Christmas- yes, already!

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      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.

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