When I was a kid watching television in the summer meant catching up on the previous season of your favorite television shows. Once a show aired it's season finale, the just-concluded season would restart and play in it's original order until it was time for the next season's premier in the late summer/early fall. Because of this scheduling, every show airing reruns would present their Christmas episode sometime during July. I remember some networks promoting this as "Christmas in July". Do you guys recall this from your youth?
Thinking back to that time, I was inspired recently to do my own Christmas in July article.
Here's a little tidbit about me. I am a planner and usually try to stay on top of things. For example, my Christmas shopping is mostly done well before Thanksgiving and I have presents wrapped and under the tree by the day after Thanksgiving. Half of you are probably like, "That chick is crazy". But I know the other half of you get me.
I'm like this about many areas of my life, but since this article concerns Christmas, let me explain myself. One reason I am the way I am is to prevent stress during the holidays. If all the work is done by the time they come around, I can enjoy them rather than stressing with shopping and spending money.
Speaking of money, the main reason I get such a jump on the game is because it's cheaper. I cannot stand paying more for something when I know I can get it for less. That's true of everything from Christmas gifts to weekly groceries.
I constantly keep a list of gift ideas for each of my children, my husband, and nieces and nephews using the shopping list feature of Amazon. Through the year, I check my lists for deals (including Warehouse Deals) or get alerted to Lightening Deals directly from Amazon. After some quick investigation, if the deal is legit (meaning I don't see a cheaper price anywhere and camelcamelcamel shows it to be near or at it's historically low price), I'll buy that item (from either Amazon or wherever I found it cheapest).
Based on that insight into my gift buying practices, I'll let you know my first Christmas gift purchase this year was made in April. Don't judge.
I recognize that sounds kinda insane. A lot of you are thinking I probably go way overboard and that's why I have to start so early. I'm not going to lie. My kids have a pretty decent (not obscene) Christmas, but other than something reasonable for their birthdays and Easter (check out Non-Toy, Non-Candy Easter Basket Fillers), it's the only time of year I get them anything extra.
I don't buy toys or trinkets through the year. Begging and pleading is wasted on me. If they want anything "just because", they have to pay for it with their own money. If they don't have money, they don't get whatever it is they're wanting. Certainly, I buy them food, clothes, educational supplies, and other necessities, but I refuse to give in to all the little wants through the year.
Yet, Christmas was always special to me as a child, and I want it to be so for my kids. Part of that, but not the entire holiday, includes the gifts.
Also, I'm not a fan of a bunch of cheap junk that will be broken by mid-January. I prefer good quality toys that will last a while (like my future grand kids could play with them). Those kinds of toys are generally more expensive, and if we're going to give them, I have to stay alert for deals through the year.
With all of that on the table, let me share what I've scored so far (and why I picked it) in my quest for a cheaper, decent-quality, stress-free Christmas.
Disclaimer: Most of the items in this list are for Tres. So, I'm pretty close to done with shopping for her. This wasn't planned; it's just the way the deals presented themselves. I've listed the items in the order I bought them.
*This post contains affiliate links via text and pictures of the items mentioned. If you click on them and ultimately make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. This costs you nothing and helps keep this site running. You can read my full disclosure policy here.*
The Boy loves games, and I think they make near perfect gifts. As you can imagine, I have many games on my lists of potential gifts for my kids, but The Boy's is filled with them. Any time I come across a game that sounds like something he would like, I add it to the list. This doesn't mean I'll get it. It only means it's up for later consideration.
Due to having so many games saved in my Amazon lists, I got an alert way back in April that they were having a sale on certain board games. None of the games I had saved were on sale. Still, I found Forbidden Island was included.
I looked into it because I did have it's sequel, Forbidden Desert, on my list. After some quick research and comparing, I figured they were close enough that The Boy would like either, and I was able to get Forbidden Island for about 50% off the cheapest price I saw anywhere else.
I think The Boy will like Forbidden Island because he likes any game, it has a plot, and it requires using strategy and laying tiles (he seems to like games with these components, like Kingdomino).
What makes me feel good about Forbidden Island is that it won the 2010 Mensa Brainy Games award, it's made by Gamewright (a game brand I trust and have never been disappointed by), and it's a cooperative rather than a competitive game.
Concerning that last point, I want to say that I am not against competitive games. They teach valuable life skills, but cooperative games teach team work and I simply enjoy playing them with my kids. With cooperative games, the kids and I are teammates working together. Special times.
Battop Marble Run
In The Best Building Toys, I mention we have a traditional wooden marble run. In that article I discuss the pros and cons of such a set and talk about whether it might have been better to get an interlocking plastic set when dealing with smaller children.
Well, we are now going to give a plastic marble run a shot. I put the Battop run on my list for Tres and got alerted to a Lightening Deal. It was only $7 off the normal price, but my research showed this to still be a good price.
Admittedly, the reviews on this item are mixed. It's clear this is a Chinese import that Battop sells on Amazon but does not manufacture, nor do they oversee the manufacture of it.
The main complaints are the set is smaller than the pictures imply (that's not a big concern of mine) and the pieces can be difficult for younger kids to click together (other reviews say this isn't an issue) requiring parental involvement. I am not overly worried if connectivity is bit of an issue, as Tres has a big brother and sister who will gladly help her fit the pieces together, if they don't take it over altogether.
The biggest positive I saw repeated in the reviews is the set is sturdy when together, eliminating the frustration associated with the balance and precision needed with wooden sets (my whole reason for considering a plastic set).
Once we've given Tres the set and the kids have played with it, I'll update this section with my thoughts.
Not to be repetitive, but we have and play a lot of games (hence Mind Game Monday). Every Christmas The Boy and Little Mama get a new crop of them. This year Tres is getting in on the action. In December she will be the magical number three. You know what I'm talking about. Every toy or game is labeled "for ages three and up".
I've had Splish Splash on her list since early in her life, but the tiny pieces and her age didn't mix until now.
Even though this is a simple color matching game, I think all of my kids will enjoy it or at least be willing to play it with Tres. It's kind of a messy game, which I normally avoid. There are lots of small pieces that require being scattered.
You play the game by throwing a "pebble" into the "pond" to make pieces splash out. If the pieces you need come out, you get to keep them.
My older kids won't care about matching colors, but they'll probably love trying to splash out as many game pieces as possible. At this point in life I'm okay with that. They are old enough to satisfactorily help get all those little choking hazards up and out of the hands of baby number four.
And just so you know, this is another Gamewright game. I'm confident once we crack it open, I will be pleased with it's quality. If not, I'll let you now by updating this section.
Mod Paint Sticks
Tres spends a lot of her day drawing and coloring. While we try to keep her masterpieces limited to paper, it's very common to find them on walls, furniture, the floor, and herself. You can see what I'm talking about here, here, here, and here.
I love that she loves to create, but I've got to have non-toxic, washable art supplies available for her in order to prevent disaster.
Both she and Little Mama have a thing for tempura paint sticks, but we are down to one blue stick. Therefore, I put the more well-known brand of paint sticks, Kwik Stix, and these generally cheaper ones by Mod Paint Stix on my list.
Mod Paint Stix were part of a Lightening Deal, so that's what I bought. We've only used Kwik Stix before (they were given to us), and they are great. Once we get into the Mod Paint Stix, I'll let you know if they're not up to snuff. But they have a five-star rating and they're just sticks of paint; I can't imagine they would be much different from their competitors.
SmartMax Mega Ball Run
In multiple times and ways I have declared my adoration for SmartMax. It's an amazing toy for a broad range of ages that promotes ingenuity and creativity. Last year I included them in both The Best Building Toys and Great Gifts for Babies and Toddlers.
Some time back I was able to get the SmartMax Build XXL set for a great clearance price from Timberdoodle. That's what started our family's love affair with this toy. Since then we've added the Complete Power Vehicles and the My First Safari Animals sets. They've all gotten much use, and I can't recommend them more.
I've had the SmartMax Mega Ball Run (I know, I know...another marble/ball run) on my radar for a couple of years now.
Its price tag has thwarted me from getting it previously. The regular price is around or just over $100. Fortunately, when perusing my lists one day, I noticed SmartMax was offering coupons on several sets. The Mega Ball Run was included. Simultaneously, Amazon was offering a separate, small discount. On top of that, I had some Amazon store card reward points saved up. All of these things together made the run very affordable. I believe it's needless to say (though I'm saying it any how) I'm pretty excited about this gift.
SmartMax Click and Roll
Though the SmartMax Click and Roll, a smaller ball run, is significantly cheaper than the full-size set discussed above, I never committed to it because I couldn't find a deal. I guess in all things--good and bad--when it rains, it pours.
I had the Click and Roll set on my list primarily to accompany and extend the Mega Ball Run. As it turns out, three days after purchasing the larger set, I finally found a deal on Click and Roll. I imagine days of ginormous ball run building in our family's future.
I mentioned last Christmas in Stupendous Stocking Stuffers that The Boy really wanted to learn to play chess and was getting a chess set that year. Yes, he got his chess set and spent some time trying to learn the game on his own. He's got the gist of it, but this school year we are dedicating time each week to really learning the game. We'll be using several books I found and Think Fun's Solitaire Chess to master his skills.
Once he figures it all out and becomes the next Bobby Fischer, I know he's going to beg Mr. to play with him. While my husband has a cursory knowledge of chess, I don't think he really knows enough to present a challenge or consistently apply the rules.
In thinking ahead, I searched for some sort of beginner's chess set to help my husband play with The Boy without having to first take a college course on the subject. I found two products to slap onto my list. One is the very highly rated No Stress Chess and the other, which I ended up buying is, Chess Teacher.
You probably can't tell from the picture, but printed on each game piece of Chess Teacher are the moves it is allowed to make. That's exactly the help Mr. needs to be able to keep the game quickly going.
I purchased Chess Teacher because I found it offered as a Warehouse Deal. It's generally cheaper than No Stress Chess anyway, as it's simply and cheaply made. Finding it as a Warehouse Deal solidified the decision I was already going to make.
As The Boy already has a decent wooden set, we didn't need anything fancy. Chess Teacher is only going to serve as the set he plays with his dad until Mr. figures it all out. Of course, it will also be good for teaching the other kids how to play in the future.
If I had to pick between the two teaching sets discussed here and the set I picked was going to be our only chess set, I would probably pick No Stress Chess. Though I haven't seen in in real life, it looks sturdier.
Like Forbidden Island, Carcassonne is a tile laying game. Unlike Forbidden Island, it is competitive and not cooperative. I mentioned The Boy likes Kingdomino (and so do I--it's super fun). Carcassonne looks like a more involved version of Kingdomino that allows for a bit of sabotage. I can see The Boy really getting into this, and that's why I had it on my list. Plus, when I was reviewing it, everything I read was positive.
One day as I was perusing list items, I saw that a "like new" Carcassonne was available. I purchased it and was very pleasantly surprised by its condition. Other than an insignificant tear in the shrink wrap around the game box, it looked liked I bought the game brand new off a store shelf. So, for a small shrink wrap tear that The Boy won't notice, I was able to get this game for around 50% off the normal price. Always check those Warehouse Deals!
Take the Cake
This is yet another Gamewright game. I told you I liked the brand.
I put Take the Cake on my list for Little Mama a few years ago, but I never purchased it. As time passed, she grew a bit too old for this shape and color matching game. I still thought it was a great looking game, so I moved it over to my list for Tres.
In the time I've spent hemming and hawing over the game, it appears Take the Cake went out of production. I was so bummed when I figured this out because I had read some fabulous things about it, and I really wanted to get it for Tres this year. Plus, even though it's a tad young for Little Mama, I knew the concept of decorating cupcakes would be one that she would enjoy and this would be a game she would like to play with her baby sister.
Take the Cake can still be found through third-party sellers on Amazon (and I think a few other retailers still have some in stock). If matching shapes and colors while decorating cupcakes with "sprinkles" sounds like something your kid would enjoy, be sure to keep an eye on those sellers' offerings. Right now they are asking too much, but as time goes on, I think their asking prices will come down--especially if they want to move items at the end of the year.
Or you can do what I did--turn to Ebay. I found a cheap listing for the game and snapped it up. It's used, of course, but just barely. The lady who sold it said they played it a few times and then it sat on a shelf. And that's just how it appears. Other than having been opened, it looks new and all the pieces are accounted for. I got a good deal, and Tres will never know the difference. That's why I'm including an out-of-production item in this list. There are tons of ways to pull out a nice Christmas on the cheap. Ebay is one of my many tools!
Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 and Accessories
Take the Cake ends the list of Christmas gifts I've secured for my kids so far. Towards the beginning of this article I said most of the items being discussed are for Tres. Having gone through the list, you can see that I wasn't kidding. What I didn't mention then was I haven't yet bought any Christmas gifts for Little Mama.
Nothing on her list for her has gone on sale or been offered with any discounts, but to include her in this article, I'm adding her birthday gift from us this year.
Last week we gave her a Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 and a lot of accessories for it.
It can be difficult to buy for Little Mama. She dabbles in a little of everything and doesn't ever ask for anything. She likes Barbie (see In Defense of Barbie) and little figures, but you can only have so much of that in one house.
Even when she was really young and asked to tell what she wanted for Christmas or her birthday, Little Mama would just say, "Toys!" She's still that way. You could give her just about anything and she would appreciate it. While that's a good character trait, it makes it hard to narrow down and decide what to get that she'll truly like and use.
I brainstormed for her birthday for quite some time, and then it hit me to get her a camera. She's always wanting to use our phones to take pictures, and I thought it might be a winner. I went with the Instax 9 because her cousin has one and hasn't destroyed it, which implies it's pretty hardy.
While shopping around for a good price (and, yes, I scored a Warehouse Deal), I found some accessories I knew she'd like. This kit appeals to her constant desire to draw and create.
She's also been saying she likes flamingos (which I'm certain is a passing fad), and she needed some sort case for the camera, so I got this holder. Notice it comes with even more artsy accessories and some special lenses.
The options for film are endless and overwhelming. You can get it in single packs or bundles. Then there are all kinds of specialty films to consider that also come in singles or bundles. Picking the film was the hardest part for me. I went with a regular film bundle from Wal-Mart, as it was the most economical option on the day I was making my purchase. I'm pretty sure the best buy for film will fluctuate from day to day and retailer to retailer, depending on what type of film you're looking for. With that said, I'll just let you do your own research in that area and not make any suggestions.
How did the camera go as a gift? Well, in short, fabulously. Both her dad and I received MULTIPLE thank-yous throughout the day, were repeatedly told how amazing we are, that it was the best present she's ever gotten, and it was her best birthday ever. Keep in mind this was said with no birthday party in the works, since we were (and still are as I'm writing this) expecting baby number four. More importantly, it is one of the most used presents she's ever gotten. She's constantly snapping a picture of somebody or something and then using the stuff from her accessory kit to decorate the picture or put it in her scrapbook.
And with that, I conclude this Christmas in July list. Maybe you've been struck with a few ideas for your own kids and/or some tips on how to do Christmas on the cheap(er). As always, I'd love your thoughts, so leave a comment or two!
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