Santa's little helper

Posted November 21st, 2006 by Penny Wise

Where has the last week gone! The blackboard outside my local gift shop says it's 33 sleeps until Christmas but I've pretty much finished all my Christmas shopping. The kids have been adorable lately; they so desperately want to believe in Santa but the big fellow in red is obviously the subject of much discussion at school and they have been throwing me some pretty curly questions, such as 'Mum, if Santa has his own workshop, why do so many of the things in my stocking come from Japan?' followed by staunch affirmations along the lines of 'Of course Santa couldn't possibly be our parents, half the stuff we get we've never even seen in New Zealand before! There's no way Mum could get us anything like that!' Not unless your Mum's a seasoned US online shopper from way back anyway boys. Yes, I think this will be the last year that I'll be able to remain incognito as Santa's little helper but for now I say nothing and do my best to keep a straight face as they sit laboriously composing their Christmas lists.

For the next 32 days at least, my children will be the epitomies of good behaviour in their efforts to stay in Santa's good books. Their Christmas lists of demands have certainly changed over the last couple of years. Gone are the old days of at least two A4 size pages full of expensive 'wants'; this year we have just a modest list of a few items, none of which should have Santa quaking in his boots at the price tag. The boys know it too. 'Look at our lists, they're much shorter this year!' they show me proudly. Mind you, the last couple of Christmases have seen some big changes, even right down to Santa's shopping habits. Two Christmases ago I was still a Sad Sally but starting to change my mindset. A shopping spree for presents and stocking fillers with a friend of mine changed the way Santa shopped forever. A Mum of four on a tight budget, Christmas shopping for her was a nightmare. She had to shop around for the best bargains and I admit, I didn't want to be throwing money around on expensive gifts for my kids in front of her, so that day I shopped the same way she did – and I really enjoyed it! Instead of the boys' average stocking fillers being around the $15 - $20 mark, they were now nearer the $2.00 mark, thanks to Santa largely doing his shopping at Kmart and the $2.00 shop.

I was really proud of the savings I made that day, but when Christmas Eve came around I was a little worried. Would the boys notice that Santa had tightened his belt this year? They did notice – but they got over it. 'How come Santa didn't get us so much cool stuff this year?' Liam asked at the time. 'Well, think of all the millions of new babies born this year,' I replied. 'With all the extra presents to get, he couldn't possibly afford to make such expensive ones this time!' It goes to show how much they had been spoilt previously that they even noticed the difference in their stockings, but they were quite happy with my explanation on Santa's behalf and that's how things have been ever since. Although ever since their Dad regaled the story to them of how Santa left him nothing but a piece of coal one year because he was naughty, they have been happy with whatever they get!

I discovered yesterday that going shopping with Noel is like going shopping with my children. By the time you get to the checkout you never know what is in your trolley. Yesterday we went Christmas shopping together for the first time ever. It's always just been left to me in the past and I was predicting it to be a rather stressful experience, full of 'what are you buying that for?' and 'hmph, what a waste of money' but surprisingly we found it to be a fun and relaxing experience. Our first stop was at Rebel Sports, where we found some great sporty stocking fillers and I was also really pleased to find that they sell BIG reuseable canvas shopping bags for $1.99, so we bought two of these and went on our merry way. I happily discovered that they hold heaps and all the checkout ladies were really impressed when I told them I didn't want to use their plastic bags. One girl told me that what she had managed to put in my two canvas bags would normally have used up six or seven plastic bags. The Rebel Sports ones look pretty stylish as well so Noel was quite happy to carry them around. The only problem we found using them is that while the checkout staff are happy to use them, it's much harder to get past the security guards when you're not using their store bags! However, remembering my Penny the Penguin cartoon (from the previous blog) I felt it was well worth the inconvenience.

We finished our shopping and were pretty pleased with our lot. We had managed to find plenty on special, I earned $15 reward vouchers at the Warehouse and $10 more with my Whitcoulls rewards card. Buying a Playstation game from Dick Smith's using my VIP card got me a further $10 off (these are all free store cards which you can pick up for free – they are simply reward cards, NOT credit cards!) However, our best saving was $370 on the things we chose not to buy at all thanks to Fiona's Six Steps. I first learned these from a Simple Savings newsletter in October 2004 and I kid you not, these steps changed the way I shop and I have never forgotten them. You can find them here in the newsletter archive. The first instance was at Rebel Sports when Noel came across a game fishing reel on special for $340. Normally well over $500 I agreed it was a great bargain (albeit a blooming expensive bargain) and I could see Noel was sorely tempted. I admit though, I didn't want him to buy it and as I could see him struggling with 'should I, shouldn't I', it was the perfect time to introduce him to the Six Steps. By the time he stopped and thought about what he would gain (a new fishing reel), what he would lose ($340) and if there was a better way (borrow his mate's, after all they are partners in the same boat!) he was able to walk out of the shop and leave the reel behind – and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. We ended up using the same principle several times after that and as a result I was able to leave books, CDs and several other bits and pieces behind that were more bother than they were worth. Our shopping spree came to an end and I offered to buy him lunch. We were both starving and with an hour long journey home we couldn't wait, so ducked in to Burger King (I think it's called Hungry Jack's in Australia?) I was tucking in happily to my lunch when Noel pointed out 'Tut tut dear, this lunch has just cost you an hour's pay – was it worth it?' I must admit, it did take the shine off a bit!

My online auction total savings is now up to $819! What amazes me is how people pay full price for second hand items from me when they could go to the Warehouse tomorrow and pick up brand new ones for the same price – without postage added! It certainly pays to research the cost of what you are looking for first and take postage into account. I have found the likes of Trade Me and eBay great for presents and stocking fillers, picking up a brand new copy of 'Wonders of Egypt' for Ali at $10 below retail price, but there was no point buying a second hand copy of 'Dragonology' for Liam for $30 when the postage was $5.00 – it would have cost less to buy a new one! So I'll just sit on that one for a while and wait for a bargain. Yesterday I also spent $24 on batteries – the little watch types I needed to revamp all the boys' old talking Tonka toys. They haven't played with them for years so I figured it was a small price to pay to clean them up and make them saleable. I'm looking forward to seeing how much I get for them!

Some things I figure are put to better use than personal gain though. In my decluttering I have sorted out a big box of clothes the kids have grown out of to donate to the local community support centre. I also have a huge sack full of toys to give them, which they can either give away to less privileged children or keep for visitors to the centre to play with. Another box is full of smart clothes which I never wear and might just help someone looking for employment, so I'm donating those to Dress For Success. Lastly, all the creams, perfumes and bath products I have never used are being donated to my local Women's Refuge after I received an email request from a friend who was organising a huge collection. Every year they ask for these kind of donations in order to wrap them up and give them to women who could really do with some pampering. It feels much more rewarding to give these to people who could really use them than to sell them online. Check out the Christmas Challenge thread in the Forum for some more brilliant ideas for spreading good cheer!

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