Many years ago my mom started a new Christmas Eve tradition called Crazy BINGO. Basically she’d wrap up some cheap gifts (candy, gag gifts, little trinkets) as well as one “grand prize” of $10-$20, and everyone would play BINGO (or more recently Uno Attack), picking out a gift when they won. The fun was trying to guess which package contained the best gift, and stealing it when you won as you had the option to take a new gift or take someone else’s (and then they could choose to do the same). The game play would end once everyone was in possession of a gift. Then the gifts would be opened and people were free to swap with one another. Of course no one ever swapped the main prize, especially when it was $20!

This tradition almost ended last year because my mom hasn’t been feeling well and didn’t want the hassle of finding the gifts. I happily took over because it’s one of the things I look most forward to every year. The main prize is now less than $20 as I don’t want to blow my holiday budget, but I’ve still been having a lot of fun finding interesting inexpensive items for this game. Dollar Tree, the One Spot at Target, and Five Below are all great places to snag some decent stuff without spending a lot. In all I spent under $20 this year to keep this tradition going. That includes the “grand” prize of a $5 Target gift card I scored for free during one of my epic shopping trips.

While I can’t share the items I purchased as of this writing since some of participants will likely be reading this, I can share with you a quick photo I took last night after wrapping them.

Crazy BINGO Gifts

There are a total of eight gifts since we’re expecting eight people to be present for the game.

There’s a good chance I’ll have completely forgotten what’s in which package by the time Christmas Eve rolls around so I can enjoy the game just as much as everyone else. Or I can mess with everyone and covet the wrong gift in an attempt to throw them off the trail. Muhahahaha!

What fun traditions do you participate in during the holidays?

Even though we like to focus primarily on financial matters on this blog, today I want to talk about relationships, and our marriage in particular. We’ve been married for nine years, but together for a total of fourteen as of this coming January. What continues to amaze both of us is how well we still get along. And we very rarely fight (we do play-argue a ton, though, because we love to tease one another and have a good time).

So what’s our “secret”? I think it comes down to respect and appreciation, among other things. But those two are at the top of the list. We still say please and thank you and do not take one another for granted. We also approach each other respectfully even if the other person has done something to aggravate us. A good example of this comes from an incident that happened this morning.

To give you a little background, Joe shaves his own head in our master bathroom. I also keep a night light plugged in for when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom so I don’t wake myself, or him, up fully by turning on the overhead light. Early this morning when the alarm went off I went to use the restroom, but as I felt around the outlet, the nightlight wasn’t there. It then occurred to me that Joe had removed it last night to plug in his clippers and had forgotten to put it back (which he does from time to time). I didn’t want to turn on the light as I was planning to go back to sleep (since I don’t work on Fridays), so I went back in the bedroom and said, “Joe, can you plug in the nightlight so I can use the bathroom? I can’t find it”. He quickly apologized and jumped up and took care of it for me. When he came back to bed I thanked him for finding it for me (since I had no idea where he had put it and couldn’t see it in the dark). Then we got a little snuggle time in before the alarm went off again and he left for work.

Now, I could have just gotten aggravated (to be honest, I did feel a bit aggravated, but I did not let that color my response) and “yelled” at him for not putting it back, but what kind of start to the day would that bring, and over something so trivial? I can totally see people doing that, however. I actually know of a couple who would probably get into a huge fight over this exact thing. But in the end reacting in a negative manner will only bring resentment and bitterness to a marriage, not love and togetherness. And if it was really that big of a deal to me, I could always bring it up later so we could talk about it without emotions getting involved.

Even though I said we never fight, that doesn’t mean we don’t disagree with one another or never get on one another’s nerves. It’s just in how you handle it. We’re extremely lucky in the regard that we both tend to approach things in the same way so it makes disagreements easier to handle. For instance, we always take the other person’s feelings into consideration, and we never call each other names (except when we are playing around and it’s obvious we’re not upset). Our neighbors are always screaming at one another (we can hear them through the not-so-insulated walls) and it just blows my mind to hear people treating each other that way. I honestly can’t think of even one instance when either of us screamed at the other one in an angry way. The only screaming that has ever occurred in this house is when one of us needs the other one’s attention ASAP and they are on a different level and we can’t come to them for some reason (like if we hurt ourselves, for instance).

If you happen to be in a relationship where fighting or screaming is the norm, I challenge you to try a gentler approach and see what happens. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised to see how your reaction can positively influence your partner’s response (and if not, they suck and you should separate… kidding!)

Target Cartwheel

It’s no secret amongst my peers that I am a huuuuge Target fan. I don’t work for them, I just love them! I buy 85% of our groceries there – pretty much everything except particular canned items and produce which I can find cheaper elsewhere.

Our pantry is currently overflowing thanks to all the coupons and deals we stacked at our local SuperTarget during our latest trip Saturday morning. Our initial total was $108. After mobile coupons, Target & manufacturer coupons, Target Cartwheel* discounts, and 5% for using our Target Red Card, the final total due was $75!!! And that doesn’t include the two free $5 gift cards we were given for buying certain amounts of things we needed.

I just such a high from saving so much money! Best of all, this was for things we’d buy anyway (although admittedly, I probably don’t need to have nine bags of Annie’s kettle corn, but they’re good until May so as long as I pace myself (haha) I should be good). I just need to keep in mind that we definitely don’t need ketchup or mayo for at least the next six months so nothing spoils before we can use it.

I waver between loving having a fully (over)stocked pantry and feeling a little overwhelmed by it. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years of not buying so much that it expires before I can use it. But there have been exceptions. The expired items I had to throw out recently were half a box of Bisquick and some syrup. We rarely make pancakes or waffles so we plan to make the batter from scratch from now on and not stock up on syrup anymore.

Before we completed our transaction, the cashier handed me a coupon for 20% of our entire shopping trip which is valid next weekend. There’s no way I can resist it, so I’ll need to put together a list of things we will need soon (since other than eggs and other basic staples we’re covered for awhile). I’ll make sure ketchup and mayo are not on the list!

* I once had a Target employee tell me she didn’t think the Cartwheel was worth the hassle. Well, I guess if $143 saved is nothing in her eyes, more power to her, but that’s like anywhere between 2-4 shopping trips for us. It’s well worth it to me!

If you don’t have a ton of money to spend, or you just don’t care to spend too much money this holiday season, but you still want to have a little fun with your family and friends, I’ve got a few low-cost suggestions on ways to enjoy the holiday lights this year:

Cosley Zoo is a small zoo in Wheaton that waives its admission prices for the month of December so you can check out their Festival of Lights. Here’s a sampling of some of the lights when we visited in 2011.

Aurora offers the Festival of Lights which is a free drive-thru attraction.

In addition, if you do a little Googling you will often find lists of homes in your area known for going all out for Christmas. Put together an itinerary and take the kids on a drive to check out the lights. We like to make some hot cocoa ahead of time to sip on while we make our rounds.

Candy Cane Trail (Carol Stream) – This home goes all out every year at both Halloween (when it’s called Canyon Trail Cemetery) and Christmas, including music synced up with their decorations. It’s a must see!

Holiday Lights at Lilacia Park (Lombard) – This park boasts tons of lilacs and tulips in the spring but in winter it’s lit up to celebrate the season.

Illinois Tacky Light Tour – This is a new find for me, but it looks promising.

Feel free to share your tips in the comments for places to see holiday lights.

It’s that time of the year again where companies offer bonuses for buying gift cards; you might want to consider grabbing some for yourself if your budget allows it as you’ll save money in the long run if you stick to the places you visit frequently throughout the year anyway.

Here’s just a few examples I’ve come across:

Classic Cinemas – Free movie ticket when you purchase a $50 gift card (this is available to Classic Reward members, so sign up now and you might get an email as you need to bring that in to get the deal).

Half Price Books – $5 bonus when you buy a $25 gift card.

Jamba Juice – Free small smoothie or 12 oz juice when you purchase a gift card for $25 or more.

Lou Malnatis – Free $10 certificate when you purchase a $50 gift card or a free $25 certificate when you purchase a $100 gift card.

Red Robin – $5 Bonus Buck reward when you purchase a $25-$45 gift card

SmashBurger – $5 Smashbucks when you purchase a $25 gift card

We personally take advantage of the movie theatre and pizza deals to get a little extra bang for our buck as we know we’re going to spend the money anyway. Might as well get something extra out of it!