5 Simple Ways To Can Cut Down on Expenses During the Holidays

According to the National Retail Federation, the typical American plans to spend at least $804 on the holidays (data from 2014). Those in other countries also devote substantial money to this time of year which often revolves around gift giving, hosting parties, expensive travel and sharing. However, each year people go into debt shopping for year-end holiday expenses that they end up paying off for several months.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to cut down on the financial impact of the holidays. The following 5 tips allow you to enjoy the holidays to their fullest, while also cutting down on unnecessary or frivolous expenses.

Plan for a stay-cation

Who says you have to go on a vacation each holiday season? You can save a lot of money and create a new tradition by staying home instead. There are probably wonderful holiday events, activities and local sights and sounds worth seeing right in your local area. Plan for a stay-cation instead of a vacation to save some serious holiday cash.

Spread your expenses out

You can look at this from 2 angles:

1. Each month budget some money that you will use for holiday expenses. Then use that money at the end of the year when you shop for decorations, gifts and other holiday items.

2. Make holiday-based purchases throughout the year.

Either way, this strategy eases the impact on your pocketbook or purse during the holidays.

Make gifts rather than purchasing them

This is a tradition in our family.  We make at least one gift for those on our list.  It does not have to be fancy –  special cookies are my favourite. When you teach your children to hand make gifts instead of buying them, you teach the real meaning of the holidays. This also promotes creativity, imagination and other important life skills.

Gifts mean so much more when they are heartfelt creations rather than retail store purchases.

Limit the number of gifts each person gives

If gift-giving is a part of your holiday celebration, do you really need to give multiple gifts to multiple people? Giving just 1 gift per person keeps your holidays from devolving into nothing more than a “what am I getting this year” mindset.

Draw names instead of giving to everyone in the family

We have done this for years in our family and it works really well.  While we do not actually draw names, one of us is the “keeper of the list” and arranges who buys for whom so that we don’t get the same person year after year.  We also have a maximum amount that we spend on gifts for that person.

I hope you get some ideas from this as to how you can cut back on your holiday spending.

4 Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Babies

The holidays are coming and for many people it is their first time having to buy holiday gifts for babies! Many will ask what the point is in spending money on a gift for a baby that really does not ‘get’ the holidays.

Giving gifts at holiday times is something that we should enjoy doing, and you should cherish doing so for young babies who can’t tell you that you got the wrong thing…that time will come soon enough! So just what are some great ideas for holiday gifts for babies?

Decorations

Let’s start with an unusual one. There are few babies that go without a huge selection of toys over the festive period, so why not consider a special gift that they will have when they get older? Festive decorations are an excellent idea in this regard. You can often purchase something bespoke and creative, and it will always be something that the child knows is theirs every year, right up to the time that they have to start putting together their own collection of decorations!

Books

It’s never too early for children to start building their book collection, and that includes babies. Depending on how young the child is, you may choose a basic rhyming book that the parents can read at night, or you might choose a soft book that baby can also play with or even a waterproof book for the bath. Books always make for a fantastic gift, and one that will help the child develop.

Sensory Toys

Sensory toys play a vital role in our children’s development, and help them to learn about the world around them. From intricate activity centers to simple rattles, sensory toys shape how children view the world and how they understand themselves.

It is always important to be age appropriate when considering sensory toys, but their importance cannot be overstated. If in doubt, a sensory toy should be your default buy!

Stuffed Animals

Depending on the age of the baby, a stuffed animal might just be the perfect gift for them. Stuffed toys or animals can often become a baby’s best friend, and this bond is not something to be discouraged.

Stay away from toys that have anything hanging loose, including ribbons or buttons, but aside from that pick the cuddliest, most appropriately sized cuddly toy you can find!

4 Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Toddlers

Toddlers are full of energy, full of enthusiasm and full of curiosity. They will welcome any toy and give it a chance, but if it doesn’t engage with them then it will quickly be discarded!

When buying gifts for toddlers, it’s important to remember that toddlers are at an age whereby they want to push their limits. They are exploring the world around them, and exploring their own capabilities. If you cater to this need for exploration, you will never go far wrong with your holiday gifts! Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Ride Ons

A ride on toy can offer tremendous fun and rewarding playtime regardless of the stage of development of the toddler. When considering a ride on toy, you should always look for one that is well balanced and sturdy.

Consider the interests of the toddler and try and choose an appropriate style of ride on toy. If in doubt, go for something with a trailer or a space under the seat for storing other toys – these are always a hit.

Books

When considering gift ideas, no matter what age of child or what time of year, books are never a bad idea. A love of reading should be cultivated at a young age, and by offering engaging and fun stories to toddlers, you can instill within them a love of books.

Always consider whether the book you are buying is age appropriate. If it’s too simple, the child won’t be challenged. If it’s too difficult, the child will not be interested.  Most books indicate the age range most appropriate for the book.

Arts & Crafts

Toddlers are explorers, and anything that allows them to be creative is always a good idea. Arts & crafts don’t have to be expensive or particularly distinctive – a coloring book and a box of crayons would suffice.

The idea is to encourage the toddler to use their imagination and be creative with their play. Older toddlers might be able to handle more advanced toys or projects, but for young toddlers, something as simple as finger painting can be a wonderfully positive experience.

Puzzles

The world is one big puzzle to a toddler, so it’s no surprise that puzzles are a suitable holiday gift. Puzzles help children learn for themselves, and encourage various skills from critical thinking to hand eye co-ordination.

Children enjoy puzzles once they have a chance at working out the solution, so always make sure you aren’t making the task too difficult, but aside from that, the more puzzles the better!

3 Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Pre-schoolers

Pre-schoolers can sometimes be a difficult group to buy for, for one very big reason. They are at an age where many of them know what they want and they aren’t afraid to tell you what that is! While there is no doubting the benefit that a challenging puzzle game can offer a pre-schooler, there is no guarantee that such a toy will be well received, unless you know the child well!

Having said that, there are still a great number of gifts with which you can win over any stubborn pre-schooler. Let’s look at three of the most popular holiday gifts for pre-schoolers.

Musical Toys

When we refer to musical toys here, we are not talking about any old toy that lights up and blares out a number of pre-recorded tunes. We are talking about basic musical toys that can teach children about musicality.

Percussion toys are a great starting point, as are simple wind instruments like a toy harmonica. Children can learn cause and effect, and it has been shown that children who play with musical toys at a young age are more likely to take up playing an instrument in later life.

Books

Books make a fantastic gift regardless of the age of a child.  There is, however, perhaps no time when this is more relevant than for pre-schoolers. Soon, these children will be in an official learning environment and will be presented with letters and words on a daily basis. By giving these children books at a young age, an appreciation and love of reading can be developed early, making school learning all the easier.

Arts & Crafts

Pre-schoolers are at the perfect age to really be expanding their creative play.  Gifts that cultivate creative crafts are always a good idea. While this might be something as simple as a coloring book, pre-schoolers are at an age where they can be interested in more serious craft projects.

Cutlery that needs to be painted by the child so that it is distinctly theirs is a fantastic way of spending a few hours. Similarly, painting a birdhouse or making a kite can be tremendously fun activities when undertaken as a family. When considering an arts & crafts gift, consider whether it will engage the child, and whether it will challenge them. Ideally, it should do both.

4 Best Types of Baby Toys for Language Development

Learning to speak is one of the most important milestones in a child’s life. The bulk of speech that children develop during their first 3 years of life greatly influences their social, emotional, and cognitive development, and also greatly affects performance in school and critical thinking skills.

For this reason, speech-language pathologists encourage parents to expose their kids to as many words as possible and to encourage talking during this critical first 3 years in order to instill a rich vocabulary in their child. One good way of going about that is by investing in the following types of language teaching toys for babies.

1. Talking Toys

For a child to start talking and develop speech, he must first learn different words as well as their meanings. This is where talking toys come in. Available in a variety of options (e.g. Educational Insights ReMARKable Smart Talk Charts, Fisher-Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm, VTech Infant Learning Touch and Learn Storytime, Learning Resources ABC Chalk Talk Electronic Learning Chalkboard, among others), talking toys teach letters, words, sounds, and shapes, in a fun and easy way that kids really enjoy.

2. Dolls

It may surprise you but dolls have powerful speech teaching capabilities due to the fact that dolls allow kids to replicate various real-life experiences that they go through every day. These include things like bathing, dressing, feeding, naptime, and so on. These little re-enactments create opportunities for language-development as kids will not only act out the real-life experiences but also try to mimic the conversations carried out during the time.

The key to ensuring your child gets the most out of a doll is to go for options that talk or come with accessories such as little cups, strollers, combs, cradles, outfits, dollhouses, etc. Such dolls increase play options, which in turn brings about more language building opportunities.

3. Toy Sets

Toy sets can be a great option to encourage early language development. Whether it’s a kitchen, farm, fire station, or tea party set, a child will have to use words at one point or another either to make a request, exchange play ideas, make a comment about the game, ask for help, engage in role play, and so on.

Playing with toys sets of all kinds provides kids get the opportunity to use those words they have been hearing and learning functionally in a variety of ways.  With the continued use of play sets, your child will start stringing little sentences through the exchange of words that happens during playtime.

4. Musical Toys

According to research, music stimulates multiple areas of the brain (which is great for language development), breaks down words into sounds and syllables that are easier for children to process, and allows kids to hear and learn the similarities and differences between sounds. These music benefits combined make musical toys effective tools for encouraging language development.

There is a wide variety of musical toys available that range from ‘Remo Drum’ to ‘Easy Karaoke’ to ‘Melisa and Doug’s Deluxe Band Set’.  Go for options with a clever rhyme that is captivating and easy for a small child to process.

If you have a small child who is just starting to talk, any toy that falls in the above listed categories can help tremendously.  As a guideline, shop for toys with options that encourage interaction, provide flexibility during play, and get your children using their imagination and creativity.

How to Create and Stick to a Holiday Spending Budget

Does this sound familiar?

The holidays are just around the corner, so you sit down to develop a game plan which will help you stick to a budget.

You take into account gift buying, food, purchasing holiday clothing and even how much gas your vehicle is going to need for you to get all of those Black Friday sales.

The holidays arrive, you stray from your budget consistently, and spend the new year wondering how you are going to pay down your credit card debt.

Use the following tips and you will learn how to create and stick to a holiday spending budget, while still enjoying this wonderful time with your family and friends.

Make a Budget for … Everything!

You need a holiday budget number before you can stick to it. And this should come from every holiday activity, not just gift buying. How much do you need to spend on decorations?

If you are having family and friends over, you do not want to have to skimp on the food. Greeting cards, holiday clothing, travel, lodging, charitable contributions, entertainment and fuel for your vehicle all need to be included in your holiday budget.

Make a Gift List with Your Entire Family

It seems every year you forget a gift for 1 or 2 people, and that can throw your budget out of whack. Sit down with your entire family. Include everyone each family member must buy for. Do not forget Johnny’s piano teacher and Sally’s soccer coach. Your mail carrier, next-door neighbors and certain coworkers may deserve inclusion as well. Do not forget anyone this year, and you can keep on budget.

Start Planning on January 1

While there are holidays throughout the year, the biggest financial hit you take usually occurs during the year-end holiday season. But your planning should start on the first day of the new year.

Cut back on dinners, movies or other discretionary habits at least 2 or 3 times a month, and put this money away. You will be surprised at how much money you save, and this can mean plenty of money to fill your holiday spending budget.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Every parent wants to give their children all that they dream and desire. But this is just not financially possible. Figure out who is getting what, and attach reasonable price ranges to each and every gift recipient.

Knowing who is getting just a Christmas card, a handmade or baked gift or low-cost present allows you to spend more money on your holiday budget where it is required.

Shop All Year Long

Many smart shoppers are done spending for the holidays long before November and December roll around. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid long lines, Black Friday madness and all of the hectic stress that comes with the holiday season? You can do that when you shop for decorations, gifts and even travel and lodging packages throughout the year.

Outlaw the Impulse Items

This is my biggest downfall. Developing and sticking to a holiday spending budget means taking everything into account. You start early, shop throughout the year, set reasonable expectations and make a gift list that forgets nobody. Now you have to resist the impulse to give into the seasonal web, print and multimedia advertising campaign that comes with the holiday season.

Remind yourself that you have a plan, and stick to it.

Simple Homemade Toys from Household Items

There are so many fun toys you can make out of household objects! Many of these toys can be made from items you’d normally throw away or send to the recycling center. Try some of these homemade toy ideas using household items.

Rattle

For babies who are still too young to unscrew a cap, you can use a plastic water bottle to make a rattle. Simply put some colorful, dry beans in the bottle (once it’s dry) and screw on the cap. Babies can toll or shake the bottle for visual and auditory stimulation.

Drums

The round, cardboard containers that oatmeal comes in are great for drums; the plastic lids act as resonant drum heads. If you have another canister or cylinder-shaped container without a lid, you can cut a balloon to make a rubber “skin.” Stretch this over the canister and secure with a rubber band.

Building Blocks

Cover used boxes (such as those used for shoes, tissues, gifts, and so forth) with wrapping paper and use as stackable blocks. These are large and lightweight, making them ideal for young children. And if they get crushed, you can just make more.

“Levitating” Balls

All you need for this fun toy are a couple of ping pong balls, or balls similarly light and hollow, and a hair dryer. Hold the hair dryer so that its nozzle is pointing upward. Turn the hair dryer on and, holding it steady, place a ping pong ball into the air stream. Let go, and the hair dryer will cause the ball to stay in the air as much as a foot above the hair dryer’s nozzle. Try to add more balls into the air stream.

Marble Run

Kids can get as elaborate or simple as they like with this one, depending on their age and interest level. You will need:

* Cardboard tubes of various sizes, such as paper towel tubes (the sturdier the better)
* Disk magnets (any flat, lightweight magnets will do; you can even remove them from old fridge magnets)
* Plastic tub such as a yogurt or margarine container
* Hot glue gun

Glue two or three disk magnets to each tube, making sure they are in a straight line down one side. Glue several magnets to one side of the plastic tub. Then put the tubes on a magnetic surface, such as a refrigerator, in various designs, ending with the plastic tub to catch the marbles.

Wearable Crafts

Toys are great and lots of fun.  Some are interactive and creative, but nothing compares to making something with your own hands.

Crafts of all sorts can be fun; but wearable crafts are a special kind of fun! Here are some ideas for craft projects that your kids can have fun wearing.

Tutus

How many little girls fantasize about wearing a tutu? The good news is, you don’t have to spend a bunch of money to get a tutu; you can make one at home. Here’s how.

Materials:
* Scissors or a rotary cutter
* Measuring tape
* Ruler
* Strip of elastic, 1/2-inch wide and cut to fit around your child’s waist
* 6 to 8 yards of tulle (the net-like fabric that bridal veils are often made of)

Directions:

Measure your child’s waist with the tape measure, then purchase/cut a piece of elastic that length. Cut the tulle into strips, approximately 6 inches wide x 18 inches long (you can make them longer if you like, or use different colors to make a multi-colored tutu).

Lay 3 strips of tulle on top of each other, and fold them in half over the elastic. Tie the group of tulle strips into a knot over/around the elastic. Repeat this until the tulle strips are tied all the way around the elastic.

Here’s the only sewing part – when you come to the end of the elastic, sew the ends together by hand or with a machine. You can arrange the tulle to cover the stitched part.

Custom Shoes

Footwear can be fun if you make your own custom shoes! This craft can work with young and old alike. There are a couple of approaches to customizing your shoes; you can decorate existing shoes or actually make a pair. Here are some ideas.

Using acrylic paint, you can customize many shoes. Canvas shoes especially lend themselves to being painted. Try a simple flower pattern (small yellow dot surrounded by larger, colored dots), or polka dots. Or you can get really elaborate and do a camouflage or leaf pattern. Simply making colorful dots along the band and edge of a pair of Mary Janes gives them a new look.

Flip Flops

With some thick foam and a little time, you can make your own flip flops (beach shoes, thong sandals, etc.). Here’s how.

Materials:
* One-inch thick foam
* Cardboard
* Hot glue gun
* Plastic cording, strips of fabric, or whatever you want to use for the sandal straps
* Box cutter

Directions:

Trace your feet on cardboard leaving a half-inch or so margin. Cut them out, then use the cut-outs to trace the pattern on the foam. Use the box cutter to cut out the shapes from the foam. Stand on the foam cut-outs and determine where the thong will go between your toes and where it will go into the foam base on either side of your foot. Mark these areas with a pencil.

Using the pencil, poke holes in the foam where you made the marks. Take two pieces of cord or fabric. Measure the space between the central toe mark and one of the side marks; add a little length to allow for your foot’s arch and cut to size. Repeat on the other side.

Place hot glue into the central hole, and poke the two cords down into the hole. Hold them together so they are fused together right at the hole. Separate the cords or fabric strands and use the same glue-and-poke technique for the side holes.

You can get creative with this and string beads on the thongs before gluing them down.

Which ever craft you choose to do, the main thing is to Have Fun!