Christmas in July

It’s July, a great time of year for swim team, barbeques, and Christmas shopping.  That’s right, I’m already preparing for Christmas.  By taking my time to really think and search, I have the opportunity to give a real gift instead of just buying a present.  We live in a small home, very small, and so I have to really have to be picky about what I bring into it.  I try to give the children items that not only have long term value as opposed to the latest fad, but also durability and positive influences.  My children are not allowed to make long Christmas lists that go on and on with every latest gadget, gizmo, and craze.  Instead, they make a list of three small things (both in size and cost) that they would like in their stocking.  Sometimes, it’s a book or art supply, one year Cowgirl wanted a fold up music stand for when she practiced piano.  Each of them usually ask for a favorite treat or candy–since this is the only time I am willing to buy either for them.  By keeping their focus away from the gimmies, we can keep our focus on Christ.  So it is with shopping in the summer.  I can use the down time of the year to pay attention to what I am buying and not be pressured.  During Advent, I am free to focus on the intent of the season and only have to pick up those three stocking stuffers they request on St Nicholas Day.  Below I have a couple of tips and tricks to help make Christmas shopping a year round, albeit more enjoyable and sanctifying event.

Budget and Free Money
It goes without saying that the best gifts bought with money you don’t have end up being a curse not a blessing.  Take July to set up a spending plan, or maybe even your own Christmas account where you commit to depositing a certain amount each week or month.  In general, I try to spend as little as possible on Christmas.  It isn’t that I don’t love my children or even that I don’t find SO MANY things I would like to buy, I just feel that there are ways to better spend the money than piles of toys.  One of the ways I cut down on expenses is by using “free money”.    I belong to the following sites that offer cash back and/or points for reading emails, taking surveys, etc.  Now, let’s be honest, you will never get rich reading emails, but any money that you save even if it is $50, $100 or only $15 is less money out of your pocket.  I have a collection of sites I belong to so that I can save up the most points/cash.  Right now, my favorite is Ebates, but I fluctuate depending upon who is offering the biggest bang for my buck.
Inboxdollars: Offers cash back as well as payments for reading emails, taking surveys, and watching videos.  The average payment is $0.02 per an email, not much, but if you read three emails a day, five days a week, you would save up over $15 in a year without even really trying.
My Points: My Points is similar to Inboxdollars except that you earn points that are traded in for gift cards.  I usually always earn at least two gift cards that I use to pay for or give as gifts.
Ebates: This is my newest site and right now my favorite.  Simply shop through the site to easily find coupons and earn cash back.  For example, I have been doing this for our orders through and earning 4% back on top of my dollars!  
Plan Gifts of Giving
Part of the reason that I like to not spend money, is because I prefer to take the money I have set aside for gifts and give it to those who really need it.  We make it a family affair so that the children learn to love giving.  Here are some of our favorite charities to support:
Mary’s Meals: I can’t say enough about this charity.  It is so simple. They take five cents (a nickel!!!) and feed a desperately hungry child at school.  Thus the child is nourished in mind AND body, increasing the chances that the cycle of poverty will be broken.  With just five cents, you are changing the world, one meal at a time.  In addition, 97% of every dollar goes directly to the children in need.  Learn more at their site and watch the movie Child 31, it will change your outlook on life forever.  

Operation Christmas Child: This is a favorite event in our house.  The children so enjoy shopping and filling shoe boxes for those in need.  The concept is also simple, fill a shoebox for a needy child with basic necessities and a few treats.  It is such a tangible way for children to learn to give, and you know everything you give is going directly into the hands of those that need it.
ShowHope: This is a favorite of mine.  Orphans are near and dear to my heart and I pray often for the chance to finally adopt my own.  In the meantime, this charity is doing so much for the orphans themselves in addition to financing the process of finding them forever homes.
In addition to those listed above, “St Nicholas” always leaves something for the children to give away.  They get a small treat (costing less that $3) and a little candy, but the big gift is something they must share.  Some years it has been some new toys to donate, or a big bag of groceries.  In recent years, we have started leaving cash and having the children decided how to spend it.  More often than not they choose animals or supplies from some of the many charity gift catalogs we receive each Advent.  They have so much fun and really try to use the money wisely so that that they can give as many things as possible.  Invaluable lessons are being taught without me even having to teach!
Celebrate the Whole Season
Part of what I also do in July is decide what feast days we will celebrate during Advent and any supplies we will need to do it.  In this way, the season is a time of anticipation and joy, without the entire focus being on Christmas day for getting, getting, getting.  Our favorite feasts to celebrate include St Nicholas Day, St Lucy’s Day, St Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the Sundays of Advent. So take some time and plan some simple celebrations (Last year, St Juan Diego day fell on a particularly busy day.  We ate burritos from Dollar Tree for dinner and read a short book about Juan Diego.  Simple, cheap, but the kids ate it up!)  Pick out a simple treat to share with the children that day, like a new book, or watch a movie together or try something different like Mexican hot chocolate.  In the end, the children will build memories that will last much longer than that toy that they have to have!  It is important to plan these days early because the hustle and bustle of the weeks leading to Christmas will most certainly prevent you from doing so then. So prepare now, so you can prepare your hearts then.
I hope this has been at least a little helpful.  If you aren’t ready to do this right now, start saving and thinking and plan on hopping on-board the Christmas in July train next year.  You and your children will certainly be happy you did.

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