My Holiday Spending Tracker

DSC05351 First, I can barely believe that it’s already the 10th of December…the season is simply flying by…

This year I’ve been keeping extra close tabs on my holiday spending, so I’ve created a little “Spending Tracker” akin to the Santa Tracker to guide me on my way. With each expense, you’ll be able to track my spending throughout the holidays via my real time Google Doc. 😉

Plus, I’ll check in with posts about the various expenses/savings, hopefully I’ll finally get a comment or two to encourage me on my way.

I recently found a post I wrote four years ago to recap our actual Cost of Christmas. Looking back it’s interesting to see that it’s not that far off from my trimmed down budget for this year. I had been thinking that we spent a lot more on our party, but that year we only spent $230. So, cutting costs by $30 won’t feel like much of a challenge. It feels more manageable, since I know we had a fantastic season that year. It’s crazy how quickly a grand adds up though, so I’m glad to have my tracker.

How closely do you track your holiday expenses?


My Holiday Spending Strategies

We are very fortunate to have a lovely collection of Danish ornaments from my time there, plus many from my host parents over the years.

We are very fortunate to have a lovely collection of Danish ornaments from my time there, plus many from my host parents over the years.

Miel already shared her strategies for staying out of holiday debt, so now it’s my go to add my personal ideas:

  1. Cousin Gift Exchange – This will our first year of doing a gift exchange with the cousins on both sides of our family. Previously I felt the kids were a bit too young to fully engage, but this year I’m ready to put the gift purchases in their hands (last year Makenna did make some sweet beaded necklaces in addition to the books we bought together, but previously I had opted for Powell’s gift cards for the older cousins). They each earned $25 cleaning Miel’s place before she returned from Africa and we’ll pay them the same for getting our place party perfect. They are pretty excited about being able to buy the presents themselves.
  2. Only “eat out” at holiday parties – We typically have a budget of $200 to spend at restaurants each month, but this month we are committed to not eating out at all. This will help us to afford our annual holiday bash. Even though we are tight on cash, we couldn’t think of breaking tradition after fifteen years of hosting our Danish-themed julefrokost. Plus, since we share the love, we’ve been invited to plenty of festivities that we’ll enjoy way more than any restaurant.
  3. Hostess with the Mostest – After fifteen years, I’ve got the formula down pretty well. The nice thing is that my spread can be pretty impressive without being that expensive. I make a huge potato leek soup that can feed an army, delicious open-faced sandwiches, and I keep the dessert to cookies and chocolate. Plenty of Danish Carlsberg is our biggest expense, but this year we’ll probably get a token case, since we often buy more than we need any way (we literally end up with enough beer for the rest of winter!) The truth is that we don’t need to impress our friends, since I know we’re just happy to celebrate with each other.
  4. Shop Grocery Outlet & Costco – Lately we’ve been saving a lot on our grocery bill by shopping at grocery outlet to supplement our stocked pantry from Costco. Going to Grocery Outlet instead of New Seasons/Trader Joes on a weekly basis has saved us about 50% on our grocery bill. Now that Miel is town, I’m looking forward to going to Costco together and splitting our bulk groceries for another 50% savings…at least up front, even if we’ll need to go more often.
  5. Keep My Calculator Handy – When I do need to shop, I’m going to keep my calculator handy with my gift lists. Items can add up quickly, and I don’t want to realize at the register that I’m over my spending limit. Once I’m done with the purchase, I’ll track in my holiday budget tracker.
  6. Forgo Expensive Experiences – This year we’re going to opt out of the Nutcracker, and bundle up the family for a walk along the river to look at the Christmas Ships instead. We’ll take pics in front of our own tree instead of visiting Santa (plus, Makenna freaked out when she first sat on Santa’s lap and I don’t want to put Teagan through that trauma). We’ll buy a slightly smaller tree through our church fundraiser rather than pay over a $100 for one that towers to the top of our twelve foot ceiling.
  7. Not pre-purchase for birthdays – My older two kids birthdays are both in January, so I’ve always felt it perfectly justified to buy both gifts at the same time. While it has saved me some time, I’ve often ended up overspending as a result. Instead, I’ll reevaluate after the holidays have past and decide if there’s anything they still would really love and make sure that it’s budgeted for together with any party plans.
  8. Keep Practicing Gratitude – While our holiday budget may be small compared to some, I know that we are so very lucky to have the luxury of a cozy home. We may be budget-conscious this season, but that doesn’t mean we’re destitute. We are so very fortunate to have so many blessings in our lives and we’ll continue to be as generous as possible. Our budget still includes some purchases for families in need through Grace Memorial.

What personal ways can you save money this season and feel good about it?


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend Melody Beattie

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, the holidays can be an opportunity to refocus on what truly matters to your family. It’s also a good time to set some gift guidelines for yourself and your extended family, then practice being grateful for whatever you receive.

Create Traditions of Thanks

This year we’ll have a record number of people at our holiday gathering, and are excited to start some new family traditions. Here are some ideas we’ll be using:

  • Thanksgiving Tablecloth – Take a simple tablecloth or sheet, make a creative grid with fabric markers, then let the kids/guests sketch out their thank yous, leaving room for future years.
  • Cupboard Collage – Make a collage on the inside of your pantry to note everything for which you are thankful. You can incorporate cards you have received.
  • Community Gratitude Tree – Work with your family to make colorful gratitude cards for each other, then tie them in a streetside tree. Share your gratitude by leaving out some extra supplies for them to add their own gratitude notes. (Depending on the weather we might make one inside…)
  • Manifestation List – Rather than a wish list, create a manifestation list to note what you would like to bring into your life, whether it be money, joy, relaxation, or something you have always dreamed of.

Practice Gratitude

One of the ways we like to remind ourselves of all I have to be thankful for is by writing personal thank-yous for any occasion that warrants one. Sending your appreciation via email can do the trick, but don’t underestimate the power of personal mail. Plus, kids learn gratitude by watching us practice it.

In our experience, giving thanks on a daily basis is the best way to expand your abundance perspective. Your acts of gratitude can be big or small, personal or public, but the key is to act. A purse-sized notepad does the trick just fine, or you can log on to We are most thankful this year that Miel’s family has recently relocated to Portland after more than a decade in Washington, DC.

Happy Thanksgiving!


How to Limit Your Spending During the Festive Period

While Christmas may actually only consist of one day, the truth is that the festive season lasts for weeks on end, but if you don’t have a solid plan, your finances may not.

As expectations increase, people find themselves spending more than they can afford in order to make this Christmas extra special. With gifts to buy for the whole family, a delicious five-course meal to prepare, and not to mention stocking up on Christmas treats and nibbles, your budget can soon be stretched to the same degree as those special turkey pants you wear on the big day.

But don’t feel helpless just yet, there is plenty of time to make a difference with your spending habits and still have a wonderful holiday.

Write expenses down

It may not sound like the most exciting thing to do, but writing down every Christmas expense you have will keep you on track with your budget. Often you don’t realise how much you are spending, especially if you have been buying bits and bobs for the last few months. Didn’t realise you’d spent $20 on Christmas chocolate for the kids? Write it down to avoid frittering away the budget.

Underestimate your budget

Even if you actually spend $425 for Christmas, it is always better to over budget and work it out as if you’ve spent $500. This will enable you to have some extra money left over just in case something goes wrong and you need emergency funds, as opposed to being left with nothing.

Limit to one item

If you have children, you will be familiar with the plethora of toys they demand every year, only to leave most of them unopened on the floor while they fall in love with the chosen one. Instead of buying your children multiple presents, simply purchase the one they would like the most. This avoids any wasted money and teaches your children to be more appreciative for what they have.

Utilize the power of the sales

Unless you can hop into a time machine and go back to January, the sales may seem useless to you. But did you know that many retailers have pre-Christmas online sales, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday where you can find items with significant price reductions. Get online today and see what you can find!

Use cashback websites

Want to earn money for shopping? Simply register for free on a cashback site and continue shopping through their portal to earn a percentage of your shop back.

We’re Broke But Not Busted

Holger Flickr I never thought that I would need to feel broke before I could authentically write about our family finances (and hopefully help other in the process). Yet, that seems to be the case.

We’ve suddenly found ourselves in debt for the first time. Our true financial situation dawned on me when I realized that we were overdrawn. I had gone to meet Kevin in Old Town for lunch and our debit card was rejected. It shocked both us, but the truth is that we had each been in denial.

The tipping point was a check that I had written for our new nanny. We’re sharing the expense with Miel, but since she had left her check book in D.C. when she moved, it was up to me to sign off on the first two weeks of care (which I still believe is one of the best moves ever and I don’t care how badly I need to cut the budget to still afford the care…more on that topic very soon). The check obviously didn’t sync up with Hubby’s payday, and we were suddenly in trouble.

Yet, our financial situation is more complicated than a bounced check. I can only explain with three factors:

  1. Our home has drained our savings
  2. We haven’t cut costs enough since I left my City salary
  3. Life with three active kids is expensive

1) I already shared a fair amount of detail in my recent post about feeling underwater, but there’s still a “story behind that story.” When we decided to put on a new roof for $10k and spend $4k trying to make our basement dry, we agreed to take out a line of credit loan on our home to pay for it. Yet, somehow we had a misunderstanding. We had talked about it and agreed that we would spend the money that we had earned from AirBnB to pay down the loan faster. So, I took out money from that account and paid down $4k of the loan (even though I had originally hoped that it would be our vacation fund…) Then, in an inexplicable lapse in judgement, Hubby decided that we needed to pay off the the entire loan from our savings. To make matters worse, he didn’t see that I had already written the $4k check (just above in the ledger!) and so he actually overpaid the loan and overdrew our account (prior to the bounced check). Whew. Talk about a SNAFU. My only explanation is wishful thinking.

2) As extremely frustrated as I was about the situation, I didn’t have the heart to get mad though. Since I felt at fault for the random overspending that seems to plague me. Yes, we have a budget, but somehow there’s always some completely justified expense that comes up. That month we had several unplanned expenses. The truth is that I need to start earning a real income in order for us to continue our current lifestyle.

3) We love our kids pure and deep. We do our best not to spoil them or bribe them (although few parents can truly claim either). We don’t indulge in impulse spending, but even the planned stuff truly adds up. Yet we have a weak spot for the experiential expenses. At the moment, if we’re honest, we probably can’t afford all the extracurricular activities our kids are involved in (as much as it pains me to admit it). Somehow we sign them up before we’ve actually put it in the budget, and then it’s like “whoops” and we shrug, knowing how much they each grow through social learning. Plus, after all those activities, our kids get really hungry. Lately it feels like we can’t control our food/snack bill, and Teagan is just starting to truly chow down.

We have soooo much to be grateful for though, starting with the fact that we didn’t explode at each other when we realized we had drained our accounts. All our Money Honey talks have strengthened our financial resolve, even if we don’t seem to have gotten any savvier. Second, I was able to ask for a personal loan of $5k from my Aunt Carol (who initially helped us in invest in the cabins, and lent us money on one other occasion…thankfully the banks can’t compete with interest rates). Third, I feel like actually feeling the pain of being in debt is probably the best motivator for helping me adjust my spending habits. I’m also feeling more resourceful and creative than I have in a long while, and I have complete faith that I can help my family get out of debt fast.

Have you ever been broke?

What motivated you to get out of debt?