Y’all, let’s face it. I am NOT the wisest spender in the world. Oh, I try to be. And I do really great most of the time, and then I fall. And I fall hard. Not because I ran out and intentionally blew a bunch of money we didn’t have and spat in the fact of wisdom. No. More likely because I didn’t realize I was spending as much, because I gave in to impulse shopping, because I didn’t have a specific enough list, and I probably also had at least one kid in tow and I stink at math in my head even when I don’t have the kids getting into things.

But I do have a confession. I used to also spend more money when I was feeling down in the dumps. Picking out something new, shiny, soft, lovely.. makes me feel better. Well, at least until I hit the cash register. That happy feeling hits the road when I see the bill. So there’s no point, and for the most part I have learned to identify my weaknesses and avoid shopping when I’m not on my game. (Not “Yay Me,” but “YAY GOD” for that!)

{{Oh my gosh, as I’m writing this, I’m watching last week’s episode of The Biggest Loser and Suzy Orman just told them “we spend more than, when we feel less than.” No joke!}}

Two Christmases ago I had one of those crashes. Flames. A fiery ball of death crashing on a rocky mountainside with no parachute and a big red X at the bottoms saying, “YOU JUST SPENT DOUBLE YOUR BUDGET AMOUNT, CRASH HERE.” It really made an impression on me.

It really. Made. An impression. On me. (And be sure that I made complete restitution with God and hubby both.)

It made enough of an impression that last year I tackled the Christmas shopping in a competely different manner, with a completely different attitude. I had a plan of attack, a method, a more specific budget, a more specific list. I had done really well with spending over the course of the year and there was no way on God’s green earth I was going back again.

I had my Excel spreadsheet and my red pen out and I made a list and I tracked every penny and I was Mrs. Pennycounter. Totally. And it worked. It really, really, worked. In fact, I think I was a little under budget. And this year, I admit, I’ve purchased a few things online (specific things that I had on my list already) but I haven’t set up my spreadsheet yet and I feel all panicky inside! So this week I am setting it up before I purchase another thing. Because Y’ALL. It worked so well.

So here’s what I did:

  1. I was thorough and specific. I sat down with a piece of paper and made a list of my family members and the few friends I can afford to buy gifts for. I wrote specific things I wanted to get for each of them. I listed two gifts for hubby and myself each (I shop for that but that’s a different story), I listed three gifts for each child plus a santa gift and stocking stuffers each, and I listed the two gifts and two gift cards I need for the gift exchanges with each side of our family.
  2. I counted every single penny. I set up an Excel spreadsheet, with sections for each person. I wrote the gifts I wanted to get for each person, with a cost column next to it and a subtotal at the bottom. With the little bit of Excel tricks I know, I set it up to subtotal each person’s section as I added the cost of the items I purchased. I set up all the subtotals to sum together and keep a running over all total. By doing that, I didn’t have to add things as I went, the program did it for me.
  3. I created a budget and I stuck to it. My husband had given me a specific amount of Christmas money. I divvied that up between the different sections, decided how much I wanted to spend all together per kid, how much on wanted to spend per stocking, etc. (You know those stocking stuffers can really add up when you are not watching if you’re not careful.) As a result, when I was looking to fill a gift spot, I could tell if it was going to take too much of the budget for that person, or if I had room to include that. Also because of that, I’m pretty sure that I was at least a few dollars under my overall budget for the year.
  4. I bargain shopped, early. I did the majority of my Christmas shopping online, because a.) there’s less of an opportunity to shop impulsively, b.) I could edit and tweak my cart before hitting “submit,” and c.) I didn’t spend money on gas or eating out while I was out and about. I completed all of my online shopping about a week into December, and as a result I didn’t have to stress about it (no overeating or overspending as a result of stress) and I didn’t have to pay extra for expedited shipping. Most of the things I purchased I actually ordered with free shipping. And since I started early and had the time, I could look around for the best deal so that I was able to get more things than normal with the same sized modest budget.

And that’s it – isn’t it easy? It’s so simple, and so profound. And I’ll be honest. It might have saved my marriage. I cannot imagine what my husband would have done if I’d given a repeat performance of Christmas 2007!

So this year, I’m sticking with what works. No repeat performances. Ever.

This post is happily submitted to Works for Me Wednesday.

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Hey, y’all! I’m Amber and I wear many hats. I drink a ton of coffee and I’m constantly sweeping crumbs off the floor. After 18 years of homeschooling, I’m getting close to graduating my third child and now we are starting over at preschool with our fourth, Lil Miss Mouse. She keeps us young and she’s the main reason for my excessive coffee consumption. Drink up!