The Patented Tikhvinskoe Cheap Christmas Card Hack
This could be a super short post. I could simply say: “don’t send holiday cards because they are expensive and decidedly un-frugal.” But, as those of you who’ve been reading for a few years know, I’m a holiday junkie. I can’t get enough of festive tidings and yuletide trimmings and hall decking. And so, this post is not short.
Don’t Skip The Holidays… Frugalize Them!
Obviously the ultimate frugal approach is to skip the holidays. To simply pretend they exist not and eat beans out of a can in the dark while muffling the sound of sleigh bells in the snow by wearing a hat indoors because you refuse to turn your heat on. And that is certainly an approach one can take. I won’t judge you for it.
However, if you’re more like me and qualify somewhere along the spectrum of secretly (or not so secretly) wishing summertime would hurry up so that holiday season can start, then this story is for you. Far from skipping the holidays–or even celebrating them oh, I don’t know, “mildly”–Mr. Tikhvinskoe and I are fairly notorious holiday celebrants.
We love the coziness of fall, the hilarity of Halloween, the gratitude of Thanksgiving, and the divine midwinter festivity of Christmas. It’s a beautiful time of year and also a chance to just plain have fun. There’s no shame in doing things just because we enjoy them. As long as we’re able to keep our overarching financial goals in line, I think a bit of celebration makes for a well-rounded, fulfilling existence.
My goal in living a life of extreme frugality isn’t to scrimp every last penny. My goal isn’t to forgo spending on things I love in order to save a few more bucks. My goal is to spend only on the things that matter most to me and to acknowledge that I don’t need rampant consumerism in order to enjoy life. Hence, my approach to celebrating the holidays echoes this philosophy.
Mr. FW and I spend more money every November and December–on food to cook at home, on gifts, on electricity for our Christmas lights (indoors only though, can’t stomach the cost of outdoor!), and on… Christmas cards! Prior to our self-induction into the extreme frugality camp, I barely paid attention to how much I spent on holiday cards. I picked a gorgeous design, customized the card, and even bought sparkly stickers and paint pens to decorate the cards with (yes, I am five years old when it comes to crafting–both in skill and taste level).
Two years ago when Christmas rolled around, we were deep into our extreme frugality regimen. And so, Mr. FW and I had a serious discussion about whether or not to send cards. You might laugh about the fact that we had an in-depth conversation about mailing Christmas cards, but it’s actually a great illustration of how we manage our money as a team and stay on the same page with our financial goals. Our frugal autopilot approach means that every expenditure–no matter how small–is scrutinized. It’s how I avoid budgeting and instead adhere to the philosophy of spending zero dollars. Obviously I do spend money, but with this mindset, I’m not tempted to spend up to a certain amount, which is what budgeting encourages.
Postcards: The Frugal Option
Ok back to the cards. Pre-extreme frugality, I was easily spending over $120 on our card extravaganza between postage and the cards themselves. This, my friends, was not going to pass frugal muster. I took to the interwebz to sniff out a more financially tenable option. Lo and behold, it exists. And it comes in the form of a rectangle.
As I shared last year, the ultimate frugal greeting solution is the postcard. And not just any postcard, my friends, but the business postcard. Ok Ok, now I know you’re wondering why I’m advocating that you send out clip art of fax machines underneath a “50% off Sale” sign with your family name hastily scrawled in the corner with a ballpoint pen. I’m not.
Rather, I’m advocating that you start with what is known in the greeting card industry as a business/marketing postcard. From there, my frugal friends, you have complete artistic license to delete any and all fax machines and instead insert photos of your family reindeer (mine is pictured above).
How To Do This?
I use VistaPrint for my holiday cards and literally everything else I need pre-printed (business cards, wedding save-the-dates, birth announcements, etc). Why? 1) They are supremely cheap; 2) The quality is excellent; 3) They allow you to customize your cards with your own photos, text, fonts, and colors!!!; 4) Their shipping prices are totes reasonable; and 5) They allow you to download a PDF of your card for free (and without any weird watermarks), so that you can use it on your blog (maybe that’s only important to me… ). Huzzah! You can probably get a similar deal through other online card making sites, so search away. If you find a place that’s cheaper than VistaPrint, please let me know!
What I discovered in my quest is that, much like things labeled “wedding,” things labeled “holiday” are instantly marked up. Instantly, I tell you. Conversely, things labeled “business” are decidedly not. So, I clicked my way over to VistaPrint’s “Marketing Materials” section and then selected “Postcards” where–voila!–there’s a bevy of non-fax machine containing cards (I searched the “Holiday & Seasonal” sub-category). Now I’ll grant you, these designs are not quite as fantastic as their regular holiday cards, but they are completely serviceable and really quite cute. Plus, you can upload as many of your own photos as you want, so the postcard design itself is merely inconsequential background.
Is The Price Really That Different, Mrs. FW?
I am so glad you asked, oh business postcard doubter. Indeed it is. To whit, the cheapest, smallest “Holiday” card on VistaPrint is $4.99 for 10 cards. For a business postcard? It’s $4.99 for 50 (yes, FIFTY) cards. WHAT?!
Once you select your non-offensive business postcard holiday/seasonal design, simply delete all of the “50% Off” and “Grand Opening” text and instead insert your own “Happy Holidays From The Frugals” greeting. Upload your family photo and presto, you are set. Featured above and at right are the business postcards I designed last year and the year before.
Not bad, eh? As you can see, I supremely lucked out last year as I was able to combine Babywoods’ birth announcement with our Christmas card. Frugal score right there. This year I’ll again design a postcard for our festive tidings. I just have to get Frugal Hound and Babywoods to sit still long enough for a holiday photo… they both have Santa hats, just saying…
Postage and Envelopes: Savings Abound!!!
If the cost savings on the cards themselves wasn’t enough to convince you, there are two more glorious benefits of sending out postcards. Firstly, you don’t have to buy envelopes. This is time, paper, and money-saving: a triple boon! I used to pay separately for customized envelopes and then sit at the dining room table stuffing them (while stuffing my face with candy corn… ).
But with postcards, I simply print off mailing labels and stick ’em on. Since I customize the postcards, I print our return address on the cards themselves.
Secondly, postage! Did you know that postcard postage is cheaper than regular postage? Well, it is. I didn’t know this (because I never used to send postcards as part of my life), but it’s a solid fact. Regular postage clocks in at $0.47, while postcards can be mailed for a mere $0.34. Genius.
Take Your Own Photos
Ok this is not exactly related to postcards, but it is heavily related to saving money. Take your own holiday photos, people! And save beaucoup dough. I know that my photos are not as good as professional shots (not by a long shot), but they are just fine. Also, it’s not like I’m the Queen of England over here.
No one expects or needs my family holiday photo to be perfect. Heck, I don’t even have a professional headshot! Some things in life are OK being less than perfect… actually a lot of things… I once wrote about how perfection is the enemy of frugality and many of you responded that perfection is the enemy of most things–and you were right!!!! Our photos don’t look perfect, but the photos look like us and we, my friends, are not perfect.
Here are my steps for successful self-photography:
- Decide in advance what everyone will wear (greyhounds included). I find this cuts down on the melee of trying to get all participants dressed and ready at the same time.
- Test your backdrop and lighting. I take a few test shots of the background before populating it with family. This lets me know what furniture to move and which lights to turn on.
- Use a tripod (or otherwise set your camera on something–a shelf or table will suffice). We use a tripod we found in the trash. Yep, it’s a trash tripod.
- Take 1 million photos. We program our camera to take a bunch of photos at a time and end up taking well over 100 shots to get one or two decent ones.
- Check to see how the pictures look after the first five or so shots–this is how we discovered one year that the top of Mr. FW’s head was cut off (a hazard of being 6’2″).
- Edit your final photo selections. After the photo shoot, I wade through the pictures, select the best, and edit them. I boost color, eliminate red eye, airbrush out things like electrical outlets and cords, and crop out random pieces of furniture that accidentally jutted into the frame.
Don’t Fear The Holidays
Don’t fear the holidays as a frugal person. Embrace the traditions you love and spend money on the things that bring joy to you and your family. Look for opportunities to frugalize the season while still retaining the essence of what matters to you. Point in fact, holiday cards might be the thing you decide to skip in order to save money this year. As with most things in life–there’s a way to do the holidays frugally. It’s a common misconception that the holidays are inherently expensive, but I can tell you from experience, it just ain’t so (check out my holiday section for our frugal tips on everything from turkeys to trimmings). And remember, there’s a lot of freedom in accepting the imperfect and delighting in the homemade.
Do you send holiday cards? What’s your frugal strategy?
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