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smartmom baby's first christmas on a budget

Baby’s First Christmas on a Budget

Photo by Amanda Watters

I haven’t gotten this excited about the holidays in quite some time. Honestly, Christmas stopped being a big deal for me several years ago. I still look forward to it, of course, because it means seeing my extended family and participating in all kinds of fun traditions. But for some time, it just hasn’t had the same appeal it did when I was younger. But this year is my baby’s first Christmas, and I couldn’t be more excited!

As we look forward to this Christmas, what I am eagerly anticipating the most is seeing our five-month-old son’s reaction to all the twinkling lights, the festive music, and, of course, tearing open of his gifts. A baby’s first year is full of exciting milestones, and for many families, the first holiday season is one of them. For us, the hardest part has been not going over our budget. I recently decided to quit my “real job” to concentrate on building my photography business, and I can tell you that not having a steady paycheck has really impacted our Christmas spending! We’ve had to show some real restraint, and it hasn’t been easy, but if you’re careful and make smart choices, you can make your baby’s first holiday a wonderful one without breaking the bank.

My first bit of advice? Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make your baby’s first Christmas a huge deal, at least not materially. When you think about it, this is really a milestone for you. Your baby’s not going to remember much, but you will, so concentrate on making those memories special! Take time out from your preparations to spend with your baby. Sing some carols, read Christmas stories together, take them someplace with lots of pretty light displays, and create some new traditions you can share for years to come! None of these will cost you a dime, but their value will stick around a lot longer than any present you purchase.

While we’re on the subject of presents, do yourselves a favor and don’t go overboard with toys. You probably have friends and family who are going to shower your kiddo with more than you’ll know what to do with. Between now and the day when he or she leaves for college, you’ll have amassed a collection of children’s playthings to rival Santa’s workshop, even if you don’t purchase a single one yourself! Instead, choose one or two that you’d really like your child to have–maybe something educational like Baby Einstein, or some fun musical toys–and leave the rest to someone else. Trust me, they’ll more than cover it.

You can also consider getting toys or other more expensive items second-hand. If you’re not up for a trip to the thrift store, there are plenty of nice resale boutiques nowadays that specialize in baby items, so you can get gently used clothes and gear for a lot less than you’d pay in stores. Craigslist can also be a great resource, but be sure you are safe about meeting up with people you don’t know, and if it’s something with moving parts, try it before you take it home!

For the rest of your presents, choose practical things–stuff you were going to have to buy, anyway. Let’s be honest: the best thing about babies and Christmas presents is watching them tear off the wrapping paper! I’m pretty sure even they like that part the best, so give them lots to unwrap in the form of necessities. For us, that means some new cloth diapers, a couple of new sets of pajamas, and a high chair. It’s all stuff we’d have needed to get before our son reaches six months, which means it was already in the budget, but this way we get to watch him rip open the gift wrap first.

If you’re wanting to commemorate the holiday for the rest of your friends and family, consider some homemade keepsakes to help them remember. Salt dough ornaments are quick, easy, and cost literally pennies. Just mix ½ cup water, ½ cup salt, and a cup of flour together to form a thick dough. Roll it out like you would sugar cookie dough, and cut it into circles a little larger than your baby’s hand or foot. Then, press your baby’s handprint or footprint into the dough. You can add a message like “Baby’s First Christmas” or whatever else you’d like by writing in the dough with a toothpick. Then, poke a hole that’s about the diameter of a pencil in the top and bake the dough at 250° F for two hours. When the ornaments are done baking and cooling, you can leave them plain or paint them with acrylic paints, if you want to liven them up a bit. All you have to do to finish them is add a ribbon for hanging, and you have a delightful memento to give! And this recipe is enough for 10-15 ornaments, so you can save a couple for yourself, as well.

And speaking of mementos, make sure you chronicle your baby’s first holiday season with photos or video! Like I mentioned before, your baby isn’t going to remember much about it, but you’ll kick yourself if you forget to document it so you can share your fond memories with them in the years to come. If you don’t have a camera or a video recorder, consider borrowing one from a friend, or renting one. Heck, even a smartphone can take decent pictures and video these days, so capture every last moment and save it for posterity. You–and your child–will be so glad you have the ability to look back on these memories together!

Making your little one’s first holiday a special one doesn’t have to involve too much spending. You just have to get a little creative and recognize that the best present you can give your baby is a day full of joy and laughter, surrounded by loved ones. After all, that’s what the holidays are all about!

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smartmom christmas gift budgeting

Christmas Gift Budgeting: How much should you spend?

Photo by Ariele Alasko

Whether you’re a First Time Mom or veteran with three of more, budgeting your Christmas spending can be difficult.  You want to buy your child something special to show them how much you love them, but you don’t want break the bank.  We asked our SmartMom contributors how they decided to budget their spending this Christmas.  Take a look!

“My budget changes every year and I work hard to keep my spend for each of my kids around the same level. My kids each get one big item each year and then a few smaller gifts. I also limit how many things they can ask Santa for (no more than four). I’m a big bargain hunter, so I tend to watch the sales and specials like a hawk. When I see a good deal for one of the “big” items, I snap it up. The biggest item out of the three helps me set the spending limit with a little cushion for the smaller items.”

Angela Moore

“I always aim for quality over quantity for gifts — so your kids get three presents from us (a “big” gift, a toy and one other present), a stocking and a present from Santa. In deciding how much to spend, we always spend about the same amount on both kids — and then budget based on what our finances allow.”

Sarah Caron

“This year was cheap and easy for us! Our son is only four months old, so our list consisted of necessities and just a few fun, educational toys and books. Most of what we’re getting is stuff we would have bought anyway, like cloth diapers and clothes, but this way we get to watch him tear open the wrapping first!”

Christina Maki

“Our kids each get three gifts: Something they want, something they need, and something to be treasured (like a daddy/daughter date night, or a special homemade gift.) As far as how much money we spend- that totally depends on the year. For example, last year my husband was unemployed, so we spent next to nothing on Christmas gifts because we had next to nothing. However this year we’re living more comfortably and can afford to spend a little more. I think the key is trying to live within your means. Kids are so much fun to shop for, and it’s hard to stop once you’ve started! There are so many amazing sales going on this time of year and I just can’t resist a good deal! My advice? Snag things while they’re marked down, and then put them away to use as birthday presents! It saves money in the long run!”

Jamie Younker

“Our three children, ages four, three, and one, already have so much–toys practically spill out of their playroom.  Our theme for Christmas this year is simplicity.  I’ve come to learn that little ones really don’t need much to be happy.  This year, each child gets a total of five gifts; three from mom and dad and two from Santa with each gift costing around $10-$15.”

Nicolette McKinlay

“First we look at our budget – how things went for the year and how much we have to spend. When our kids were younger (infant and toddler) we spent less and bought more general toys and books (fewer of them). Now that they are Kindergarten and elementary school age, they have more specific interests, and we try to plan ahead and get significant gifts. Sometimes we try to spread it out and start in the earlier fall months so we aren’t spending a lot in just one month.”

Andrea Newell


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creating holiday traditions with your new family

Creating Holiday Traditions with your New Family

Traditions are, without a doubt, the primary touchstones of a family history. Creating Holiday traditions with your new family has to be a conscious, intentional decision to follow through on making the holidays special for your kids, no matter how young they are.  Whenever I think of my own childhood, the first things I always think of are the traditions my parents maintained as I grew up.

Listening to my dad reading a Christmas Carol every night for the week before Christmas.

Having a campout in the living room (tent and all) the night before Thanksgiving.

Seeing the Happy Birthday sign draped across the mantle the morning of each family member’s birthday.

Smelling the Irish soda bread baking early in the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.

These are the memories I cherish and the moments I share whenever I talk about my family or childhood. They are also the ones that make me smile when I’m missing my family the most.

Why Are Traditions So Important? 

In a world that is constantly racing to reinvent itself, traditions are the things that can be counted on. The things that make someone feel safe and secure with their family and loved ones. Without traditions, many people can feel lost and unsure of themselves when it comes to big moments. Traditions help make the special moments in life a true treasure to hang onto.

They are so important to my kids, that we have started our own tradition of adding a new tradition each holiday season. Confusing, I know. But my kids love it. Whenever we try or do something new and they really like it, I eventually get asked, “Can we make this a tradition every year?” It makes me feel good that they crave these repeatable, reliable moments with their family each year and it reminds me how important it is to have them on a regular basis for my kids.

When Should You Start Traditions?

I began to carry on the traditions of my childhood as soon as my oldest was born. She was only six weeks old on her first Christmas, but that wasn’t a reason for me to delay creating those special touchstones. I played the music, drove her around to see Christmas lights, watched the movies and read the stories. Many people might say, “Why bother? She’s so young it doesn’t matter.”

But it mattered to me. 

Today, when we put up our Christmas tree or read a special book, my kids tend to ask questions like, “How long have we been doing this?” And I can say with a smile, “For as long as you’ve been alive.” The wonder in their face at that moment is worth the effort. Trust me.

Another reason I started traditions with my kids so young was to train myself to follow through on them. I will confess that there have been a couple of traditions that I didn’t start at the beginning and all these years later I still haven’t made them a piece of our holiday routine. My oldest is ten now so you could say that I’m more than a little behind on it.

There will come a time when my children have grown and they move out of the house and the traditions that we have this year will be replaced with new ones and melded with others. That will be a time that will, truthfully, make me a little sad. But I’m also excited to see what traditions my children carry on in their own families.


Need to simplify the holidays? Here you go.



I would like opinions about how you ladies manage the holidays? My parents are divorced, my husband’s parents are divorced and we have divorced grandparents yet they all expect us to fit them in and usually they want us to see them on the actual holiday. It’s really hard for me to enjoy the day because it stresses me out so much trying to make everyone happy. I feel like my husband and I should be able to start our own traditions with our son & for others to be more understanding. Thoughts?

So every christmas my husband and I have the same argument. (This is our 3rd christmas with children) he always expects us to do presents in HIS childhood tradition. I’ve tried to compromise a little but when I put my foot down and try to get some of my own traditions in or even start our very own he acts all butt hurt. It makes the holidays no fun for me.

Anyone have to travel to spend holidays with your family? We usually spend few days before and Christmas Day with one family and then few days around New Years with other family. We are thinking of trying Christmas Day at our own house since they are getting bigger. Want to start our own traditions. Wondering what others do.

I know it’s a little ways out, but my SO and I have never been big fans of Halloween. Now that we have a 7m old we want to start traditions for all holidays. What are some traditions you do with your family for Halloween?

The holidays are around the corner and I would like to start a tradition with my son involving helping/giving to those who are less fortunate. He is two years old but is very understanding. We are far from rich but I grew up not having much and I want him to learn the importance of helping others and being humble. What are some ideas or things some of you ladies do with your LO?

“First Holiday Season with a baby (7mo) – How did you celebrate for the first time? Any traditions or things that you recommend that we do or start? I’ve already ordered an ornament with her birth details on it.”

What special holiday traditions do you all do? This Christmas is my first with my family in our own home so I’m excited and want to make it fun for my daughter!

Ok ladies I would like to hear anything you girls did in order to create lasting memories for your children or any special traditions or gifts I could do with/for my baby boy. I bought him a beautiful book called “love you forever” where I will dedicate so he can have it the rest of his life. Any ideas?! Thanks in advance and happy holidays.

Holidays are SOOOOOO MUCH HARDER now that LO is here!! Having to divide every holiday between each family! And it doesn’t help the SO’s family are split up so we have to go to 4 different places on each holiday! I just want to be able to start our own traditions! And if I don’t somehow find a way to make it to everyone it’s MY fault.

I’m upset because my fiancé’s family always gets together on every holiday. I think I’m somewhat jealous because my family isn’t like that. Maybe that’s why I hate going to his family gatherings, because my family never gathers therefore we never do anything with my family. It’s always his. I’m not the biggest fan of his family. I like them, I definitely don’t love them. I put up with them for sake of my relationship. I just wish we could start a few of our own family traditions.


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Find a Good Babysitter - SmartMom

How to Find a Good Babysitter

I can still remember the first time I left my baby with someone else.  She was eleven months old and my husband and I were going on a much-needed cruise.  I cried from the moment we pulled out of our driveway to the moment we pulled into the port, over 100 miles away.

We would be gone for 120 hours…five days, but every hour absent from her seemed monumental.  She was in great hands with my mother-in-law, but I felt like I was abandoning her.   I was the only one in the world who knew that when my baby girl tugged on her left ear, it meant she wanted her Lovey Bunny.  Only I knew the exact temperature her bottle needed to be and that she had an aversion to the color purple.

Keeping my overzealousness in check, I painfully waited 45 minutes to call and check on her.  To my amazement and chagrin, baby girl was not screaming, but cooing happily for grandma.  I was almost hurt by the fact that she didn’t seem to care I was gone.

However, once I shrugged off my sensitivities, I had a fantastic vacation, grandma got some special one-on-one time with her grandbaby, and everyone was safe and happy.  This experience taught me that not only is it okay to leave little ones with a responsible babysitter, but it is necessary in order to recharge your own battery and strengthen spouse relationships. My daughter is now four years old, and now has a little brother and baby sister.  Needless to say, we have mastered the art of finding a good babysitter.

Leaving your small children with a babysitter can be scary, especially for the first time. Here are a few tips to help you find a good babysitter for your family.

  • Get referrals.  Ask friends and family for babysitters that they trust and employ on a regular basis.  Ask for specifics on what they like about that particular babysitter.
  • Request an application.  Babysitting is a job, so don’t feel strange asking for applications.  Request basic information, previous experience, and references.  This way you can keep a file of sitters you like for quick and easy access.
  • Check references.  Don’t be afraid to call or meet with references listed on the application.  A conversation with another mom about a potential babysitter can tell you more than what is written on paper.
  • Interview potential sitters.  Once you’ve narrowed down a few prospects, interview them over the phone or in person.  Ask about their experience with children and what they would do if certain situations arose, such as choking, injury, discipline, etc.
  • Observe them with children.  The benefit about home interviews is that you can watch candidates interact with your children.  Are they playful?  Comfortable around children?   Observation can help give you that “gut feeling” when it comes to choosing a babysitter.
  • Babysitting training courses.  Look for individuals who have completed babysitter training courses, like this one offered by the American Red Cross.  Many local hospitals and YMCAs offer similar courses that cover child care safety, age-appropriate games, and how to handle emergencies.  Some even offer a 2-year certification in Pediatric First Aid and CPR.

Now that we have three children under the age of four, my husband and I need a regular date night.  Having a file of babysitters we know and trust makes it much easier to enjoy a night out.  If you do your research and put in a little time, you will find someone wonderful that both you and your children will come to love.


Can anyone recommend a good site to seek a babysitter?

Who babysits when you all go on Date Night? What sites are good to find a babysitter!?

I’m getting a molar extracted. Am I going to be on excruciating pain after the numbness wears off? I have a 22 month old and 5 month old to take care of. Wondering if I should enlist the help of a babysitter or will it not be that bad?

Looking for a babysitter in the Washingtonville area. Flexible hours. I will be returning to work April or May. Any info will help. Thanks.

I have a toddler son and I work and go to school at night. I live with my mom and she watches him while I’m at work/school. I hate the idea of daycare or babysitters. I’m not that trusting. I feel like I should be doing more to support my son because my mom helps a lot with money. Should I get over my fear of daycares?

I saw a girl at a park who was a babysitter and looked young (around 18) but very good with the kid. We need a sitter. She is cheap but doesn’t know CPR and my hubby doesn’t want her because of it. But money is tight so a really experienced sitter may charge a lot more.. I feel like interaction with the kid is really important and she was great. What do I do?

I live in Texas and I need a babysitter for my 2months old does anyone knows a good sitter? I am so apprehensive in leaving my baby with anyone.

I have a 6 week old baby and I go back to work soon on 3rd shift! I know this is the worst shift to work but right now I have no choice! I was wondering what would be a good price to pay for a babysitter?

What age do you mommas like your babysitters to be? Girls (we don’t have many boy sitters) around my area usually start babysitting around 12 , which I think is fine if the kids are a bit older (like 3+) but I think 15+ is a good age. What do you think?

We are wanting to switch babysitters and I’m wondering if anyone has advice on how to tell the current sitter that we are going to a new sitter. She is a friend of the family, but she just has too many kids and we know he’ll get more attention at the new sitter’s.Has anyone gone through this?

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