20 December 2013

Christmas on a Budget, Part I

Update: Before I launch into my regular post, I wanted to give everyone an update on Abigail's biopsy. The results: chronic inflammation of the stomach with unknown cause. I know, really helpful. But part of me is glad there is no "-itis" associated with it, because I'm a big fan of avoiding extra lines in her medical files. In our experience, when you walk into a doctor's office or tell a relative about an "-itis," a whole slew of symptoms, complications, side effects, and treatments (or Googled misinformation) all pop into the person's head at once and they may or may not be something Abigail experiences.

I have a little notebook where I write down each one of our doctor's appointments, what tests she took, what the results were, and when the next follow-up is (in the event of an untimely death, someone could pick up Abigail's care), so I'll write down "chronic inflammation of the stomach." I'll say, "Dr. recommends Prilosec for three months and follow up in six months." This will be the next entry in the journal following her hearing test, where I wrote, "Barely failed hearing test in left ear. Will follow up in April '14 to see if there is improvement. As she ages, it will be easier to test specifics to determine cause. No need for hearing aid at this time." Lot of little somethings to keep and eye on, but very few dual diagnoses.

The doctor wants Abigail off the vomiting-prevention medicine while she's on the Prilosec. She hasn't resumed vomiting since I pulled her off about two weeks ago, but sometimes she'll be fine until she gets a little common cold, and then suddenly we're back to 12+ times a day of projectile vomiting. The vast majority of people in my circle are of the opinion that it's good for kids to get sick because it builds up their immune system, so they completely ignore my request to let me know if their kids are sick before we hang out. It's definitely a frustrating difference between special needs and typically developing parenting. Prayers for her health (and healing) are always appreciated!


Christmas on a Budget, Part I
Part II will follow Christmas and I'll reveal the presents I made that are going to people who may read my blog.

More-than-acquaintances, less-than-friends
You know those people you want to give a gift to, but often get the ax when you're on a budget? Like therapists/teachers, co-workers, neighbors, and that nice old lady at church who is living the Grandma life vicariously through your kids? (Or, in my case, feels an enormous amount of pity for the poor little handicapped girl?) Well, I absolutely feel terrible when a therapist shows up at my door with a gift for Abigail and we have nothing for her, and sometimes I like to suck up to the maintenance guy so we'll end up higher on his priority list, so I try to give these people gifts even when things are tight. I have found that homemade food items are the absolute cheapest option, so I usually made an assortment of cookies to pass out. But this year, standing in the kitchen for hours baking was not an option, so I decided to try something new: chocolate covered pretzels.

They were cheaper, faster to make, and a bigger hit than cookies. I found everything at my local grocery store (Meijer) when I was grocery shopping two weeks ago. Price breakdown:

- A (re-useable) Christmas tree-shaped pretzel mold for $1.50
- A pound of candy-making chocolate for $2.99
- A bag of pretzel rods for $2.50

I got 22 Christmas tree pretzels before I ran out of chocolate (I had maybe 8-10 more unbroken pretzel rods left), meaning that my total was .32/pretzel. I bagged them up in groups of three and tied them with yarn I had leftover from last year, so I spent just under $1 per person for all those "more-than-acquaintances, less-than-friends" in my life.

All you do is melt the chocolate in the microwave, spoon into mold, place pretzels, and chill in the fridge (our chocolate set in 5 minutes). I was done in less than the time it takes to make one recipe of cookies. Plus the mold is re-useable, so if chocolate and pretzel prices remain the same next year, it'll only cost me $.75/bag. I do recommend getting one mold per pound of chocolate in order to keep a good pace, though.

The Kitties
Next on my list, I have the cats. I know what you're thinking: If you're on a budget, don't buy your cats presents! And you're right, they'd probably be content to eat the gross parts of the ham and play with the balled-up wrapping paper from the opened presents. But the truth is that we usually buy $5-10 worth of catnip toys and treats for them each year because I'm a sucker for the holiday-giving spirit when I'm browsing Target and they have the Christmas music blasting.

When we lived in Florida, some friends who were headed north and didn't want to lose precious Uhaul space gave us their 5ft tall scratching post. Our cats were in love.

But when we moved, we experienced the same thought process, so we left the cats' favorite toy in Florida and bought them a crappier $20 version from a pet store.

But as Abigail grows inch-by-inch, the cats find their toddler-free space shrinking like the water rising around an apartment-sized island. I find my patience too-often needlessly tested by toddler-cat run-ins. So I've been trying to figure out how to get them to higher ground without dropping $150-200, and Craigslist was letting me down.

So what does Jacqueline do when she can't find what she wants? She makes it. Or, she makes her husband and dad make it.

Free scrap wood from my dad's stash combined with $5 worth of carpet scraps from a local flooring store get the cats a scratching post that is taller than me for $5 + 3-ish hours of labor. Matt will screw the above piece into the top of the original crappy scratcher when he gets home from work tonight (it wouldn't fit in our car fully assembled). Christmas win? Christmas win.

Matt and I would be totally content to give and receive presents wrapped in newspaper, but quite a few of our family members have the love language of gift-giving, so I try to spruce up our gifts a bit so no one feels unloved. We combine our desire to not spend money on items that solely end up in the trash with our love of history and end up with brown paper packages tied up with string.

When the nieces and nephews saw our presents last year, they laughed. They thought they were all boring gag gifts. One even asked why we wrapped our presents in cardboard.

A few people like our old-fashioned nostalgia, but most of our relatives just roll their eyes at our "uniqueness." But Matt and I are okay with that compromise. So is the bank account.

(Above photo from last year).

I don't know how much I spent on the brown paper because it was such a huge roll that I'm still using last year's without need to buy more. (We found the one we got on the bottom shelf in a corner of a craft store in the baking aisle. They had more expensive stuff ($5 a roll for 25 square ft, if I recall correctly) front and center, but our searching yielded much more fruitful results).

The yarn (which was in the $3-4 range) is also left-over from last year. Even after two years of gifts, plus shipping out all my Etsy packages since December 1st with it, I haven't even used a quarter of the skein.

Gift tags
A package of three snowflake stamps at 25% off plus red sparkly ink is also left-over from last year. The only purchase I made this year with regard to wrapping supplies was two packages of doilies (craft store baking aisle) at $2.29 a package. 

And, since everything comes from either Michael's or Joann Fabrics, I use the 40% off coupons that come in the newspaper each weekend for an additional discount. They accept each other's coupons, and since usually I bring Abigail with me, she "buys" something with one coupon while I buy something else with the other coupon. We do it all in two separate transactions so that we're technically abiding by the fine print (one coupon per person per day per transaction). Now that Abigail is old enough to hand the money over herself, the clerk usually thinks it's too funny to give us a hard time.


Since we last spoke, I finished doing all the shopping necessary for gifts or to complete gifts and I have cranked out a few more. I am now down to my final two homemade gifts and should finish over the weekend. That's a really good thing because I do have some baking to do and only 4 days left until the celebrations begin on Christmas eve! This is easily the closest I've ever been to the holiday deadline...


Amelia@One Catholic Mama said...

I love your brown wrapping paper in yarn. In fact, I haven't even opened up the hats I orderd from you. They are gifts, so I figure they're already wrapped! Perfect! :)

Anonymous said...

Your organizational skills are making me green...we are totally unprepared. But I blame 3 kids, Baby #4 on the way AND a heavy caseload for the husband. I did make 4 different types of Christmas cookies and we have them away in cute tins and baggies. I'm glad I at least got that done before the morning sickness and exhaustion really set in.

Yep, I'll admit it - I'm totally banking on the few gifts my boys will receive from their grandparents this year. That's how we keep Christmas inexpensive and simple: we get too busy with too many kids to get anything done but the bare minimum!

;-) TB