DIY Treasured Last Minute Christmas Gifts

As I have been recovering from hand surgery, I have had some extra time to reflect and reminisce over the past couple of weeks, thinking about the gifts that have meant the most to me. They’re not expensive gifts — no diamonds, roses, or expensive dinners. What has meant the most to me are gifts of time, gifts of memories, and, of course, the gift of spending time with friends and family.

Gifts of Time

One of my favorite gifts comes from my husband every year, usually for my birthday, but it could really be given any time of year — it’s the gift of a clean house. Christmas cooking often generates quite a mess — if someone cleans up the mess while you are taking a nap, recovering from your cooking marathon — that is quite a gift!

Another non-food gift of time is a coupon book. You can make them for anything you want to do to spend time with someone. This search on pinterest shows a variety of coupon books you could make for a special someone in your family. Just be ready to give that person your time when they want to redeem it later! Be sure to specify if there are any terms, or conditions to your coupon book, or if it will expire.

There are also several homemade gifts that are really nice to give to your family and friends. For instance, buy inexpensive, holiday food containers at your local dollar store, or department store and then make a variety of cookies and give each family several cookies of each type. I love to make these 3 ingredient peanut butter cookies — they’re inexpensive, gluten-free (as they contain no flour), and super easy.

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

This recipe is very simple:

Take 1 cup peanut butter and microwave it for 30 seconds, stir, repeat until the peanut butter is very liquidy (like cake batter).

Immediately, mix in 1 cup sugar, or Splenda — both work well (I haven’t tried any other sweeteners), and 1 beaten egg.

Drop by teaspoonsfulls onto an ungreased cookie sheet (I often dip a fork into sugar, and cross it bothways on the doughball to give it an extra bit of sweetening) Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, or until the cookies have just started to crack and are light brown.

You could also make candy in a crockpot — this recipe makes about 8 dozen of average cookie-sized candies.  The ingredients cost around $15 at the store, but you can give a good amount to everyone you wish for very little effort.

Bud’s Crockpot Candy

We make this recipe once or twice a year. It is often requested at potlucks. We have used peanuts, and almonds in it, but have not tried other nuts, or fillings.

Bud’s Crockpot Candy

Peppermint Bark

If you like peppermint, this peppermint bark is amazing! If you choose to add this to your food container with a variety of other cookies,  be sure to double bag them in baggies. Otherwise, the strong flavor of peppermint will transfer to the other cookies in your container.

Paula Deen’s Peppermint Bark

Microwave Fudge

I first tried this fudge at a church women’s retreat. It is very easy, and incredibly rich!

Microwave Fudge

Gifts of Memories

 “I Love You to Pieces” Picture Frame

If you’d rather make a craft for a present, then this one that my daughter made is not only easy, but also an incredible memory maker! You just get a wooden picture frame in the craft section of the department store, dollar store, or craft store; a bottle of mod podge; some miscellaneous puzzle pieces, some acrylic paint, a special picture, and a paint brush. Paint the frame however you like, and paint the puzzle pieces, too. After the paint dries, write, “I Love You to Pieces!” with a Sharpie, or other permanent marker. Then, glue the puzzle pieces to the frame, and, once the glue has dried, add a coat of mod-podge to seal everything. Once that dries, add a second coat of mod-podge to the entire frame (including the puzzle pieces) to seal it even more. After everything has dried, add the picture of yourself, your child, your family, or whatever you want.

Picture Ornament

Need: 1 wallet sized picture, toothpick, and a glass ornament.

Simply roll a wallet-sized picture up from the left-side in, so you end up with the outside showing. Then insert it into the glass ornament and using a toothpick, gently unroll the picture inside. Now, what can get easier than that? And, you end up with a gift to treasure for many years!

“52 Reasons I love you” Pack of cards

Since each card will have a different quote, personality trait, memory, or whatever on it, these cards probably won’t fly in Vegas, but they would make a treasured memory keepsake for your gift recipient for years to come.

52 Reasons Pack of Cards

If you need additional diy last minute Pennywise Christmas Gifts, just do a quick Pinterest search.

I hope you all have a terrific Christmas Holiday filled with special memories that will last a lifetime.

Nichole

 

 

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Thanksgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving is a holiday that isn’t always as thankful as it should be — while Thanksgiving should be about things you are thankful for, and spending time with your family, you don’t always feel thankful. 🙂 After spending hours upon hours at the grocery store, and then spending all day cooking dinner for a few moments together at dinner, and then several more hours cleaning up the mess while members of your family watch football, it’s sometimes hard to find things to be thankful for and even more difficult to stay on budget.  While you’re losing your sanity trying to create the best possible Thanksgiving for your family, most of your guests won’t even notice, or care, if you’re doing everything on a budget.

You’ll need a few decorations to liven up the holiday spirit, and some food to make everyone feel at home.

Thanksgiving “Potluck”

One way to keep the budget lower and your sanity intact is to ask everyone to bring an item. While you’re baking turkey,  or whipping up mashed potatoes, someone else can bring the green bean casserole, apple or pumpkin pie, and yams, or whatever your family likes. If you don’t have to make everything yourself, you won’t be as tired at the end of the day, won’t have to spend as much money for ingredients, and you’ll have more time and energy to enjoy the family, and friends that are there to spend time with you.

So, let’s get started. Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without turkey, so you’ll either need to find a way to obtain the turkey inexpensively (your local foodbank will provide you one if you go on their appointed days and times, for free), or, if you choose to purchase a turkey, you can often get a free, or very low priced turkey if you spend a certain amount. Another alternative would be to scrap the whole turkey and opt for turkey breast, or drumsticks instead. Since supply and demand dictates price, and the general population is demanding whole turkey, turkey breasts, and drumsticks are much less expensive.

Buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes is often less expensive than a 5-pound bag, but get what will work best for your family. In my local grocery store, it’s $1.68 for a 5lb. bag of potatoes, but for just $1.30 more, I can get a 10lb bag of potatoes — that’s an extra 5lbs of potatoes for only a small amount more. If the cost of the potatoes are too expensive, or you don’t feel you could use 5lbs or 10lbs of potatoes, opt for instant mashed potatoes (another item your local foodbank will provide for free if you go).

Making gravy is easy and inexpensive since you can often make it with pantry items you already have on hand. Just take the turkey drippings, add in 1/3-1/2 cup of flour, and enough broth, or bouillon to give it a spoonable consistency, cooking it on medium until it boils, and then reducing it to low while stirring often.

Rolls, or biscuits are often staples at a Thanksgiving meal. Make them yourself to save money, or pick up a pack for a couple of dollars. Thankfully, a package of rolls isn’t more than a couple of dollars, so you can grab some without sacrificing your budget, unless your family is like mine and you need a gluten-free alternative, as my husband is celiac (allergic to gluten). In that case, making rolls is your only alternative if you don’t want to spend much money — our go-to gluten-free roll recipe is: Gluten-Free Pull Apart Dinner Rolls.

Jello parfait is also a very inexpensive side dish at a Thanksgiving meal. Just mix up a package of instant Jello (following package directions), and then once it is completely set, cut the Jello up into small pieces, and then mix in a cup, or two of whipped cream.

Stuffing is likely going to be your most expensive Thanksgiving item. Using dried herbs rather than fresh, if you have them in your pantry, will save you money. Just remember that you generally use fewer dried herbs than you would fresh. Here is a recipe from Recipe4Living, and another one from Epicurious for traditional stuffing that uses items you likely have in your pantry (unless, of course, you opt for the fresh versions of the herbs that they ask you to use).

Finally, you must have a dessert, and what would Thanksgiving be without a traditional Pumpkin Pie recipe? Here is a pumpkin pie recipe that won’t break the bank, if you purchase the items while they are on sale in the few days (maybe even a week) before Thanksgiving. Here is a great recipe from Allrecipes.com.

Decorations

Now that you have the food under control, it’s time to think about decorations. One simple decoration, that serves dual purpose as a way to keep kids occupied, is to take Kraft paper and roll it across your table as a tablecloth. You can add your own drawings, or even trace around your place settings to add some décor, but one of the best things about this brown paper tablecloth is that it entertains the kids of all ages who are waiting for dinner! Perhaps ask each person to write something they are thankful for — this will help them to remember their answers now, and then later, the tablecloth can be folded and kept as a memento, or can be cut apart and easily turned into scrapbook memorabilia.

Napkin Rings.  These turkey napkin rings are easy, inexpensive, and adorable. You can use any kind of felt — you don’t have to use the felt recommended in the article. 🙂

Dual purpose decoration and dessert. These cute little Candy and Cookie Turkeys can serve as both decoration before dinner, and dessert after dinner. Everyone — young, and old — will love these adorable candy and cookie turkeys that can be made fairly inexpensively — especially if you remember they serve two purposes, and you likely won’t have them on the table long enough to need to clean them up after dinner! 🙂

Can of gold, copper, or orange spray paint and leaves, pinecones, and acorns. You can make anything look more expensive with a can of spray paint. Get leaves from your yard, or a local park, lay them out on a piece of cardboard and spray paint them with gold, copper, and orange, and you’ll have some gorgeous décor to lay on your table.  Gather some pinecones, or acorns from under your tree, spray paint them and, after dried, place them in a bowl with some unused pillar candles from your local dollar store for a creative and decorative centerpiece. When painted in gold, copper, or silver, pinecones can be reused for a Christmas centerpiece at a later time.

 

 

$5 to $10 Date Ideas

Follow my blog with Bloglovin“>Follow my blog with Bloglovin This time of year I often realize that it’s been a while since my husband and I have gone out on a date. With large medical bills and 3 kids (2 teens), we have amazingly tight finances.  Unless someone gives us a gift card to a restaurant we don’t have the option to get out and go anywhere, just the two of us to spend some time together catching up.  So, with little to no money at the end of the month, how can we go on a date?

Romantic Date on a Lake – $8

In the summertime, when my husband and I were dating, we often didn’t have money for dates. On one occasion, he took an inflatable boat he already owned, a 6-pack of soda, and a $5 pizza and we had a romantic boat ride all around a man-made neighborhood lake. I still think fondly of that date, even though it has been nearly 30 years since that date with him.

Dinner and a Movie for Around $10

We have two restaurants in town that serve tacos for a very low amount. One has two tacos for $1.37 (after tax) and the other has 79 cent tacos. There are also many places where you can buy $1 cheeseburgers, or $1 chicken sandwiches, and one that I know of that charges $1 for any size soda. Of course, you can save $2 if you each order water. 🙂

My husband eats more than I do, so one $1 cheeseburger or chicken sandwich will not fill him up. But, two are plenty for him. For us, our meal comes to $3 plus tax (he has two and I have one sandwich/burger). At our dollar theater, you can pay $1 plus tax to go to the movie without getting any goodies, or you can pay $3 to have popcorn or a candy and a soda. For each of us, that would be $6. After tax, we still spend less than $10 for a few hours away from the kids, enjoying each others company.

When Kids are Away from Home

We have three kids and every once in a while all three kids spend the night somewhere else. When this happens, we get a rare chance to have a special night together without going anywhere. (If you have a friend with kids, you could trade babysitting nights so you each get some time alone). That’s when it’s time to break out that inexpensive wine from the trader store with the name about two-bucks? 🙂

After we’ve got that bottle of wine open, we put out a linen tablecloth and set out our special dishes, light candles and enjoy a candlelit dinner at home. My husband had this idea one year and it was amazingly wonderful. After dinner, we cuddled on the couch to binge watch tv or watch a movie. On another candlelit dinner, we just talked for hours after dinner. We caught up on our busy lives, talked about favorite hobbies, music, or sports. Talking helps us bond and rebuild our friendship, and it’s free — all it costs is a bit of time. If we keep our talking to subjects that will not cause a “loud debate”, it stays an enjoyable evening. 🙂

Dancing in the Moonlight

This date idea isn’t just for the movies. Have you ever driven to a lake, a park, or even a parking lot with a view of the city, or the mountains, and realized how beautiful the night sky is? If you have a beautiful person with you, and you have great music on the radio, why not roll the windows down, turn up the music, and turn on your charm, so you can dance in the moonlight with your special someone. This date idea is free — it just takes a bit of time getting to your location, and possibly some time convincing your partner to dance with you under the stars. 🙂

Picnic in the Park

Of course, this idea is cliche’. Most people, at some time in their life has had a picnic in the park — they’re inexpensive, fun, romantic, and easy. In the winter time, this idea is not very practical – it’s often too cold, but you could drive to a park, find a nice parking space with a view, and eat your lunch, or dinner, in your nice warm car while you enjoy some casual conversation watching the traffic go by, or the ducks land on the water.

My husband and I used to have a private place for a picnic, for conversations, for cuddling — a little alcove in the bushes right next to the river that we could go to during the spring, summer, or fall. During the river, there were no branches on the bushes, making our “private space” too public for use — not to mention, it was very cold to be outside, next to the river in the winter. 🙂

Wine Tasting

If you are able to get a Groupon, or some other promotional special, you can generally take part in wine tasting for around $10. Sometimes, you can even get a coupon that will allow you to have wine tasting and take home a bottle, or two of wine. My husband and I watch for this type of coupon, and then schedule our wine tasting when the winery has an event going on allowing us to have two experiences for the price of one! We love to go to wine tasting whey the winery is having a concert, so we can listen to terrific music while we are enjoying each others company, relaxing while listening to each other’s conversation and the terrific music being played live.

Sunset Trip

I love sunsets. I think the different colors on the clouds, and in the sky are absolutely gorgeous! To me, there is nothing more romantic than cuddling with my husband watching the sun set; the pinks and blues painting the sky. If you live in the city, there is nothing like watching the sunset in the country, or high up on a mountain overlooking the city. Once the sunsets, the stars come out, and you end up with a romantic, sparkling blanket of light.
 

 

Pennywise Ways to Save on Utilities

We have a family of five, and with my recent ankle surgery to repair two torn ligaments (they apparently should have healed on their own, but didn’t), we were forced to move from a tri-level to a single level home out in the country.  We didn’t plan for the complications that would follow: a DVT blood clot, de-conditioning of my body forcing my heart to work harder, etc. As a result of all the extra medical bills, my husband took on four jobs and I started looking for ways to save every penny, nickel, dime, and dollar that I can!

Since we don’t have a car payment, credit cards and utilities are part of our largest bills (after the mortgage and student loans, of course). Saving on utilities will be the focus of this article, and we’ll get into ways to save on credit cards, student loans, and the mortgage at some point in the future. The following ideas are just some of the ways we are trying to save money on our utilities. If you have other ideas, please feel free to share them.

Water

When brushing your teeth, do you leave the water running, or do you shut it off while you are brushing, and then turn it back on when you need to rinse off your toothbrush? I have found that with five people in the house, brushing their teeth two to three times per day, or more (we have a little girl who is concerned about her teeth because her older brother had to have a root canal, and my husband who has been obsessed with brushing his teeth ever since he got braces) we can conserve water by rinsing off the toothbrush, shutting off the water, applying toothpaste, brushing teeth, and then turning on the water only when we are rinsing off the toothbrush again. This method probably save several gallons of water per day.

Another way to save water is to collect the water that is being used when water is heating up. Saving empty milk, or distilled water jugs, gives you the ability to save the water that is otherwise going down the drain. The saved water can then be used for cooking, giving water to pets, drinking water for yourself, water for plants, and vegetables, and hand-washing nylons and other hand-wash items that don’t need to be in warm, or hot water.

When shaving, if you pull the plug up and collect the cold water with the hot while it is heating up — then the ultimate hot water will heat up the cold and you have conserved a bunch of water. If the water still is not warm enough, drain a little out, and add more hot water — this way, you’ve conserved at least some of the water.

Outside, you can save on your water bill by watering during off-peak hours, and by watering when it is not so hot that your water dissipates before it has a chance to soak into the ground. Call your water company to find out the least expensive times to water your lawn.

Electricity

Power Strips. We have personally found that we can save about $5 per month by plugging as many items as we can into power strips. Of course, you cannot plug your freezer, or refrigerator into a power strip, but just about any non-essential appliance can be plugged into a power strip and powered off when not in use. Although this means that you may have to wait a couple of minutes for the power to get to your television, you’ll be surprised at how much money you’ll save in the long run.  I know $5 per month may not sound like much, but Pennywise Families will realize that every little bit adds up — $60 per year might be an extra tank of gas for the car, or a family meal out to celebrate a big event.

Second, if it is an option for you, use flat pay, or level bill pay, whenever you can.  Flat pay can save you money per month by leveling out your bill, so you don’t have unexpected expenses and you pay the same amount every year — no more $300-$400 bills in the summer from your air-conditioning usage! We did this at our former house, and we went from $300 bills in the summer, and $75 bills in the winter, to $120 bills per month all year long for a 2575 square foot house.  Apparently, if you are the first owner of a house, you can’t use level pay until the house has been lived in for a year, so it’s not an option for us just yet, but will be next June!

Line Drying clothes.  You’d be surprised at how much this option can save. Although resistant at first, I have learned that your dryer uses a lot more energy than you might think. By adding an extra spin to the washer, excess water is already out of your clothes. When you hang them to dry, be sure to give them a snap, and ensure you have as many wrinkles out of them as possible. Hanging them for a few hours, then drying them in the dryer will soften stiff clothes like jeans, towels, and sheets.

Windows. Since we live in a home, we are able to use our windows for light during the day. Opening up the blinds provides us with enough light to see by during the day, and we only have to use the lights at nighttime, or when we go into our closet (deep inside our bathroom where no natural light gets to it).

Another way to save money with regard to windows, is to use blackout blinds to block out summer heat, add insulated fabric to drapes, or add plastic film to your windows during the winter.

Oven use. In the winter, the oven can help heat the house. It’s also when we want to do more baking for the holidays, for gifts for neighbors, etc. If you’re going to use the oven, have it do double-duty, or more, if possible cook two meals at once — tonight’s and tomorrow’s and then reheat tomorrow’s meal; bake a pie, or brownies while you are baking dinner; and then leave the oven open all the way (if you don’t have little ones, or leave it open a crack if you are worried someone in your house might get burned) to let the heat out, allowing the oven to heat up your house while it cools down.

During the summer, barbecue or use slow-cooker to prevent your house from heating up while the meal cooks. Otherwise, your air conditioner will need to come on to cool your house back down.

Programmable thermostat. Use a programmable thermostat to set a temperature that is comfortable, and then forget it. Keeping the same temperature actually saves more money than having the air-conditioner, or heater fluctuate on and off all day long.

Seal attic walls, doorways, and windows, and add insulation to your attic and crawl spaces. Be sure you check your home for leaky windows, spaces underneath your door, or in your attic. Add insulation to your attic, and crawl spaces, after you’ve checked to ensure all areas are sealed. By adding insulation, you can keep the warm, or cold air you’ve already paid for in your house, instead of allowing it to seep out through places that have no insulation.