A New Gift-Giving Philosophy: Four Gifts For Christmas

For many years I scoured toy sales and Amazon trying to buy just the right toys for Christmas.  I would often fret about whether or not a certain toy would keep their attention or if they would tire of it by the end of the day (which, sadly, was often the case).

Last year I discovered the "Four Gifts For Christmas" idea and my husband and I thought it would be a good tradition to start in our home. The idea is to buy each child four gifts that fall into these categories:

1.  Something they want.
2.  Something they need.
3.  Something to wear.
4.  Something to read.

This year we didn't follow the categories exactly and we actually bought each of the children 5 gifts, but there was a HUGE difference.  This year there are no plastic toys that break; no toys that will be pushed under the bed and forgotten.

As we thought about each of the categories, we carefully considered each gift and bought gifts that would be fun and meaningful to each child. For the first time, I feel that we have given our children gifts that they will enjoy for months (years, maybe?) to come.

Here's a look at our Christmas this year:




Something they want for both children:  Both of our children love to go sledding and our older son asked for a snow tube last year.  I know both of the children will be excited to see these under the tree. I bought them on Amazon.com with gift cards that I earned from Swagbucks.com and since I had a free trial of Amazon Mom, they were shipped for free.



Something to wear/something he needs for our older son:  Our older son asked for "pajamas with slippers" like his younger brother's pajamas.  I was not able to find any footie pajamas in his size in our small town, and walmart.com was completely sold out of his size!  I ended up purchasing these spaceship pajamas from target.com for a pretty hefty price with the shipping charge.  Since it is something he needs and I know he will be thrilled to have them, I didn't mind (too much) splurging on this gift.  They are very soft and look to be well made so I think it was a good purchase.


Something to wear for our younger son:  Since our older son got a baseball cap for Christmas last year, our younger son has been wearing his dad's baseball caps so that he can be like his big brother.  While I was ordering our older son new pants for school last fall, I noticed a little baseball cap that was just his size and on sale for under $4!



Something to read for both children:  We bought both of the children the Adventure Bible from Amazon.com with gift cards that I earned from Swagbucks.com and it was also shipped for free.



Something to read #2 for older son:  National Geographic Kids Everything Weather.  Our older son showed an interest in weather this year.  I found this book in new condition at a discount store for just a fraction of the retail price.



Something to read #2 for younger son:  Richard Scarry's A Day at the Airport.  Our children had a chance to go to the airport for the first time this year and our younger son was particularly inspired by the visit.  I also found this book at a discount store and paid less than the regular price.




These last gifts were actually as much for my husband and I as they are for the kids!  I don't know how many games of Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land one family can play, but I'm pretty sure we're close to winning the record!  

Both of the boys love playing games so we bought each of the boys a game to add to our collection.  This past summer Ruth wrote a review of her family's favorite games and these were the two that I thought the children would really like.  I was able to buy these on Amazon.com with gift cards and free shipping.


Thanks to the Amazon gift cards that I earned this year, we only spent $30 for Christmas gifts for the boys this year.  But more important than what we spent is that the boys will receive gifts that are fun and useful.

Simply Saving Saturday - December 21

The last two weeks have been very busy with birthday celebrations and preparing for Christmas. Christmas always seems to sneak up on me and every year I find myself rushing to get last minute details finished!

Here's the deals and savings I found the last two weeks:

Last week I cashed in Swag Bucks to purchase a $50 Walmart card that was on sale at Swagbucks.com. I'm hoping to save enough gift cards to purchase a new printer to replace our old HP.



I made a Christmas JOY sign and also put this free printable into a dollar store frame.

I printed free Christmas tags for the boys to color and attach to gifts with yarn.  The boys were happy to be involved in Christmas preparations and I love how it adds a personal touch to the gifts.

I used some yarn that I had in my yarn stash and made a winter hat and fingerless mittens set for a new baby girl in our extended family.  I'm really excited that I can finally try some of the sweet baby girl crochet patterns that I've found on Pinterest!

When our older son saw the snake I made for one of the Operation Christmas Child boxes that I did this year, he asked if he could have one "with real snake colors".  I am using Red Heart camouflage yarn and this pattern to make snakes to put in both of the boys' Christmas stockings.

This year I am making 5 gift baskets for family with homemade goodies including this cinnamon honey butter recipe that I discovered on Pinterest a few years ago.

I bought a ham for $.89/lb.

We went to a free showing of The Polar Express at the local movie theater.

Our on-going savings:

**Wash laundry in cold water.

**Save kitchen scraps and eggshells for the compost.

**Use online bill pay to pay our bills.

**Earn Swag Bucks for Amazon gift cards that I use to buy gifts.

**Earn Recyclebank points for gift cards, coupons and free magazine subscriptions.

**Husband takes lunch to work everyday.

**Turn lights off when not being used.

**Use cash to buy groceries.

**Use scrap paper for notes and lists.

**Drive to town once a week for shopping and errands.  

**Buy less cereal and eat oatmeal and other homemade breakfasts several times a week.

**Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags for small trash and recycling.


Some of the links in this post are referral links. When a new member signs up using my referral link, I receive bonus points for that referral.

DIY Christmas JOY Sign



I loved the simplicity of this joy sign that I noticed while searching for easy Christmas decor ideas.  My sign is very different from the original, but I think it reflects my style.  If you try this simple project, be sure to make it your own and add your own flare.

What you need:

picture frame
wood letters
scrapbook paper (heavy cardstock works best)
acrylic paint
fine glitter (optional)

The picture frame is a white washed picture frame that I purchased at Joann's with a coupon.  The scrapbook paper is also from Joann's and I purchased the wooden letters from Walmart.

First, cut out the scrapbook paper or cardstock to fit in the frame.  Paint the wooden letters and quickly sprinkle with glitter before the paint dries.  Glue the letters to the cardstock and once it dries, insert into the picture frame.




Linking to these parties

Simply Saving Saturday - December 7


I just couldn't wait to start decorating for Christmas, so this week we decorated our little Christmas tree and hung up our stockings.  It was so much fun to see all the little homemade Christmas tree decorations that we have made over the years, and I was also excited to finally be able to decorate with the refurbished ornaments and Ruffled Christmas Trees that I made during the Christmas {Decorating} in July series.

I didn't buy any meat this week and cooked a turkey that we bought when they were on sale for $.49/lb.  I made turkey broth, turkey soup, turkey and rice soup and turkey tetrazzini.

I cooked a ham that I bought on sale last week for our small group potluck and saved the ham bone to make ham and bean soup next week.

We purchased a few more gifts from Amazon.com with gift cards that I earned from Swagbucks.com and was also able to get free shipping.

In my mailbox: two free magazines and a free book that I won in a giveaway.

Our on-going savings:

**Wash laundry in cold water.

**Use online bill pay to pay our bills.

**Follow a weekly meal plan.

**Earn Swag Bucks for Amazon gift cards that I use to buy gifts.

**Earn Recyclebank points for gift cards, coupons and free magazine subscriptions.

**Husband takes lunch to work everyday.

**Turn lights off when not being used.

**Use cash to buy groceries.

**Use scrap paper for notes and lists.

**Drive to town once a week for shopping and errands.  

**Buy less cereal and eat oatmeal and other homemade breakfasts several times a week.

**Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags for small trash and recycling.


Some of the links in this post are referral links. When a new member signs up using my referral link, I receive bonus points for that referral.

Simply Saving Saturday: A Year In Review

I have been couponing for several years, but I was inspired by Brandy from The Prudent Homemaker to live a more frugal lifestyle.  I started Simply Saving Saturday to keep myself accountable and to share ideas with others who might also be interested in living more frugally.  It has been almost a year since I started writing Simply Saving Saturday, and I am surprised by how much I have learned!

Here are some of the highlights from the past year:



My greatest accomplishment in the past year was growing my very first garden.  My first garden was small, but for this black thumb who has killed every house plant I have ever had, I have to confess to a little bit of pride when we were able to eat vegetables that I grew with my own hands.  We didn't get as much produce as we were hoping, but I was able to make and freeze spaghetti sauce, roasted tomato sauce and salsa with the tomatoes that we grew.  We also enjoyed lettuce, zucchini, green beans and winter squash.  I learned so much and am already planning next year's garden!

In an effort to lower our grocery bill, I started meal planning again and changed some of the things that we eat.  I am planning at least one meatless meal each week and we also eat more frugal soups.  I found this recipe for cooking whole chicken in the crock pot and very rarely buy boneless, skinless chicken.  I make homemade chicken broth with the chicken scraps and use it to make soup.  We eat more homemade breakfasts and I cook from scratch when I can.

One thing that I learned over the past year is that a simple phone call can save money!  We saved $84 per year on our satellite bill after I talked to a customer service rep. and she mentioned that I could remove the protection plan from our account.  When I received a bill from a doctor's visit that we had already paid in full, I called our insurance company and a few days later discovered that adjustments had been made to our bill and we didn't owe anything.

Lesson #2 is to be sure to read everything While I was looking over our health insurance coverage, I discovered that our health insurance company reimburses members for approved gym memberships.  After filling out a little bit of paperwork, we received a $150 reimbursement for my husband's membership to the local fitness center!

This year I earned $145 in Amazon gift cards and $40 in Walmart gift cards from swagbucks.com.  We used the gift cards to buy birthday and Christmas gifts for our children and extended family.


If you missed any of the Simply Saving Saturday posts from the past year, you can find them here.

Simply Saving Saturday - November 23

This week I was able to find some great deals on baking items and turkey finally went on sale for $.49/lb! I found it very interesting though that there was a limit of 1 per customer this year; I didn't notice a limit last year.

I made Pumpkin Pie Spice for a cookie recipe that I wanted to try instead of buying it.

This year's Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes are packed!  Many of the items were homemade or bought on sale, and I used wrapping paper that I purchased very inexpensively at the after-Christmas sales last year.

I made my own carpet freshener with baking soda and essential oil.

I cashed in Swag Bucks for Walmart gift cards in order to buy a Christmas gift for one or our children.

In my mailbox: a free magazine and a coupon for a free Old Orchard juice.


Our on-going savings:

**Wash laundry in cold water.

**Save kitchen scraps and eggshells for the compost.

**Use online bill pay to pay our bills.

**Follow a weekly meal plan.

**Earn Swag Bucks for Amazon gift cards that I use to buy gifts.

**Earn Recyclebank points for gift cards, coupons and free magazine subscriptions.

**Husband takes lunch to work everyday.

**Turn lights off when not being used.

**Use cash to buy groceries.

**Use scrap paper for notes and lists.

**Drive to town once a week for shopping and errands.  

**Buy less cereal and eat oatmeal and other homemade breakfasts several times a week.

**Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags for small trash and recycling.


Some of the links in this post are referral links. When a new member signs up using my referral link, I receive bonus points for that referral.

Frugal Living: Frugal Cooking With Whole Chicken



One of the ways we've saved money this year is by buying whole chicken.  I'll admit I was not very excited about the idea at first; the thought of touching raw meat and removing the gizzards made me a little queasy. But I couldn't ignore the $.99/lb. sale price that I find about every 2-3 weeks and before long I was an old pro at cooking whole chicken.


Cooking A Whole Chicken
A 5 to 6 pound chicken is usually enough for one meal with leftovers for 2 or 3 more meals for our small family of 4.

Whole Chicken in a Crock Pot
I have tried a few different recipes for cooking a whole chicken and this one is my favorite go-to recipe.  It's so easy and uses ingredients that I always have on hand.  Be sure to adjust the cooking times to your particular slow cooker; I have noticed that my slow cooker usually cooks much faster than the cooking time on the recipe.

Overnight Chicken Broth in Crock Pot
After I cook the chicken, I make chicken broth with the chicken scraps.  Just throw the bones and skin back into the slow cooker, add an onion and a few spices (I substitute with dried), set it on low and let it cook overnight!  In the morning you will have a healthy and delicious broth to use in soups and other recipes.

Instead of filling up the slow cooker with water as the recipe says, I usually only add 5 - 6 cups of water for a richer broth.  I've read that adding vinegar helps remove minerals from the bones, so I add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar as well.


Leftover Chicken Recipes
In order to make the leftover chicken stretch farther, I ignore the amount of chicken suggested in the following recipes and use just enough chicken.  This is a list of some of our favorite recipes for leftover chicken:

Chicken Noodle Soup
I had convinced myself that I didn't like chicken noodle soup until I made it from scratch.  I always make this with the homemade chicken broth and it is so healthy and flavorful.  It makes a wonderful winter lunch or a light dinner.

Chicken and Rice Soup
I don't keep dried onions or granulated garlic in my pantry, but I substitute with what I have and it always tastes great!

Southwest Chicken Chili Mac
Easy recipe that is made with items that I always have on hand.  Taco seasoning could be substituted for the spices in this recipe.

Chicken Taco Rice
This is a family favorite!  I use leftover chicken instead of the boneless, skinless chicken breast that the recipe calls for.

Chicken Pot Pie
Nice comfort food on a cold night! To make this recipe more frugal, I substitute the wine with more chicken broth and make my own pie crust.

Asian Garlic Chicken Stir-Fry
I couldn't find the link to this recipe, so I'll type it out here:

2 tbs. brown sugar
1/2 cup reduce sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tbs. vinegar
1/4 - 1/2 tsp garlic powder (to taste)
corn starch, optional
shredded chicken
frozen stir-fry vegetables

Cook vegetables according to package directions.  Meanwhile stir together brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, red pepper flakes, vinegar and garlic powder.  Add sauce mixture to cooked vegetables.  For a thicker sauce, mix a small amount of corn starch with water and add to skillet, stirring constantly until thickened.  Add shredded chicken and simmer until heated through.



You can find these recipes and more on my Pinterest boards.

[photo credit]

Simply Saving Saturday - November 16

I didn't feel very frugal this week.  I made a few extra trips to town, my husband broke his glasses playing basketball, we ate out one night and I found myself looking at Black Friday ads and finding several things that I "needed."


The week wasn't a complete loss, though:

I canceled my free three-month free trial of Amazon Mom before the expiration date.  I am going to miss the free 2-day shipping that came with the free trial.

I just found out that the Walmart gift cards on swagbucks.com can be printed out and used in the store! Since I do a lot of our shopping there, this will really help us save!  This week I cashed in some of the Swag Bucks I earned for a $25 Walmart gift card.

I didn't buy any meat again this week as I'm waiting for the pre-Thanksgiving sales.  It looks like the waiting has paid off--turkey is on sale next week for $.49/lb.!

I bought parsley in bulk from the health food store for $.13/oz.

I made foaming hand soap.

Our on-going savings:

**Wash laundry in cold water.

**Save kitchen scraps and eggshells for the compost.

**Use online bill pay to pay our bills.

**Follow a weekly meal plan.

**Earn Swag Bucks for Amazon gift cards that I use to buy gifts.

**Earn Recyclebank points for gift cards, coupons and free magazine subscriptions.

**Husband takes lunch to work everyday.

**Turn lights off when not being used.

**Use cash to buy groceries.

**Use scrap paper for notes and lists.

**Drive to town once a week for shopping and errands.  

**Buy less cereal and eat oatmeal and other homemade breakfasts several times a week.

**Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags for small trash and recycling.


Some of the links in this post are referral links. When a new member signs up using my referral link, I receive bonus points for that referral.

Meal Plan Monday - November 11



I didn't buy any meat this week since my plan is to buy a lot of turkey during the before-Thanksgiving sales. This week's menu was planned around what we already have for meat in the freezer, which I'm hoping to stretch into next week.

I have a little bit of cottage cheese leftover from a meal I made a few weeks ago, and since I am working really hard on having less food waste, I am going to try a Cottage Cheese Omelet.  I'm not completely sold on these, but I think it will be fun to try something new!

Breakfast
Cereal
Cottage Cheese Omelet, Fruit
Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets, Blueberries
Scrambled Eggs, Toast
Bagel, Scrambled Eggs or Fruit

Lunch
Ham Salad Sandwiches, Pretzels, Apple Slices
Turkey & Cheese Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Yogurt
Mac & Cheese, Peas
Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins, Carrot Sticks, Apple Slices
Dinner Leftovers

Dinner
Monday:
    Super Sloppy Joes, Vegetables

Tuesday:
   Classic Minestrone (slow cooker), Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls

Wednesday:
   Spaghetti, Tossed Salad

Thursday:
   Creamy Rigatoni with Sausage and Green Peppers, Tossed Salad

Friday:
   Small Group Potluck

Saturday:
   Breakfast for Dinner: Blueberry Pancakes, Meatless Hash, Scrambled Eggs

Sunday:
   Leftover Night



Get more menu planning ideas at Menu Plan Monday

Simply Saving Saturday - November 10

One thing that I've been working on this past year is making sure that all our variable expenses are at their lowest cost.  Back in September I found a couple more ways that I thought we could save on electricity. We have been faithfully turning the laptop off every night and using the "less dry" setting on the dryer.  I never thought I would say this, but last week I couldn't wait to get our bill for October!

When I compared the bill to last year's bill we did see a small amount of savings--we saved $2.99.  But when I looked at our bill from two years ago, we saved $17.39!  It's exciting to see such a big difference in our electric bill since we have become more intentional about finding extra savings.

Chicken Noodle Soup made with homemade chicken broth definitely hit the spot this week when I was feeling a little under the weather.

This week I made Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Chicken and substituted tomato paste with ketchup--the substitution worked great!

I didn't buy any meat this week.  I'm hoping to stretch the meat that we have in the freezer and make it last until the Thanksgiving sales when I will be able to buy turkey very inexpensively.  Last year I was able to buy turkey for $.49/lb.

For store sales this week, I bought green peppers for $.99/lb., lettuce for $.99 and Granny Smith apples for $.99/lb.  I also price-matched at Walmart.

I downloaded a few free books to my kindle for PC.

Our on-going savings:

**Wash laundry in cold water.

**Use the less dry option on the dryer.

**Turn off laptop every night.

**Save kitchen scraps and eggshells for the compost.

**Use online bill pay to pay our bills.

**Follow a weekly meal plan.

**Earn Swag Bucks for Amazon gift cards that I use to buy gifts.

**Earn Recyclebank points for gift cards, coupons and free magazine subscriptions.

**Husband takes lunch to work everyday.

**Turn lights off when not being used.

**Use cash to buy groceries.

**Use scrap paper for notes and lists.

**Drive to town once a week for shopping and errands.  

**Buy less cereal and eat oatmeal and other homemade breakfasts several times a week.

**Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags for small trash and recycling.


Some of the links in this post are referral links. When a new member signs up using my referral link, I receive bonus points for that referral.

Recipe: Pumpkin Cheese Ball


This is a fun and simple recipe that is perfect for fall parties or potlucks.  With a hint of spiciness, this creamy appetizer is sure to be a hit with all your guests.


Pumpkin Cheese Ball

Make ahead:  Chill for 4 hours.

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese
1 carton (8 oz.) chive and onion cream cheese spread
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 celery rib or broccoli stalk

1.  In a small bowl mix both cream cheeses.  Stir in cheddar cheese, paprika and cayenne.
2.  Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm.
3.  Make vertical lines with a knife to resemble a pumpkin; insert a celery rib or broccoli stalk.





Recipe from Taste of Home October/November 2007 issue.

Meal Plan Monday - November 4



Breakfast
Cereal
Amish Baked Oatmeal
Scrambled Eggs, Toast
Bagel, Scrambled Eggs or Fruit

Lunch
Chicken Salad Sandwiches, Carrot Sticks, Fruit
Ham & Cheese Pita Pockets, Carrot Sticks, Fruit & Grain Bar
Mac & Cheese, Peas
Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins, Applesauce
Dinner Leftovers

Dinner
Monday:
   Honey Baked Ham, Roasted Potatoes, Peas, Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls

Tuesday:
   Ham and Broccoli Noodle Casserole, leftover Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls

Wednesday:
   Chili and Honey Corn Muffins

Thursday:
   Corn Chowder w/Ham, Mile High Biscuits

Friday:
   Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Chicken with rice, leftover Biscuits

Saturday:
   Breakfast Pizza with leftover ham

Sunday:
   Leftover Night

New recipe to try this week:  Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls


Get more menu planning ideas at Menu Plan Monday

Simply Saving Saturday - November 2


The apples that I bought on sale last week were a little bit mealy, so I made applesauce!  We love warm homemade applesauce.  I made a little over 2 pints and I'm sure it will be gone before the end of the week!

A free book that I won in an online giveaway came in the mail this week.  I recently started following several of my favorite authors and publishers on Facebook and noticed that they often have book giveaways.  I didn't expect to win and it was such a nice surprise to win 2 giveaways that I entered!

Our older son got a coupon for a free McDonald's hamburger from school.

We don't celebrate Halloween and I couldn't help thinking how much money we saved by not buying candy or costumes!  I did, however, take advantage of the Halloween sales and bought a bag of candy for 50% off that I will give the boys for Christmas.

I found a few good sale prices at the store this week: potatoes for $.20/lb., broccoli for $.99/lb., sugar for $.42/lb., and ham for $.99/lb.  I have to admit I did splurge a little bit this week and bought boneless, skinless chicken breast for $1.99/lb. and ground beef for $2.39/lb.


Did you discover any new ways to save money this week?

Our on-going savings:

**Wash laundry in cold water.

**Use the less dry option on the dryer.

**Turn off laptop every night.

**Save kitchen scraps and eggshells for the compost.

**Use online bill pay to pay our bills.

**Follow a weekly meal plan.

**Earn Swag Bucks for Amazon gift cards that I use to buy gifts.

**Earn Recyclebank points for gift cards, coupons and free magazine subscriptions.

**Husband takes lunch to work everyday.

**Turn lights off when not being used.

**Use cash to buy groceries.

**Use scrap paper for notes and lists.

**Drive to town once a week for shopping and errands.  

**Buy less cereal and eat oatmeal and other homemade breakfasts several times a week.

**Reuse plastic and paper shopping bags for small trash and recycling.


Some of the links in this post are referral links. When a new member signs up using my referral link, I receive bonus points for that referral.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls


I always look forward to making all our favorite Thanksgiving dishes.  Sweet potato casserole is my absolute favorite, but this year I've found a new way to use those sweet potatoes.  These soft, delicious rolls will be a welcome addition to our Thanksgiving table. 


Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls

Makes: Approx. 48 rolls

2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (100 - 110 degrees)
1/2 cup + 1 tbs. sugar, divided
1 3/4 cup sweet potato, blended until very smooth in food processor (or 1 can)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
2 1/2 to 3 cups of all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or all white flour)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 - 3 tbs. butter, melted

1.  Proof the yeast:  In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup water, 1 tbs. sugar and yeast.  Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.  Yeast should be foaming and bubbly.  If yeast is not foaming, then water was too hot or cold or yeast was too old.  Try again using a thermometer to measure the temperature of the water and make sure the yeast hasn't expired.

2.  In a mixing bowl, beat together yeast mixture, sweet potato, butter, egg, salt and whole wheat flour.  Add enough white flour to make a stiff dough.

3.  Knead on a floured surface, about 6-8 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Put in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top.  Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

4.  Punch dough down and divide into four equal portions.  Roll each portion into a 12" circle and cut into 12 wedges.

5.  Brush with melted butter and roll each section starting with the wide end.  Place pointed end down on a greased baking sheet, keeping the rolls about 2" apart.  Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled about 40 minutes.

6.  Bake at 375 degrees for 13-15 minutes or until golden brown.




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