The Thrifty Homeschooler Goes Christmas Shopping
by Maureen Wittmann
Homeschooling Today Magazine - Volume 11 - Issue 6
For families living on one income, Christmas time can be stressful. In today's society merchandisers begging us to buy their latest and greatest product for Christmas continually bombard us. As Christians we shy away from the over-commercialism of Christmas, while at the same time desiring to fill our homes with Christmas joy. Just as the Magi brought gifts to the Christ Child, we wish to follow their example in bringing gifts to our loved ones. I have found that it is possible to have a spirit-filled holiday, complete with gift giving, on a budget.
I begin by reminding myself of the "reason for the season." By focusing on the birth of my Lord, I do not fall into the trap of Christmas materialism as easily. In fact, I try my best to keep a religious theme in my gift purchases and decorations.
In staying on budget, I am careful not to be cheap. My definition of cheap is worthless or without value, while I would define thrifty as making the best economical use of available resources. There is a big difference between the two. Look for the most inexpensive avenue in making purchases, but do not abandon quality in order to save money.
I usually begin my Christmas shopping in June when my local Christian bookstore has their annual clearance sale. The prices are unbelievably low. I stock up at that time with religious gifts, books, and stocking stuffers. Each year I also make sure to purchase a cross, to be given to one of my ten nieces or nephews. Then when they go off to college they are asked to keep it on their desk to remind them of their Christian values. They have come to expect this gift and look for it when their turn comes up.
Throughout the year keep your eyes open for such sales and have a special hiding place to keep items bought in advance. If you see the perfect gift and it is at a rock bottom price, pick it up even if it is June. I guarantee that you will not find it again if you wait until just before Christmas.
Of course, you won't be able to find every gift in the months proceeding Christmas, and surely you cannot anticipate every need. Another way to be thrifty is to make your own gifts. The key is to make sure that your gift does not look too homemade or cheap.
Gifts from the Hearth
Gifts from my kitchen are my favorite to give. Plates of homemade cookies and candies are usually big hits. I arrange the treats on heavy disposable plates, choosing a bright color or Christmas design. Then I set the plate on colored Saran Wrap, gather it in the center, and secure with curling ribbon.
I also like specialty baskets. People spend enormous amounts of money to buy pre-made baskets. I have found that even on a tight budget they can still look like their expensive counterparts. I keep an eye out for wicker baskets at garage sales throughout the summer. If Christmas is only a few weeks away, check the thrift stores. Our local Goodwill store always has a good supply of them for twenty-five cents to a dollar. If you want to add a little extra pizzazz, spray paint your basket. Line with tissue paper, fabric scraps, or a pretty tea towel. Once filled, finish off with cellophane (saved from your dry cleaning), ribbon, and a gift tag. Instead of wicker baskets, I have also used buckets and planters bought at the dollar store, and for new parents I use a laundry basket. As a mother to seven children, I have learned that with each new baby a new laundry basket is always needed.
Use a theme in filling your basket; this is what will give it a professional appearance. For example, a tea lover's basket would be filled with a china teacup, some tea samples, a tea strainer, shortbread, and perhaps a little book on hosting a tea party. Single teacups and coffee mugs are inexpensive purchases since they can be found at the thrift store, or on the clearance table of finer stores when a set is missing a cup or two.
Don't feel as though you need to include only food items; homemade soaps, sachets, potpourri, and candles are all nice touches. Items such as gardening tools, seeds, and gloves for a green-thumbed recipient would be perfect. Searching the Internet and plugging in "homemade gift baskets" can find many more ideas.
I can my summer harvest and by Christmas have several empty canning jars, so I use them to make layered cookie mix, instant cappuccino, flavored nuts, and soup mixes. See the sidebar for a recipe and search the Internet for other "gifts in a jar." I rarely pay full price for canning jars. In addition to garage-sale finds, older friends and family members who no longer make canned goods, give their old jars to me. If you don't have access to mason jars, large mayonnaise jars work just fine for layered gifts.
I usually include my home-canned items in my baskets. In fact, my family has come to expect it and show their disappointment if I don't comply. If you have a special talent such as needlepoint, sewing, or quilting, start early and create some unique and special items for your closest family members and friends. They will appreciate it for years to come.
Gifts from the Heart
Sometimes the best gifts are the gifts of time. Even when our bank accounts are depleted, we still have time to give. Consider giving coupon booklets, made on the computer or by hand. An elderly neighbor would greatly appreciate coupons for lawn mowing or snow shoveling. Any mother with young children would love coupons redeemable for baby-sitting or a kitchen-free evening. A child would be tickled pink with a book filled with coupons for hugs, kisses, and read-aloud time and an overworked husband would be grateful for coupons for back rubs or breakfast in bed. Use your imagination.
A friend of mine received a very special gift of prayer a few years ago by her brother who had no money that year for fancy gifts. Instead he sent each family member a package containing several envelopes. There was an envelope dated for each day leading up to Christmas, and inside each envelope was the name of a different family member along with a Bible verse. They were to open the envelopes on the day printed on the outside, and pray for the family member listed and read the scripture. This way everyone in the family was praying for the same individual on a given day and they were all reading the Lord's book. What an incredible gift. My friend brings out her envelops every Christmas, so that she is reminded to pray for her individual family members.
Wrapping It All Up
Creating excitement about your gift by making the packaging attractive is part of the fun and can be done inexpensively. Consider using plain brown paper cut from paper bags and decorated with stampers or paint (try dipping cookie cutters into brightly-colored paint to make prints). Tied with yarn or raffia, this makes a pretty package. Tying on an ornament is nice, as it is both part of the wrapping and the gift. For huge presents, use white trash bags, decorate with stickers, and tie the nametag on with lots of curling ribbon.
Tags can be made from last year's cards by cutting around designs on the front cover of the card and hole punching in the corner. In a pinch, I have printed tags on my home computer's word processor. Bows can be made by starching scrap cloth and shaping. If you prefer store-bought wrapping supplies, take advantage of the after-Christmas sales. I have purchased beautiful Christmas items for 75% off in the week following Christmas. If you do this, make sure that you either pack the wrapping paper with your decorations or mark next year's calendar in December with "do not buy paper." You don't want to forget about your purchase, then run out and spend too much money on paper at the last minute when Christmas comes again.
I hope that these ideas will get you started thinking about how you can become thriftier. The most important thing is to use your imagination and be willing to spend a little extra time to save money. Keep in mind too that we are homeschoolers. Including your children in making homemade gifts or in searching for deals at the store will benefit them in ways that cannot be measured in dollars.