6 Low Cost Ways We Have Family Holiday Fun

Holidays can be a stressful time.  They’re certainly busy and full of many activities.  So,it’s good to have some ideas for family holiday fun. After all, family is really the most important part of the holidays.

For our family, there are a few different things we’ve established that we really enjoy or plan on adopting as traditions:

Decorating

Now that the kids are old enough, we make them part of the decorating process.  We put up multiple trees, and they help with the decorations as much as they can, and they also look forward to certain elements that they know are coming, like mini trees in their room or the little Snoopy piano that they can press to make music from the TV special play.

Advent Calendar

Each year, my mother-in-law gets each of our kids an Advent calendar.  They look forward to getting their piece of candy each day, and it’s fun to see them progress with finding numbers on their own corresponding to the day of the month.

Stories

We have a collection of books that we look forward to reading.  As the kids get older, we add new mb-201011villagebooks here and there, but there are already some favorites that we look forward to reading, and our reading of course culminates with me reading ‘The Night Before Christmas’ to close out the season on Christmas Eve.

Elf on the Shelf

I know people have mixed feelings on these, but we have definitely enjoyed our Elf, whose name is Figgy, and the kids love waking up and going together to look for him each day.

Movies and shows

We have a variety of Christmas and holiday TV shows and movies that the kids look forward to watching, such as Rudolph, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and Frosty, while the adults always look forward to some of the classics like Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and of course Elf.

Making cookies

For years, my wife has organized a Saturday as ‘Cookie Day’.  This brings together some of the ladies, moms, aunts, sisters, friends, to get together and bake cookies.  This year, they’re going to shift that get together to a non-cookie making event.  Even so, we’re going to bring the kids into it and do cookies with our family.  They love making them and we all love eating them!

These are great because they are pretty low or no cost activities.  Plus, they’re great ways for us to do things together as a family.  We hope that these things will leave long lasting memories for all of us.  After all, great memories are one of the best things that can come out of the holidays.

Readers, what are some of your holiday traditions or activities that don’t cost a lot but bring your family together for lots of fun?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

This Woman Needs Some Christmas Spirit, Pronto!

It’s tradition for our family to go visit Santa at the mall once per year.  We all dress up in our nicer clothes that my wife picks out for all of us, and head over so that we can get pictures and such.  Last year, we switched malls, going from the most crowded mall in the area that charges you a minimum of $35 to get any pictures taken, instead choosing to go to a nearby outdoor mall where the pictures are free, lines a lot less, and we’ve had better experiences with Santa.

Early Arrival

The Santa experience we found is sort of a diamond in the rough, so to speak, but it still does get busy.  Santa comes for only a few hours per day, and on the day we had decided to go (Sunday), it was a relatively nice day and we knew that it would likely get busy.

The mall itself opened at noon, and Santa was set to arrive at 1pm.  Our plan was that my wife would take the kids to a shop where we have a membership where the kids can build with Lego and other blocks, and I would hold a spot in line.

We arrived around 12:10pm and I was the first person in the area.  There’s a small gazebo type building where Santa does his thing, and the line forms outside.  There’s a grassy area in the middle and walkways and benches along either side.

As I was the first person there, I thought it would be fine to sit down on the bench and relax.  Within 15 minutes, three other guys showed up and we all laughed that we were the dads holding down the fort.  The other three guys also decided that sitting down was fine and we were all cool.

My wife called to make sure everything was good and I told her that there were just a couple of us there and that we were first in line with about 30 minutes to go!

Here She Comes, To Wreck The Day!  (Or Try To)

A few minutes later, a woman (hereby known as Rudiepants) arrived with her two children.  She was on the phone yelling about something.

Rudiepants looked at all of us, and proceeded to walk up in front of the gazebo and stand there.

The four of us guys looked at each other, and we decided that it was probably time to get the line going so we all stood up and walked over, starting to form a line along one of the walkways.

Around this time, a couple of other people arrived that obviously knew Rudiepants, another woman (I’m guessing her sister) with her child, and an older lady, I’m thinking the kids grandmother.

The older woman noticed that the four of us guys were forming a line and pointed out that she thought that we were there first.

Rudiepants snapped: “What?  I’ve been doing this for years and this is where the line starts.  They were sitting on benches, and if they were sitting on benches, they weren’t in line.”

She didn’t look at any of us, and neither of the women she was with said anything back, though you could tell they were embarrassed.

The four of us guys looked at one another, all with that same look on our faces like “Is this woman for real?”

She was.  She stood there and staked her place in line.

Why I Didn’t Say Anything To Her

None of us guys said anything to her or challenged her on it.  Of course the thought crossed my mind, but I immediately figured a few things:

  1. It wasn’t worth it to me. Santa was coming at 1:00.  This would put us just a few minutes later.  I wasn’t in mb-2015-12-santaa big hurry, although Rudiepants certainly was.
  2. I was in a good mood and wanted to keep it that way.We were there doing something that we look forward to doing as a family.  I knew that any confrontation, no matter how it turned out, would put a sour spin on the day, and although she was clearly already in that sour spot, I had no interest in getting there, so I just let it go.
  3. Her kids were there. While my kids weren’t there, her two kids and (I’m guessing) her niece where there.  I had no interest in calling her out in front of her children.  I just find that in poor taste. Her kids will eventually figure things out for themselves, assuming this isn’t abnormal behavior.
  4. Her mind was made up. You could just tell by Rudiepants attitude that there was no way her mind was going to be changed.  No matter if I might have raised a big fuss, or calmly spoken to her, you just knew that in that moment she wasn’t going to see things any different way.  I figured I’d save my breath.
  5. I instantly had a funny stor. Let’s face it, encountering someone like Rudiepants provides you with a story that you can tell over and over again for years and laugh over and over again.  For me, waiting an extra five minutes in line as a result of her rudeness was worth all that and then some.  I mean, every year we go visit Santa, you better believe the “Hey, remember that rude woman….” story will get retold.  In fact….

It Didn’t Take Long

As planned, my wife and kids came over a few minutes before Santa arrived.  Remember earlier in the story I mentioned how I talked to my wife on the phone and had told her that we were first in line?   Well, so did she and she had told my kids as much, so they walked up and took their ‘rightful’ place right in front of the door.  I had to call them back and try to tell them that we needed to wait.  My wife looked at me and looked over at the woman and was like “What happened?”

At first I sort of just nudged my head in the direction of the woman and did the universal ‘cuckoo’ finger sign, but she wanted details.  So I sort of gave her the abridged version.  “Well, apparently because we were sitting on benches, we weren’t officially in line.”

My wife rolled her eyes and sort of figured the whole thing out.  Rudiepants could very well have heard the conversation.  I’m not sure.  She was staring straight ahead.

But, then my kids kept asking too and I had to explain that while I’d told momma that “We had been first …but now we’re not.  So we’ll just wait until it’s our turn”

Was She Embarrassed?

Finally, after Santa arrived, they went to get their pictures taken.  The four  guys, whose families had all arrived and who had also filled in their spouses, all started talking amongst ourselves.  I’m sure there were a few choice comments and laughs at her expense.  The body language of our conversation was apparent to anybody that was inside and maybe looking out.  Did I mention the gazebo was made of glass walls?

So, while nobody said anything to the woman, I’m quite sure she got the point.  But then again, she really didn’t get the point at all.  I know I’ll wonder for a long time as to whether the few minutes she saved was truly worth it.  Sadly, I bet in her mind, it was. I mean imagine her telling the story: “These people that were there before me thought that they should go first.  Can you believe it?”

OK, so maybe she shouldn’t tell the story.  But I will!

In any case, here’s hoping that she gets some Christmas cheer.  She definitely was lacking on Sunday.

Readers, I know that the holidays can bring the best and unfortunately the worst in people.  Do you have any stories about Christmas spirit (or lack thereof) to share?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Why And How We Create A Christmas Budget

It’s that time of year, and shopping is already underway in earnest.

I’m sure that many of you have gotten started with your shopping, and many will also be waiting until the last minute.  I generally fall somewhere in between that spectrum.

I thought I’d take a little time to explain how we set and track our Christmas budget, and I’d love to see how it compares to yours.

History As Our Guide

We have one big spreadsheet that I’ve used for years to track various aspects of our personal finance, from a spending ledger to budgets for big items to investment gains and losses, and yes, a Christmas budget.

This is great because I can track prior years spending and set that as a starting point for this years budget.

mb-2015-11-christmas01This allows me to start off with:

  • Who we bought gifts for in the past
  • What we budgeted for gifts for each of them
  • What we actually spent on each person

These are two big pieces of information that, in reality, gets us most of the way there.  All I need to do is list out any changes in the list of individuals that we need to buy for, then look at the amounts to see what needs to change.

In some cases, we might have gone over, so I’ll look at why we went over and determine if that needs to be the base amount, or maybe it was just a one-time thing.

Adjustments Based On Availability

After I’m done coming with adjustments, I compare it to our total budget amount.

See, we save for Christmas shopping all year.  We earmark a fixed amount per month that sits in our account, and is allocated just for gifts.  We essentially take 8.3333% (or one-twelfth) of what we estimate we’ll spend, and set it aside.  Then, when it’s all said and done, we’re fully funded for Christmas shopping.  No worries about how we’ll pay for the credit card bills come January!

Usually the total amount is pretty close to what we budget, so not much tweaking is necessary, though there’s usually some back and forth between my wife and I on how to make sure everything is covered.

Tracking, Tracking, and Tracking

The difficult part I have is tracking the spending.  I can easily track what I spend, but as my wife does a majority of the shopping, and she’ll do it in big chunks at a time (usually 2 or 3 shopping days in total), I have to then work with her to try to make sense of all the charges and get a breakdown.  So, she might go to Marshall’s and spend $250, but if $80 is for her parents, $45 for our son, $75 for our daughter, and $50 for her sister, it gets difficult, though not impossible to track.

It gets even more complicated when she buys gifts for me.  She usually identifies one rarely used credit card and will put my purchases on that.   I have to ‘go dark’ on being able to track the card activity until Christmas arrives.  Inevitably, she’ll also buy stuff for other people in the same transactions, which then complicates it for me.  At that point, I don’t really know the remaining budget.  We then have to do manual exchanges of information.  This sounds easy enough but taking the automation away is really confusing, especially around the holidays!

Argh!  And, yes, I know, that means I track things a bit too precisely for my own good 🙂  But I’m good with that.

In the end, we sometimes go over a bit and sometimes come under on our total amount.  There is a little cushion built into our total monthly budget, so the difference is absorbed easily.

How Do You Budget?

Readers, I’d love to if and how you budget.  Are there any big similarities or differences to the strategies that we use?  I’m always open to making things easier!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

6 Things To Do To Make Next Christmas Great

I hope that you and your family had a Merry Christmas!  Did Santa make a stop at your house this year?  Now that the presents have been opened and the boxes and wrapping paper are all thrown away, there are some things that you should start doing and lessons to keep in mind for next Christmas.  Yes, that’s right, even though it’s 361 days until next Christmas, it’s time to start now.

Here are six things you can do now, before you even get the tree decorations put away, that will help you have a great Christmas next year!

  • Paying the Bills – Make sure you get any bills for this Christmas paid as quickly asmb-2014-12papermoney possible.  Preferrably, you don’t carry balances on any credit cards which were associated with holiday shopping, but if you did, work as hard as you can to get those paid off ASAP!
  • Save For Next Christmas – The best way to avoid those bills next year is to start saving now.  We allocate money every month toward a Christmas Gifts fund, and with that, we have never had a Christmas gift that we had to wonder how or when we were going to pay for.  Even if you can’t start paying now because you still have bills, make a plan to start saving as soon as you can to lessen or eliminate the burden next year.
  • Track Your Spending – Look back and track your spending.  Look at who you spent money on and what money you spent.  This will let you create a budget moving forward.
  • Examine Prices – You might not have access to every item that you bought, put try to put together a list of the more expensive items, and take a look to see if you might have gotten it cheaper by purchasing it at a different time, at a different store, or a different time of year.  This might help you make better decisions next year and save some money.
  • List Wins and Losses – Now that everything is put together, put together a list of your biggest wins and your biggest losses.  Score a great deal on Black Friday?  Chalk that as a win.  Forget somebody?  That’s a loss.  Make a few wins and a few losses.
  • Put Your Info Together In One Place – If you put all of this information together, bundle it up and make sure it’s around when you start shopping for next year.  Having a list of people might give you a good starting point so you don’t forget.  Having a spending history will let you craft a starting budget next year.  You get the idea.  If you can put this electronically, try storing it in your e-mail and have a reminder pop up next year to take a look at it.

Putting together information about Christmas while it’s fresh in your mind is a big opportunity to make next Christmas even better on your wallet.  If you work hard now, then you’ll be giving yourself a very nice gift next Christmas!  Ho-Ho-Ho!!!

Readers, when Christmas is over do you forget about it until next November, or will you be doing anything to make yourself have a more successful Christmas season next year?  Share your ideas in the comments below!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.