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When people find out I have six kids they ask me two questions: Do you know what causes that? And how do you afford Christmas?

The answers are: yes I do, and by planning ahead and creative thinking.

When the kids were younger and their Christmas wish list changed regularly, I used the five dollar bill method as my Christmas savings. Any time I receive a five dollar bill as change, I put it aside – depositing it into a savings account, or simply stuffing it in an envelope at home.

Not only did I never miss that five bucks out of my wallet, but all those five dollar bills quickly add up to a significant savings account.

Now that the kids are older and their wishes are more costly, I start my Christmas shopping in August by purchasing one gift per payday. By the time the beginning of December rolls around, I’m pretty much finished with my shopping, except maybe for last minute stocking stuffers or wrapping paper.

Speaking of wrapping paper, I’m not above buying half-off Christmas wrap on December 26th and storing it for the next year. I’d much rather find room to store a few rolls of paper than pay full price during the last-minute Christmas rush.

The gifts my children enjoy most, though, are usually the ones that benefit the whole family:

Quality, not quantity.

Last year, my kids knew they would be getting just two gifts each. What they didn’t know was that one of those gifts would be orchestra section tickets to a Broadway show at our local theater! More affordable pricing and seating options are available by purchasing tickets for a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening show.

Consider one gift that can be used multiple times.

Local museums and attractions offer discounted family memberships that often include special events for members only. A few years ago, I purchased a zoo membership and was able to add a family friend to the membership. I definitely got my money’s worth – she took my kids to the zoo quite a few times, and I enjoyed the break.

Take the kids swimming inside when it’s snowing outside.

Local YMCAs and rec centers often see a decline in membership during winter months. Check for special, limited time membership deals. Aside from swimming, many also offer other fun family activities like game days or movie nights.

Plan to cheer for the whole year by purchasing advance tickets to different local sporting events.

Big-league tickets prices may be out of your budget, but local triple A leagues offer cheaper ticket prices with just as much excitement. Check for lawn seating or standing room sections for even more discounted pricing. Game-time snacks are also more affordable at local team concessions.

Go to the movies.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Despicable Me 3” are just a few of the exciting movies planned for release in 2017. Many theaters offer gift cards in any denomination that can be used on all new releases. Keep the gift cards handy and be prepared to hit the theaters on opening weekend.

Give redeemable vouchers for gifts and experiences.

Another single mom I know gave her kids 12 handmade gift certificates under the tree last year. The certificates were good for one gift (or one date) per month with mom for a year. She was able to spread out the cost of Christmas over 12 months, and gave her kids something to look forward to as well. 

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