Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

Last Friday I posed a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers: Do gift cards help us or hurt us? After a bit of thinking this week, along with some great responses from Autumnesf (from Autumn Asks Why), Christina (from Nifty Thrifty Homemaker), Kimm Boes (from Reinvented), and Michelle, I put together a list of things to consider when you receive your next gift card in the mail.


1. Try to spend the exact amount the gift card is worth

If you receive a gift card in the mail for $10, try to buy something that costs $10, or as close as you can get. The problem is, sometimes the stores make it tricky. Christina pointed out:

I received an e-mail from JC Penny in December for $15 off $15 or more. But almost everything I liked was priced at $14.99, meaning I needed to spend at least some money.

So if you can’t spend the exact amount, what can you do? See the next point.

2. Buy something for your children

It goes without saying that kids’ merchandise is considerably cheaper than that for adults. If you can’t find something for yourself within the price range of the gift card, then try to buy something for your children. Christina (from above) bought snow pants for her daughter. Autumnesf tried this tactic as well:

Luckily right now I have a 4 year old. This means when the JCP $10 comes I get her something and have yet to spend over $2 out of pocket. And she looks smashing in the dress or shoes I find. So, for me it is currently a plus. But when she gets older I have no idea what I would use those $10 for!

Michelle also spent her gift card money on her kids:

I have always had good luck with them [gift cards] because I have 2 young kids, so most of the time I get a cute outfit or pjs and only spend a couple of dollars.

So it definitely seems like the way to go is to use those tempting gift cards for inexpensive children’s items!

3. Use the gift card to get higher quality items

Have you ever bought a cheap pair of shoes because you were trying to be frugal, only to have those shoes fall apart a few months later? It’s in cases like these where gift cards could come in handy. You’re given extra money that can push you up to the level of being able to afford the more expensive shoes that last much longer. Autumnesf had a similar experience:

Once I was in need of bed pillows when I got the card. They had a sale of buy one get one for a penny. So with the card I ended up getting a higher quality set of pillows for the same price I would have paid anyways…so that one worked in my favor as I was already going to spend the money anyways.

4. Hold on to the gift card until you can spend it on something you actually need

My husband and I still have a Best Buy gift card (pictured above) that is now going on 2 years old. We just haven’t had anything we really need come along that we can’t get somewhere else for cheaper. So we’re waiting. Something is bound to come along at some point. Kimm Boes shared:

Lately, I’ve been saving gift cards until I NEED something (although that can be dangerous in today’s economy). This is part of my new focus on “look how little I spent”, instead of “look how much I saved.”

Just watch out for expiration dates! Sometimes gift cards last as little as one week.

5. Beware of compromising your price standards

It’s tempting to use your gift card on just about anything because it’s free money, right? But it wouldn’t really be wise to buy something that costs well above what you would ever agree to pay just because you can. Don’t compromise your frugal standards—you should still try to get great deals! And think of how much greater that deal will be using a gift card on top of it.

Reader Reflection

Kimm Boes said it best when she stated:

Gift cards are tricky little buggers. I’ve been guilty on many occasions of receiving a gift card and then immediately going to said store, determined to find something, ANYTHING to buy to use the card. Usually this results in a purchase that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. And that item almost always costs more than the value of the gift card, while I rationalize, “look how much I saved.”

I think we’re all guilty of this! So get out there and try to beat the stores at their own game…spend your free gift cards wisely and truly save.


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Perhaps you’re one of those people who take down your Christmas decorations immediately after the New Year. Or maybe you’re like me and enjoy keeping the decorations up for a little bit longer to extend the season. No matter where you stand, I would like to offer some tips today to help you get your holiday decorations organized NOW so that in 11 months when you pull them out again, you’ll be able to decorate stress-free. christmas-star A bit before Christmas, I wrote a post about surviving decorating for Christmas. Much of that advice can also be applied to undecorating, like working at it little by little, enlisting help, and staying safe. With today’s tips, however, I would like to focus on organizing the actual decorations themselves. So without further adieu, let’s get organized!

1. Be creative with storage

It’s pretty common to store Christmas decorations in boxes and then plunk them in the attic or basement for the rest of the year. But try to think of ways you can improve that system. Use more high quality plastic bins that will be protected from the elements like water or temperature fluctuations. Clear bins are ideal because you can then see what’s inside. Find a good place to store the bins where they are out of the way, yet still accessible when you need them next Christmas.

2. Maximize space usage within containers

The more bins you have, the more space you lose. That being said, try to use the space inside the bins as efficiently as possible. christmas-decorations-labelsPack each individual decoration inside its bin in such a way that space is never wasted.

3. Label

Don’t create a scavenger hunt for yourself in 11 months. Put descriptive labels on everything, describing what’s inside each large storage bin and also what’s inside each individual decoration box. Here’s a great excuse to buy that label maker you’ve always wanted.

4. Make notes about your decorations

Don’t assume you will remember which strand of lights you put on the tree and which strand you put in the kid’s bedroom. Write it down. Also don’t assume you’ll remember your amazing Christmas village set-up exactly how you had it. Consider taking a picture of it. The more decorations you have, the harder it will be to remember your ‘perfect’ set-up from the previous year. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each year, especially if you really discovered a great system. That being said, there’s always room for change each year…the point is to make life a little easier if you really don’t have any time to be creative a week before Christmas.

5. Incorporate new decorations into your system

Perhaps you received ornaments as gifts this year, or maybe you cashed in on some great post-holiday deals on decorations. Be sure to take your new decorations and incorporate them into your organizational systems so they are ready to go for next year. Give them a box if they don’t have one, get a label on them, and store them with the rest of the decorations.

6. Fix or declutter old decorations now

In with the new, out with the old, right? In addition to organizing newly acquired Christmas decorations, it’s a good idea to organize old ones too. Do you have decorations you want to get rid of? Toss them now. Did you upgrade any decorations? Get rid of the old versions. Did any decorations break or malfunction this year? Fix them or toss them, as needed. The point is, don’t save that sort of thing for December when you really just don’t have the time.

Reader Reflection

When do you typically undecorate after Christmas?

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It’s likely that at some point during this past holiday season you either gave or received a gift card. Gift cards are increasingly popular gift options because of their convenience, flexibility, versatility, and small size. This year I received one gift card (for Kohl’s Department Store) as a Christmas gift. I also got a $10 gift card in the mail from J.C. Penney in early December. I haven’t spent the Kohl’s gift card yet, but I did spend the J.C. Penney card. Let me tell you a story about how that went.


How three annual shopping trips add up

I my home town we have a very small-sized J.C. Penney. I almost never go there. It’s crowded, there’s not a huge selection, and frankly I don’t think the prices are all that great. But every year I’ve lived here I’ve received a $10 gift card in the mail from J.C. Penney in December. How can I pass up free money, right? So each December I make my annual trip to this store I really don’t like in order to spend this ‘free’ money with only a vague plan as to how I’m going to spend it.

Each year I’ve purchased one clothes item. The first year it was a lace skirt, the second year a pair of high dress boots, and this year a pair of black dress pants. The prices of each item before the gift card were $25 for the skirt, $40 for the boots, and $20 for the pants. How do I remember all this so well? I have a good memory. But that’s not my point. My point is in the math: $25 + $40 + $20 = $85, while $10 + $10 + $10 = $30. Now subtract $30 from $85 and you get $55. Wait a minute, I thought J.C. Penney was giving me FREE money? How did I end up spending $55?

Reader Reflection

Today I’d like pose a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers. Do gift cards help us or hurt us in the long run? When we are trying to be frugal spenders, getting free money in the mail can be a great thing. But what happens when we spend over that free money amount? Would we have bought that item anyways with or without the gift card? In my case, I think the answer is no—I bought all three of those clothes items because of the gift card, not because I needed them or had a previous plan to buy them. But in hindsight I’ve gotten a lot of use out of those clothes…so was it a poor spending choice or not?

What do you think?

Coming up next week

After collecting some insight from readers this week, next Friday I will present some of my thoughts and yours and attempt to come up with sound solutions about how we can use our ‘free’ gift cards in a truly frugal way.

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Well now that the holiday season is official over, Lifestyles of the Organized will return to regular posting once again. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What have I been up to? Well, my husband and I traveled 1,000 miles by car to celebrate 5 different Christmases with family and friends this year! It was hectic, but worth it. I’ve also been writing articles for eHow, I started selling homemade photo art greeting cards, my dormant Sophrolaeliocattleya orchid finally bloomed after 2 years, and I got a new cell phone. Did you get all that? Here’s one more: last night I bought 63 candy canes to satisfy my candy cane addiction. And that is what I would like to talk about today.


Cashing in on post-holiday deal bonanzas

My husband and I hit up Walgreens last night with the very purpose in mind to score awesome post-holiday deals on Christmas merchandise. Everything was marked at least 75% off and I expect that number to go up even more in the coming days. In fact, a lucky shopper posted to a Slickdeals forum thread yesterday that they landed 97% off wrapping paper (5 cents a roll!) at their local Walgreens.

Here’s what we bought:

  • 4 packages of candy canes (63 total candy canes) – $.25 for each package ($1.00 total)
  • 2 sets of 100-count white Christmas lights – $.99 each ($1.98 total)
  • 1 tree topper lighted star – $1.49

We didn’t end up buying a HUGE amount of stuff (clutter control!), but we definitely cashed in on some excellent deals. The best deal was the tree topper—we’ve been keeping our eyes open for a good topper for 3 Christmases now and we finally have one, at a super price. And although we didn’t need a fake Christmas tree, we were impressed that 6-foot fully lighted trees were selling for $5.00!

So get out there and shop the Christmas merchandise aisles before stores get rid of it all and move on to the next holiday, Valentine’s Day. Keep an eye out for wrapping paper, tags, ribbons, bows, candy, candles, tree skirts, stockings, fake Christmas trees, wreaths, stationary, greeting cards, ornaments, and much more! You’ll have to wait 11 months to use what you buy, but you can’t beat the prices!!

Reader Reflection

Have you scored any amazing post-Christmas deals you’d like to share?

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With Christmas only a few days away now, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite reads from around the blogosphere to help you glide into the holidays with ease.


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Merry Christmas to all of my faithful readers! I appreciate every one of you and wish you a pleasant (and organized) holiday!

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Today’s post marks the conclusion of the fun series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas.  For the final installment I’d like to explore creative gift ideas that tap into services we can offer to others.  Last week we talked about using our words effectively to tell someone how much we care about them. This week we’ll look at how we accomplish the same goal, but through serving instead of saying. Not only does serving others really get at the heart of Christmas, but offering our services is an excellent last-minute homemade gift option (remember, Christmas is only a week away!).

Brainstorming ideas about how you can offer your services

Everyone has a service they can offer someone.  What’s yours?  Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Offer to shovel your neighbor’s snow
  • Offer to cook meals for someone who is sick
  • Offer to cook meals for someone who just had a baby
  • Offer to take an elderly person grocery shopping
  • Offer to clean someone’s housewalk-dog
  • Offer to do someone’s laundry
  • Offer to do someone’s dishes
  • Offer to take a friend out to a restaurant
  • Offer to babysit someone’s children
  • Offer to take care of someone’s home while they are traveling
  • Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog
  • Offer to give a loved one a massage or other special service

Brainstorming ideas about how to present your services in gift form

  • Write a letter describing your proposed service(s)
  • Explain your service in a creative Christmas card
  • Create special redeemable coupons for each offered service

An example of a homemade gift using services

There are really endless ways you can serve another person. I encourage you to run through in your mind all the people in your life and see if you can think of a way you could meet one of their needs by offering them your services this Christmas. And as I said above, since Christmas is only a week away, consider making a homemade service gift instead of tearing your hair out trying to buy a last-minute gift at the crowded mall.

Two years ago my Grandmother was remarking to me that she could no longer clean very effectively in her house due to her ailments. She specifically mentioned that she would love to clean her nice dishes set, but she could not reach the shelves safely, nor did she have the energy to thoroughly clean all those dishes anyway. This gave me an idea. I decided I wanted to help and Christmas was coming, so I described my proposed service in a special Christmas card that year. She was happy to oblige and the next time my husband and I visited, we spent the afternoon cleaning all her dishes. She was very thankful and a burden had been lifted.  That homemade gift was a success!

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using your services? Feel free to share any ideas here.

A Look Back

Today’s installment of I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas marks the end of this series.  I hope you were able to benefit from it and think of creative ideas for homemade gifts this Christmas.   Feel free to take a look back at each week’s homemade gift idea topic: photos, arts & crafts, plants, food, words, and services (today).

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Even though Christmas is a short week and a half away, I must confess that I am not completely finished with my shopping yet. This happens every year and I always get so frustrated with myself for leaving a couple of gifts until the last minute! Why I can’t kick the habit I do not know (you’d think writing a blog about organizing would motivate me!).

In any case, as I anxiously try to figure out these last couple of gifts to buy, I have come up with a list of common mistakes made when attempting last-minute shopping. I’ve made some of these mistakes and perhaps you have too. What are they? Read on.


Mistake #1: Attempting last-minute shopping

Okay, so I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but this is truly something to avoid at all costs. Some people claim they find amazing eleventh hour deals and perhaps they do, but I’m sure these deals come at a price: extreme stress.

My brother had all his Christmas presents purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving and now he’s resting easy while many others are frantically searching for that perfect gift in crowded malls where products are picked over, people are cranky, and so are you. I’m not to the point yet where I am frantic, but it would be nice to not have to worry right now when I also have to bake, wrap, pack, and plan.

Mistake #2: Buying a gift just for the sake of buying a gift

This is a tough one. Have you ever bought a gift for someone just because you had to? Of course, we’ve all done this at some point. I have really grown to dislike this concept. I’ve met people recently who have a novel approach to gift buying: they only buy a gift for a person if they actually have something in mind. Furthermore, they may do it anytime of the year, not necessarily at Christmas.

I know, I know, what do you do if you will feel terrible not giving that person anything for Christmas? Well, consider this: perhaps if you have so much trouble year after year buying gifts for a particular person, you should consider just talking with them and mutually agreeing to stop exchanging presents. Gifts should be meaningful, not forced. And who wants to receive a gift they don’t even want anyway?

Mistake #3: Relying on the gift card

This approach is often a preferred solution to mistake #2. What is easier than buying a gift card? Then the recipient can take it to their favorite store and buy whatever they want. Now, I admit I’ve bought and received gift cards with success. But there are times when gift cards go too far.

For several years my cousins and I would have a name-picking gift exchange, brought on by our parents. At first it was a lot of fun—we were young and good friends and we had ideas of what to get each other. But then we started growing up, drifting apart, and the ideas stopped. Enter gift cards, the easy solution to having no idea what to get a person. But the problem was, several of my cousins went this route, to the point where we were just exchanging gift cards. Now that’s just silly if you ask me. We no longer exchange presents anymore, by the way.

Mistake #4: Spending more because you’re desperate

I made this mistake just a few days ago, which gave me the idea in the first place for this post. I was trying to find one last gift for a particular person and when I found it, I was met with a dilemma. It was a CD, but it was priced at $18. I NEVER pay $18 for a CD! But for some reason I felt justified doing so this time around because, gosh, it’s Christmas and I needed a gift!

The problem is, if you do this for everything, you will undermine all the frugal shopping choices you made throughout the year. The last thing you want to do is try to shop responsibly all year long, but then somehow forget your spending policies around Christmas time. If you normally only spend $10 on a new blouse, then don’t buy a $50 blouse for your Aunt Martha just because you need something to buy her, you didn’t plan ahead, or you are just giving up.

Reader Reflection

I don’t want this post to sound negative or pessimistic. On the contrary, I’d like it be though-provoking and cause you to consider how you shop in these last days before Christmas. Even if you can’t make significant changes this year, you can decide for next year and hopefully end up in a better situation. Have any of you encountered the four different shopping mistakes I mentioned above? Do you have any advice to give or stories to share?

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