For the past few years, Christmas at our house hasn't been too bad.

I'm not a shop happy person- I don't think kids NEED to have cell

phones, MP3 players, and TV set ups at the age of 9 or 10. I realize

not all parents feel the same, and I respect that.



My husband is the opposite of me. The kids each have a TV, DVD

player, and VCR in thier rooms (3 kids, 3 rooms). Now, one TV is our

old hand-me-down from about 10 years ago. The other two tv's are

combo units- one is a 13" with a VCR, the other is a 13" with a DVD.

The one with the VCR we got on clearance for $40 last year- cheaper

than any VCR we could find at the time, since VCR's were hard to

find, and the only ones we COULD find were combo units with DVD

players. The other one, with the DVD, we got on sale for around $80.



I digress. I am not a huge fan of it, but I know the kids enjoy

having them, and I figure if we didn't go broke doing it, might as

well.



Christmas is coming up. Scarily fast, if you ask me. For the first

few years we were married, we were broke in a way that wasn't even

funny in retrospect. We got food stamps, WIC, commodity supplements,

we were given a HUGE Thanksgiving basket one year that had enough

groceries for a week, plus a gift card for $25 to the local grocery

store for fresh meats (in theory, for a Turkey, but they told me I

could use it on any fresh meats, so I stocked up for multiple

meals).



One year, I think Chris was almost 1 (his birthday being in mid

January), we got a phone call from a local agency. A small outlet

store donated 10 $100 gift cards to be handed out to those they felt

could use them the most. I was shocked (and a bit dismayed) to learn

we were one of the 10 poorest families registered with that agency.

I went in, got $100 worth of toys (some of which I kept seperate for

Chris's birthday), and checked out- to my utter embarrassment, my

husband's friends sister was working, and KNEW where I got the gift

card. She didn't say anything embarrassing about it, it was more the

knowledge that we had received it, and now, friends knew.



To top it off, she did mention it to her brother, who talked to me

about it at his wife's baby shower a week later- apparently, of the

10 families chosen, most chose to spend the money on themselves

rather than their children, which was the intent behind the store's

gift.



We got toys for tots as well for the first few years we were

married. We almost never had extra money to contribute to the tree,

except a few little things- a $5 doll, some dollar tree coloring

books, etc. The kids never lacked for anything, but our trees at

home were usually pretty sad looking. Several years we would

purposly visit my family on Christmas Eve, so we would be there

Christmas Morning where the tree at least -looked- more stuffed.



A few years ago, I was getting ready to make the annual call to sign

up for Toys for Tots, and I realized... we didn't need it. Sure, it

would have been helpful and nice, but we were at a point where we

could at least provide a few small things for the kids. My family

tends to go overboard in "making up" the difference at times, so...

I just didn't make the call, and I haven't made it since then.



Sure, the gifts were small, some homemade, some cheap, some even

from Goodwill or Salvation Army, but it was Christmas I provided.



This year, we made a huge move in our lives- Nick got a job an hour

and 15 minutes south of us, and as soon as the kids were out of

school, we picked up and moved. It took us a bit of work, but the

move itself was very easy, and we love the new area.



With the new job comes some perks, though. For starters, the salary

itself isn't much higher than before (around $500/yr higher), but in

addition to the salary are free medical coverage (we have co-pays,

but no paying out from our check), no union fees, quarterly bonuses,

and a Christmas Bonus. The quarterlies are sort of a profit sharing

deal, sorta not. Basically, they award employees with a 1-2% bonus

based on how the profits are. At Christmas, it's much the same, with

the amount being higher- 5-10%, with the last few years being around

7-8%, but with this year showing the largest profits of all time for

the company.



That in and of itself was great news. Not only did it boost our

income for the year, it also comes at the perfect time to provide

some extra around Christmas.



My goals were lofty, I'll tell you that right now. I don't like to

spend a lot of money, even if we have extra, simply because I'm

frugal by heart. I've known for months what my two oldest children

wanted, but the price tag made me leary of it- $150! Then, it went

down in price to $130, still not great, but at least -better-.



What usually happens in our house is that the kids get inundated

with assorted stuff from so many families (my parents are divorced

as are my husbands, which means instead of 1 gift from a set of

grandparents, there's 2, etc, and 2 extra families, etc, etc,

etc...), not to mention the Santa gifts (yes, we do Santa, and no,

we won't stop- it's a tradition in both our families), plus the

gifts from us... well, the kids are on toy overload, and with so

much stuff, half of it isn't even used for months- if ever!



It always felt great when I'd buy the stuff, then afterwards, it was

a huge let down when I felt like I'd wasted money on stuff I was

SURE they'd LOVE.



So, I came to the conclusion this year that I want to first of all

splurge a bit, money wise. I know, it's not what most of the people

here would do, but that's what I really want to do for my kids this

year. My next decision was to try and find 1 item they really want,

and focus on that, instead of getting a bunch of small toys and

stuff.



I've explained my husband a bit, right? Well, he's a techno-geek,

and loves his video games, which is something he's kind

of "installed" into our kids. They love em, too. Me? I'll play one

here and there, and like it, but I'd rather play arcade games

online, or read a book.



So, the $130 item the kids want? A Nintendo DS. After hearing that,

I did a bit of price checking, and found that the older style Game

Boys are still sold brand new, still have games being made for them,

and range from $50-80, so I thought that would work better. I could

get them each one of those and a game, and have spent $100- which

was my "limit" from both us, and Santa. Yes, my goal is to spend

$600 on Christmas, which is insane- I know! In past years, I've

spent around $100 total for 3 kids. But, I know that once I get them

each a handheld game system (the DS or Gameboy for the older two,

and a Vsmile for our youngest), and get them each a game or two,

plus the traditional new outfit, a new blanket, and maybe 1 or 2

small toys, I'll have reached that $200 easily. And with a quarterly

bonus that arrives around the end of October/early November, and

November being a 3 check month (usually we get 2 checks per month,

but twice a year, Thursday falls so that we get 3 checks), we're

going to be able to do a lot more, without feeling rushed, or

worrying about bills, or anything like that.



As of this morning, I was sold more on getting the older two the

Gameboys- then, my husband decided to give something up. He has an

Xbox 360, as well as a PS2. When we moved, the PS2 got put in our

room because we like playing scary games... except, it's sat there

for months now collecting dust without having been hooked up at all.



So, he decided to sell it to Gamestop (or, rather, Trade it in).

Along with the unit, he had 3 memory cards, 4 controllers, 3

extenders, and 14 games. He briefly considered ebay, but really, the

hassle wasn't worth it.



Gamestop had a deal going today- if you traded in 3 games, you got

an extra 10% "bonus" in trade value, 4 games was 15%, 5 or more

games and it was 20%. Plus, we have a card that gets us an extra 10%

on top of that for all trade ins except systems.



In the end, I took them in to trade it all in, and we wound up

getting $172 in trade value!! I was amazed- I had been expecting

around $100 max, but 3 of the games we had were older and rare. Even

on eBay, they go for a decent amount still.



So, I walked out of Gamestop today with 1 brand new Nintendo DS

Lite, and 2 used games for it (we get a 10% bonus OFF used games, so

I'd rather do that- plus they're cheaper to begin with!), and I only

paid $2.03.



That REALLY makes the cost of those systems MUCH better. I fully

intend to wait until Black Friday for the next one, and hope I get a

good deal on it, and then... well, that's a HUGE chunk of Christmas

done.



On top of that, though, I also have a few other things set aside

that I've already picked up-



3 microplush blankets I found on sale for $6 each, one for each kid.

1 Fisher Price StarStation to Go that I found for only $5 at an

outlet store for a department store (these sell for $25-30 brand

new) for our youngest (it's basically a faux MP3 player, BIG and

Chunky, with music cartridges)

2 StarStation Cartridges I got off eBay for $15 after shipping-

Walmart sells them for $10.47 each.

3 Magazine Subcriptions I got on eBay- one for each child at MUCH

cheaper than list price.



I'm MUCH further ahead than I planned to be right now, but hey, if I

could get the little stuff here and there, and then the big stuff

later (except well, the 1 DS I got already), then I think it'll go

smoothly for me.



I know- no where near budget friendly, but I looove that I was able

to get the DS & 2 games essentially for only $2 today.