This year we provided Christmas for our family for less than $100. It occurs to me that others might need/want to be able to do this as well, so I’m writing this report. Two years ago I would not have believed a $100 Christmas to be possible. I managed it last year, but worried that it was only because I’d had things left in reserve from more spendthrift days. I knew if I was going to pull it off, I had to start looking in January. All year long I went to garage sales, thrift stores, and acquired things for free where I could. I stashed my acquisitions in a huge box in my storage room. The inventory rotated some as things were pulled out for birthdays or other uses, but my stash steadily grew. When December arrived I let my kids “go shopping” through the stash to find gifts to give each other while carefully making sure that the things for them were hidden away. The kids delightedly selected and wrapped gifts.
On Christmas Eve I pulled out the stash and arranged it in our family room. I looked around and nearly cried because I could see so clearly that everything was second hand. The boxes for the games were a little battered. The train set had some broken parts. The small doll house had someone else’s writing on it in permanent ink. I worried the kids would come down, look at the array and say “Is that all?” I needn’t have worried. They came downstairs and squealed with delight. All of the things were used, but they were all things that exactly fitted the interests of my kids. Not once did any child comment that I hadn’t purchased things new from a store.
Before I tell all the details of exactly how I provided Christmas for my family for under $100 I need to explain a little about why it works. Our family is not accustomed to buying treats or new toys on a whim. We used to be, but the past year of pinching all our pennies has taught all of us the value of money and we are careful how we spend it. Over the past year we’ve all been aware that most of our non-food items have come to us second hand. My continual attitude of “look what I found!” rather than “Sorry it’s not new” has caused all of us to realize that it doesn’t matter where things come from as long as they are in good shape and meet our needs. That attitude all year long means that when greeted with a Christmas full of second-hand toys/games, the kids didn’t once comment on the few dings and signs of wear. They were just delighted to have the toys/games.
Another reason that Christmas for less than $100 works for us is that we have never promoted Santa as reality. We all have fun pretending about Santa, but even the 4 and 2 year olds know that we’re pretending. This means that the kids don’t have faith that the Man in Red can grant their hearts desire using his workshop full of elf labor. I also don’t have to explain why Santa only brings expensive toys to rich kids. Christmas is still magic for us without believing in Santa. We also don’t have broadcast television, so our kids are not daily inundated with a barrage of advertisements. Their wants are dictated by their interests rather than by advertising manipulation.
With all of that said, I have compiled a list of exactly what we got for Christmas this year by spending less than $100. Below this list I’ve written some further explanations about where I got things.
Item Where I got it Cost
3 stuffed dragons (Home made $0)
Reading chair/pillow (Garage Sale $3)
3 Pokemon Videos (Garage Sale $3)
Jewels in the Attic Game (Garage Sale Leftover $0)
Carmen Sandiego Game (Garage Sale Leftover $0)
Junior Scrabble (Church Sharing Table $0)
Battle ship game (Thrift Store $2)
Escape from Monkey Island (Garage Sale $2)
Plastic Thomas train set (Discard from neighbor $0)
Toy airplanes (Dollar Store $2)
Pink crown (Dollar Store $1)
Horse make-a-picture plates (Discard from grandparents $0)
Dig Dug game (Garage Sale $2)
Jurassic Park video (Garage Sale $2)
4 pairs Earrings (Thrift Store $2)
Polly pocket set (Ebay $5)
garden decor (Dollar Store $3)
bird feeder suet (Dollar Store $2)
luminist cottage painting (Garage Sale $3)
2 men’s shirts (Church Sharing Table $0)
Movie Trading Co gift card (Reselling movies & videos $0)
girl’s sweater (Discard from cousin $0)
Animorph books (Discard from grandparents $0)
“endless” fish puzzle (Discard from grandparents $0)
2 Putt-putt computer game (Garage Sale $2)
Bubble Bath (Dollar Store $1)
2 men’s shirts (Church Sharing Table $0)
Treat foods (Grocery store sales $20)
Things we gave to others:
Crocheted rose blanket (Church Sharing Table $0)
Decorative soaps (Dollar Store $2)
lap quilt (Home made $0)
Oven Mitts (Dollar Store $2)
kitchen dish towels (Dollar Store $2)
Save Dr. Lucky game (Bought it years ago, never played $0)
Neighbor gifts — small german candles & a printed card (discard from Howard’s parents) $0
Didn’t do christmas cards
(But there may be some things I forgot to list or expenses I forgot to account for)
Things we received from others:
Fly “pentop computer”
Electronic 20 questions game
4 Polly Pocket sets
Billy Hatcher & the Giant Egg
1 Dozen Hamtaro figurines
Firefly series on DVD
Phantom of the Opera on DVD
A case for Howard’s 120 colored pencils
2 bird figurines
Shadows over Camelot
Home Made: Crafts have become an industry with whole retail chains dependent on people buying supplies and kits so that they can give things that are “home made.” I did not purchase anything for the things on this list that were home made. I only used materials and patterns that I had on hand. If I had to go out and buy fabric or supplies, then I would have listed the costs of the supplies. This works for me because I have piles of fabric, patterns, and craft supplies lying around my house just waiting to be used. I acquire these things for cheap or free in the same ways that I acquired the other things on the list.
Garage Sale: The local garage sale season starts in March and runs through October. During that season I try to hit at least on or two sales per week. I find them in the online classifieds of our local paper. Usually there are 5-50 sales listed, I look through to find the ones that are closest and sound the most promising. I generally don’t go to sales more than a 10 minute drive from my house. Once this year I showed up at a sale just as they were ready to be done sitting outside. They declared that everything remaining was free for the taking. I came home with the items above listed as Garage Sale Leftover, a dresser, and several decorative shelves.
Church Sharing Table: This is a custom that I helped to get started at our once monthly women’s church gatherings. I set up a table and encourage everyone to bring things they want to get rid of, but think that others could use. Everyone is free to look the items over and take what they want whether or not they brought something. At the end of the night I scoop up what is left and donate it to a thrift store. Setting up the table and running to the thrift store is some work for me, but considering the amount of really useful stuff that I’ve culled from the table, the work has more than paid for itself.
Thrift Store: We have several local thrift stores. They tend to be more expensive than garage sales because they have to pay for the building and employees. However the selection is much better because thrift stores serve as a clearing house for unwanted things. Our local thrift stores are incredibly well stocked and I go there to fill in gaps that I haven’t been able to fill at garage sales.
Discard from ____: One of the best ways to get stuff is to be around when someone else is in the mood to clear out. I guess some people might feel embarrassed about accepting this kind of “charity,” but I’ve been on the other side of the fence. I’ve been the one to give away excess stuff and I know it is much nicer to give things away to a place where they’ll be appreciated than to give things to a thrift store. I still give things away when I’m done with them because I figure what goes around comes around. One of the best ways to acquire discards is to help someone move. People who are moving sort through everything and get rid of lots of stuff that they don’t want to have to haul.
Dollar Store: In general, dollar store items are cheaply made. The toys in particular have a tendency to break easily. They look and feel cheap, but kids don’t care. Kids love dollar store toys. Sometimes you can find a treasure in the dollar store that meets a need and will last for years. Because of this I try to cruise my local dollar store every month or so to see if anything is useful to me.
Ebay: I don’t do much buying on ebay anymore. The people who are selling on ebay are more interested in making money than in getting rid of stuff. Also everything has an added shipping cost which raises the ticket price of the item. Occasionally I happen across a good deal and snap it up, but mostly ebay is useful if you are looking for a specific item. I save money by not being as picky about specifics of the things I need.
Reselling Movies & Games: We had a video cabinet full of movies & games left over from financially fatter times. I went through it and pulled out the games & movies that no one really liked anymore. I sold these for store credit. Right now is also a really good time to pick up video tapes at garage sales because people are replacing their favorite videos with DVDs. If I could pick up a movie I was interested in seeing again for $1 at a garage sale, I’d do it. Howard and I would watch the tape and then I’d resell it for about $.50 at The Movie Trading Co. Over the course of several months we accumulated a balance on a gift card that the kids gave to Howard for Christmas.
Grocery Store Sales: I used the same method buying Christmas treat food as I use for regular shopping. I planned ahead and watched for sales. The candy that went into the stockings was left over from the Halloween surplus. I just put some aside.
Things we received from others: This is the category that is probably hardest for someone else to duplicate. My parents are extremely wonderful and understanding. In November they coordinated with me so that they gifts they gave were the one item that I would have bought for each child had I been able to afford it. This means that the grandparents have the reputation for being brilliant gift givers, but I don’t care so long as the kids were happy. Howard also received several wonderful gifts from schlock fans, I tried to make sure I listed them all, but it is hard to keep track of everything. Would Christmas still have been wonderful without these items? It would certainly have been much leaner, but I think we still could have been happy. If I couldn’t count on things in this category I would probably have snuck money from other areas in my budget, increased my Christmas spending by about $50 to make sure that each child had at least one gift that they were delighted over, even if it meant buying things new.