Tag Archives: frugal holidays

Thanksgiving menu 2009

ThanksgivingI know I’ve bragged about him before, but it bears repeating: my husband is a fantastic cook, and Thanksgiving is his specialty. For the past two years, he’s whipped up some of the best Thanksgiving dishes I’ve ever tasted.

Last year, we spent Thanksgiving Day at a friend’s house for a potluck meal, but he still insisted on cooking our own Thanksgiving meal from scratch on Friday. He’s kind of obsessed.

This year we’re excited to finally cook a meal for family. Tony’s parents and sister will be visiting us for the long weekend. Instead of posting our weekly meal plan, I’ve decided to share our Thanksgiving menu and the original recipes that inspired our dishes. Tony has made many adaptations to these recipes to make them his own, but I highly recommend trying any of these dishes if you’re looking for a new twist on your Thanksgiving favorites (especially the green bean casserole).

I’ll be doing the baking this year, and I’m making apple pie for the first time. Wish me luck!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes? Share a link below!

For more menu plans, visit OrgJunkie. Have a great three-day week!

Photo by mil8

Simplify your holiday season

pumpkin pieWith Thanksgiving only one week away, I can’t deny it anymore: the holiday season is upon us. And like every other year, I’m feeling a little unprepared. I know the holidays are coming. They happen every year at the same time. And yet, the holiday season always manages to sneak up on me somehow.

To help maintain my sanity, I’m pledging to keep things as simple as possible. Here are a few of the ways I plan to make that happen:

Take shortcuts.

Next Thursday, Tony and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. His parents and sister will be coming to stay with us for the long weekend, and we’re preparing the Thanksgiving meal.

At first, I was gearing up to go all out with homemade everything. Then I realized, we’re cooking and entertaining. I’m sure they’d rather we have time to visit than hide in the kitchen all day slaving over homemade pie crust. So we’re taking a few shortcuts here and there to make meal prep easier, and give us more time to visit.

Ship gifts directly.

We live 800 miles from family, and we won’t be making the trip home this year. To save time and money, we ordered most of our family’s gifts online. We’ll have them shipped directly to them with free shipping. My mom has agreed to wrap all the gifts for my nieces and nephews to save us money on gift wrapping (thanks Mom!). We may spring for the gift wrapping on my parents’ gifts, but either way, it’s much easier to shop online. Just click, ship, and you’re done. No long lines at the post office, expensive shipping, or packing up.

Plan ahead.

With so much going on, it’s tempting to procrastinate holiday shopping and preparation. But it’s so much easier to plan a little at a time to get things done. We made our Thanksgiving menu and shopping list last week and bought a few things at the grocery store last weekend. Now we’ve just got to get the rest of our ingredients, clean the house this weekend, and prepare for our guests.

I also split Christmas shopping over several months. I finished shopping for Tony’s family in October, this month I’ll buy gifts for my family, and in December Tony and I will shop for each other.

Slow down.

Instead of rushing around to get things done, remind yourself that things don’t have to be perfect. This Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m taking the time to enjoy our last winter in the South. I hope to be pregnant by this time next year (!!), which means this could also be our last holiday season as a family of two.

In 10 years, you’re unlikely to remember the little annoyances and mini catastrophes in your planning. What you’re remember is the time spent with family. So make sure you enjoy it.

How are you preparing for the holidays?

Photo by deiru

Easy, frugal gifts for babies and young kids

Christmas giftIf you watched the adorable slideshow I posted Friday, then you know that I have five nieces and nephews ages 6 and under. With that many kids on your list, Christmas can easily become overwhelming.

Last year, I cashed in MyPoints on a $50 Amazon.com gift card and bought toys for all of them. But it was exhausting shopping for that many kids, especially since we live so far away. And honestly, at that age, they’re so inundated with toys on Christmas morning that I question whether the toys I sent added any real joy to their Christmas.

So we’ve been thinking of alternative gifts for our nieces and nephews to make the holidays easier on us and special for them. Here are some of the ideas we’ve considered:


I still have books from my aunts and grandparents with little messages inscribed inside. Books can last a lifetime, and they’re not very expensive. Choose something meaningful to the child in your life (Harold and the Purple Crayon for the kid who loves to draw or Where the Wild Things Are for the rambunctious kid). If you you live far away, have the book shipped directly from Amazon.com to cut down on shipping costs.

Give your time.

I was a middle child growing up, and what I wanted more than anything was to feel special. Give a kid with siblings a day all to herself. Wrap a gift certificate for a kid manicure or a movie, and take him or her on a special outing.

Adopt an endangered species.

If you donate $50 to the World Wildlife Fund, they send you a species adoption kit including a plush toy, an adoption certificate, a photo of the animal, and a species information card. This may be a little too deep for really young kids, but my 6-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew would love it.

Name a star after him.

Let me start by saying this: whatever you do, don’t send money to the “National Star Registry.” This isn’t an official organization, and stars named this way are not recognized by anyone but you. So you’ll end up sending off $50+ for nothing but a certificate. Why do that when you can make one yourself and get across the same idea to the imaginative child in your life? Let him pick the brightest star in the sky, name it what he wants, and create your own star naming certificate.

What are your creative gift ideas for kids?

Photo by .bean

Baby monster mash

Our trip home to Indiana for Halloween was crazy. There were 15 of us in one house, including five kids under the age of 6 hopped up on too much candy. The weekend also included the following:

  • A trip to Chicago with my dad to see Bob Dylan in concert. (!!!)
  • My mom hit a deer in her brand new car. Everyone was okay. The car and the deer, however, were not.
  • Most of us were infected with the worst virus EVER at some point during the weekend.

Despite all the craziness, it was an unbelievably great time filled with family, laughs, kids, candy, and way too much food. Click the picture below for some photos.

WARNING: This slideshow contains dangerous levels of cute. Proceed with caution.


I’m spending Halloween at home!

jackolanternThis weekend all of my sisters will be in the same state together for the first time since May 2007, and for the first time ever since my youngest niece and nephew were born.

Tony and I are flying to Indiana tonight, and my sister and her family will be there from Seattle, too. I can’t wait to see all five of my nieces and nephews in their costumes and experience the fun of Halloween from the perspective of young kids for the first time, well, since I was the little kid.

But with four families with five kids under the age of 7,  it’s going to be hectic. I don’t know if I’ll have time to check my email, let alone update my blog.

I’ll be back on Sunday with lots of adorable photos to share.  In the meantime, why don’t you tell me: what are you and/or your kids dressing up as for Halloween? I still haven’t come up with a costume, so I’m frantically searching for ideas!

I hope all of you have a safe, fun, and happy Halloween! See you Sunday!

Photo by boxercab

What are you frugal weaknesses?

ipodTo most people, the holiday season is synonymous with family, spirituality, and tradition. Unfortunately, it also means we’re surrounded by marketing messages and inundated with consumerism.

No matter how firm you are in your frugality, this is one time of year when you’re likely to fall off the wagon. Whether it’s shopping for family or for yourself, holiday advertising combined with great deals can make it difficult to resist the urge to spend.

The easiest way to avoid it — or at least minimize the damage — is to be aware of your own weaknesses. It’s different for everyone. Whether you’re addicted to high-end shoes, high fashion, or just expensive gifts for friends and family, self awareness can help you avoid situations where you’re likely to give in.

Here are my top frugal weaknesses:


Computers, televisions, gadgets, camera gear … I love all of it. So when I see a great deal, it can be very difficult for me to resist.

How to avoid the temptation: I don’t browse electronics stores or websites unless I need to make a very specific purchase that I’ve planned in advance. And on the day after Thanksgiving, I won’t be anywhere near an electronics store.

Gourmet Food

I’ve written before about my husband’s expensive taste in food, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I like pricey, specialty foods myself.

How to avoid the temptation: We make a specific grocery list every week, purchase only the essentials, and avoid browsing as much as possible.


Once upon a time, my husband and I spent our weekends browsing at Barnes and Noble and rarely left without bringing home something new for the bookshelf.

How to avoid temptation: Browse the library or a friend’s bookshelf instead of the bookstore.


Every year I’m tempted to spend way more than I can afford on the people I love.

How to avoid temptation: We already set a budget for how much we can afford to spend on holiday gifts, and we’re making a list now of the best gifts for everyone on our list within our budget. By planning ahead, we reduce the chance of panicking at the last minute and spending more money than we have to.

What are your frugal weaknesses, and how do you avoid them?

Photo by mallol

Our frugal anniversary trip


View from the Top of Cape Hatteras

This weekend, we planned to celebrate our first anniversary with a weekend getaway to Charleston, SC. Since we’re working toward so many financial goals, we didn’t want to spend much money on this trip. However, it wasn’t quite as frugal as it could have been. With a $100 hotel room and $50 in boarding fees for our dog plus restaurant meals and entertainment, I had the nagging feeling that we were spending too much.

On Friday afternoon, I checked the weather for Saturday in Charleston. Thundershowers. Though it was disappointing, I just couldn’t justify spending that kind of money on a trip when there was such a high potential for rain all weekend. At the last minute, we canceled our hotel reservation.

I felt good about the decision from a financial perspective, but I still woke up feeling disappointed on Saturday morning. We had both been looking forward to getting away to celebrate our anniversary and holiday weekend. At 8:30 a.m., we made a highly uncharacteristic last minute decision to pack up the dog and our tent and head north for an anniversary camping trip in the Outer Banks.

Last month Tony won $150 in a writing contest, so we decided to use that money for our trip. Here’s the breakdown of what we spent:


We spent $15 at the grocery store on the way out of town for snacks (fruit and nuts), $5 on coffee stops, $30 at the grocery store for camping provisions like hot dogs, chips and charcoal. We were not as frugal as normal at the grocery store, but we had decided to avoid restaurants as much as possible so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of snacks. We went out to lunch Sunday and spent $25, so our food total for two days was a ridiculous $75. Whoops.


We used about two tanks of gas round trip ($50). I cashed in some MyPoints for a $25 gas card. I also cashed in a $25 rebate reward from our gas credit card (which we pay in full every month). So we didn’t spend any money out of pocket for gas! We did pay to ride a ferry to one island from another, and the two-hour ride cost $15.


We stayed at a national park, so camping was free! We were right next to the beach, so we could hear the ocean waves at night. The sky was clear so we left the rain flap off the top of our tent so we could see the stars. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as a hotel, but it certainly had its charms.


We spent the weekend hiking nature trails, hanging out at the campsite, and walking along the beach. In the evening, we played cards by candlelight at our campsite (campfires weren’t allowed on the beach). The only money we spent on entertainment was $14 to climb to the top of the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. The view was worth every penny!

Dog Boarding

We would have spent $50 to board our dog if we had gone to Charleston. Instead, we brought him with us, so we didn’t pay a dime. And he had a great time outdoors, even if he was a little stressed about sleeping outside.

So instead of spending $150 plus food and entertainment, we spent about $105 for a fantastic weekend. Since we didn’t pay for a hotel, dog boarding or gas, our budget was better spent on good food and fun. Overall, I’m very happy with our decision to cancel the Charleston trip, and we plan to spend a lot more time camping this summer.

Love don’t cost a thing

photo by Grant MacDonald

I’m not a J.Lo fan, I promise. But with Valentine’s Day coming up this week, there’s never been a better time to remind ourselves of this simple concept: love and money have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

I have nothing against Valentine’s Day. It’s a wonderful idea. Unfortunately, like most holidays, it’s gotten all wrapped up with money and gifts and extravagance. It’s ironic that the holiday centered on love has become so extravagant when love is is the most frugal idea ever. Love costs nothing. It offers so many wonderful benefits, and they’re all absolutely free.

This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to celebrate love without spending any money. I’m not talking about spending less money or a little money. Try celebrating the person you love most for free.

Spending money is easy, but we all know the best things in life cost nothing.

  • Take an extra moment out of the day to stop what you’re doing, embrace your significant other, and tell him or her exactly how you feel.
  • Write a letter letting him know what he means to you and how he changed your life.
  • Make a list of all of the things you love most about her.
  • Turn off the TV and spend the evening talking about where you’ve come from and where you want to go next.
  • Remind yourself of your first days as a couple, and try to remember the time when your partner was just too good to be true. Hopefully, you haven’t forgotten, but if you have, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to remind yourself.

If you’re planning a money-free Valentine’s Day, leave a comment and share your plans!