How to: My best Christmas gift shopping tips to save you time and money

 

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It’s 10 days before Christmas and I will be completely done shopping tomorrow once I pick up some more gift cards for my parents. Everything I bought so far is also wrapped, sorted by recipient and ready to go for the big day. I am not trying to brag or say I am supermom (I’m far from it!) but it is worth it to me to be done early and not to have to fight the crowds. I also do not have to stress that I have so much left to do when my kids are on Winter Break. Friends always ask me to reveal my secrets so I am sharing them with you too! These tips are what works best for me and my family. Everyone is different but I hope you will learn something new!

-Open a note on your phone (I use the Notes app that came already installed on my iPhone) and make a list of everyone you need to buy gifts for plus your budget. During the year put any ideas you may have for that person and what you have already purchased. This way you are not going over your budget or forgetting someone either! Otherwise you will end up like my mom and find gifts in July you forgot you bought for Christmas. She’s going to kill me for writing that. Sorry mom! This is a great tip for birthdays as well! They also make apps like Santa’s Bag that help to track your budget and purchases.

-Start early! Do you want to know when I bought my first Christmas present this year? January! When I find something on sale I buy it and store it. Be picky and buy something your loved one actually will want and use. Avoid buying junk just because it is a good deal.

-Buy holiday decorations and gift wrapping on clearance the week after Christmas. I wait until Target gets to 50% off and buy what I really really want. Anything else I like but don’t “need” I wait until at least 70% off. This is the time to stock up on items like wrapping paper and gift bags. Last year I found tons of gift wrap supplies for 90% off at Target. Guess who will not have to be buying any again for years? This girl! I was also able to donate 16 rolls of wrapping paper to our local mom’s group for their holiday toy drive.

-Shop the Target toy clearance sales in late January and late July. Years ago I did the bulk of my kid’s holiday shopping during this sale. The days of the sale are no longer the same as they used to be and the markdowns seem to take longer to get to 70% off. This sale is still worth stalking Target over. Also visit multiple stores if they have more than one in your area. Different stores will have different inventory. The discounts also vary. You may find a toy at 30% off at your regular store but the one across town has the same item marked at 70% off. This is also a great time to stock up on Toys For Tots gifts.

-Whenever you have extra time at any store browse by the clearance racks or sections. You never know what you will find.

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-Amazon Prime. If you do not already have it, sign up for a free trial. It is life changing!!! When a package takes longer than 2 days to arrive from another site I get annoyed. I have become totally spoiled. I also check Amazon prices before buying anything at the store. It is not always the lowest price but most of the time it will be the same or lower. Plus it involves me not having to leave my house. That’s important now that I live a hefty drive from stores and I have a 4 year old that is a beast to take shopping.

-Use free price tracking websites like Camel Camel Camel. This site tells you the lowest price an item you are interested in has sold for on Amazon and when. I check there to find out if an item is likely to go lower in price based on past trends.  http://camelcamelcamel.com

-Use websites like RetailMeNot or google for coupons before making online purchases. Many of my friends like Ebates to earn cashback. I am so guilty of forgetting to use this program!

-Try to only buy from stores that offer free shipping. Nothing is worse than paying shipping costs higher than the item that you have purchased. I have become so spoiled by Amazon Prime that it literally pains me to pay shipping.

-Make your own gifts. My sister bought a Cricut Explore Air and has been working like crazy to make personalized gifts. You do not need a fancy machine to make your own though. Are you good at baking? Cookies and cakes are always appreciated. Are you crafty? Pinterest is filled with ideas.

Check out my gift giving board here: https://www.pinterest.com/jerseygirlinthe/gift-giving

-Give the gift of your time. What hobbies or talents do you have that can be shared? What can you do to help someone out? I am sure your nieces and nephews would love for you to babysit them or your relatives would appreciate having you paint a room for them. My inlaws gifted that to us the Christmas we moved to our last house (closing was Dec 15th) and it really helped out. We did not have the time to paint ourselves and as I have mentioned before I am not the best painter.

-Use Social Media to find deals. Small shops often post discount codes on their Instagram feeds. Facebook is an awesome resource too. Many pages have already found fabulous deals for you. Because of the changes on Facebook it is best to go directly to their pages as all of their posts will not show up on your news feed. My favorite bargain pages are:

Passionate Penny Pincher https://www.facebook.com/PassionatePennyPincher/

Thrify Momma Ramblings https://www.facebook.com/thriftymommaramblings/

Hip2Save https://www.facebook.com/hip2save/

How Does She https://www.facebook.com/HowDoesShe/?fref=ts

-My biggest tip? Try not to stress!!! Slow down, take it day by day and enjoy the holidays.

Do you have any shopping tips to share?

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My favorite fall photos of 2016

 

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Photography is a hobby that I have enjoyed since college when I took my very first class. I have been trying to find the time to take more photos lately and really get back into it. It is not that easy when you have 3 boys who are always in a rush when Mom wants to stop to take a few pictures. These are a few of my favorites photos from this fall.

The first group is from our visit to Fruit Hill Orchard in Palmyra, VA. It is a small family owned operation that has a produce market and a pick your own orchard. The employees are all very kind to the kids and make a fuss over them. This is the second year we have gone and we will definitely be going back. It is not crowded like going up to Charlottesville and the ride there from our house is scenic. Their gala apples are fabulous!  http://fruithillorchard.com/

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The next two photos are from Lloyd Family Farms in Rockville, VA. This is the first time we had gone pumpkin picking at this farm. It will be our new spot from now on. The farm offers hay rides, a corn maze, food trucks, goats to pet and pony rides. My kids were in heaven! I wish I would have taken more pictures of the property but I only had my cellphone. I never put the camera card back in and did not discover my mistake until I went to take pictures… My favorite part is all of the different varieties of pumpkins that they grow. You are not stuck with the basic round orange pumpkin. They had white, Cinderella, green and all fabulous shades of orange along with different sizes and shapes to choose from. http://www.lloydfamilyfarms.com/

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The last group of photos is where I take most of my pictures these days: home. Leaves are changing, temperatures are cooling and we want to be outdoors all of the time!

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Our Silver Fox rabbits had a litter of 6 babies! They were born October 2nd and we have really been enjoying them. It has been a great learning experience for the kids. We are all going to miss them when they move onto their new homes. My middle son wants to keep them all but I think 10 rabbits is more than we can handle!

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What would you be interested in seeing pictures of? I plan to do a farmhouse/barn photo post in the future!

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How we get ready to head back to school and our daily routine!

Back to school routine and checklist

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The bus driving away on the middle one’s first day of Kindergarten a few years ago! So many tears!

 

It’s almost time for school to start!!! Two weeks from tomorrow is our first day, not that I’m counting down or anything. 😉 The big one is going into 6th grade, the middle one into 3rd grade and the little one will be in his first year of preschool. I would be lying if I said I was not ecstatic to finally have some alone time three mornings a week. Three boys can be exhausting!  Target here I come!!! All kidding aside I will miss them but I am excited they will meet new friends and enjoy a new year of school.

We start preparing for back to school in late July/early August. I made a to do list (type A people love their lists!) so I do not miss anything.

  • Try on clothing and shoes to see what still fits. Anything stained or in poor condition gets thrown away. Clothes that are too small get packed up for hand me downs. We generally start off the school year with brand new sneakers as my kids tend to trash theirs over the summer.   I also make a list (shocker I know) of what quantities and colors of new clothes we need to purchase. This is the perfect time for spring/summer clothing shopping as most stores have it on clearance. I normally wait until later to buy heavier clothing as it’s warm down here through October unless I see a great deal. Most stores have back to school sales. I also shop for winter clearance in the spring and buy a size or two up from their current size.
  • Print out the school calendar and mark down important dates. I am old school and still use a paper calendar in addition to my cellphone calendar. The boys like being able to see what we have coming up too so this works for us. I also inform my husband of what days I need him to be home from school early for things like teacher conferences, back to school night, etc.
  • Set up a drop zone for backpacks and school papers. If you are lucky enough to have a mudroom that’s the perfect spot or you can set up a space near your entryway. For organizing papers I have the Thirty One Hang Up Home organizer (that is no longer sold) hanging inside of our pantry door. You may be able to find one on Ebay or second hand. Each child has a pocket for their important papers and the fourth pocket is for family papers. Another idea is to create your own command center. I have several pinned on my Organize Your Space Pinterest board.
  • Go through the school supplies that got returned at the end of last year. See what can be salvaged and toss the rest. I realize some people do this at the end of the school year but I am so over school at that point and put it off. I also check backpacks and lunch boxes to make sure they are in good enough condition to use again the following year. If not, new ones go on the school shopping list.
  • Start checking the sales flyers for school supply deals. In VA we get an extensive list of supplies that need to be brought into meet the teacher day. Pencils, crayons, glue, notebooks, scissors, markers, etc. I tend to shop at Office Max for their spend $5 get xyz for 1 cent or 25 cent deals. We have one close by and I stop in there before my weekly Target trip in the summer to get my goodies. At the end of August whatever has not been found at a bargain price is purchased at Target. (5% Redcard discount!)
  • Schedule back to school hair cuts early! If you don’t you will be waiting in life forever at the salon with a walk in appointment. I made that mistake once. Never again!
  • If your kids are not on a sleep routine that resembles the school schedule start transitioning them back a few days/weeks early. I only increase bedtime by 30 minutes in the summer so this one is pretty easy for us. They only stay up late if we have friends over or we are out somewhere special. If my kids do not get enough sleep they are nasty and it’s not fun for anyone (especially me…)
  • If your child brings a bag lunch to school this is a great time to look for new recipes and lunch container ideas. My kids get bored eating the same thing every day. Pinterest is the perfect place for this! I have a kids and family board with plenty of ideas.  Unfortunately school bought lunch is not an option for us as we are a food allergy family. My kid’s allergies are not top 8 and can often be hidden in food. It’s safer and easier for everyone this way. Bento boxes are perfect for children who like a large variety at lunch time. My favorites are divided all in one containers as linked below and Rubbermaid Lunch Blox containers. Our schools also have the children bring a snack and a bottle of water. My kids tend to bring a main meal (sandwich, leftovers, salad, etc), a piece of fruit, a cheese stick or Babybel, yogurt tube, a cracker/carby type of snack and veggies with or without dip. We keep everything organized in bins in the “snack cabinet” or drawers in the fridge so we just need to grab something as we assemble lunches in the morning. To save time this can be done the night before. My kids swear their sandwiches don’t taste the same if I make them at night.

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  • Establish your morning and evening routine. Ours has changed many times over the years depending on grade and the schools they attended. We used to do homework immediately after school but changed that as the kids got older. They wanted some down time after school so we adjusted it. Currently this is a typical school day for us. Times change depending on weather and before/after school activities.

Before school:

6am or earlier-The big one wakes up, gets in the shower and gets dressed.

6:20am-I wake up and make sure the big one is awake and showering. Hit snooze. At 6:30 I force myself to get up and head downstairs to make lunches and breakfast. Big one has breakfast. Two younger ones wake up sometime between 6-7am, come in my bedroom, fall back to sleep or watch tv and stay out of big one’s way. He is like his mother and not a happy morning person.

6:45am-The older kids go out to feed the rabbits.

7:00am-The big one heads to the bus. The two younger ones and I sit down to eat breakfast.

7:20am-The two younger ones get dressed and brush teeth. The little one is not always compliant and likes to stay in pj’s if we are staying home.

7:30-8:30am-Electronics time for the middle one. The boys get 1 hour per day on school days and he chooses to use his in the morning. The little one uses the iPad so I can take a shower and get ready for the day.

8:30am-The middle one gets on the bus and I start the rest of my day.

After school:

3:30pm-The big one gets off of the bus and eats a snack.

3:45pm-The big one has his 1 hour of electronics time. He likes to do it at this time to decompress and have a break after a long day at school. I start cooking dinner/prepping food depending on what we are eating.

4:45pm-The middle one gets off of the bus. The older two go out to clean rabbit cages and take care of chickens. They play outside weather permitting.

5:30pm-Dinner time.

6pm-Homework time. Backpacks get emptied. Any papers to be signed and reviewed are given to me. Homework is to be completed. Lunch box gets emptied and put away for next day.

After homework is completed they can do whatever they want as long as it’s not electronics unless they have not used their time for the day.

7:15pm-Two younger boys shower and get ready for bed. Clothes are set out for the next day. (I do this myself to make sure they match and are weather appropriate. They come up with some “interesting” combos. No one believes me that navy and black do not go together). Then we watch a tv show.

8pm-Bedtime. The big one will read for an hour before he falls asleep. The two younger ones are usually exhausted and crash.

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What is your school routine? Do you have any helpful hints that I may have left out?









 

 

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