A Newlywed Christmas {Plus budget-friendly ideas}

It’s our first Christmas season as a married couple, and I’m up at 6am unable to sleep. We’ve been very happily married for six months, and we look forward to many more. However, foraging our way as a new couple and a new family together in this tradition-laden season is difficult! I don’t think I fully knew just how plain weird it would be!

On the other hand, it is also just plain fun. Making new traditions, hanging out with friends, and visiting family are all wonderful this time of year. In addition, my husband is an expert at “lemons to lemonade” circumstances, and we came up with some great Christmas gift ideas that saved us quite a bit. While we’re paying off our college loans and saving for the future, it’s important to work within a tight budget.


Here are some of our strategies for a budget-friendly Christmas:

  • DIY Decorations – I love crafting. We have saved quite a bit of money by making our own decorations instead of buying new. I made our Fall door wreath with $1 fake flower stems and a 40% off basic wreath from Hobby Lobby. The same thing would be cute as a gift for a friend’s home.
  • Hand-Me-Down or Secondhand Decorations – My grandmother gave us a huge tote full of decorations she was not going to use. We sorted out what we could see ourselves using in the next five years and donated the rest.
  • DIY Wrapping – It amazes me how much wrapping paper and other gifting accoutrements cost. We had rolls of brown kraft paper left over from our wedding that I used as wrapping paper this year. I had purchased “Fall” ribbon for 75% off at the end of November and I used it to tie bows around our gifts. (I have also used the comics page of the newspaper to wrap gifts before.) I wrote the recipient’s name on the kraft paper itself with markers. For gift bags, I cut out the image from the front of used Christmas cards and hole punched it to make a tag. Then I wrote the recipients name on the other side and tied it to the bag with ribbon.
  • DIY Gifts – I bake, cook, knit, and write. What better time to put my talents to use than at Christmas? In the past, I’ve done mini banana bread loafs in cute cellophane wrappers. This year, we made my dad chocolate- and butterscotch-drizzled popcorn. It was inexpensive and he loves it.
  • Secondhand Gifts – I know it sounds a little tacky to buy used gifts, but here me out. There is a very nice secondhand bookstore in our area that stocks high-quality books, audiobooks, DVDs, musical instruments, children’s toys, etc. Many of the items are new and the others are gently worn. We were able to find brand new and like new items at this store for a fraction of the cost! They also have a teacher discount, so we were able to save big. There is a wide selection, so it was not shopping only the latest trends either.
  • Free Shipping – Finally, always use free shipping. I signed up for an Amazon Prime account free trial just for the holiday season.  Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial. Anything we weren’t able to find elsewhere for cheaper, I ordered from Amazon.  We did pay for shipping for one item because it was supporting a small business that did not offer free shipping. It was worth it.
  • Start Early – It may too late now, but remember this for next year: If you shop for Christmas around the year, the toll it takes on your December paycheck will be minimal.

I firmly believe that Christmas is about the thought, the care for each other, and the celebration of our Savior… Not about the money spent. With a little bit of planning, our first newlywed Christmas is not going to put us into debt. I’m so excited to be celebrating this season with my sweet husband.

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Take a Hike!

Hi, you’ve reached a post from the archives of Grace Upon Grace Today! Last Updated: June 21, 2017. I am now happily married to the “boyfriend” in this post! Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to look around.

In one session of my recently-completed Christian counseling, my counselor M and I discussed appropriate coping mechanisms. She asked me to share what was working for me (as well as what was not working). At that point, winter was fading fast and we were seeing highs in the 70s and 80s. I mentioned that I had been going on walks: around the neighborhood, around the lake, and that I was loving it. M brightened at this. She told me that both the back and forth movement of alternating left foot, right foot, left foot, and moving the body forward help not only to improve creativity and creative thought, but also to relieve anxiety.

Is it any wonder then that I love taking walks and going on hikes with my boyfriend?

Take a Hike with someone you love! | Date Idea from Grace Upon Grace Today

We’ve been dating for almost one year, and we’ve been hiking basically since the beginning. In fact, for our very first date, J took me to the state botanical gardens, which is full of beautiful flowers, plants, and a couple easy hiking trails.

We’ve spent other dates walking the paths of local parks, ambling beside rivers, visiting waterfalls, and climbing mountains of various sizes. I love it. Not only does this give us a chance to try new things together, but it gives us a chance to talk. That’s something a date to the movies just can’t do.

Most of our relationship has been long distance, and unfortunately, there is a lot of stress, fear, and uncertainty that comes with long distance relationships. It’s hard not being able to go for an impromptu ice cream date on a bad day. It’s difficult to make it through challenging situations when Skype dates are as close as you can get. For that reason, I would urge new couples to consider the pros and cons of long distance before signing up for it. On the other hand, being long distance has taught us a lot about communication and has made our time together that much more special.

If you have been in a relationship or a marriage for very long, you’ve realized that sometimes it takes creativity to solve problems and reach compromises. When possible, J and I try to save important conversations for our in-person dates, because we’ve found that when we can walk together, we can come up with more creative ways to work through situations. Just as Steve Jobs brainstormed ideas for Apple while walking, we can brainstorm ideas for our relationship.

A final word about hiking dates: They are usually free! Bring a water bottle, maybe a picnic lunch, and you’re all set. We have been to local city parks, state parks, natural waterfalls, a botanical garden, and even an abandoned railroad tunnel, and very few of them charge for admission.

So go take a hike with someone you love!


This post has been submitted to the Summer Date Ideas blog round-up by Susannah Kellogg at Simple Moments Stick.

Lessons in Love from My First Year of Teaching

Education is figuring out what works for individuals.

My mentor teacher sent this one sentence reply to one of my long emails detailing a strategy I used with one child’s particularly difficult behavior. I found this statement to be true throughout the remaining months of my first year of teaching out of college.

Lessons in Love from My First Year of Teaching

During an “exit interview” of sorts, my principal explained that it takes 3-5 years for new teachers to master their behavior management techniques. Most new teachers leave the field of education in the first five years because they struggle with behavior management. (New teachers also leave for two other significant reasons: 1. There is so much else to do besides teaching that they feel overwhelmed; and 2. Administration or co-workers are not supportive.)

My principal told me that once I feel confident and secure in my behavior management, I will get new students who throw the entire system out of whack. Jaded teachers often say that it must be the chid’s fault that the system isn’t working. Successful teachers acknowledge that they are getting paid to find a solution that works for each child. And then they go find one and use trial and error adjustments to make it work.

Successful teachers reflect and attempt and adapt and adjust and try again because children and hope and future and love matter…

Love. Is that not why I became a teacher in the first place?


Yesterday was the last day of my first year of teaching, and I found an excellent post about marriage that ironically correlated with teaching in one amazing aspect: both are based on love. In this recent post, Ann Voskamp wrote these three earth-shattering statements:

Marriage is a commitment meant to form us, not a commitment you enter only once you’re convinced you’re finally formed.

Marriage is something that we learn, like the way we learn our mother tongue.

Whenever you want to rant, it’s your cue you need to make a request.

First, Marriage is a commitment meant to form us. I have already seen that in my dating relationship. Yes, I love my boyfriend. He loves me. But we also love Jesus. And Jesus is not content with us not going anywhere. The Christian life is about growth (albeit sometimes slow) and change (as much as I hate it) and sharing (despite my introversion).  Proverbs says that “a friend sharpens a friend” and that could very easily be a significant other of any type doing the sharpening.

“Sharpening” can take any number of forms… But it usually hurts. It hurts when I have chosen a selfish alternative to love and then my boyfriends calls me out on it. It hurts when a colleague asks me to talk with him/her about a poor decision I made. It hurts when I have neglected relationships with my family members. Despite the hurt, it is good to be becoming a new person in Christ. Think of justification versus sanctification. Justification is the immediate salvation that saves a person from Hell and into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sanctification is the continual process of salvation that molds a person to be more like Jesus. I have been told that marriage is one of the most difficult things anyone will ever do purely because of the significant amount of sanctification that occurs if we will be humble enough to let it sharpen us.

Similarly, a successful teacher reflects on previous experience and adapts his/her practice to see what might work better next time. He or she is constantly undergoing reflection and adaptation, becoming a better teacher along the way. The reflection process is often painful, but we can use it to form us personally and professionally.

Second, Marriage is something that we learn. I feel that the connection to education is so apparent here. A person cannot and will not learn how to be a successful teacher by sitting in some college classrooms and taking notes. A person cannot learn by watching  videos of good teachers or by observing real classrooms. A person cannot truly learn how to be a successful teacher by doing some practice lessons or even twelve weeks of Student Teaching, either. It takes years of hands-on practice as a teacher to truly become a successful teacher.

Likewise, a person cannot and will not learn to how to be a successful marriage partner by sitting in some sermons or conferences or reading some books. A person cannot learn by observing successful marriages or by talking with successful wives and husbands or by dating for a while or even by living together before marriage (playacting is not good practice!).

Pause. Am I saying that any of those things are bad or wrong? No. Those are great things! Read all the books and attend all the seminars and observe all the successful people – for both teaching and marriage! But remember that those things do not a successful marriage make. A successful marriage (and a successful teaching career) are based upon practical practice. I have learned to start practicing essential skills while dating (listening strategies, how to apologize, how to forgive, ways to show appreciation), but there is no true way to practice actual marriage until, well… Actual Marriage. It’s something that we learn. And we learn how best to do it through practice. Lots of it.

Third, Whenever you want to rant, it’s your cue you need to make a request. This is one of the things that Ann Voskamp learned during her marriage. When you want to rant (or choose a ranting alternative, like stonewalling or avoidance), make a request instead. She gave the example of ranting versus requesting that her family put away their shoes in the mudroom. Problems can be solved so much more easily by asking politely and encouragingly than by ranting about how No one ever puts their shoes away! 

I see this in my dating life. When I acknowledge something that I need from my boyfriend, I get his attention by touching him. My boyfriend is huge on physical affection, so I can put a hand on his knee or his shoulder to get his attention. Then I ask for what I need. I don’t put down, use extremes, or get overly emotional. Here are some examples of two negative responses and one positive response if I wanted my boyfriend to call on his way to work.

  • Ranting: “Why do you never call me on your way to work? It makes me so angry! You can’t remember anything!”
  • Avoiding would be to not mention anything (or to fall silent on the phone when he asks if you want him to call when he’s on his way to work). And usually this is followed by becoming super emotional and overly disappointed when he doesn’t call.
  • Requesting: “Could you call me when you leave for work? It would be really important to me.”

Since most of our relationship is long-distance, I’ve learned that when we’re on the phone and I can’t touch him to get his attention or to signal importance, I can use a key phrase: “This is very important to me” or “It’s important to me that you….”. This is huge. Sometimes men need a little announcement; they aren’t usually good at reading between the lines.

This all to say that I’m finding what works for him and for us. He is doing the exact same thing. He has learned how I react when I’m upset or stressed and he finds ways to react that are helpful and not upsetting to me. We are both learning how to request instead of ranting or avoiding. This not to say that we have it all figured out. I have used all three of the responses above multiple times to varying levels of success. But I am learning.

Just as successful teachers use trial and error, research, and observation to figure out what works for their students, so successful significant others use those techniques in their relationships. When we are excited about a new relationship, we use these techniques and observe things about our significant others without realizing it, but when our relationships don’t quite fit into the “new” or “exciting” categories, we may struggle to note them. For example, I know that my boyfriend likes peanut M&Ms, looks good in green and blue plaid shirts, and has an awesome tie collection. I know that his love languages are physical touch and words of affirmation and I know that he is a huge extrovert. We’ve been dating for almost a year, and I’ve observed, researched, and experienced those things because our relationship is comparatively new. However, it took some digging to realize that my seventeen year old brother loves Grumpy Cat memes because he’s seventeen and I don’t live at home anymore, but now that I know, I send him some occasionally because that is one way I can contribute to our relationship. (He sends me some back, too!)

In both teaching and in our personal relationships, we are called to be consistently looking for ways to fully love the other person. In teaching, this is demonstrated through intentionally meeting the needs of our students educationally and often personally as well. In relationships, this is demonstrated through learning how best to show love to our significant others in ways that they will receive well as well as learning how to manage conflict in our relationships in ways that benefit the relationship instead of tear it down.

It’s amazing what completing one year of teaching has taught me. Do you have any lessons from this past school year, this past year out of college, or your current relationships that you’d be willing to share? Comment below!