Thursday, December 03, 2009

A Simple Christmas

Lately I have been feeling the urge to simplify and downsize our Christmas-- take on less, commit to less, and spend less. I have been actively looking for ways I can do this. There have been several ways I have found that I wanted to share here:

  • Think through the activities we participate in: I love to do special things for my kids at Christmas. As I sat and debated the different excellent options in our area, I started calculating the cost to participate in these activities. As I did so, the costs started adding up and the activities were no longer as enticing as they were. This was a good exercise for me-- to literally count the cost. And so, this season I am actively looking for free or very inexpensive things we can do. Because my desire to do the fun things didn't go away. Each weekend my aim is to have a fun activity planned and so far I have been able to do that. This weekend I will be gone speaking but my mother in law is taking my two older girls to a tea they attend every year at her church. The following weekend we've been invited to a cookie exchange that we will attend as a family and the girls and I are headed back to wonderful Zoe's house to bake our traditional baklava! The following weekend I am hoping to do a little Christmas tea here. During their break I have found some fun craft and storytime activities the library is offering. None of these things cost much, if anything, but they provide us with the chance for memories and fun, and a diversion from the ordinary-ness of life. That's all I really want for my children where Christmas is concerned. Who says I have to spend tons of money to do that? It took some looking and some creativity, but I did find affordable options. We can all invite another family over to bake cookies and sip hot chocolate for just a few dollars but a lot of fun memories.
  • Purge: I decided to get rid of some decorations I have stored year after year and never used and also some decorations that had seen better days. It was hard to part with these things that had been part of our Christmases for years, but it was time. Sadly, I loaded them into the car and took them to Goodwill. I know that just because we are tired of looking at these things doesn't mean someone else will be. After I dropped them off, I felt much better. Lighter. I highly recommend purging your stash of Christmas stuff this year when you drag it all out. Instead of packing stuff to go back in the attic, really ask yourself: If I am not using it this year, am I really ever going to use it? If the answer is no-- even if it's Aunt Gladys' prized heirloom-- get rid of it. Be ruthless. Purging is good for you.
  • Hold onto my expectations lightly: I saved a lot of money this year with our Christmas cards. A few weeks ago, my friend Molly tweeted about a good deal on Hallmark Christmas cards. I zipped over there, designed a card I loved, and was about to press that little "proceed to checkout" button when Curt told me I needed to wait on that purchase. Grudgingly, I waited. When I went back several days later, I was dismayed to find that the coupon code had expired. And I had designed a card I now couldn't afford! I had to let go of my desire to have cards. I realized that the world will go on without the Whalen family Christmas card.

    Imagine my surprise when, just a few days later, my friend Sherri tweeted about another deal. was offering cards for half off. I hastily gathered my kids together and snapped a photo of them. It wasn't the best setting (our family couch), the kids weren't matchy matchy (which just thrills this mother's heart to bits but they are revolting more loudly each year), the card wasn't as cute as the one I originally designed at Hallmark, and it wasn't the best picture they've ever taken. I didn't care. I was on a deadline to get the deal this time before the coupon code expired. And semi-decent cards were better than no cards at all. I ended up with 100 cards for $26-- nearly half the price I was going to pay for my half-price cards at Hallmark. I was tickled. (The special is over but I think they are offering other deals if you want to check them out. Their prices are very reasonable.) The point was, I held onto my desire to have cards lightly. When it didn't work out, I let it go pretty quickly. When it got added back, it was a nice surprise. But I didn't get so tunnel-visioned that I broke the bank to have what I wanted in my little vision of that dangerous thing known as "the perfect Christmas." This is a lesson I learn a bit more each year.
  • Make gifts instead of buy them: I am making gifts for the kids' teachers. I realized that, with six kids now in school, contributing $10-$20 per child, per teacher, was going to be expensive. (In the past I have contributed to the class gift of a Visa giftcard, which is a great thing to do if you can swing it.) I have decided to bake some goodies for them instead. Last night I baked 6 loaves of chocolate chip banana bread. Four are now tucked into the freezer to pull out as gifts. I have been searching online for some other gift ideas and hope we can make several items to make a nice gift basket. This wasn't that much work and I would much rather put effort rather than a lot of money into the gifts we are giving. If you want to make gifts, check out this Works For Me Wednesday blog carnival. There are lots of suggestions for gifts you can make. (Go down to the bottom of the post for the links.)
  • Reduce my workload any way I can: I am planning way simple meals these days. This week we've had tacos, spaghetti, make your own subs, etc. The point is to think of meals that free you up to do other things. All of these things could be made in the morning, put in the crockpot and the day is free to take care of shopping, baking, errands, or editing a novel, as it is in our house. I had to do some thinking and planning but by doing that, I saved time and money. I wasn't sending my husband out for expensive takeout and we still ate decent. Not gourmet, but decent. This is something you might want to think through if you have an especially busy or demanding schedule in the weeks to come. I have a list of simple and easy meal solutions in my ebook if you'd like to check that out.
  • Keep my first priority: No matter what we have going on, I am committing to keep my time with God each morning a priority. During Advent, I am going through a devotion by Ann Voskamp called The Glorious Coming: A Jesse Tree Celebration of Advent. It's not too late to buy this wonderful ebook and get started, as I am only the 4th day. This daily devotion features a scripture reading and an application that shows how all of God's plans pointed to Christ's coming, starting with creation. This devotion is meant to do with your whole family but I am just doing it for myself.
  • Ask God: This devotion from Holly Good has inspired me that gift giving does not have to cost us anything financially. When we listen to God, He can inspire some pretty special gifts that surprise us and bless others. Be sure and read Melissa's blog post on her inspiration behind the gift.

Maybe with your financial situation, it's best for you to look around for what you can let go of. Maybe there are some things stressing you out that you need to say no to. Whatever your situation is, it's time to get serious about cutting what needs to be cut. My friend Molly has a great vlog this week on learning to say "no." Check it out at And check out Micca Campbell's "Tips For Reducing Holiday Stress."

You can have a joy-filled Christmas this year. Don't let the current economic climate or your family's busyness steal that from you. Let go of some things and see that life-- and Christmas-- does go on when you do.

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avagdro said...

Thanks Marybeth for sharing.Wish you n all a joyful Christmas n New Year Eve ahead.

Flowers to Hyderabad|Cakes,Gifts to India

Sheena said...

You are such a wonderful mother.All this planning and all for your children even with a budget makes it still very interesting.

I am learning from you.

In the grip of His grace

Sheena Jeremiah

Jill said...

Could you post your Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Recipe. My kids would love it.
I make Homemade Caramels for the teachers in our lives, the recipe is on my blog. Yummy, makes a ton and pretty inexpensive. Fun family activities you have planned.

Jen said...

I love your blog title! :) I'm the oldest of 8, so I understand the need for simplifying and economizing Christmas.
We don't do very big things for Christmas every year. We love sending cards to family, since we don't do gifts (its expensive when there's so many of us!). And one of our favorite traditions is to make dozens of cookes and give containers of them to our neighbors. We drive together to each house and the kids take them to the's always so much fun.

Thank you for sharing your ideas. :) I found your blog from one of your followers. Merry Christmas, and God's blessings on your family!

tiggerdaisy said...

Hi there! I just ordered your ebook--can't wait to get home and read through it!

Prayers and blessings,

Anonymous said...

One of things we're doing this children still believe in Santa but they are also very aware of the true meaning of Christmas. We decided that Santa would bring them each 3 presents just as each wiseman brought baby Jesus a present. That has cut down tremendously!

Susan Meissner said...

Good stuff! And I loved your devo post on P31 this morning.
Thanks, sister. . .

Nicole said...

Sherri is your personal shopper too, huh? I love her!