Christmas Gifts on the Brain

Mid-October may be the earliest I’ve ever bought a Christmas gift. Last night, I was surfing on the Toys R Us website and happened across this neat art desk from Step 2.

Step2ArtDesk

We saw it at a friend’s house over the summer, and I really liked it — so did Emily, who kept wandering away from the party to try to play with all the art stuff they had on it. (“Accessories not included,” naturally. But of course we have all the markers, paints and crayons needed to make a mess… uh, I mean, make art.)

I wasn’t really looking to start my Christmas shopping. While I’m not a last-minute Linda, I will get a good jump on gifts sometime in mid-November, and then get caught up in the holiday madness that descends upon my professional and personal life this time of year, and forget to complete my shopping list. An unfortunate side effect of the “early” gift-buying is that I tend to forget one or two of my stashed presents. Good thing I have time to find the lost gift and re-purpose it for Emily’s birthday 6 weeks later…

This year, we’ll be celebrating Christmas with our newest addition, Jenna. As she’ll only be 5 months when the holiday rolls around, we won’t be doing a ton of shopping for her. She’ll be barely able to sit up by then, forget about being able to play with most toys.

Emily, on the other hand, has reached the age where she wants everything she sees — on TV or in the multitude of toy catalogs that have hit the mailbox in the past week. I’ve had to hide those suckers to preserve my sanity. Not that it’s stopped her from asking where they are — the kid has a memory like an elephant.

All in all, it will be a fairly lean Christmas since I’ve been on maternity leave since July (and returning to work mid-November), but I’m pretty sure the kids won’t even notice. Unless I manage to lose even more gifts this year.

All the Leaves Are Brown

It’s officially fall — the leaves turn colors, temperatures drop and Nicole gleefully pulls her boots and sweaters out of storage. Summertime has come and gone, and everybody’s home again.

I’m ready for pumpkin picking, Halloween costumes and Thanksgiving turkey. I’m ready to shop for a fall wardrobe for Miss Emily. But I’m not ready for the “Christmas creep” — the barrage of holiday displays that started showing up in retail stores before the calendar even hit September (Costco, I’m looking at YOU).

Sure, I’m starting to think about what Santa Claus (and Mommy and Daddy) are going to get our little sweet pea for Christmas. I have some gift ideas rolling around my brain, but I haven’t put them to paper yet because I know it’s far too early, despite the link bait and “news” stories popping up all over my social media feeds. Even CNN got in on it, with an ‘early peek at the hottest holiday toys.” Believe me, there’s nothing ‘hot” about a “Tub N Toot” doll, which does exactly what you think it does.

For now, I’ll be content with squeezing in as many trips to the park as possible before the really cold weather sets in, and buying the cutest outerwear and boots I can find for a toddler who will only wear them for a season or two.

Just don’t ask me if I’ve started my Christmas shopping yet — it can wait.

Little Tikes Cozy Coupe Assembly Nightmare

But look, it has googly eyes!

Three-and-a-half hours. That’s how long it took me to put together one of Baby Frugalista’s Christmas presents, the ubiquitous little red car many of us had as kids called the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe. I bought it because I had fond memories of playing with it at my cousins’ house, AND I got a great deal on it post-Black Friday.

It was the last thing left for us to assemble after Christmas. At first, I was just going to leave it in the box until spring, but the hubby suggested we put it together now, and I acquiesced. And I figured I could do it all by myself. With all of our newfound experience in assembling the baby’s other toys, this would be a snap.

Boy, was I wrong.

First of all, we were missing half of the directions. Yes, we scoured the inside of the box to see if it got stuck in the cardboard somewhere. It didn’t. Then, instead of opening the directions flat, I had it folded in half, looking only at the left page. This caused me to put it together out of order and screw it up. But to be fair to myself, the directions were terrible — unclear and almost impossible, even for someone like me, who can put together almost anything with barely a glance at the directions. ::brag::

The problem with putting it out of order? The wheels were now screwed up because I forgot to add the spacer to keep them away from the frame of the car.

After getting to the end of our half of the directions, I searched the Internet, hoping to find the rest of the directions by typing in “Cozy Coupe assembly.” While I did find the directions (printed AND video-demonstrated), I also stumbled upon a whole slew of message boards with comments from other frustrated parents who thought this Cozy Coupe was by far the worst kids’ toy they’d ever had to deal with assembling.

I also discovered that most of the parents also screwed up putting on the wheels. And that the manufacturer included extra parts because they KNOW most people will screw it up. It took both me and Mr. Not-So-Frugal to pry off the “acorn nut” caps that held the wheels to the frame in order to install the spacers, and it involved two pairs of pliers (needlenose & regular), two screwdrivers (for prying) and a hammer. The extra parts? Those acorn nuts caps.

So now, our almost-1-year-old daughter has her Cozy Coupe. She currently enjoys being pushed around the house in it — there’s a removable floorboard so her feet don’t get run over. I’m glad that she likes it and hopefully, she’ll use it for years to come.

A few days later, I was talking to my aunt, and I was complaining about how hard it was to put together this simple Cozy Coupe. Her response? “It was 25 years ago, but I remember it being a pain in the ass for us, too!”

Little Tikes, are you listening? Sheesh.

Re-Gifting & Thrifted Gifts Aren’t the Devil’s Handiwork

Last December, Mrs. Money at Ultimate Money Blog asked, “Are Thrifted Gifts Acceptable?” I think they are, within reason: If they’re in excellent condition, and it’s something the recipient wants, then why not? Perhaps not clothing, but other items may be acceptable, such as dishes, wine glasses and handy kitchen items. (DISCLOSURE: I’ve never actually given someone a gift that was secondhand or thrifted).

As I’m writing this post, my attention was brought to another great post about thrift-store gifts from J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly. As the reader featured in the post mentions, sometimes, you’ll come across fantastic finds such as hardly-used designer handbags at thrift stores. Would you turn down a gently-used Coach bag if you know you would never be able to afford one brand-new (or, in my case, wouldn’t dare spend our hard-earned money on one)?

Now that we’re trying to further cut our expenses in anticipation of our little bundle of joy, this Christmas leads me to another, similar thought. What about RE-GIFTING? When you get a present (that isn’t to your taste or is a duplicate) that doesn’t have a gift receipt and it’s something purchased brand-new, is it so terrible to “pass” that gift on to another person for Christmas or a birthday? It could be a piece of clothing, perfume, gift card for a store you don’t go to.

I don’t think it’s insulting to re-gift these types of items, because the alternative is to let them take up space in your home and let them go to waste. And yes, this also means that I’m open to receiving thrifted or re-gifted items, especially if they’re something I can use or are vintage or antique.

Frugal Admission: Yes, I have re-gifted some presents — but only once in a blue moon. I look at it this way: I’m making sure the item will get proper use AND saving myself some money in the process. No, I’m not talking about re-gifting an ugly sweater to a cousin who will think it’s just as ugly as I do. I wouldn’t pass “junk” over to anyone as a present, either.

We’re now two weeks out from Christmas Day and I’ve about finished our gift shopping. I may have used coupons, but have no fear. I’m not re-gifting or thrifting anything — this year.

A Week Off, and I Can’t Sit Still

Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I are off from work all week, and I don’t know what to do with myself. My brother attempted to finish the trim in our newly renovated bedroom, but the compressor broke. Once that’s up, we can clean up in there and get our bedroom set up in there. I was hopeful we could have it done this week, but I don’t know when he’ll get back over to do the trim. I can get a compressor from a friend, but even I draw the line at using machinery while pregnant — amazing, right?

Instead, I’ve started to sort through the many bags of baby clothes given to us by a friend. There are 8-9 bags/bins, and I got through ONE in 45 minutes last night. So that’s a task that will take up some time. I also have a new freelance assignment to get started on.

We managed to get a quick grocery shopping trip on Monday morning, while the store was only semi-crazy. We needed two very important things: cat litter and the free ham or turkey for which we qualified (we went with the ham). Picked up a few other essentials and booked out of there in record time. By the afternoon, there wasn’t a spot to be had in any of the store’s three parking lots. It gets so busy, the town posts a police officer to direct traffic along the busy main drag.

Non-holiday season, the store is always busy. That’s why I place my order over the internet and pick it up twice a month. To me, it’s well worth the $10 fee each time to show up, give them the money and coupons, and have them place the bags in the car trunk for me. But now, I’ve gotten a bit more tired with the pregnancy, so Mr. NSF will now be picking up the orders — because lugging those bags into the house up the front stairs is tiring. And every 5th order is free, so really it breaks down to only $8 per order.

I don’t anticipate going anywhere on Black Friday. I haven’t done a lick of Christmas shopping yet this year, and I’m not going to start until I know if we’re doing grab bags for Mr. NSF’s family. We don’t have many people on my side, so we don’t do the grab bag thing. I have a feeling we’re going to get a lot of things for the baby-to-be, despite it being a grab-bag Christmas. People just can’t control themselves when it comes to baby stuff!