8 Guilt-free tips to minimize Christmas spending

12-11 Christmas

I was already a few purchases into my holiday season when a friend of mine said she’d really enjoy a no-spend or buy-nothing Christmas. She envisioned swaps of artwork, clothing, and books between friends who could give freely from what they already had without adding to the stress and pressure of the holiday shopping season.

I budgeted around $400 for holiday gifts, but I probably won’t end up spending that much at all since I shifted my focus to giving experiences and artwork rather than purchased goods (though the unicorn calendar was a great buy and I stand by it).

Here are some ways you can reduce or eliminate your holiday spend without feeling like you’re downsizing the holiday cheer factor.

  1. Give your time. When I asked a friend what she wanted for Christmas this year, she thought about it and said that she’d love a day we spend together more than anything I could wrap up and give to her. Pencil a friend onto your calendar for a day of movies, hanging out, or even going out to window shop and try on the most hilarious Goodwill outfit you can find.
  2. Create something. One of my hobbies is painting, and I plan on creating art for many of the people on my list this year. It’s something that means a lot to both me and the recipient, since I create something personalized and inspired for each person on my gift list. You could also write letters or poetry, draw something, make homemade bath products, or sew something for your recipient.
  3. Cook something. So technically you’ll have to buy ingredients, but baking some cookies or cooking someone’s favorite meal for them is a great way to put your time and energy into showing your love for them.
  4. Regift. If you got some gifts last year that are still hanging around, new or barely used, give them to someone on your list who will love them and have a good home for them. And if you can’t bear to regift, then admit to yourself that you’re not using them and send them to the local charity store.
  5. Host a party. Instead of shopping for a personalized and unique gift for everyone on your list, you can opt to host a holiday party instead! You can focus your time and energy on preparing a delicious meal and ask everyone to bring their favorite dessert for a mouthwatering pot-luck of treats.

If you’re a dedicated gifter who just wants to reduce the budget instead of shoestring it entirely, try the following ideas!

  1. Try the “four things” holiday gift. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. This is a great way to give gifts to the kids in the family so all bases are covered, while maintaining a frugal gift budget.
  2. Shop local. Buy from local crafters and shops instead of Amazon Priming everything* or shopping big box stores. Check your city’s calendar for local craft shows, which are all over the place leading up to the holidays!
  3. Shop handmade. ETSY ALL THE THINGS*.

*Some people have no reasonable options but to purchase from large sellers like Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, etc., due to finances, schedule constraints, physical ability, etc. Your own mental and physical wellbeing is more important than shopping local or small.

Are you planning on a “less is more” holiday this year? Tell me your gifting plans!

PS. If you’re in the Cleveland, Ohio area, don’t miss your chance to buy tickets for the Jolobokaflod fundraiser for the nonprofit Reading Room CLE on December 21! The Reading Room promotes literacy in the Cleveland area through a nonprofit bookstore that supports educational and artistic programming.

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Cut back on waste by using the whole buffalo

Yesterday was Earth Day. I missed getting this post done in time for it but it’s a great Earth Day concept I share with you today – the concept of reducing waste. I firmly approve of the notion that the native American Indians “used the whole buffalo” when they hunted. A buffalo provided many useful things, including:

  • Meat: for food
  • Bones: for ceremonial uses, weapons, tools
  • Hooves: for glue, rattles
  • Hair: for ornamental use, ropes
  • Hide: for clothing, shelter, blankets, bags (could be tanned into tough leather or left soft)
  • Organs: for food, brain used for tanning leather
  • Sinew: for thread
  • Tail: for whips, ceremonial uses
  • Poop: for fueling fires

While I am not hunting buffalo, I do try to use a similar mentality in my life as a minimalist to reduce my impact on the environment and to reduce the amount of things I need in my home. I hate waste. Throwing away food that has gone bad upsets me – especially if it’s meat or dairy, because those items impacted the life of another living creature. Sorry plants, I get sad when you go off too, but you can’t look at me with sad eyes. Except the potatoes. Sorry about the eyes.

Anyway. Here are some ways I reduce waste in my home:

  • Buy in re-usable containers. I buy some brands over others because they are packaged in glass wide-mouthed jars. I re-use the heck out of glass jars!
  • Avoid plastic wrap. I hate things in plastic wrap. I hate using “biodegradable plastic” produce bags, because I’m just not sure if they’re lying to me. The only thing worse than plastic wrap over a container of produce (looking at you, mushrooms) is plastic wrap over a styrofoam container of produce. Styrofoam. Humbug!
  • Re-use food items. Leftover mashed potatoes become potato pancakes. Bones from making broth are re-used two or three times. One whole chicken can make several days’ worth of meals. Food scraps are put in the compost pile.
  • Garden. Growing food in a garden means you don’t have to drive to the store to buy produce packaged in containers!

Just for fun, and because people love recipes, here’s how I “Whole Buffalo” a chicken.

“Whole Buffalo” Chicken Recipe:

  1. Obtain a whole chicken.
  2. Remove giblets.
  3. Rinse chicken.
  4. Put chicken in crockpot.
  5. Add spices – salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, rosemary, whatever you want.
  6. Cook on low, 8 hours.

Congratulations, you now have a cooked chicken!

Make some meals with it! Like:

  • Chicken quesadillas
  • Chicken salad
  • Chicken breast with pasta or quinoa salad
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chicken soup
  • White chicken chili
  • Buffalo chicken dip (hey, THE WHOLE BUFFALO!)

BUT WAIT. Keep those bones and the broth from the crockpot. Put the bones in with the juices from cooking the chicken. Fill the crockpot up with filtered water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some pink salt. You can add herbs or veggies if you like. Cook it on low for 8-48 hours, adding water as it cooks off.

This is bone broth. It’s awesome. Cook it for a shorter length of time (~8-12 hours) to achieve a gelatin-rich broth (it will look like chicken jello when it’s cooled. Don’t be grossed out. It’s magical). Cook for a longer length of time (~24-48 hours) to achieve a collagen-rich broth. You can preserve broth by canning or freezing. My goal this summer is to learn how to can and preserve.

If you cook for a shorter length of time, you can re-use the bones once or twice, they are good to use again until they crumble when you pinch them. Those are pretty tapped out. You can throw them out, OR… grind the cooked bones up into bone meal and feed them to your pets! The added calcium helps them with their teeth and bones. However, you should not feed cats any bones that have been cooked with garlic or onions, as these vegetables are toxic to cats.

And that’s how I buffalo a chicken.

What do you buffalo?

Fuzzy Legs

I started shaving my legs when I was nine.  Mom did it, and I wanted to do it, because it’s something girls do.  So I began shaving.  Poorly.  At one point, my dad had to continue my education on how to shave my legs (I am pretty sure I was running the plastic edge of the razor over my legs and wondering why the hair was still there).  In sixth grade, I pressed so hard with my razor that I tore off a chunk of skin on my knee.  Constant nicks and cuts were painful and annoying.

Shaving is hard work.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and then had to deal with the necessity of buying razors and shaving cream.  Even then, I didn’t really shave very often, once a week tops.  I shaved when I wore skirts and shorts.  I did not shave in the winter (because pants, and warmth!)

My ex-husband was grossed out by it, but the way I saw it, they were my legs and not his and why should I decorate myself for anyone else’s benefit if I didn’t like doing it? I’ve had an ex-boyfriend (and even an ex-girlfriend) who didn’t mind when I had fuzzy legs.  My cat doesn’t mind.  I don’t mind.

My sister calls them my “hairy man legs.”  And so do I, sometimes, but I am trying to get away from that… because they aren’t hairy man legs.  They’re hairy woman legs.  Hair is not an inherently masculine bodily feature, and we shouldn’t make it that way.  Having body hair does not make me less of a woman.

The horror! Human legs with hair on them!

The horror! Human legs with hair on them!

I still feel (mentally) uncomfortable sometimes, because the expectation in society is that women should be soft, hairless, touchable creatures.  There is an immense pressure on women to have a perfect body, and the images streamed into our brains tell us that perfect is slim and smooth (with large, perky breasts).  I reject that notion of perfect for the idea that maybe, just maybe, our bodies are inherently perfect and we don’t need to spend the majority of our lives changing them to make them perfect.  Humans are mammals.  Mammals have hair.  The only reason we feel compelled to shave our bodies is because someone told us it looked prettier that way.

This is not an indictment of shaving.  If you want to shave your legs because you like how it feels or looks, then by all means shave! Sometimes I, too, enjoy the feeling of silky hairless skin on clean sheets in the summer time.  I also appreciate the razor because it gives me the gift of well groomed facial hair on men.

downey

LOOK AT IT.

I don’t think we should all just throw away our razors, though I do think we should all reconsider the reusable razor with changeable metal blades instead of those plastic monstrosities.  But I do think we should really think about why we shave.  If I remove my body hair, it’s because I want to.  I don’t do it for anyone else.  Plus, now I don’t have to buy razors and shaving cream!

 

legs

Let’s also just take a moment to think about how ridiculous commercials for razors and shaving cream are.  Women shaving already-smooth legs?  As read on  Dear Blank, Please Blank, “if you want to impress us, shave a gorilla.”

Who, me?  (I took this photo!)

Who, me? (I took this photo!)

Do you shave?

What’s in a label?

I’m not talking about food labels.  I’m talking about people labels.  Life’s little hashtags that allow people to put us into boxes in their organized waffle-brains.  I’m going to discuss a few areas of life in which those of us out of the mainstream are viewed as weird, strange, or abnormal.

Food habits:

I am vegan once I leave the house.  At home, I eat local pasture-raised eggs, zero dairy, and zero meat.  I am vaguely considering adding the occasional meat product, but only ethically-raised meat.  I avoid GMOs and buy organic groceries.  I’m preparing to cut gluten from my diet after realizing that when I eat it, it makes me hurt.  I am learning to listen to my body.

Raise your hands if you just thought something like “That sounds like a bunch of froo-froo hippie crap” or similar. Veganism is not the norm. It’s more common than in years prior, but it still gets questions.  On top of that, try adding a gluten-free diet!  People just freak out. “What are you going to eat?!” “Uh, vegetables. Try them, they are good for you, and they don’t come in a box.”

Before I go to a restaurant, I have to look up the menu online and see if anything is vegan.  I also try to avoid soy and corn because of GMOs.  Now that I’m going gluten free, eating out will be nearly impossible.  Hooray, challenges!  They make us stronger, right? Right?  Whatever, I’m going to Chipotle (and ignoring the soybean oil because even I have to have a line somewhere.  I have also been known to demolish corn chips at Mexican restaurants.  I’m not perfect, okay?).

Here’s an example of how my ordering usually goes:

Hi, sorry, mine’s going to be annoying, I’m a craaazy vegan!  I’ll have the spaghetti (listed in the menu as spaghetti and meatballs, with cheese), without any meatballs or cheese – just noodles and sauce.  And the garlic toast, and do you know if any of the salad dressings are vegan?  Okay, no salad, I just won’t worry about it.

Another recent dining experience:

Prior to ordering, I was lamenting the fact that this restaurant had a vegan burger but not a vegan bun.  That just seemed stupid to me.  I wondered aloud if I could just get the burger without the bun.  My dining partner said, “Or you could just deal with it this once.”

The pressure to just stop being a crazy psycho vegan hippie was enough to make me just eat the damn bun.  I got sick, but I lack evidence to say it was really the bun. It might have been the greasy fries.  Sorry, body.

When I introduce myself in situations as a “dirty hippie,” or a “crazy vegan,” or a “crunchy granola freak,” even in jest or to break the mood, I am putting forward a bad image of myself.  Dirty. Crazy. Freak. These are all negative words.

If I don’t eat meat, eggs, or milk at a restaurant, I can ask for the vegan options without making a joke at my own expense to make the server feel better about having to serve me.  I am 100% sure there are pickier customers out there.  When it comes down to it, I’m pretty easy.  Now that gluten is on my chopping block, things will get more complicated (and may result in fewer restaurant outings, sorry friends).

Now if only I can get Chipotle to stop dropping other people’s cheese in the guacamole.  Seriously.  Join me on this brief diversion from my point:

chipotle correct

Correct placement of burrito when placing cheese on top. Directly in front of the cheese container.

chipotle incorrect

Sometimes they move the burrito in front of the guacamole, and then put the cheese on. This results in cheese falling into the guacamole, which makes me a very sassy lactose-intolerant vegan. (All acceptable labels).

Back to my point:

Those of us with dietary restrictions, whether self-imposed or medically necessary, should own them.  Ask your questions and order your meal the way you want it without apology.

Some tips:

  1. Print a list of your dietary restrictions for the chef to read, including cross-contamination concerns (i.e., if you order rice pasta, make a note not to boil it in the wheat pasta water)
  2. Do your homework before you go out.  There are a lot of gluten-free and vegan dining websites that can help you find a diet-restriction-friendly restaurant.  Check out restaurant websites for the online menu and allergen information
  3. Dine with patient, supportive people.  Someone telling you to just deal with it and eat the bun is not going to help the situation.  It is stressful to handle dietary restrictions in your own kitchen, let alone in a restaurant.  Sure, a vegan can compromise on a dubious bun, but if someone had an allergy, they wouldn’t have that freedom.
  4. If you have food allergies, bring your medication/epi-pen just in case.

Personal care

I don’t use commercial shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, or toothpaste.  I smell and look like a normal human!  (I may still be figuring out the deodorant, to be perfectly honest; experiment #1 did not go smoothly… literally).

Consider the following explanations:

  1.  I don’t use shampoo, because I’m a dirty hippie freak.
  2. I don’t use shampoo, because shampoos contain a lot of questionable chemical ingredients and I don’t want them in my body.

I have used both of these explanations.  One of them is detrimental to my cause.  If I want others to consider the implications of slathering themselves with chemical ingredients, I need to frame my explanations with an educational and health-conscious perspective.  I can’t just say, “I’m a dirty hippie,” because (a) I am not dirty and (b) unless YOU want to identify as a dirty hippie (which I am sure you don’t), you won’t even listen to my explanation of why (insert commercial product here) is bad for you.  It’s all about presentation.

Medicine

I think medication is seriously over-prescribed.  I focus on natural healing and nutrition over medication, and I feel much better for it.  I have not gotten sick all winter, and I haven’t had any medications in months and months.  I’m happy with it, and I’m happy to talk to people about it.

Shopping

The minimalist in me doesn’t shop much anyway, and the environmentalist in me wants to shop used.  I do confess that I bought a blender on Amazon for $60 because I couldn’t find a used one that met my criteria.  I’m a really picky eco-minimalist I guess.  My Christmas list included “cloth napkins, from Goodwill is fine” so I really don’t require “new” to be satisfied.  This goes against the grain of so many people’s inclinations that it stands out and gets questions.  Instead of  the tried-and-untrue “Oh, I’m a tree-hugger and MALLS ARE EVIL,” next time I’ll try a little “It’s better for my bank account and the environment to try and buy things used first!”  It might get some better feedback.

Be proud!

If you differ from the mainstream in any way, celebrate it.  Don’t apologize for it.

Be awesome, like this mom whose photo showed up in my Facebook feed:

Not_Me

Stop pinning, start doing

We live in age where knowledge about nearly everything is at our fingertips.  We are plugged in and constantly connected, and “I don’t know how” is no longer a valid excuse for anything.  If you can type it into Google, you can learn it.

I recently made myself a degree from the University of Google to display on my wall.  I think I have learned more from Google than I did at college.  I don’t have a problem with that.

I have noticed, however, the phenomenon of learning without follow-through.

Pinterest is the most obvious offender.  On Pinterest, you can soak up a ton of information in the form of pictures and links and recipes and how-to guides, stick them on a board (perhaps entitled “Craft ideas” or “DIY” or “Recipes” or “Must do this!”), and then never, ever look at them again.  I am guilty of this.

For instance, the following pins are ones that I pin with the intent to read later and execute but then forget about:

But look! These are things I have actually utilized:

Some other pins are things I can’t follow through on until I have a house or kids, so those are okay to wait on.

I’m making a new goal to learn something new, or follow through on some project, each month. In this age of information, there is no excuse not to learn something new!

What have you learned lately?

The reason for the season

Today is Black Friday.  You may or may not have gone shopping at 4:00 this morning.  I know that my sister was at a store before the sun was up because she literally started a retail job TODAY.  Poor girl.

Anyway, today I want to bring your attention to the reason for the season.  No, it’s not (necessarily) Jesus.  It’s love and peace and giving.  Here are some ways you can embrace love and peace and giving without going to the mall:

  • Donate time, money, or gently used items to a charity, soup kitchen, or family in need during the season.  Make it a family tradition.
  • Make gifts: Make a delicious food item, put it on a pie plate from a thrift store, and include a note that the dish is theirs to keep or regift to someone else.  This is a nearly zero-waste gift. If baking or cooking isn’t your thing, consider making bath scrubs (in repurposed glass jars!), or make creative art pieces.
  • Spend time together: Spend time with your family and friends during the holidays, just catching up or doing something you enjoy like seeing a movie or treating yourself to a favorite restaurant.
  • Offer your services: Offer to do the dishes after the holiday meal, or spend some time watching your relatives’ or friends’ kids so the parents can get some time alone.  Every minute you spend helping someone else is a minute they get to themselves, and that is a wonderful gift to give.

These are just a few ideas for keeping the focus on family and love around the holidays. Share more ideas in the comments!

What are your favorite things-that-aren’t-things to get in the holiday season?

Tis the season

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  Which, in today’s culture, means that it’s almost Black Friday Eve.  People will camp outside stores to make a mad dash for doorbuster sales and discounted prices to prepare for their holiday gift-giving traditions.

I posted a note on my Facebook and tagged my close family and friends, letting them know that they were exempt from giving me a gift this year.  Here’s what my note said:

Attention friends and family, with Black Friday approaching I wanted to let you know that you’re off the hook for me this year.  Consider yourself gift-exempt.  I would rather have a nice phone call with you to catch up (if you’re far away) or make plans to spend time together (if you’re close) than get a gift.

I know that the holiday season is a time of giving, and you may feel strongly about getting me a gift.  If you do feel compelled to give me something for the holidays, please remember that I’m vegan, I  buy organic as often as possible, and I don’t use commercial bath or beauty products with unpronounceable chemicals in them.  If you want to buy something for me, please buy something made in the USA or a Fair Trade Certified import that is not made of plastic. You could also make a charitable donation in my name to a worthy cause.

Or just ask me what I’m currently coveting, for example:

  • -A HankyBook: http://hankybook.com/ (I like the pink lotus pattern especially)
  • -White or sage green color cloth napkins (secondhand, seriously, shop at Goodwill, antique malls, and estate sales)
  • -Measuring spoons (again with the secondhand stuff from Goodwill, etc.)
  • -A nice (and smallish) bamboo cutting board, or bamboo cooking utensils
  • -Really, just ask and I will come up with something I would really appreciate as a gift! But you are not obligated.

Now that I have given you my high-maintenance hippie Christmas list, I’m sure you’ll be very relieved to go read the first part again and remember that I am giving you gift-exempt status!

I love you all, and I wish you happy holidays 🙂

I thought this was a pretty appropriate note letting people know that, as we approach the Time of Shopping, they could leave me off their lists.  This is my one-person passive protest against consumerism.  Because really, Christmastime has become more about the gifts and the sales and the stuff than the love for a lot of people.  I just want the love.  I’ve always loved Christmas, and I remember spending days going through catalogs and circling the things I wanted.  I don’t even remember what I asked for or received most years.  These are the gifts I remember the most:

  • A music box with Disney’s Aladdin and Jasmine on the flying carpet, some time around age 5 or 6.  My dad wrote a very long note about how I was not to shake the box because it was fragile, and I thought it was a joke so I shook it anyway.  It was fine, but I did lose it at some point through the years and I bought one on ebay a couple years ago because I missed it and it reminds me of my dad.  It’s on my filing cabinet at work.
  • A “Boxcar Children” book from my aunt, when I was around 5 or 6.  I remember saying “Ew, I don’t like these books,” and my mom told me to be appreciative and give it a chance.  I quickly consumed ALL THE BOXCAR CHILDREN BOOKS.  I even “left a mystery” in the house when we moved out of it.  It was not a good mystery, it was some pokemon cards stuffed into a hole in a closet wall. I am mildly ashamed of this.
  • A stuffed animal seal, around age 11.  It was donated by someone because we were part of an adopt-a-family program.  I have donated gifts to families in need since then, always remembering and being thankful for those who gave me that seal.
  • A glass chess set from my brother, age 11.  It was gorgeous and wonderful.
  • A laptop computer from both my parents when I started college (age 17).  I saved the gift tag for years because it was the first “Love, Mom and Dad” gift I had seen since they divorced when I was seven.
  • This year my mom is paying for my hotel stay in Spain as my Christmas gift, because she is awesome.

I remember how those gifts made me feel.  All of these gifts were in tune with the things I loved and appreciated, like my favorite movie (Aladdin, at the time), a favorite hobby (reading), a game I had recently learned to love (chess), and something I needed for school (the computer).  This year, mom’s picking up my hotel tab and I have no additional expectations for more gifts, because that gift of having a place to stay on my vacation is plenty, even without a tangible item.  I’m minimizing tangible items, remember?

But putting parameters on gifts like this is a little inappropriate because it’s the thought that counts, right?  My counter-argument to this is that all I want is the thought. I want my family and friends to think about me this season, to call me on the phone and catch up, to go out to lunch, or to just spend some time with me.  My “parameters” for the gifts I would like are the same parameters I set when I’m shopping for myself — I do my best to buy local, sustainable, Fair Trade, and made in America products.  I do not always succeed, but I make an effort and I am always thinking about what my dollars mean.

(My iPhone is staring at me like I’m a hypocrite right now.  Are there any ethically made cell phones?)

All I ask is that, if someone is going to get me a gift (which they are in no way obligated to do), they get me something that resonates with my personal values and beliefs.

Are you taking any particular stands on this matter for the holidays?