Unplanned Christmas Spending – The Good Kind

A week ago, I posted about some of the charitable things I’d been up to in the past month, and I’ve got a few updates. I had very little work last week (Friday was the only day worth getting out of bed, seriously), and I was getting crazy about my lease renewal with no distractions. I mentioned answering a post on Craigslist Volunteer page from a woman begging for presents for her three kids, since they live on free rent + $240/month until her job starts. I went on to answer 2 more ads – one for a pair of 7-year-old twin boys whose father lost his job a few months ago, and a single-mom with a 3-month-old girl and a 2-year-old boy who is couch-surfing in Queens. So off I went with $80-100 earmarked for this, determined to get a lot of bang for my buck…

First stop: The Dollar Stores
I went with the intention of loading up on multi-packs of craft supplies to make cute little kits of markers, glitter, craftsticks, scissors, glue, construction paper, funky pens, etc. I made two boxes’ worth for the families with older kids above, and then divided up the remainder into little silver sacks (12/$1) to donate to my building’s toy drive for Children’s Aid Society. Cost: $50 for 12 kits (15 kids).

Second stop:  Toys R Us
Nightmare store here in Times Square – enormous, with a HUGE 3-story ferris wheel in the middle. However, the prospect of getting my hands on quality board games like Clue, Sorry, Twister, etc. for $5-6 after mail-in rebate was worth it. Last Thursday I went out at 9pm in the driving rain for the 8-block walk, knowing the crowds would be minimal. I also threw in a stuffed “Lounging Elmo” for the 3-month-old who doesn’t have any dolls. I refuse to go too cheap on things like stuffed animals because of the risk of toy toxicity. He was only $7, and about the size of the baby who’s getting it. Total:  $25, but I’m getting $6 back…so $19.

Third Stop:  The suburbs, Day 1 — Michael’s, CVS, Target
I decided I needed a change of scenery for a night and visited my mom. She had a party to go to that evening that I was welcome to attend as well (my aunt…so lots of family), but I can only stand my rellies for about an hour and didn’t want to be a drag on my mom. So I had her drop me off at a strip mall that closed at 11pm. Beforehand, we hit CVS for some strategic ECB’ing, and I scored a $5-off-$15 purchase coupon attached to my receipt, which, along with the $4-off sale price and the $2 ECB back on the purchase, meant I was able to get an electric can opener for the teen shelter for $1. They use a lot of canned goods, and the hand-twist ones are always breaking from constant use. A lot of the other stuff I got from the Thanksgiving sales rainchecks also make great little gifts for the mothers of the kids I’m playing Santa for. Well, sort of…bear in mind that my mom used to put a lot of practical stuff in our stockings, basically anything we ran out of in December, like toothpaste, deodorant, tampons, razors. Total out of pocket: $1.57 for $29 worth of stuff. At Michael’s, I scored an 80pc paint set for $2.99, glitter stickers for 49 cents, wooden model kits for $1 each, a Hanna Montana pencil case for $1, and a couple of other little things (total: $10). Then I went to Target and was very disappointed in their toy deals, much as I was in Toys-R-Us. I’m horrified at how much they charge for plastic, basically. The 2-year-old boy wanted a truck and some toy tools. Yeah, try to find them for less than $20 each. Ouch! So I picked up a little hoodie for him and a cute dress for his sister, $14. Total for the day: $25.

Fourth Stop:  The suburbs, Day 2 — Shop Rite, Family Dollar, another dollar store, Dunkin Donuts
Inspired by some great coupons, a sale on two major brands, and my mother informing me that Shop Rite always doubles coupons under $1, I thought it might be fun to buy cake mixes and frosting either for a Christmas treat or a future birthday (for the family of 3 kids, I threw in candles). And who could resist yummy brownie mix for $1 a box? I got $26 (based on sales prices!) worth of cake mix, frosting, cookie mix, and brownie mix for $17. I was drooling over getting cake frosting that is $2.49 full price in my neighborhood for 3/$5 and then 3 x 50-cent coupons doubled…so 65 cents a container. We’re taking the carrot cake supplies plus some other bits and pieces to Aspen for our own use, the rest goes to the families and teen shelter. Speaking of which, I hopped into the huge dollar store next to the supermarket and found a great deal on thick socks – 3/$1! – so I grabbed $5 worth for the teenagers with cold, sockless feet. Delightfully, Family Dollar wasn’t a dollar store, and I found the perfect, age-appropriate truck and tool set for $5 each – and they’re not rough or flimsy. Yay! The day’s total was $40, and my mom picked up $21 worth of the tab because…

Charity is contagious
I told my mother about meeting the mom and 3 kids, how sweet and well-behaved they were and how you could tell that the mom was a really good one (she got the kids away from their molestor-father, his family has money to help them out but she can’t risk contact no matter what, they attend family therapy through social services weekly, she’s a believer in thank-you notes, etc…it all adds up). So my mom decided not to participate in her office Secret Santa that is now basically just a gift card swap and put that money towards this family. She picked up the tab at Shop Rite and Family Dollar, and asked me to get a $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card and give it to her with a “Buy 6 Get 6 Free” coupon so they could have double the treat. I told her about how some offices do Secret Santa for disadvantaged kids instead of each other, and I have a feeling she might suggest that next year.

The Total Damage
So I blew $113 on charity stuff this past week, and I’m thinking about giving the mom+3 the makings of Christmas breakfast, since I’m guessing she relies on food pantries and I know from the shelter that they don’t supply dairy for fruit at all, and I think very little meat. Bacon, eggs, english muffins, butter, oranges…pretty sure I can put that together for about $7. And then I know she’ll have eggs for the brownie mix 🙂


6 Responses

  1. You are amazing and so inspiring! This post really put my own charitable habits into focus. I need to do some more work in this area. 🙂

  2. That’s an awesome idea: Secret Santa for disadvantaged kids. I second FruGal: You are one amazing gal, MMK!

  3. That is really fabulous! And you got so much stuff for your money! Happy Holidays.

  4. I’m bored. I love shopping for bargains, but I don’t need anything for me. I’ve also been spending too much time sitting at home wishing for business, so it’s been a mentally healthy distraction. And let’s face it – isn’t shopping for little kids FUN??

  5. I understand that it feels good to play that role for people who seem to be in need, but you are neglecting yourself. You can’t afford to spend that cash. Your own blog indicates that you couldn’t afford a $100 per month rent increase. I am guessing that you know this and it is stressing you out.

    I am not saying to stop giving, as it is clearly very important to you. What I am suggesting is that you consider setting a concrete, and lower, monetary limit at about half of what you are giving, and put some more focus on your own financial situation.



  6. Steve – I offer my services at a discount during off-peak hours to fund my giving “habit”. I had trouble determining a budget for charitable donation, and this works well – it’s not money I would otherwise have. I did mess up this month though because I pre-spent based on a booking that got cancelled at the last minute.

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