Question from a reader:

How do you handle the inevitable “stuff” that people give you? I have many well-meaning family members who love to give me things, but we have zero storage space.

 

I really don’t have a good answer, but here’s some things that have helped me:

  • Even if you just use it for a period of time, it still got used and served it’s purpose for the time it was needed. When we moved (well one of the many times we moved) I was struggling with the idea of getting rid of something that had sentimental value, but was big. When Cameron reminded me that we had gotten good use out of it for about 4 years, it helped me realize that something doesn’t have to be kept my entire life for it to have been useful and served it’s purpose.
  • Re-gift things you don’t need. Okay, this is probably a highly debated idea, but I’ve done it. Not that I re-gift everything people give me, in fact I re-gift very few things, but if I won’t use it, I feel like I can give it away without them knowing or being hurt and it would make a good gift for someone else, I’ll keep put in my gift box for future gifting.
  • Take a picture of something sentimental and keep the picture instead of the actual object. I haven’t actually done this, but it’s an idea I got from Organized Simplicity and I thought it was pretty clever.
  • If you can do it without hurting feelings, make it known that you don’t want stuff. Thankfully our families are very understanding of our lifestyle, probably because they both have been/are missionaries as well. They try to give us small things or things they know we’ll actually use. They also are understanding if we don’t keep something. I remember my parents buying Gracia a play grocery cart and my mom told me that she didn’t mind if we got rid of it when moving. I knew it wouldn’t hurt her feelings and she was giving it to Gracia to play with while we had the space.

 

So how do you nicely make it known you don’t want stuff? Use your best judgment, as you know your own family and friends, but here’s some ideas:

  • If they ask what you want, tell them. Often our family will ask us for ideas of Christmas gifts. This makes it nice, because they then know what we really want and will use and don’t have to guess and run the risk of getting us something we really don’t want.
  • Card parties are great! After Gracia was born we moved from Wisconsin to Texas, with a trip to New York in between. In New York my sister threw us a baby shower and called it a card shower to encourage people to bring gift cards. When you’re moving your earthly possessions in one pick-up, gift cards fit in much better than big baby toys. :)
  • At Christmas do a name exchange, yankee swap, set a spending limit or limit the number of gifts. This will help you accumulate less and save money.
  • Let them see how you live. Maybe if people start seeing your lifestyle, that you live in a small house, that it’s not full and cluttered, or that you move frequently, they might be more likely to stop and think before giving you all kinds of things.
  • Be thankful for their heart attitudes. Just like the reader said “well meaning”. Even if it’s not something you want, remember their kindness behind it.

Christmas a few years back

How do you handle stuff given to you?

 

I know this is post-Christmas, but I thought it still might be useful for future-Christmases or birthday presents. Here’s a few of the low-budget gifts we gave this year:

  • Home-made hot cocoa mix. There’s a lot of different recipes out there, but I stuck close to this recipe, only I used french vanilla creamer. This is a great gift idea, because you can make a big batch and divide it up into multiple jars for a lot of gifts. It looks pretty in a glass jar with marshmellows on top. I put snow-man shaped french vanilla flavored marshmellows in it to go with the french vanilla flavor.
  • Trail mix – I made a nutty trail mix for my dad, with almonds, peanuts and Christmas colored peanut M&Ms. I layered them in a glass jar, an idea I got from pinterest. What’s great about this idea is that you can personalize it by putting the person’s favorite, fruit, nuts or candies in it.
  • Using my Swagbucks* – I was able to get one gift free (not including shipping) by using my swagbucks to get an Amazon giftcard, which I used for a gift.
  • Crochet dishcloths – Dishcloths can be simple to crochet, so it’s a great gift idea even for new crocheters, plus who can’t use a fresh new dish cloth every now and then?
  • Hand print pot holder. I got this great idea from Ally’s Helpful Hints for Mommies. Use acryclic paint and have kids make a hand print (or foot print) on a hot pad. Then have the kids, if old enough, write their name and date on it with a sharpie.
  • Crochet hat – I made a crochet bear hat for my nephew with this pattern. It’s basically just a beanie with two ears.
* When my referrals from this link earn points for searching, I win matching swag bucks, up to 1,000 points per person.

The pink, orange and yellow one in the front was my favorite

Gracia got a nice crayon set for her birthday this year. She had crayons before that, but they were all broken and miscellaneous crayons. I didn’t throw the old crayons out though. I saved them to make crayon cookies with, and finally got around to doing it!

  1. Take all the paper off the crayons (if these are old crayons, chances are the kids have already done this!).
  2. Break them into pieces and put in muffin tins. If you have cool shaped muffin tins that would be even better. You can put like colors together or what’s really fun is mixing the colors up. My favorite combination was bright pink, yellow and orange (see photo). I also made a camouflage one with brown, green and black (see photo below).
  3. Turn your oven on very low then put the muffin tins in.
  4. Keep your eye on it and once the crayons are melted take them out and let them cool a little, then put in the freezer (I got the freezer idea from Ten Ten). After being in the freezer they pop out super easy.

You can experiment with these to see how you like them best. My first batch were a little thin, so I made the next batch a little thicker. These are a great frugal gift to put in stockings, or use as party favors. They’re especially good for little toddlers just learning to color, since they’re big and easy to hold, but any kid can use them.

I saw a crayon maker on a commercial, which uses this same idea, so I looked it up online and it cost $30. I made mine at home for practically free, just old crayons and a tiny amount of gas to heat the oven.

Some other frugal kid gifts are:

Juice Lid Memory Game

Homemade Finger Paint

Homemade Bubbles
This post is shared at Frugally Sustainable, a new favorite site of mine!

If you’ve followed my blog very long, you know I love to sign up for freebies in the mail! If you get freebies too, here’s some ideas for how to tastefully give them as gifts this Christmas.

Toiletry bag

A lot of the free samples I get are small shampoos and conditioners, perfect to make a little toiletry bag, especially for those traveling during the holidays.

A nice little gift made from 100% freebies!

Just fill a bag (I’ve gotten 2 free make-up bags that would be perfect) with any samples like, shampoo, conditioner, soap, perfume, chap-stick, tooth paste, mouthwash, lotion, ect…

Drink Mug

Fill a cute mug with any beverage samples. I’ve gotten teas, coffee (both instant and regular), emergen-c, 5 hour energy and even creamer!

Fill out a Gift Basket

It might be hard to make a full gift basket with just freebies, but they can certainly  help fill one out. For example, you could fill a basket (look at Goodwill for cheap baskets) with home-made cookies and hot chocolate, then add free coffee and tea samples too.

Baby Gift Basket

You could make a gift basket for new parents with free diapers, wipes, formula and baby magazines. If any of your samples come with coupons throw those in the gift too!

Snack Pack

This is a great idea for people traveling, especially with little kids. Get a paper bag and decorate it, then fill it with any free goodies you have. I’ve gotten free granola bars, mini boxes of cereal, gum and 5 hour energy (that one might not be good for the kids in the back seat though)!

Laundry Gift

I’ve gotten free laundry detergent, dryer sheets and scent boosters. These would be great for a college student. It’d be easier hauling a small pack of laundry soap to the laundromat than a whole jug of it. If they need quarters for doing their laundry, save up some quarters to add to the gift too.

Stocking Stuffers

Since stocking stuffers are usually small, free samples are the perfect size! Pretty much any free sample can be used as a stocking stuffer: recipe booklets for the cook, windshield wipes for the guy, diapers for the baby, little boxes of cereal for the toddler, make-up samples for the teen girl and even dog and cat food for the pets!

Shoe Box Gifts

Free samples can also be used in shoe box gifts like Operation Christmas Child. One year our church did shoe box gifts for women. Perfume samples and tea would have been perfect things to add to something like that.

Donate

Most of the samples I get I keep for myself, and I try not to sign up for samples I know I won’t use (like wrinkle cream, hopefully I won’t need that for another 20 years!). But if you do end up with something you wont use, you may be able to donate it, especially if it’s a big size. I received a can of baby formula I knew I wouldn’t use, someone on Money Saving Mom suggested I donate it, so I took it to the local pregnancy crisis center and they happily took it. I was glad that it didn’t go to waste, and I was able to help out a cause I believe in! This idea has nothing to do with Christmas, but thought I’d share it anyways.

College Survival Kit

My last idea I thought of while I was looking over all the samples I have. Since college students generally don’t have a lot of money they’ll usually take whatever they can get, and a lot of samples are great for them, like car windshield wipes, laundry soap like I mentioned above, drinks for when they’re staying up late doing homework (especially emergen-c, if they’re living in a dorm during flu season) and any toiletry items.

Happy gift giving!

I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to make and use my own postcards, and now I’ve FINALLY done it!

Making your own postcards can save you money in 2 ways:

  1. They’re a cheap alternative to a card. Even if you already make  your own cards, postcards use half the amount of paper, and no envelopes necessary.
  2. They’re cheaper to mail. It costs $.44 to mail a regular letter, and only $.29 to mail a postcard, saving you $.15. That’s not a lot of difference, but if you mail out a lot of letters it can add up.

When I made my postcards I just used a regular postcard I already had to see how big to cut mine. I used card stock  paper, so it would be thick enough. And of course leave the back blank for writing your note and the address. And if you’re more creative and patient than me, your postcards can look way cuter than mine!

If you want to save even more, Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette recommends cutting the front picture part off of old cards you’ve received and using that as a post card.

Finger Paint

Need a fun activity for your kids this summer? Just whip up some frugal finger paint. All you need is water, cornstarch, and food coloring. Here’s the site I got the recipe from. Today was the second time I’ve done this with Gracia and she really likes it, especially since she gets to pick out what colors we make. You can even have your kids help make it. Gracia poured the cornstarch in the cold water, got the bowls out and of course picked out the colors. It’s a great idea for decorating a Father’s Day card too!

If you were to ask people if they were wanting to save money, most would say, “yes.” But if you were to look into their bank accounts and see how much they’ve actually saved in the last month or two, it may not reflect that. I think the problem is we WANT to save, but we don’t decide HOW we’ll save. So several months ago I can up with some personal strategies that I wanted to try to save money. They were all either things I wasn’t doing, or wasn’t doing as faithfully as I wanted. Most of them are really small ways of saving, but every little bit counts! I thought I’d share them with you and also update you on how I’ve actually been doing on them.

  • Make a price book- I have it started, but haven’t finished it. The information I’ve already gathered has proved to be very helpful though!

    My jeans and belt and Gracia's jacket were all Goodwill purchases.

  • Shop more at thrift shops – I have been doing this more! And I’ve gotten some good, but cheap purchases!
  • Cook more with cheap ingredients – The only way I can think of that I’ve increased the amount of cheap ingredients we use, is that we eat oatmeal a lot for breakfast (and when I say “we” I really mean my husband and daughter. I only eat it about once a week, I prefer toast or a smoothie). A big container of oatmeal makes for some really frugal breakfasts, but since Cameron and Gracia are the ones that eat it the most, I guess they should get the credit! =)
  • Use up 99% of leftovers – Yeah, I think this is the area that I’ve failed the most in. Just yesterday I threw out a bunch of bad smelling beans from the fridge. =(
  • Learn how to not waste food “scraps”- This sounds similar to the last one, but what I mean by it is trying to come up with ways to use up things like veggie peelings and things that I normally toss without any thought. I keep the skins on potatoes for most recipes and the other day I cooked a whole chicken and made broth from it, and the only veggies I used were “scrap” pieces! I may post about it. I also made

    Cook with cheap ingredients

    some stir fry a couple days ago and decided to just scrub the carrots instead of peeling them.

  • Make and use postcards – Post cards can be fairly cheap to buy and are cheap to mail. I read in the Tightwad Gazette that you can even make your own using the front side of old cards. I’ve been really scared they wouldn’t let me mail a homemade postcard, but I finally asked the lady at the post office and she said I can. Just need to make sure it’s the right size and the picture can only be on one side….but I haven’t done it yet…
  • Make more gifts and buy less – I feel like I’ve done pretty good in this area. I still buy most of the gifts I give, but I have made several. I made 3 hats as Christmas gifts last year and recently made a baby blanket for my cousin’s new baby. Making gifts isn’t always cheaper, you have to be careful. But, for example, I’ve found a kind of yarn that is inexpensive, but still soft and comes in pretty colors for baby blankets, so I can make a baby blanket as a gift for about $6. It does take a lot of time, but I don’t mind that since I enjoy crocheting.
  • Save butter wrappers to grease baking pans- I’ve been doing this! When I use up a stick of butter I just fold the wrapper up and stick

    Homemade Salad Dressing

    it in the butter drawer until I need it! Works great!

  • Do more from scratch  (like: salad dressing, yogurt, dip, Bisquick, Worcestershire sauce) – I have made salad dressing, but have bought some too. I’ve only made yogurt once and that was quite a while ago. I’ve started making my own veggie dip with sour cream and it’s super easy, I need to share the recipe. I’ve made a Bisquick mix, but I haven’t attempted Worcestershire sauce and don’t know if I will. And me and hubby made some energy bars this weekend.
  • Buy no gift wrapping materials – I feel very successful in this area. The other day I was trying to remember when I last bought wrapping paper or gift bags, and I can’t remember. It’s probably been about a year. I reuse gift bags and tissue paper (or if I don’t have any tissue paper I just skip it).  And I still have wrapping paper from the last time I bought it. I’ve also used an old flight map to wrap a present.
  • Reuse aluminum foil – I’ve always reused ziploc bags, but only recently started reusing aluminum foil. If it’s a piece that’s small, torn or really hard to clean I toss it, but other than that I wipe it down, fold it up, and tuck it away for next time.
  • Rent less from Redbox – I’m a big fan of Redbox, it’s way cheaper than movie rental stores, but I figure we have plenty of other ways to entertain ourselves right now(netflix, games, hulu.com, etc…) . We used to go about 2-3 times a month, now it’s more like once.

NEW STRATEGIES (I thought I’d add to my money saving strategies)

  • Start trying to let Gracia take her naps without a diaper – Gracia wears 2 diapers a day (unless we’re traveling or something). She wears one at nap time and one at night. I’m gonna try to see if she can make it through nap time without one, she’s done it a few times and so far so good. This will cut our diaper use in half and at about 25 cents per diaper we could save $7.50 a month.
  • See how low I can get our grocery bill – This has it’s own strategies in and of it’s self. You can check out this post for them. And follow along on my grocery journey.

My little Gracia turned 3 this weekend! I remember when she was a newborn, everyone told me that the time would go really fast…and boy were they right! Anyways…we tried to do our party without spending too much money, but also make it a worthwhile party. We could have done some things cheaper, like used real plates instead of paper or made my own tea, but that also would have taken more time. So we decided to meet in the middle, we did some things from scratch and some the faster way.

Here’s an estimate of what we spent on the party. Some of the things I didn’t know an exact amount, especially if it was something made from scratch using small amounts of lots of different ingredients, so I just did an estimated guess.

We fed 13 adults and 5 kids. And we only ate about half the food, so we have several meals covered this week!

Here’s the numbers:

  • Swing (our gift to Gracia) $20
  • Drinks (2 jugs of tea, juice pouches, 2-12 packs of soda) $13
  • Bubble necklaces for the kids $2
  • Plates, cups, silverware, napkins and tablecloths  $17
  • Watermelon $4
  • 3 bags of chips $5
  • Cheese $7
  • Ice $6
  • 60 Hot dogs (Oscar Meyer, no artificial stuff, from Sam’s Club) $8
  • Hot dog buns (also from Sam’s) $4
  • Potato salad – the potatoes cost $6, so with all the other ingredients, I’ll just guess it cost about $9
  • Cake – We had 2 cakes, the cupcakes in the butterfly cake, the icing and decorations were free, I’ll explain more in my cake post. The cake for the butterfly wings and the second cake and it’s icing were all homemade so let’s say I spent $3 on that.
  • Chili – the meat was probably $5 worth and the beans just over $1, so we’ll say $8
  • We had onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles, let’s just say we used $3 worth of those.

TOTAL ESTIMATE: $109

Here’s some ways we either just didn’t spend money or spent less than we could have:

  • Our invitations were free, we just sent out a facebook invite.
  • We didn’t do any decorations.
  • I used a gift bag I already had for Gracia’s gift.
  • We spent very little on the cakes. The cake mix, some of the icing and decorations were free (I’ll elaborate in my butterfly cake post). The rest was made from scratch really cheaply. If we had bought an already made b-day cake it would cost at least $20.
  •  The potato salad and chili were made from scratch. Plus I used beans to stretch the meat in the chili.
  • We did it at a park for free, plus it had a brand new playground which was free, but really fun entertainment for the kids.
  • Most of the things I bought for the party were generic brand.
  • I saved receipts in case we didn’t use anything and wanted to return it. Which was good, because one of the sets of cups we didn’t open and I’m going to return them for a savings of $1.50! =)

So all to say, no it was not the cheapest party on earth, but we did find ways to make it cheaper. And when you save in other areas you can afford to splurge a little on special occasions.

I have more to talk about the party. I’m planning a post on how we made our butterfly cake (no purchasing a special cake pan!). I may also share the Wacky Cake recipe (it uses vinegar, and this is after all national vinegar month) and the peanut butter icing recipe. And I might do a post on how we used up our leftovers from the party.

What ways do you like to save or splurge on birthday parties?

Here’s an idea I got from The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczn. Keep the lids to concentrated frozen juice. Put matching stickers on to make a memory game for kids. You could also paint or draw shapes, letters, colors or whatever to help them learn. And you can keep adding to the game as you collect more juice lids (as you can see I need to save more.)

You could do this with card stock paper too, but the juice lids will last a lot longer. And they stack really nicely! Plus frozen juice is a lot of times cheaper than bottled. Check the ingredients in bottled juice, a lot of them are made from concentrate.

This is a great frugal gift idea for kids. You can personalize them by using stickers of one of their favorite characters, then tie with a pretty ribbon.

I don’t want people to think I’m “cheap” when it comes to giving gifts to others, but I am a firm believer in thoughtfulness more than the size of the price tag. Sometimes we get so convinced that price equals how much you care about the person (just listen to jewelry commercials!). But I don’t agree with that. I’ve been given expensive gifts that I felt like were given to me just because the giver was “supposed” to give me something. And I’ve received frugal gifts that I could tell the person put time and thought into and they meant a lot to me.

So here’s some free or very inexpensive, but thoughtful ideas for your Mom this Mother’s Day:

  • Make a really nice home-made card (don’t forget to put a really nice long note in it!)
  • Make a book-mark with her favorite verse, poem or saying on it
  • Frame a picture of you and her
  • Make a special meal for her
  • Make one of her favorite goodies
  • Give her a seed packet (of her favorite kind of flower)
  • If you’re good at drawing or painting make some art of one of her favorite things (ie: favorite flower, scene, bird etc…)
  • Make her a cross word puzzle or word search that uses words that describe her
  • If you like writing, write a poem or write a story of your favorite memory of her.
  • Cut a tea pot or tea cup shape out of paper and put 2 tea bags on it. Write “Tea for 2″ and have a tea time with your mom (or make an iced-tea, flavored coffee or chia tea mix)
  • Send her lots of free e-cards and on each one tell her something different that you appreciate about her
  • Pick some wildflowers or if you have a flower bed, cut some for her
  • Give her a big hug and a kiss and tell her you love her!
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