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How to have a very merry Christmas with kids for $200 or less—seriously

This year, out of necessity, I’ve decided I’m doing things differently.

How to have a very merry Christmas with kids for $200 or less—seriously

For as long as I can remember I’ve started to get excited about Christmas as soon as the weather began to cool and the leaves began to turn. I’ve always loved the sparkly lights and the at-home coziness of the holiday season, but the day itself has taken on a new significance now that I have children.


Over the past few years I’ve loved seeing my son’s eyes light up as he opened his presents and, each year, wooed by holiday ads and the thought of my child’s smile, I’ve ended up spending a lot more than I intended.

This year, out of necessity, I’ve decided I’m doing things differently.

Since last Christmas, my husband and I have had a baby, taken a partially-paid maternity leave and an unpaid paternity leave, bought a new home and started our older son at a full time preschool. We’ve also made some intentional decisions about how we want our children relate to money.

The average American family is planning to spend an average of $983 for gifts this holiday season. But they don’t have to.

This Christmas, we’ve decided to opt out of going above and beyond and, instead, stick to a strict $200 budget for our little family. If you’re considering (or being pushed by circumstances) towards a budget Christmas, here’s how we have an amazing holiday together—without spending much.

The Baby

The baby will receive gifts this year mainly because it would seem suspicious for Santa not to bring him anything. As a 13-month-old, his interests are limited: he enjoys napping, nursing and getting into the kitchen cabinets. Under the tree he’ll find:

A television remote: $7

Again, not a very Instagrammable gift, but something that I know my child will love. As of now my tot totes around our real TV remote, come Christmas time he’ll have one of his very own.

A soft duck: $25

My baby is the classic second child, born in the same season as my first, he has hand-me-down everything. Almost all of my baby’s possessions, from books to clothes to toys were once used by my first. As my babe enters the phase of his life when he might become attached to a comfort object, I plan to get him a brand new and very soft stuffed duck.

A large ball: $4

A big fan of chasing and rolling, my baby will be unwrapping a brand new ball on Christmas morning.

Baby total: $36

The Preschooler

A personally curated art kit: $20.00

My preschooler loves art and, while the quality of the supplies might matter to a more seasoned artist, I’ve found that my boy simply loves the feel of paint on his fingers and the sensation of cutting paper with “real scissors.”

For less than $20, I’ve created an on-the-go art box that my boy can haul around the house and explore over the next few months. The art kit includes the box itself ($5.99) a pack of construction paper ($3.99), 3 mini-sets of paint ($2.99) a pack of paintbrushes ($1.99), markers ($2.99) and 2 pairs of silly scissors ($1.99).

A pair of character pajamas: $19.99

Pajamas are a practical gift that are also incredibly fun. My son is a big Daniel Tiger fan so he’ll be getting a trolley adorned set under the tree this year.

An E.T. Poster: $7.99

This past summer my son stayed a weekend with his grandparents and, despite our Daniel Tiger only decelerations, my parents gave in to nostalgia and let my son watch E.T. Ever since, he’s been obsessed. This Christmas he’ll be getting an E.T. poster to hang next to his bed.

A kids wheelbarrow from the neighborhood list serve: $10

While we buy a lot of our children’s clothes and supplies second-hand we typically shop new for toys simply because it can be really hard to find what you want. This year we started looking early and scored an almost-new wheelbarrow that my boy will love.

A set of pre-cut 2x4’s: $8

My son loves to build in the backyard and, as un-instagrammable as plain old 2x4s are, I know my boy will be thrilled to have something he can use to construct.

Two books: $12

As an avid reader, my son will be more than happy to receive a couple of new books he can read with me or my husband and that he can flip through as he drifts off to sleep.

A “movie night” bundle: $2

At our house, movie nights are a real treat. This Christmas we’ll be gifting my son a movie night by wrapping up a bag of microwave popcorn, a hand drawn movie ticket and a pack of Sweedish Fish.

A flashlight: $2

While a flashlight might not seem exciting to a grown up, to a preschooler it’s the key to after-dark adventure. I know my son will be thrilled opening up this gift and look forward to hours spent reading under the covers and creating shadow-puppet shows on his bedroom wall.

Preschooler total: $82

The mom and dad:

While it’s always nice to receive a little something, my husband and I typically buy what we need for ourselves and aren’t big spenders. This year, because we had a few major expenses, we’re opting out of getting each other anything big and, instead opting for a few small gifts.

A Handprint ornament for each child: $6

We love honoring our kids and plan to make handprint ornaments as gifts to each other. In the future I’m sure we’ll look back at their tiny hands and wonder how our sons ever used to be so small.

Two $10 Chipotle gift cards: $20

Throughout the week my husband and I each pack our lunch for work. Giving each other gift cards is really giving the gift of being lazy one evening and skipping the chore of packing lunch.

A gift card to the movie theater $26

Date nights are hard to come by in our house but, because we have full time childcare for both of our kids, afternoon dates are a little more possible. A gift card to the movie theater will give us the chance to sneak out of work a couple of hours early and head to a matinee showing.

Assorted teas: $15

My husband enjoys hot tea each evening and, this year, I’ll shop for an assortment of teas he may not yet have tried yet.

Assorted chocolates: $15

As the chocolate lover of the family, I’m counting on my husband to pick up a few nice truffles from the local chocolate shop.

The mom and dad Total: $82 (split)


Holiday Cheer (free)

While presents are fun, we all know that the holidays are really about spending time with the people we love the most.

This winter, we’ll work hard to create holiday magic without breaking the bank by planning ahead and engaging the resources we already have. As the holiday’s approach we’ll:

Listen to holiday music

Nothing says “Christmas” like the jingle of familiar music. This year we’ll sing along to the classics on our favorite Pandora station as we wrap gifts, bake cookies and decorate our tree.

Check out the local lights

Some of my favorite childhood memories involved peering at Christmas lights from the back of my parent’s car as we cruised around town and sipped on vanilla milkshakes. This year, I’ll map out the best displays in town, suit my sons up in their pajamas and take a long cozy ride.

Create homemade holiday cards

While professionally printed holiday cards can be pricy, my family has enough art supplies lying around to create beautiful, homemade cards I’ll be proud to send out. This year I’ll let my preschooler get in on the fun by helping me paint, draw and craft our holiday notes.

Cook our holiday favorites

As the holidays approach I’ll be pulling out my grandmothers recipe cards and baking my way though her favorites. Engaging seasonal recipes won’t cost us any more than our regular groceries and will ensure our boys have cozy memories of their favorite holiday foods.

Watch the classics

This year, most popular cable channels will be showing a variety of classic holiday movies. While I’ve seen most of the classics at least a few times, I’m looking forward to watching the joy spread across my child’s face as he watches one of my old favorites.

If your family is interested in opting out of going overboard, consider setting a limit that seems reasonable and sticking to it.

In our family, the keys to our shopping success have been focusing our spending on our kids, selecting gifts that will make our kids happy (even if they don’t appear on any top-toys list) and choosing not to compare our gift piles with those of other families.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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