I have never been so organised for Christmas before! I know it's only October but I feel surprisingly prepared. Admittedly, the big day is being spent at the in-laws this year so I don't have to worry about festive food and that kind of thing, but the present buying side of things is well under control at the moment. I've got a budget of $20 maximum per person this year (excluding immediate family members) this year and I'm sticking to it. Sure beats previous years when I would spend whatever it took to make sure I got the 'right' gift for the right person. Not any more! I have already managed to pick up several gifts in the last week or two for well under my $20 limit – and I know they're the right choices. No lay-bys for me this year (for the second year running!), no credit card purchases. I'm pretty happy about that – if that's not a testimonial to Simple Savings, I don't know what is.
Being a member has totally altered my outlook on gift giving and taught me to look beyond the commercial hype. I have to admit I felt quite sick when my new Ezibuy Christmas catalogue turned up a few days ago. The message 'Pay half now, half next year!' leapt out from the front cover. Once upon a time I would have thought 'Oh great! I can buy whatever I want for Christmas and not have to pay for it all until January!'. Can you believe that? I actually thought the companies were being really nice and helpful by staggering payments so people could buy what they otherwise couldn't afford. These days that same message only screams 'Go on – go over your limit! You can do it, we'll help you!' I drew up a list of people I need to buy for this year and was amazed to find that there are 19, not including Noel and the boys – and we don't even have a big family! The Vault and the Forum are amazing places for unearthing all kinds of wonderful gift ideas and I'm looking forward to trying some of them out. Unfortunately I can't tell you all of them as my Mum reads this blog!
Another thing being a member has taught me is that when I think I want something, I need to stop and weigh up all the pros and cons before making a hasty purchases. I used to be such a dreadful impulse buyer! Instead, I now have my own wishlist, thanks to this hint Wishlist helps resist impulse buys. It has taught me that good things come to those who wait and as a result I appreciate them a lot more. For example, for a while I had the following things on my wishlist:
Symply Too Good cook books
I had been looking at blenders for ages, but just couldn't bring myself to purchase one. A 1.5 litre one like I wanted was $99 and I just couldn't justify the expense, even when it was down to $69 on special. Luckily, Noel's company debit card came to the rescue! All the employees have an American Express charge card to use for staff expenses and over the past three years he had tallied up almost 40,000 reward points. We received notification that some of them were due to expire, so I hopped online to see what we could redeem them for. There was nothing that really appealed – until I spotted my blender! Well, I couldn't let those reward points go to waste, could I?
The decision to get a popcorn maker took a lot of thought. Microwave popcorn was never a long-term option – you name the variety, I've cremated them all, down to literally setting the bag on fire (and yes I did follow the instructions to the letter!) I had always made popcorn on the stove as the boys love watching the whole process but somehow I always ended up singeing a load of it in the bottom of the pan and throwing half of it away. I figured this was hardly cost effective and as popcorn is a healthy, low cost snack which the kids love, perhaps investing in an air-popper wouldn't be a bad idea if it meant avoiding waste. I kept an eye out for them on eBay but there wasn't much difference in price compared to new ones. I was still toying with the idea of whether I should really spend money on this type of convenience items in the first place – and then a store voucher arrived from the power company – my prize for filling in a customer feedback card and having my name drawn out. The lady in the store tried to talk me in to spending my voucher on all kinds of other useless gadgets (all over and above the price of my voucher – all I would need to do was 'top it up') but I knew what I wanted! The popcorn maker has been popping constantly since, there isn't a burnt kernel in sight and best of all the kids can operate it themselves!
There was just one more thing on my wishlist – I wanted to check out one of Annette Sym's cookbooks. Often discussed on the Forum and in the Vault, Annette's cookbooks are widely available in Australia, but hard to find in NZ. Online bookstore searches proved fruitless and while I could buy them on eBay easily enough, they all cost a minimum of $19.95 each. I decided to sit and wait for the right price to come along and at last it did. I nabbed my first copy for $8.50 last week and I tried out my first recipes from it last night – Noel loved his marinated chicken drumsticks and my vegetable fried rice was the best I had ever made. Hard to believe something that tasted so good could be so healthy! Mind you, I was a bit perturbed when reading Annette's extensive listing of foods and their nutritional breakdowns, that my block of supposedly healthy tofu, happily sitting in leftover marinade for tonight's dinner contained more fat per 100g than pretty much everything else on the list! No wonder I'm the only overweight vegetarian I've ever seen!
Have just paid the bills for another month and boy it felt good not to receive an account from the local store. Yes, I have stuck well within my grocery budget week after week! Mr Patel still can't believe it. Every time I go in the store he grins broadly and booms 'Aha! Here she is, Mrs 124!' (quoting my old account number). And every time I shake my head back at him and say 'Not any more!' My online auction selling is still going well too – I made $126 last week and $91 so far this week and I'm not even half way down the first box of clutter yet!
One gift I definitely hope I won't be on the receiving end of is what a friend was given for her birthday recently from her boyfriend, Bryce. Being a bit of a late bloomer, Natalie is his first girlfriend and although he's a lovely bloke, it's not hard to see why! Contentedly average in weight and height, Natalie was rather surprised to unwrap her present from Bryce – a pair of bathroom scales. Her dismay must have been evident, because he immediately jumped up and proceeded to show her how impressive they were. 'But they're really flash – they're digital and everything. Come on – stand on them!' he urged. 'You want me to stand on them now?' asked Natalie. 'Yes!' replied Bryce excitedly. 'There you go darling! Now you can weigh yourself whenever you like and you'll always know when you need to lose weight!' Sigh – has he got a lot to learn!