Tag Archives: frugal holidays

Free & frugal ways to say ‘I love you’ on Valentine’s Day

This post was originally published on February 10, 2010. Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’ve never been a Valentine’s Day believer. I’ve always believed that you don’t need a special day to celebrate love. We should be celebrating every day, right?

It’s hard to avoid the Valentine’s Day hype, though, and any excuse to do a little something special for your partner is a good thing. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on flowers or jewelry, though. Try some of these free and frugal alternatives to celebrate the one you love today.

Do more than your share.

I would much rather come home to a spotless house than a dozen roses. This Valentine’s Day, show you care by doing your partner’s half of the household chores. Whether it’s bathroom duty, trash, cooking, dishes, or waking up early with the kids, your valentine will feel pampered if you give her a break for the weekend.

Share a small treat.

Early in our relationship, I assured Tony that I’d always prefer chocolate over flowers. Chocolate is dangerous for me, though, and I’d rather have a little treat than a huge box of candy. A little goes a long way, so surprise your valentine with a single serving of his or her favorite treat this weekend. It doesn’t have to be chocolates — maybe it’s trail mix or cupcakes. The important thing is that it’s his or her personal favorite. Bonus points if you bake it yourself (just make sure you bring the leftovers to the office or give them to your neighbors).

Write a love letter.

Love letters may seem cliche, but if you write something heartfelt and honest it will seem anything but. It costs absolutely nothing, but it means the world to the recipient.

Make a compromise.

Sentimental movies aren’t your thing, but your wife has been dying to see “Big Miracle.” Maybe you hate broccoli, but your boyfriend has wanted to try a new recipe for broccoli cheddar soup forever. It’s certainly not healthy to force yourself to do things you don’t like to do for your partner all the time, but you can make a compromise in the name of the most romantic day of the year.

Take a walk down memory lane.

Rent a movie that you saw in the beginning of your relationship. Make a mix tape of the songs you listened to on repeat for the first month you were dating. Do something that reminds you of how it felt when you first fell in love. Not only will it make you feel warm and fuzzy all over again, but it will serve as a reminder of why you fell in love in the first place.

I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and that whoever you share it with makes you feel very loved.

Photo by butterflysha

Shutterfly photo card contest winners

Thanks everyone for entering and making this one of the most popular contests I have hosted. Unfortunately, there can only be three winners. Selected randomly by comment number, here are the lucky readers:




I’ve contacted them by email, but if you’re one of the winners and you haven’t received an email from me, please get in touch with me so I can send you your promo code.

If you’d like another opportunity to win, head over to my friend Jes’s blog and enter there. If you’re a blogger, you can also register here for the opportunity to receive 25 photo cards for hosting your own contest.

Have a great weekend!

Win 25 free holiday photo cards from Shutterfly!

Sorry! This contest is now closed.

I realize it’s not even Halloween yet, but yes, it’s already time to talk about holiday greeting cards.

I just love this promotion, and I’m so excited to be participating in it again this year. Only now there’s a twist: I have three promo codes for 25 free custom holiday cards to give away to my readers!

Last year, when Shutterfly offered me the opportunity to write about their new holiday cards in exchange for some free photo cards, I jumped at the offer. I had a baby on the way, and I planned to use our holiday cards as birth announcements. I loved the way they turned out, and the quality was outstanding. Here’s the design we chose last year:

I can’t believe he was ever that tiny.

I looked through their selection this year, and they have lots of options for holiday cards, greeting cards, and photo gifts. I can’t make any promises obviously, but I was impressed with their shipping last year. I ordered at the beginning of December — the height of holiday card season — and I still received my cards in plenty of time to send them out before Christmas.

So how can you get 25 free photo cards for yourself? Just leave a comment on this post telling me how you plan to use your free cards. You can use them as Christmas cards, holiday cards, birth announcements, everyday greeting cards, or something entirely different. The best part about customized photo cards is you can really make them your own.

I’ll randomly choose three winners who will receive promo codes for 25 free cards each. Winners will be selected Thursday night at 9 p.m. and announced Friday morning. Make sure you leave an email address in the space provided when you write your comment so I can contact you if you win. Good luck!

In exchange for this blog post, I’m receiving 50 free holiday greeting cards from Shutterfly. Are you a blogger? Want a chance at 25 free cards this holiday season? Register here.

Making the holidays as simple as possible

I hardly ever do stuff like this, so bear with me, okay?

Unless this is the very first time you’re reading my blog, then you know I’m having a baby very soon. Literally, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’ll be welcoming an adorable, pooping, crying, time-consuming bundle of joy into our home.

Some of my blogger friends who are in this position are very organized and motivated, and they’re getting their holiday shopping done early. For a number of reasons, though, I’ve decided to take Christmas off this year. Not only are we short on time, but our budget is very tight. As much as we love shopping for our families, we’ve asked to be excused from any holiday gift exchanges this year. We typically only exchange gifts with our parents and buy toys for our nieces and nephews anyway. The way I see it, our parents are getting a grandbaby for Christmas. It took me 9 whole months to make this baby for them, so they better like it. :)

For a hot second, I thought about baking instead of buying gifts. Or the old frugal standby — making gifts. Then I remembered that for the entire holiday season I’m either going to be very pregnant and preparing for baby, or I’ll be caring for a newborn. It’s just not happening this year. And that’s okay.

So what about other holiday traditions like holiday greeting cards? I usually send handwritten notes to friends and family wishing them a happy holiday and letting them know how we’re doing. This year, I’m simplifying our greeting cards by sending holiday photo cards from Shutterfly. With any luck, the baby will be here in time for us to include a photo of him on our cards along with a printed greeting. I’ll just pop them in an envelope, address them, add a stamp, and I’m done.

If you’d still like to add a handwritten message, there are plenty of stationery cards available with blank space for writing. I’m choosing to send photo cards with a printed message to make things as simple as possible.

If you want to make things even simpler, Shutterfly also has Christmas address labels and Christmas gift tags.

How are you simplifying the holiday season this year?

In exchange for this blog post, I’m receiving 50 free holiday greeting cards from Shutterfly. If you’re a blogger and you’d like to participate in this giveaway, you can get more information here.

My New Year’s resolution for 2010 — focus on the positive

Every New Year, I’ve thought long and hard about how to improve myself, and I come up with resolutions that will make me a better person. I tell myself, “You didn’t work out enough this year,” or “You need to lose weight,” or “You need to do this and that to be better.” But you know what? This type of thinking doesn’t motivate me. It just leaves me feeling like I’ve failed in the past, and sets me up for failure and more negative thinking in the future.

This year, I’m spending the New Year looking ahead with excitement and reminding myself of my accomplishments. Instead of dwelling on what I could do better in the coming year, I’m reveling in the joy of all the great things I accomplished in 2009 and the rewards that will follow in 2010.

My New Year’s resolutions are positive reinforcements of my strengths instead of reminders of how I’ve failed. I’m training to run a half marathon to remind myself that I’m capable of anything I set my mind to, and I’m making a promise to myself to focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses this year.

I want the coming year to be one of happiness and positivity. Here are some other reasons that I’m proud of us, and why I’m so excited for 2010.

  • We’re starting the year credit card debt free, and our emergency fund is complete.
  • We’re finally moving back home to the Midwest.
  • We’re going on our dream vacation to Europe in May.
  • I’m writing a book! (That’s all I can say about that, but I’ll have more details to come, I promise!)
  • My best friend and sister-in-law are both getting married in October.
  • I’m training to run a half marathon in November.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Are you focusing on your strengths or dwelling on your weaknesses?

Photo by maxblogbits

Our $100 Christmas — or how to stretch your budget by buying used

Christmas is over, and now that I’m looking at the stack of books, movies, and records that Tony and I bought for each other, I’m amazed at just how far our Christmas budget went.

We set a budget of $50 each before we knew just how generous our friends and family would be to us. To be honest, if we had known we’d end up spending $200 on a new TV and getting a Playstation 3 and Beatles Rock Band, we probably wouldn’t have bought each other gifts at all. But we love shopping for each other and making the most of a $50 budget is a fun challenge for us. Here’s what we were able to get:

From Tony:

  • A French phrase book for our trip to Europe
  • Bill Bryson’s “Dictionary of Troublesome Words”
  • The Pixar movie “Up.”
  • Bob Dylan “Desire” on vinyl

From me:

  • Tony had a list of books that he plans to teach either next semester or in the future, so I just filled his wish list. He got four books.
  • The Beatles “Abbey Road” on vinyl.

We had a $25 Amazon gift card from cashing in our rewards points from the debit card for our old bank account, so we also got three non-fiction books by David Foster Wallace that we both wanted: “Consider the Lobster,”  “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” and “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.”

Looking at everything that we got, it’s hard to believe we only spent $100. But that’s the most fun part about gift giving for each other — we set a budget, and then do our best to get the most out of our money. We so rarely buy things like books and DVDs these days, so Christmas is a fun time to splurge and figure out what the other one wants.

We bought most of the books and vinyl used on Amazon. There are a ton of books available for $1-$2. You have to pay $3 in shipping, but that still keeps the cost of the book below $5. That’s a great deal considering most new books are at least $10, and all but one of the books we got are as good as new.

There was one gift that was not in our budget. Tony got me a Chi flat iron. I straighten my naturally curly hair almost every day, and I’ve been talking about wanting one of those things for five years. Tony surprised me by going a little over budget to finally get it for me. It’ll make my life easier, and since I’ve wanted it for so long he thought it was about time. I suppose I won’t hold it against him that he made the purchase without discussing it with me. :)

On Christmas Day we ate dinner at a hibachi restaurant and saw a movie using the cash we received from our grandparents. It was a lovely day, and it didn’t cost us a thing.

I hope Santa was good to all of you this Christmas. And I hope he was frugal, too!

It’s a wonderful life

It’s been an incredible year for us, and next year is going to be even better. I’m so grateful for all of the blessings in our lives. Thank you for letting me share our journey with you, and for offering so much support along the way.

I’ll be taking the next couple of days off to spend with Tony. We’re spending this Christmas in North Carolina eating Chinese food and seeing a movie on Christmas Day. It will be absolutely heavenly.

Now get off the Internet and spend some time with the people you love! :)

Photo: Christmas 2007

Last minute holiday gifts that won’t bust your budget

Christmas giftsWe’re coming into crunch time now, and if you’re anything like me, there are probably still a few people on your list for whom you need to buy gifts. I always find myself adding people at the last minute, which can be a real problem for my gift budget.

Here are some easy, frugal gift ideas for gifts for the last few people on your list.

Baked goods

Who doesn’t love to get cookies at Christmas time? It’s likely you’ll be doing some holiday baking anyway, so pick up some decorative plastic wrap and give away a dozen cookies wrapped with a bow.

Magazine subscriptions

Amazon has some amazing deals right now for 1-year magazine subscriptions. Many of them are even available for $10 or less. Choose something you know they’ll be interested in, and it shows that you’ve put thought into the gift. They won’t get the first issue until after the holidays are over, but there’s plenty of time to print up a card that says, “I got you a gift subscription!” They’ll know it’s on the way, and it’s no hassle for you.


Supermarkets usually offer great discounts on good wines right now, because they know people are entertaining. Pick up a nice bottle for under $15, stick a bow on it, and you’ve got a great gift for the wine connoisseur in your life.


I love to get a fun desk calendar for work or a wall calendar for my home office at the holidays. Find one with practical tips or a theme they’ll like, and they’ll think of you every day of the year.

A night out

When I was a teenager, I always gave my parents a “date night” for Christmas with two movie tickets and a gift certificate for their favorite restaurant. People who are strapped for time love this because it gives them an excuse to work time into their busy schedules for themselves. If your budget is too tight for a restaurant meal, consider a gift card for a coffee shop instead or a “movie night” gift basket with a movie rental, popcorn, and snacks.

If it’s a close friend or family member with kids, be sure to offer your babysitting services, too, so they can take advantage of your gift without having to worry about finding a sitter.

Share your last minute gift ideas by leaving a comment! We can use all the help we can get this time of year. :)

Photo by obd-design

Happy Thanksgiving!

ThanksgivingI’m spending the holiday with my extended family cooking, drinking wine, and enjoying their company. I’ll be back next week with lots of pictures to share.

Until then I’m wishing you a happy holiday filled with good food, good company, and many blessings.

Photo by piero