I am not the most religious girl you will ever meet (some days I am better than others), but I can honestly say I feel blessed right now. In my daily life I frequently meet people who are unable to live on 1 income. Not only are Jon and I able to live on 1 income, but we do it in a way that we don't feel deprived. We don't feel like our lives lack anything. Well, okay we lack an expensive vacation each year, but that is not really the point.
We don't do things spectacular to keep our lives this way. Yes I meal plan, yes I coupon clip and shop the sales. Yes we make a budget and do our best to stick with it. But I think the biggest thing we do is know our needs from our wants. Needs are things like warm clothes, heat, clean water, a safe house to live in, food in our bellies, our loved ones in our lives, education for all of us. Wants are things like that extra large vacation each year, closets full of clothes, going out to dinner on a regular basis, buying a larger house in a better town.
Around Christmas it is VERY easy to get swept up in the wants instead of the needs. Wants are part of the fun of the season, at least to me. Opening gifts that are not practical but are fun. Watching my kids get excited when they see that Santa came and fulfilled at least part of their wish list. But it still needs to be on our budget. I make sure to budget enough for gifts each year that we are able to share with all of those that we care about in some way. And I admit I woudl LOVE to fill the house with gifts for the kids. I can get carried away. But it isn't realistic for several reasons. One is that often they ask for things that are fleeting (a doll that Madeline sawy her friend get and now she wants one just like it, the squid, yes I said squid, Owen was playing with at the store and wanted to take home with him) and will be forgotten quickly. Would they love to open the gifts and play with them? Of course. But it is smart to spend money that could be spent elsewhere for a momentary smile? Especially when I can get that same smile from so many other things? Like baking together. Or reading a book. Or building a tower of blocks. Or even telling them they can watch an extra half hour of tv!
When we choose the gifts (well mostly I, Jon does put his two cents in but I spend more time thinking about gifts) we try to pick things that the kids will love AND use for a long time. This year we decided that a tag reader would be great for Madeline. She has not asked for one (she wants a washing machine for her dolls clothes) but I am hopeful that she will love it. She asked Santa for a specific My little Pony doll and she does play with them so I am working to find it. Owen is getting more trains because he does love his trains and he plays with them as well as his cars. I am also working to make both children photo albums of themselves with loved ones. Ben will get a few toys, mostly because Santa needs to come for all three kids, but also because it is nice to have a few things that are not hand me downs. Although he doesn't know the difference! And all three children will receive books. In the past we have chosen wisely (the wagon is used still after two years and the kitchen set from last year is great for pretend play!) without breaking the bank. I don't want to spend January cringing at my credit card bills. And so far I have not.
To help save money I buy things for stockings at the dollar store. We watch for sales (starting in September this year) and buy gifts as we see them. For family we do calendars of family photos. Snapfish had some great sales back in October so I got to work on gifts early this year (who can say no to buy 1 get 2 free even if it means staying up until midnight?). I set limits on how much I will spend per person and stick to them. In addition we try to make some homemade items as well. Tins of cookies and candies are always appreciated. And handmade ornaments by the kids are a cherished gift for grandparents and great grandparents. I even make sure to score deals on my cards (I recieved 50 free cards from Shutterfly this year, and they should be here anyday now). In the end it isn't the price of the gift, but the thought behind it that is the most important thing.
I do not cook Christmas dinner. We do have a tradition that we get Subway on Christmas Eve (I don't know how it started but it is something we have been doing since we got married) and I always bring a dish to Christmas day and Christmas Eve dinners. Both my mother and my mother in law still like to host the holidays so it is one less thing for me to budget for (both time and money).
Most importantly we realize how much we do have. And because of that we make a point to do something for those less fortunate then us. This year we bought two toys for the Toys for Tots Drive (it isn't a lot but it is something), and someone in my life is going through a tough time so we contributed to a gift for the family. I am also planning on taking Madeline and Owen to pick out mittens and gloves for the mitten tree that our city library is sponsoring. I try to remind them when I can (like today when we put loose change in the Salvation Army bucket at Walmart) that we are VERY lucky and we need to share with others who do not have as much as we have. I want them to understand, at their level, that trying to help others is ALWAYS important, even when it is as simple as sharing loose change.
In the end it is important not to get caught up in the sales (like the 50% off of Melissa and Doug toys at Amazon.com today) and the craziness of wanting to have it all. The season is about many things, but going into debt should not be one of them! Realizing how much we have is what is important. And spending time creating memories (like making our gumdrop Christmas tree today) is the most important part of the season.