Friday, December 11, 2015

Secret Santa Savings

This is part 2 of my 3 part series called Serious Holiday Savings.

Oh what fun it is... to participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange!

Tell me I'm not the only one who enjoys doing this.  I guess I like it because I enjoy surprises myself, so I find it fun to surprise someone else with little things I think they'd enjoy.

We are currently doing a voluntary Secret Santa exchange at the school where I work.  I wasn't there to draw a name, but another teacher drew for me and I received the name of a dear Kindergarten teacher.  I seriously doubt she's reading this blog, but just in case, I won't mention her name just in case I spoil a surprise!

Over three weeks' time, the Secret Santas are to place a minimum of two gifts per week in the recipient's mailbox.  At our holiday celebration, we are to bring one final gift and reveal who we are to the recipient.

I was excited to get started with my secret gifts, but wanted to stay within a certain budget without my gifts coming across as cheap and unusable.  So, I started a list of ideas for this certain teacher.  I decided to run to the store and get some of the things I needed on the list.  The only problem was, I wasn't able to get to the store that evening and I wanted to give my first gift the following morning.  So, I got a little creative and went shopping in my own house!  Don't worry, I didn't choose some kind of used, junky gift that I hadn't gotten around to throwing away yet.  I found a new, unopened set of yummy-smelling tealight candles that I wrapped and was quite satisfied with my first gift.

Just in case you're interested in participating in a Secret Santa, but are worried about spending too much, here are a few budget ideas that are sure to please both you and the recipient.

1. Go "shopping" at home.  At any given time, I have perfectly usable "stuff" hanging around my house that I'm just not going to use myself, but it might make a lovely gift for someone else.  If you have a give-away pile, check that first for any new items that you could regift.  Just make sure you're not giving an item to the same person you received it from!

2. Bake and take some holiday goodies.  Another one of my Secret Santa gift ideas came to me naturally after hosting my annual cookie exchange.  I had plenty of fresh, homemade cookies that I was never going to eat by myself, so I bagged them up, added a pretty tag, and they were ready to be gifted!

3. Hit the dollar store for themed gifts.  If you've read any other post on this blog, you've probably figured out that I'm a true fan of the dollar store.  I was actually there for something else, but I started noticing that some of the holiday-themed items would make great Secret Santa gifts.  I ended up getting a lovely holiday mug along with some hot chocolate packets and some peppermint tea.  I put them all together and had a perfect themed gift.

4.  Make a gift.  I like this idea so much, I'm devoting the entire next blog post to it, but people always seem to appreciate a handcrafted gift.  Put your skills to work, whatever they are.  I like to make jewelry and stamp cards.  Maybe you can sew simple ornaments or bedazzle a plain ball ornament with rhinestones.  You probably already have the supplies you need in your house.  Take an afternoon and work on some holiday crafts and you'll have some great gifts as a reward for your time.

5.  Re-gift a gift card.  Disclaimer: please make sure you check the balance first of any gift card you plan to regift and make sure it matches the price displayed on the front!  There is nothing worse than going to use your gift card and discovering it only has five cents left!  However, if you have full-value gift cards to restaurants and stores you don't think you'll visit anytime soon, these can make great free Secret Santa gifts!

I hope this post inspires you to get creative with your Secret Santa gifts this year!  There's no reason you can't provide great gifts and still stay on budget.  Happy Holidays!

For more awesome savings tips you can use year-round, check out my book called 8 (Really Creative) Ways to Save here.  It also makes a great Christmas gift!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Classy Invitations for Less

The next 3 posts will be part of my series called Serious Holiday Savings.

Have you noticed how expensive it is to throw a holiday party these days?  There's the food and the beverages and the venue (if you use a place other than your home).  There's the added expense of the decorations to spruce up your location.  And something that might surprise you: the invitations.   All of those expenses really add up in a season that is already putting a serious dent in your wallet.

One of the highlights of my year is the annual Cookie Exchange Party I host at my house the first weekend in December.  I serve appetizers and holiday themed beverages and all of my guests bring their best cookie to share with everyone else.  I've done it for at least 5 years, and one of the areas I try to save on is the invitations.  Some years, I've just done a free invite online, but I really prefer to hand out physical invitations.  That way, my guests can display them somewhere to remind them of the upcoming party.  And they have a memento to keep after the event.

One year, I used Christmas-themed recipe cards and put my invitation on the back.  That made a cute invitation.  This year, I decided to look for holiday-themed computer paper so I could print my invitations out.

My son and I went to several stores that I know carry the sort of paper we were looking for.  Would you believe, we couldn't find anything even like it.  I finally found a set of paper at an arts and crafts store for a whopping $13.99, but I was not going to pay that!

We made one final stop at the dollar store, one of my favorite places on earth.  Lo and behold, I found a set of 12 gingerbread foam cutouts.  I realized they were big enough to write the invitation on the back and decorate the front.  I picked up a package of sparkly green "pipe cleaners" to bend into bows for my ginger men, and voila! I had invitations.

If I had gone with my original idea of buying themed paper, I would have spent a lot more on my invitations.  Instead, I allowed inspiration to seize me in the moment and I am so pleased with the resulting invitations.  The best part: they cost $2.

As you are thinking of hosting your own holiday soiree this year, don't be afraid to improvise when you are looking for invitations, party favors and decorations.  You just might find something better than your original idea and it might cost a lot less too!

Happy Holidays!