dollars just by thinking ahead:

  1. Save the heels from loaves of bread and your scraps of cornbread and use them to make your stuffing. Store them in a resealable freezer bag and keep adding in the months prior to Thanksgiving and save the expense of buying bread crumbs that are loaded with additives and preservatives.
  2. When you see onions on sale, you can chop and freeze them. Not only are they great for all the broths, stuffings and other recipes, but you can use them year around for other things. Don't forget to cut off the bottom 1/4" with the root to plant in the garden. You will see spring onions coming up next year.
  3. Take home extra pumpkins after Halloween, half and remove the seeds. Place in large baking pans in the oven and roast. Freeze the thickened, cooked pulp for pies.
  4. Never throw away the celery that is starting to go limp. Rehydrate in a vase full of cold water and then chop and dry or chop and freeze for use in recipes. You can also freeze the hearts and leaves for stock.
  5. When thawing your Turkey, save the neck and make your gravy stock for that. Boil it with some celery and onion for several hours and then cool over night Lift off the fat and strain you have the perfect liquid to flavor your stuffing and make gravy. No buying broth or chemical-laden gravy packets.
  6. Buy cranberries and freeze them. They last a LONG time and when they are on sale, you can buy a bunch. Make your cranberry sauce from scratch. Its delicious and so much better for you!
  7. Powdered milk is a great substitute for milk, evaporated milk and cream when cooking and its not nearly as expensive. I find even the generic store brands, like Food Lion's brand, work fine. It won't substitute for whipping cream if you are whipping it for pie topping, but it is great to add flavor to gravies and for making a cream sauce for vegetables or casseroles.

All in all, if you plan the menu and bake things ahead of time you can do it for a fraction of the cost of buying prepared foods and it will be so yummy and so rewarding. And if you have a family with dietary needs like I do, the benefits are even greater! Start your cooking the week before. You can assemble casseroles and freeze them, make gravy base and refrigerate it. Saute onions, chop celery and freeze them. So many time-saving things you can do and all of it lowers the budget and makes putting a fantastic meal on the table possible without breaking your bank or your back!

Remember what its all about
My kids know we are going through a tough period in our lives. Lots of families are and they know that too. They know we can't do a lot of things we used to do. We don't know when it will get better and we don't even know how God will provide for us some months, but we do know God will and He loves us and we are in the palm of His hand, even in this. They know we will have a hot meal on the table and their daddy and mommy are here and in love with each other and with them, and that they are blessed to have their Granny living with them as well. They know the fire will keep them warm and we are destined for marathon Holiday movie nights with popcorn and hot cocoa. We will eat lots of cookies and breads and see our friends.

We will decorate a tree and we will exchange gifts. Gifts we make, and gifts we bake, gifts from generous family members that can't be with us and gifts from loving friends that we are so grateful for. Gifts that I find when I use points from Swag Bucks, or from surveys I take or gifts using coupons or rebates or deals I find on Black Friday. We know that God will provide all we need and even some things we want in one way or another and so we have no worries. I hope that you and your family have a  blessed holiday season and that something I shared here helps you. God bless you all!
Retro Momma, Vintage Wife

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