If you’ve ventured into a store recently, you’ve no doubt been assaulted by Halloween decorations. Which is fine, it is almost October. But if you continued around to the other side of the display, you may have also been confronted by Christmas decorations. That’s right, the holiday shopping season has begun. In fact, my Joann’s mailer already has Christmas decorations at a discount! So, apparently, the holiday discounting season has also begun.

It’s tempting to just hide your head and wait until December when it feels like Christmas. (As I write this, it is 85 degrees outside. I don’t live in Australia, so that’s definitely not Christmas weather. Although, I live in Los Angeles, so I guess it could be. But I digress.)

Create Your Gift List Now
Don’t hide your head. Take action. Determine your holiday budget now, before you’re swayed by all the commercials, temptingly wrapped “stocking stuffers”, and the spirit of generosity. If you do it now, you can be realistic.

Then, with your budget firmly in mind, create the list of gifts you’ll be giving people, along with a dollar limit. I usually wait until Thanksgiving to ask what my younger cousins want, but I know the budget way in advance, so when they tell me this year’s gift card request I can purchase one in that amount. (My cousins are teens and tweens. They want gift cards, not toys.)

If you’re planning to buy any big ticket items, start scouting out sales now, but wait to buy until the Black Friday and pre-Black Friday sales start, because that’s when you’ll see true deals. Scouting now will help you get an idea of what a great price is. No, you won’t score an iPad for $100, but you might get a great deal on an Android tablet come Thanksgiving.

Keep an Eye Out for Gifts
As you’re out an about, keep an eye out for gifts on your list. Once you’ve bought them, do not keep shopping for that person just in case you find something “better.” Better usually means more expensive, or extra. Be firm with yourself. Being generous doesn’t mean you have to go into debt.

Start Making Gifts Now
Many people have the intention of making gifts, which is great and affordable, if you start now (except for baked goods.) If you wait until December to start making gifts, you will probably find yourself among the last minute holiday shoppers because the gift isn’t ready in time.

These days, quality furniture is easy to find and it doesn’t have to be expensive. I tend to steer clear of the lowest quality furniture, such as the pieces found at Living Spaces and stores like it, but if you look carefully, you can find local stores that sell decent furniture at a decent price.

Where to Find Affordable Furniture
Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Room & Board, and Crate & Barrel make lovely furniture, but at $4000 for a couch, it’s not within my budget. Instead, I found a local place that makes knock-offs of their furniture for a quarter of the price. Sure, I had to deal with a random pirate-themed store and drive 30 miles to choose my furniture, but I also chose the style, size, fabric, leg style and color, arm shape, and number of cushions for $700. It could have been more, but the fabric I chose wasn’t very expensive. I got faux leather (it’s a fabric) for $1000. Compare that to $8000 for leather couches at some stores.

If you live close enough to a major metro, consider stopping in their warehouse district for deals on things like rugs, tables, and chairs. I visited downtown LA recently and scored two rugs for $240. (Bring cash and you’ll get an even better deal. The sale may not be reported, but that really isn’t your problem.)

Consider Coupons
Believe it or not, some furniture stores do offer coupons. Check the ValPak or MoneyMailer envelope that arrives in your mailbox. During the slow season, I found a coupon for $500 off at a local sofa store. I’ve actually bought furniture there before, and it was good quality. The coupon was during one of the slowest parts of the economic recovery, so that may be one reason, but I’ve also found coupons for furniture stores on Groupon, Living Social, and similar sites. There are coupons to be had if you look carefully.

Won’t Cheap Furniture Wear Out Faster?
Yes, probably. I don’t expect my $700 sofa to last as long as a $4000 sofa, but I don’t necessarily want it to. I have three cats. I’m hoping to have a baby. My friends and family have young children. Those three factors combined mean that my sofas and rugs will be trashed long before the cushions wear out! I did Scotchgard everything, but cat scratches, spit-up, and ground up crackers will eventually wear down the couches. And then I’ll replace them. Maybe my taste will have changed by then, so it will be nice to make a change without worrying about the money I spent.

If I were single, didn’t want kids, and had no pets, I would probably be willing to spend more on furniture, but cheap furniture gives me peace of mind. I want to enjoy my furniture, not worry about stains and wear.

 

As the summer winds down, it’s time to report in on my garden. To be honest, it was a lot more failure than success.

Tomatoes
My tomato harvest was 2 Red Reif Oxhearts and about 15 Isis Candy cherry tomatoes. The third plant grew tall and green but did not produce a single piece of fruit. All three were heirlooms, and apparently this was a bad year for heirlooms in California. Almost all of my friends who grow tomatoes had poor harvests this year.

Potatoes
I planted 2 pounds of potatoes and harvested about 6 pounds. Not a bad haul, but I can’t store them properly in my Southern California house! I’m going to try planting some late fall starts to see if they do better. I’ll stagger the planting so that my harvest is also staggered.

Carrots
I couldn’t get these going. Every time I planted another batch, we had a heat spike that killed the seedlings. So, again, I’ll try in the fall.

Lettuce
The lettuce seeds didn’t work – the heat spikes got them, too. But the seedlings I bought produced quite well. The lettuce was on the bitter side, but it was plentiful.

Onions
I bought onion starts for these and they did well. I bent over the stalks a bit too soon, so some didn’t get quite as large as I would have liked, but they loved my garden.

Peppers
I had to buy a seedling, which quickly produced two peppers. They got sunburned before they got big enough, but the plant has tripled in size and has lots of flowers ready to go.

Strawberries
I’m getting lots of strawberries, but they’re tiny. No bigger than a raspberry! I think they need a sunnier spot.

Herbs
I had to buy seedlings for all the herbs.  Basil did great, as did oregano, sage, and mint. Chives are out of control! Rosemary didn’t make it.

Challenges
I had several challenges. The first was that I started too late for seeds My region rarely has freezes, so I can’t go by “last freeze” advisories. Instead, I will start my seeds an appropriate number of weeks before the spring equinox and plan to plant then, or whenever the Farmer’s Almanac recommends. By the time I planted, it was too warm and I couldn’t keep the soil moist. I will also by clear plastic shoeboxes from the dollar store to put over the seedlings as mini greenhouses.

The second was heat. We had a relatively mild summer, but every time I started plants, we had a heat wave with a week of temps over 100. Not good for my new plants.

The third was water. I didn’t set up a watering system. Instead I used a watering can to water three times a week. I think I will install a bubbler system and set it to run at a low bubble for an hour every four days. That’s infrequent enough for tomatoes, and frequent enough for everything else.

Despite the failures, I really enjoyed gardening this summer. It only took about ten minutes a day, at the most. My box system looked lovely and made it easy to maintain. I turned a spiral notebook into a garden journal and will refer to it next year when choosing plant spots. I may rotate some things, but because it’s easy to just replace the soil in one box, it won’t be as necessary.

If you gardened, how did your garden fare?

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