Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas — Week 6 Mission

By now the stores are bursting with Christmasy goodness. While this might offend your not-until-after-Thanksgiving sensibilities, it does assist with this week’s mission. Week 6 of Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas is all about decorating–that doesn’t mean you have to decorate this week. Heaven knows my husband would keel over dead if I decorated before Thanksgiving weekend. He is barely surviving the Christmas music my kids turn on every time they think he’s out of the trailer or asleep. My man. Grin.

Back to topic–this week’s mission is decorating according to your family’s traditions. If you (like us) are a Thanksgiving weekend decorator, that’s great! If you decorate now, fab! If you decorate on Christmas Eve, that’s fine, too, if it suits your family. Your decorating day(s) should already be on your Christmas calendar.

What you’re really doing this week is getting your decorations ready so the process is simple and fun.

Ideally, you wrote down or took care of any issues after last year’s Christmas, but just in case you didn’t…wink:

Twelve Weeks of Simple Christmas Template -- Week 6- Decoration Prep

A Quick Christmas Decor Checklist:

  • Where and when are you cutting your tree? Give a quick call for hours of operation or go out to your back 40 and mark your favorite tree now before it gets coooooolder.
  • Is your fake tree good or needing replacement? Replace before decorating day.
  • Do your tree lights work? Replace if they’re deader than Jacob Marley.
  • How are your outdoor decorations? Do you even want to do outdoor decorations? If you are expanding the collection every year to go for a National Lampoon’s look, add to your stock. (Personally, I’m a red ribbon and cedar bough girl, myself.)
  • Do you hang edible decorations on an outdoor tree for all God’s critters? If so, have the supplies on hand (and enough to continue throughout the winter so the critters don’t start depending on the food and then have nothing).
  • Are your nativity sets in need of repair?
  • Do you string popcorn and cranberries? If so, buy them…and string…and a needle if you don’t have one. Do you hang cookies on the tree? Buy the ingredients. Do you need tinsel? Stock up.
  • Do you add an ornament or another collector’s item every year? Get going on this.
  • While you’re at it, stock up on cocoa and mallows or apple cider and cinnamon sticks to make your decorating day extra fun.
  • Are your surfaces decluttered and clean so you can decorate instead of stash and dash on decorating day? Please gradually declutter as you prepare for Christmas so you can enjoy the holiday instead of stash stuff–ugh, stuff.
  • While you wait to decorate for Christmas, get your autumnal or Thanksgiving decorations out, particularly if you are hosting the meal.

When the day comes, decorate! It will be simple and fun since you’re so ultra-prepared.

I know some Christians have an issue with decorating. The Young family’s Christ-Centered Christmas talks about how decorating can be Christ-pleasing.

Accountability Time

Lasts week’s wrapping supplies mission was…well…let’s just say I shopped for wrapping paper, choked on a lung at the price, and didn’t buy it. “Well begun is half done,” says good ol’ Mary Poppins. (By the way, that book is nothing like the movie. Just thought you ought to know.) I don’t really think that’s well begun at all, do you? Boo, me. I did stock up on tape, however. That deserves an extra marshmallow in my cocoa.

For all the Christmas missions so far, click here. For more help in simplifying your holidays, read my book.

How are you doing on your Christmas missions?

Don't stress this Christmas!

Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas: Week 5 Mission

This mission might feel a bit too early, but Week 12 You will appreciate that Week 5 You did this. Two weeks ago on Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas you focused on planning your gift list. You may have even started (or finished) shopping. This week we’re going to prepare to wrap or even begin wrapping those gifts as well as get non-family gifts “all wrapped up” (cheesy pun totally intended as always).

First, my drama:

We always wrap presents on Christmas Eve after the kids go to bed. It’s our old married couple tradition. It. takes. forever! If it weren’t for dippin’ into Santa’s cookies, I seriously think I would die! My husband wouldn’t die, because he falls alseep on the couch a third of the way into it.

I have long wanted to change this torturous tradition, but my husband says, “It’s tradition! Snore.” It’s also a tradition for me to be exhausted on Christmas morning and unable to fully enjoy the moment, because I’m running on four hours of sleep and I ain’t a college girl anymore. So a couple years back, I adjusted the tradition. My husband still wraps my presents on Christmas Eve and falls asleep on the couch, and I still dip into Santa’s cookies (sorry, good fella), but my share (and most of his third) of the wrapping gets done ahead of time. Otherwise…it takes forever and I almost die and Santa doesn’t get his cookies.

So…this week’s mission.

Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas - Week 5: Set up a Wrapping Station and Finish Non-Family Gifts

Here’s how to streamline the wrapping process so it doesn’t take forever or take over your home:

  1. Gather all your wrapping supplies from previous years.
  2. Add anything you still need to your shopping list–tape, ribbon, gift tags, tiny candy canes, whatevs–and pick them up next time you’re in the store.
  3. Set up a wrapping station–find an unused table or counter, the top of the dryer, a guest bed, an ironing board, whatever you have. You can even stick everything in a low box and slide it under your bed to pull out when you have something to wrap.
  4. When a present comes in, write down what it is and wrap it. Then hide it. Hide it good.
  5. If you’re baking gifts this year, like cookies for The Simple Homemaker, get your packages ready. Check out some fun upcycle packaging ideas like these (but keep it simple) or these. Upcycle–I always think of a unicycle rider flipped upside down.

Obviously, this is an ongoing project as gifts come into the home. To get you started, here is this week’s two-part mission:

1. Complete steps one and two–totally set up your wrapping station or box. If you wrap the box, that makes it more fun.

2. Try to finalize and purchase non-family gifts this week–pastor, teachers, office gifts, mailman postal employees, white elephant gifts, party gifts, school exchanges, neighbor gifts, etc.

Might I recommend a few Stephen Bautista CDs? (That’s my hubby and his music is amazing–not being biased here, since I’m his worst critic.) They make excellent gifts and terrific outreach tools. If you get one for everyone on your non-family list, and they arrive next week, and you wrap them all right away, BAM, you’re finished, and that is totally awesome.

Accountability Time

I’m still working on my gift list, and I’m still trying to extract details from other people about where they’ll be for the holidays. Waiting, waiting, waiting…

The budget hasn’t reproduced like rabbits, so I’m proceeding with extreme caution in that area. My husband told the kids that they could have a puppy for Christmas if they didn’t get any other gifts from us apart from stockings. That would make my life easier…and then harder.

I need to read my book again for gift ideas.


Don't stress this Christmas!

Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas: Week 4 Mission

We are a third of the way through our Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas missions, which means Christmas is that much closer! Are you keeping up? No? That’s okay. Don’t get overwhelmed. Just do what you can. Every little bit you do now makes you less frazzled down the road.

Today is one of my favorite missions–planning the food.  I like food. I like planning food. I don’t, however, like shopping. Enough about me.

Twelve Weeks of Simple Christmas - Week 4: Plan Your Meals

Here’s how to plan your holiday food:

1. Get out your calendar; get out your budget sheet; get out your gift list; get out two pieces of paper and a pencil…or whatever high-tech device you techies use for planning.

2. Assess which upcoming events you need food for…for which you need food. That includes Tricks-or-Treats if you feed little angels and pumpkins at your door, Thanksgiving if you’re hosting or bringing a dish, Christmas parties you’re attending or hosting, the big holiday itself, and New Year’s. I have the bonus of three holiday birthdays in there.

3. Determine how many people will be attending events you’re hosting, whether you’re handling the entire feast or calling it a potluck, if you have overnight guests to feed, and what you are asked to bring to other people’s events. This will require some emails and phone calls.

4. Check your gift list for food gifts; don’t forget stockings!

5. Are you making cookies this year? List them and gather the recipes. Mmmmm…cookies…

6. Make a menu. Skip nothing. It’s awful to have a houseful of food at Christmas and find you have nothing to eat while waiting hours for the holiday meal–add some emergency PBJs or something to the plan.

7. Print or pin or otherwise save your recipes. I like to use a binder and keep my lists, menus, and recipes in there from year to year–it’s fun to look back, and it helps with planning.

8. Write out a shopping list for groceries–again, include everything.

9. Because you’ve started early, you have plenty of time to begin gathering non-perishables or freezable items as they go on sale. If you snag a few items a week, you won’t sabotage your budget. Keep the ingredients somewhere super secret, or put post-it notes on them threatening no gifts for anyone who eats your chocolate chips and French’s onions. That usually works…usually.

10. Again, record everything (easily done by crossing it off the list). You don’t want to end up with 12 bottles of vanilla and no flour…although vanilla does make a nice gift.

That’s it. Ten steps just to say write down your eats and go buy ’em.

Accountability Time

How are you doing on the missions so far? Did you plan out the rest of the year? Did you write a budget? Have you polished your gift list?

A little bit about me–I start strong and finish weak. I need this book: Finish, by John Acuff (affiliate link). Actually, I have that book, but I haven’t finished it. I don’t like irony.

Regarding last week’s mission, I have gathered Christmas lists, tossed around gift ideas, and written down what I already have on hand, but I have not solidified anything. I did discuss gifts with my husband, and all I got out of him is that we’re not getting a puppy, which is important information. I have a few loose ends to tie on previous missions also, and I’m doing that all as much as possible this week.

Care to hold me accountable? You can always email me or join me on Facebook (as The Simple Homemaker), Twitter (as The Simple Home), or Instagram (as The Travel Bags)…or you can join me as I procrastinate on Pinterest! (I did not just say that.)


Don't stress this Christmas!

Making Gift-Giving Affordable

Making Gift-Giving Affordable - Part of 12 Weeks of a Simple Christmas (1)

In Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas we are talking about gift giving this week. Mission three is planning your gifts. Are you overwhelmed and a little sad when you look at your list? Me, too.

I’d love to give Hannah a horse for Christmas. That would be aaaamaaaaaazzzzing! How about giving my gearhead nephew a truck–super awesome! I’d be the best aunt ever! How about a new washer and dryer for my mom, since hers are deader than Jacob Marley. But…I can’t.

So here’s what I do instead to make Christmas affordable and still magical.

Making Gift-Giving AffordableWe emphasize that Jesus really is the reason for the season. Presents are super fun, and no kid is going to say, “Hooray! No gifts this year!” Focusing on Christ, however, adds an element of profound joy and “magic” to the entire season that no present can top.

Making Gift-Giving AffordableI go stocking crazy all year. My kids love their stockings. With the exception of the kitten we got them, their stockings are their favorite part of Christmas morning. I don’t spend a ton, but I tailor it to them and break too many of the family sweets rules. Wink. I gather throughout the year and wrap it all individually to make it last longer.

Making Gift-Giving AffordableInstead of buying them fish, I teach them to fish. There’s no room in the budget for a horse for Hannah; how about a horse care kit, riding lessons, and/or the book Better Than a Lemonade Stand–Small Business Ideas for Kids or How to Start a Micro-Business for Teens (affiliate links) instead, so she can earn her own horse!

Making Gift-Giving Affordable Go in on a gift. We can’t afford a new washer and dryer for Mom, but what about calling all the kids and seeing if there’s enough interest to pool money to get her one? That’s how she got her Kitchen Aid stand mixer and her dishwasher, and that’s how Grandma got a new TV.

Making Gift-Giving AffordableGo used. I have a problem with people who have a problem with receiving a used gift. Seriously, I do. If I can find Better Than a Lemonade Stand used but “like new,” I’ve saved and the gift is still “shiny.” I can often buy two or three used books for the price of one newbie–the guts are the same, even if the cover has a crinkle. (More on used gifts here.)

Making Gift-Giving AffordableMake it myself…or don’t make it myself. Adding up the cost in both time and money, sometimes it costs more to make a gift than to buy it. If, however, my family makes gifts together–oh, what a joy!

Making Gift-Giving AffordableI love experience gifts, and they do not have to be expensive. I have a precious friend who made an incredible tea-time binder for her daughter, complete with monthly activities for them to do together. Those are year-long memories that money can never replace. How about scheduling a year’s worth of picnics or lunch dates with Grandma?

Making Gift-Giving AffordableI frequently cross category lines in my budget. If I can fill stockings with things I have to buy my kids anyway–toothbrushes, fingernail clippers, socks, undies, food–the money is legitimately available from another category. Some of my older kids say they’re on to me, and that toothbrushes and undies don’t fly anymore. They also said I am no longer allowed to give them schoolbooks for Christmas–humbugs. Still, if it’s educational, I can budget some of the homeschool money into that category to cover it, as long as I’ll still be okay down the line. I can also dip into the clothing budget for that stellar hat for my hat-crazy daughter. Serious budgeters are passing out right now. Sorry.

Making Gift-Buying AffordableI try to keep Christmas clutter-free by buying less, but buying smarter. We don’t play eenie-meenie in the toy aisle or at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We try to give thoughtfully…or edibly. To quote my then-15-year-old, Elisabeth, “If it isn’t useful or edible, I don’t want to find a place to put it.” Elisabeth does not want clutter. Period. To quote my son, Elijah, “I love Legos.” Elijah would enjoy a single set of Legos far more than half a dozen other gifts randomly selected from Toys R Us. Perhaps you’ve heard of the three gift Christmas, or this diddy: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. Of course, my kids would say they want, need, and can read books, and surely they could figure out a way to wear them.

For specific gift ideas that qualify under my simple and frugal principles, check out these two posts:

This book by my friend Stacy will give you a few (as on 100) affordable ideas as well:

What are your tips for keeping Christmas affordable?

Photo credit (text mine)

Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas: Week Three Mission

This week’s mission is simple and fun–gift planning. Let’s jump right in like me diving into my mom’s cookie platter on Christmas morning. Mmm-mmm.

Twelve Weeks of Simple Christmas - Week 3: Plan Your Gift List

Planning Your Gift List

1. Write down everyone (and I do mean everyone) who receives gifts from you at Christmas.

2. Jot down what you would like to give them this Christmas.

3. Go back and look at your budget from week 2. Write next to each person’s name how much you can spend.

4. Cross off the items you would like to give people for Christmas, and write down what you realistically can give them.

5. Once your list is solid, start buying, baking, or making with a goal of being finished by December 1. My goal is November 1–ack! If you are planning on homemade gifts, schedule a timeframe for making them and include it in your calendar. (Obviously, food gifts may need an extension on that–nothing says “Jesus is born” like a container of stale cookies.)

6. Tattoo your list on your arm. That’s my way of saying stick to the list and record everything! If you see an amazing tool your husband needs and it’s on sale and you have to buy it, do so, but cross off “ugly sweater,” so you’re not over-spending. Also, include the cost of everything you buy, even the chapstick for his stocking and the ingredients for the cookies you’re giving the mailman. You might have to adjust (or live on beans and rice for a while) to make your budget work.

Just a note:

In the real world, sometimes people are busy, evasive, or disinterested in thrilling topics such as the budget. In my case, I often need to work on my timing–no man wants to talk budgets during a Packer game, duh! If that’s your situation, do what I’ve done in years past, and move ahead the best you can based on what you know. If you know what your budget has been in previous years, and you know how or if your circumstance has changed, write down those estimates and share them as a conversation igniter after a green and gold win.

I’ve got a few tips for creative frugality in my next post. Until then, see you in aisle 7.

Accountability Time

How did you do on last week’s mission, budgeting your holidays?

I did bring up our Christmas budget to my husband at our weekly planning meeting. We went over our budget, assessed our current responsibilities, and discussed our need to reorder all four of our CDs. It’s bleak…bleaker than the past several years. Music missionaries don’t have big Christmas accounts, and this year falls pretty much on my shoulders.

I have my tidy stash from Mr. Rebates, Ebates, Pinecone Research, and Swagbucks, which generally covers a child at Christmas. I have something tucked away from my Amazon commission which I earn whenever anybody shops through my Amazon link. We are reusing our two-year-old’s unopened birthday gifts ($2.75 expenditure at a garage sale) for Christmas. That leaves six kids and a husband, as well as nieces, nephews, moms…. We don’t have a pastor, teachers, neighbors, or a mailman since we’re on the road full-time.

I spent most of my article-selling money on homeschool books, but I can still write. I’ll be doing a little extra article work until then, grabbing some low hanging fruit, so to speak.

I did not write down any solid numbers, because I haven’t any…except 50%. Cut costs by 50%. Who doesn’t love a holiday challenge?

How are you doing on your missions? Share your progress in the comments.

Don't stress this Christmas!

Five Quick Money-Saving Resources

This post contains referral links indicated by an asterisk*. If you sign up through our links, not only do you save money, but you support our Christian music mission and help spread the Gospel through song. You also help educate my kids, which is really swell of you. You can also support us by doing your Christmas shopping through our Amazon*, Dayspring*, Walmart*, or Christian Book* links. Thank you so much!

This week in Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas we’re talking about budgeting for Christmas. There are three ways to make your budget work with your finances.

  1. Make more money.
  2. Buy less.
  3. Save money on what you buy.

Normally I’m all about number 2, which you’ll see in next week’s posts, but today I’m sharing my go-to Christmas shopping tips based on numbers 1 and 3.

I have a few quick resources that will help you save money buying what you were going to buy anyway or help you earn money doing what you were going to do anyway. Here goes:

Five Quick Money-Saving Resources (for Christmas and beyond)

Rebate sites for online shopping.

There are many, but the two I have been on for the last umpteen gazillion years (that’s an exaggeration) are Ebates* and Mr.Rebates*. Both serve me well.

Here’s how they work:

  1. Sign up at Ebates* and/or Mr.Rebates* (and get their current bonus).
  2. Before you head to, say, Toys R Us online, go to a rebate site (I go to both to see which has the biggest cash back).
  3. Click through the link on the rebate site. It will take you to the shopping site.
  4. If the rebate site offers coupon codes, snag them.
  5. Shop as usual.
  6. Find a nice little rebate notice in your email telling you how much you get back. Cash it out at Christmas. You won’t get rich, but it does help fill a stocking or two.
  7. Share your referral link with your friends. If they sign up through your link, you each get a percentage back from their shopping.

Understand that the rebate site you use needs to be your most recent access to the site. In other words, if I go to Toys R Us from Mr. Rebates, then leave TRU and go back to it from, say, Retail-Me-Not (see below), I will not get my rebate. Retail-Me-Not will. Basically, just stay on task and on site and you’re good.

Search engine rewards.

The one I use is Swagbucks*. My hubby claims it’s not as good as Google, but it works fine for me. If it’s a deep research project I’m working on, I switch to Google…because, my hubby, you know.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up at Swagbucks*.
  2. Search as usual through the site; load their search bar on your computer to make this easy.
  3. Earn points called SB for, oh, about every fifth search. You can also do other things, like watch videos and take surveys for rewards, but my time is worth more than my SB, so I don’t usually do this. You can also shop through Swagbucks just like a rebate site, but I prefer the rebate sites…they’re prettier.
  4. Send your friends your link, because you earn SB for the their searches as well.
  5. Cash out rewards. I always cash out points for a $5 Amazon gift card. It usually provides me about $30 each Christmas, which isn’t enough to buy the Taj Mahal, but seriously people, that’s a tomb, and where would I put it anyway?

Coupon Codes

Never shop without a coupon code! Mr. Rebates and Ebates often have coupon codes, but I also check Retail-Me-Not. Be aware that if you click through a site from Retail-Me-Not, they receive a rebate from the site.

How it works:

  1. Go there.
  2. Search for a store.
  3. Browse and select a coupon code.
  4. Click through the site and go shopping or grab the code and go back to your favorite rebate site and go shopping. (I like to thank them for their hard work by clicking through their link when they find me a nice juicy coupon code.)
  5. Insert the code at check-out. Sometimes the code is automatically inserted, but always check.

Walmart Price Match and Savings Catcher

You already know that Walmart matches prices, so get busy and get matching. The problem is, you are busy without the matching. Since they introduced their Savings Catcher program, price matching is a little easier (although not necessarily as effective).

Here’s what you do:

  1. Shop at Walmart.
  2. Sign up for a Savings Catcher account at*.
  3. Use your smartphone to scan the bar code or QR code at the bottom of your receipt. If you don’t have a smartphone, log onto your computer and type it in.
  4. In about three days, they’ll let you know whose prices won. Cash out. I save all my “winnings” and cash out when it’s time to do some Christmas shopping.

That’s all I’ve got for you today, but I know you have something up your sleeve.

I’d love to hear your secret little shopping tips! Share in the comments.

Photo Credit: David Porter (Text and screen mine)

Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas: Week Two Mission

This week’s Simple Christmas mission is planning a budget. Don’t skip this step! It’s vital! It’s life-changing! It’s CRITICAL! Just do it.

This week we’re talking about the budget. Get your butt back here! 

Nobody likes to talk about budgets, except my friend Stacy, but it’s got to be done. Come January, you will high-five October You for figuring out a doable budget and you will flat-out kiss November and December Yous for sticking to it. Trust me on this.

Honestly, we should have talked about this first, but I didn’t want you to all run away from Twelve Weeks of a Simple Christmas before we got to the good stuff, like the chocolate whipped cream. Seriously.

Let’s get down and dirty and talk about a Christmas budget.

Twelve Weeks of Simple Christmas -- Week 2: Plan Your Budget

How to Set Up a Christmas Budget

First, if you are married, grab your spouse.

Second, realistically assess how much money you can spend on Christmas this year without going into debt! 

Third, figure out what you want and need to spend money on this Christmas. Include all of these things:

    • Gifts
    • Stocking stuffers
    • Gas
    • Accommodations (your own or anything you need for guests)
    • Food

(We’ll discuss this in a later mission)

  • Cookie supplies
  • Wrapping supplies
  • Cards (don’t forget postage)
  • Did I mention cookie ingredients?
  • Activities (as determined by last week’s mission)
  • Clothes
  • Decorations

Fourth, figure out how much each of those bullet points above will cost.

Fifth, make it work. You undoubtedly noticed that the number in the fourth step is significantly higher than the number in the second step. That’s when you start to get real. Do you really need new clothes for Christmas? Do your kids? Do you really need a professional family photo in your Christmas card? Is it time to make this year’s dinner a potluck? Do you really need a 12-foot fresh-cut Christmas tree with new ornaments? Can you get creative on wrapping supplies? Can you order early to avoid extra shipping fees? Can you cut back on cookies?

To help you out with “step fifth” a bit, remember this: whether you have new shoes for Christmas or not, the Savior still came, your family still loves you, and the celebration will go on. And when Uncle Bob spills bargain-brand spinach dip on your old shoes, you’ll be glad you didn’t shell out for newbies.

Next week we’re talking about gifts and the week after we’ll chat about food, so have your budget ready for those two missions so you know what you’ve got to work with.

By the way, it’s not enough to plan a budget–you have to stick with it over the next 11 weeks. Here are some tips I wrote for Humorous Homemaking, formerly known as Stacy Makes Cents on just that topic: 10 Things You Already Know (But Will Probably Forget) About Sticking to Your Budget at Christmas.

Accountability Time

How did you do on last week’s mission, scheduling your holidays?

I did schedule out all my deadlines and write down all known events, thanks in part to some text time with my sister-in-law. We don’t always know this far in advance what will be happening with the music mission schedule, so things will be filling in a bit more, but that’s our life!

I did not yet fill in blank days or all the family favorites that the kids like to do every year…but drat, that Simply Homemaker is such a nag she won’t give me a minute’s rest until I do it, so I’m doing it today! (It ain’t always pretty having The Simple Homemaker living in your head!)

Two more things:

My book, From Frazzled to Festive: Finding Joy and Meaning in a Simple Christmas, is available here.

While you shop this Christmas, it would help my family’s Christian music mission out enormously if you shop through my Amazon link or one of these links, some of which save you money! Thank you!

Don't stress this Christmas!