Creative Christmas Challenge for the Mom-of-9

Last Christmas Eve, some random wealthy person (at least in relative terms) drove through Mom-of-9’s neighborhood in the Bronx asking on the street if anyone knew of a single mom with lots of kids who could use a good Christmas. Everyone sent them to her home, where they anonymously left a huge stack of presents. Oh yes, people, there is indeed a Santa Claus! This year, Maribel (Mom-of-9) went to her local community center to put her kids on the Toys-for-Tots list, and was told they probably wouldn’t be able to give all of them a gift because donations were way down. I’m actually surprised at that, because it seems like everyone who is doing okay – even if it’s just barely okay – is way more aware of this than ever. I guess there are just that many more people in need of a $7 Christmas surprise for their kids.

I am not presenting you with the complete picture as I know it because it sounds like a sob story, and a real downer. That’s not what I want! This is about a financial challenge for ME, not her!

Maribel’s situation, in brief, no sob story
Maribel just turned 35 yesterday. She had 7 kids by the same man, who ditched them all about a year ago and provides nothing. She has somehow acquired 2 stepkids – I don’t know how.  All are between the ages of 2 and 12. She has siblings who want nothing to do with her, and both her parents died when she was a teenager. She has a significant speech impediment (I’m guessing a palate issue from the way she speaks) that makes phone contact useless, so she has a pay-as-you-go T-mobile Sidekick for text/email. Someone gave them a computer a few months ago, but didn’t set it up and she doesn’t know how, so it sits unused. Obviously employment is not an option with her huge family and disability, but she has proven quite resourceful, traipsing around town collecting free stuff from individuals like me, or checking out “curb alert” goodies. So when you see things like “they have a video game console”, bear in mind that she either got it from someone off craigslist or it’s a throwback from better days. She’s only been a welfare case for about a year.

The $60 Santa Claus Challenge
I normally put up a big, real tree – like 7 feet tall (my ceilings are 8 feet). Yes, it takes up half my apartment, and I don’t care! We Manhattanites are trapped by our lack of cars into buying a tree within lugging distance of our homes. The corner delis and Canadian street vendors know this and nail you for about $80 for a 6′ tree. Bastards. Well, because I’m getting my apartment painted at the end of next week, and then heading to Baltimore a few days after that, there really is no point putting one up. So…

The $60 (the only thing I ever bargain for is my tree – I’ve never paid $80) I had mentally spent on a tree is now earmarked for Maribel and her little ones. The challenge is to see how much I can get for that! The only thing I am *not* including in that $60 is, ironically, a tree — her 2-footer isn’t cutting it for 10 people, and a few of them are allergic to real ones. I’ve built an unmanageable amount of Register Rewards (free store-based money) at Walgreens, and will be picking up something fake at least 5 feet tall at their 50% off sale this weekend. You could say that the tree is compliments of Novartis, given my rather large collection of those particular RRs.

What to Buy
She gave me both a general and specific list of good ideas and bad ideas.

Bad: paint, markers, nail polish, play-doh — anything that can be smeared on a wall or carpet will be.
Good:  Moon Sand (doesn’t dry up) and any non-messy crafts. 
Bad: Board games — they cause fights and the kids wreck them.
Good:  Card games.
Bad: Big toys — they have very little space, and the kids aren’t crazy about them.
Good: Little dolls and action (WWE micro) figures no more than 2″ — kids love ’em.
Bad: Video games — they have some unit or other, but the kids don’t like video games. Wow.
Good:  Bakugan balls — got a few, but not the oh-so-sought-after 7-in-1 Maxus Dragonoid (NOT gonna happen).
Bad:  She requested the Hot Toy of 2009, Mindflex. Her kids will trash it – no way.
Replace:  Sleepy Dreams Dora — Maribel put it in the dryer and melted it.
Maribel:  Her pay-as-you-go T-mobile sidekick screen is broken. With her speech impediment, this text/email machine is really important – it’s how she arranges to get all the free stuff. To replace the screen is $55, to get a second hand one is $80-100. If you happen to have one lying around…
Pets:  They have 3 cats – she loves animals. One is a huge Maine coon cat that kills big Bronx rats. Awesome. She’s been feeding them (the cats!) bits of people food because she can’t afford cat food.

Awesome News
Her family opens gifts on Three Kings Day, aka the Epiphany, on January 6th. In other words, I can take full advantage of the after-Christmas sales!!!

Want to Help? – No, this is not a Sally Struthers plea!
I don’t have kids and really don’t know how to bargain shop for these things beyond checking Amazon and eBay. If you see a phenomenal price on any of the toys listed (especially the Moon Sand and Sleepy Dreams Dora), let me know. If you’re getting rid of any of these things and don’t mind mailing it, let me know. Of course, you’re welcome to send something along (thanks, Jillian!), but I’m really quite happy just getting some help seeing how far $60 can go!

And just so you all know, I’m going to visit her home for the first time on Thursday. She’s stuck waiting all day for the state housing inspector to approve of how she’s maintaining the place, and I have to make myself scarce 9am-3pm while my apartment is being painted. I figured I’ll bring the tree and lights, and set it up for the kids to decorate when they get home from school. Her one request for herself: please bring coffee, any coffee, except that cheap, nasty Bustelo. She brings up coffee a lot. And guess who has several cans of (free) Maxwell House and a bottle of 24-cent French Vanilla CoffeeMate looking for a home…


14 Responses

  1. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this before, but I’d love to know how you find all of the deals that you talk about. What does your shopping/shopping planning schedule look like? How do you do all of the math? What brands of items are easiest to get for free? What does a typical shopping trip look like and how do the cashiers react? Etc. Share the love!

    • Will do – I just haven’t done a post like that because I didn’t feel like enough of an “expert”. But I’ve been doing it for a year now and have noticed the patterns. Quick answer: I use iheartcvs, iheartwags and iheartriteaid to organize my deals. I’ve got a talent for quick mental arithmetic. The huge manufacturers out there are the ones that offer the best coupons/deals – Procter & Gamble, Unilever, General Mills, etc. I’ve got cashier stories up the wazoo, but really your experience varies depending on sooo many factors…

      • I like the fact that you aren’t an “expert” but are doing quite well in getting things for free and cheap. That’s why I want to hear about how you do it rather than from the bloggers who seem so self-righteous about the whole thing. Letting us newbies know how the patterns work and your tips and tricks would be a huge service!

  2. I have been getting tons of e-mails from toys r us and various other stores with pretty good sales. Although I don’t have kids, I have nieces and nephews. I would be glad to pass on any specific toy ads/coupons I find.

    r_u_u AT yahoo DOT com

  3. Has she checked into any programs at churches in the area? My church gives food and gift baskets (I live in a formerly poor, now annoyingly gentrified area, but they still haven’t managed to kick all the poor folks out yet) every holiday to folks, has an after-school program for kids with computers, etc. Most churches in poor neighborhoods do all they can. If it’s an uber liberal place like my UCC church, they won’t be required to tolerate any Jesus jumping bullshit either. Just thought I’d suggest it!

    • I suspect that it might be too late to sign on if she finds anywhere new, but I’m also pretty sure she has checked everywhere within walking distance (the only way to get around with all 10 kids…yeah, I miscounted). Since she celebrates on the Epiphany, I’m guessing she’s a believer, so churches aren’t a no-no for her.

  4. I don’t have any of those things lying around, but I’d like to kick in some cash. Email me?

  5. i’ll hunt around. but 😥 cats need cat food! i know some people do make it themselves. i wouldn’t try it but it is possible.

    hey do you follow Hip2Save? she is always posting GREAT deals, here’s one for the moon sand you are looking for. HTH

    • I tried several times to get in on the cheap Moon Sand deal from that link…it always showed up 9.98 instead of 4.98. I’m hoping I’ll find a great price in the after Christmas sales!


    maybe you already saw this – moon sand at amazon, $4.98


    betty crocker also has chex mix. and after you print there is a link to domino’s sugar.

    chex mix often on smartsource too. i printed so many it disappeared. (when you hit limit.)

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