The holidays are a tough time of year for many, between regular obligations and the Christmas season, it seems every dollar we earn is spent…and then some. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get through the season without the financial stress and still enjoy it? Here are 27 ideas to help you create Christmas Spirit without breaking the bank. They might not all work for you, but they are worth considering.
First things first, Consider your Mindset. Make Christmas about connection, not gifts. Make it about family time and happy thoughts. Ask anyone around you, right now, what their favorite gift was last Christmas. Can they tell you? What about the Christmas before? So often we put so much emphasis on just the right gift to give, when we really only need to be thinking about our loved ones and letting them know how much we care.
But before we can truly focus on just being here, right now, we need to change our mindset. We need to appreciate the people in our lives and what matters most. If we make the season about connection, we will avoid a great deal of the stress and heartache that comes with overspending and generally overdoing it all the way around. Here’s your list of questions to ponder:
What matters most to me this season?
Will my kids (grandkids, spouse, etc.) be truly disappointed if we don’t over do it?
What can I really afford?
Is there something I can acquire that will last more than just the week of Christmas and be appreciated?
What can I bring to the table that is uniquely me?
Mindset matters in all things, if you have to prep your family for a slimmer Christmas than in the past, do that. But don’t apologize, explain that every day we make the best choices for our family, the choice you have made this year will have long-term benefits for the family. Then stick with it. Connection before commerce, don’t buy your way in to their hearts.
Next to remember, Stay out of the stores on Black Friday.
Department stores are set up to lure you in with a great sale on one item on your list. They count on you not sticking to your list, on Black Friday becoming an event, an opportunity to knock things out. They set up more impulse buys for you to splurge on, and before you know it, you’ve blown your budget and your list isn’t even dented yet.
This year is going to be different. Set a rule and have everyone buy in to it. No shopping on Black Friday. Even better, make it a NO SPEND day – at all. Knock the temptation right out by not entering any market – no fast food, no grocery store, no department store, certainly, no superstore. Plan your day ahead of time. Pick something to do instead of shopping.
The day after Thanksgiving is a great day to #getoutside. Spend some time in nature, take a walk, go to the mountains, the beach, whatever is special in your neighborhood, enjoy the great outdoors. The weather doesn’t have to be perfect, in fact, sometimes, it’s more fun when it’s not. Get outside and breathe some fresh air.
Plan your day around leftovers and card games; books to be read, go to the library, maybe start decorating for Christmas. Whatever you do, avoid shopping, avoid looking at the ads, and don’t read all those emails…they’ve already started and will go on through Cyber Monday. No lightning deals. Let it all just wait. Christmas music has started, go ahead and start listening while you do something besides shop.
These first two tips are the most important. The rest are things to do instead of gifts. Things that bring connection, that help you to find joy in the season. If church is your thing, incorporate that too. But for the rest of the list, write it down and cut all the list in to separate items for your Christmas jar. There is enough for every day and even extras if you want to do more than one thing a day. If there is something you don’t want to leave to chance – select that first.
Most of all, enjoy the season. Be patient, be kind and don’t blow your budget. Use the holidays to teach good manners, to be your best self. Don’t overdo any of it, it’s going to be the best Holiday Season ever!
So you’ve decided you have to buy some things, but it’s still not really in your budget, here’s some ideas on where to find some extra money to spend.
Sell things on Craigslist or eBay that you don’t need. We all have stuff in our closets and garages that isn’t being used. Take your pictures, get it posted and sold. Don’t price it too high, there’s probably someone in the same boat you are that could use a little discount. And don’t wait too long, if it would make a good Christmas gift, put it up around Black Friday. If it is just something useful – get it sold before then while people might have a budget for it.
Another idea is to take a second job. Can you stock shelves? Work the mall? Cut firewood? There are lots of temporary jobs that are available because of the season, if you’ve got time and really want to buy that something special, go to work. If spending time with your family is more important, consider the time you’ll be away from them for that special item. Is it worth it?
If you just can’t see Christmas coming this year, it’s ok to reach out for help. Sign up with your local charity so the kids get something special. Just be sure to do it early, waiting until December is too late. If you missed their deadline, there are still 27 things on the list you can do to brighten their season. Give your time, that’s what they want most anyway.
- Practice your faith
The whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ. If you have a base religion, perhaps this is the time to remind yourself what it is and get involved. Local churches often have a stepped up schedule during the season, find out what it is and go. Take the kids, teach them how to sit quietly and listen. Immerse yourself in the music.
If you already practice a religion, go the extra step. Commit to being part of the planning, getting the kids there.
If religion isn’t in your bubble, that’s ok too. We can still recognize the season is special. Find a way to be more kind to others, investigate how others celebrate, maybe ask a neighbor how they worship and get involved. New experiences are scary sometimes, but can be very fulfilling.
Whatever you choose to do on the faith side, approach it honestly and with an open heart. If it’s not your thing, no apologies, no guilt. Be you.
- Listen to Christmas music
There is all kinds of Christmas music. Country, rock, spiritual, contemporary, religious. Pick one, pick all of them. Expose everyone to everything. Do you have a favorite? Share that with your family. Do you have a story that goes with it? Share that. That’s how you make connections by sharing what you know.
Last Christmas we went camping at Death Valley National Park. On Christmas Eve, we sat by the camp fire and listened to Sirius radio. We had tried all kinds of channels and finally settled on a spiritual station so that I could hear my favorite songs. Songs from my childhood. I told my husband, as soon as I had heard them all, I was going to bed. So we sat quietly watching the fire and listened closely.
O Holy Night came on, my all time favorite. When I was nine, we attended Midnight Mass at a small church in San Antonio, Texas. A soloist performed O Holy Night flawlessly, well, except for the nine year old singing along from the sidelines. I had no idea it wasn’t for all of us to sing!
When my son was in high school, he was looking for a solo to sing at our local Christmas Tree Fantasy. We had an old 45 of O Holy Night and a turntable. We recorded it and he sang. About the sixth time through the record, we realized the 45 was horribly warped, he suffered through it and sang it A Capella the next day. A beautiful memory for me.
My second favorite is Mary did you know? The A Capella version done by Pentatonix is my favorite, but any version I’ve ever heard is spiritual.
The last song we were listening for was Carol of the Bells. As a child, my parents had one Christmas album, it was called Joy and had a green cover. Almost all of it was instrumentals, but we listened to it faithfully every season. Carol of the Bells was my favorite song. I’ve heard it done with instruments, with voices, however it’s done, it always impresses me.
Think about the tunes that mean the most to you. Seek them out, find a version or two and compare. Play your kids favorites, ask your parents what theirs are. Make music a part of the season. Even if it’s Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
- Christmas lights
One of the most beautiful parts of the holiday season is the lights. Whether they are on the tree or on a house, in a store window or at a community display. Everyone loves lights.
Decide if putting up lights is on your agenda. If it is, do it early, enjoy them for as long as you can. It’s a lot of work, you might as well enjoy it. We have a friend in Phoenix who puts up over a million lights each year. That’s right. One million! He sets them all to music and is regularly featured on the local news for his display. It’s beautiful. He also starts putting up the lights in September to get it all done. That’s commitment.
Do you have someone in your community who puts in a great effort? Take the kids, go watch the display. Find the local Candy Cane Lane, you know, the neighborhood where everyone participates. Is there a local park that has lights displayed, go there. Pick a night and enjoy. Pop some popcorn to take along. Put some Apple Cider in a thermos, or some hot chocolate. Pack some blankets in the car. Make it an event, not just a ride in the car. Celebrate the lights, and if they ask to go again, go, it’s time spent together.
- Christmas cookies
What’s your favorite Christmas cookie? Is it sugar cookies with frosting, do you like pumpkin cookies, pinwheel cookies, date cookies? There are so many beautiful Christmas cookies that only seem to be made during the season. What kind are you making?
My favorite were always my mom’s fudge oatmeal cookies. They’re a no-bake cookie, just heat it all and drop. The worst part is, I can’t make them! I’ve tried dozens of times with no luck. The best part, my daughters can make them, and they do, just for me.
Cookies are so much more than the act of baking. Baking engages all the senses. It’s time together, it’s time planning, it’s time in the kitchen, it’s time decorating, and it’s time enjoying. Spend some time getting it all together and bake some cookies with the kids. Let them mix, decorate, serve. Don’t worry about the result, as long as there was some laughter and fun, you’ve gotten (and given) the best gift.
- Ugly Christmas Sweater
Ugly Christmas sweaters are all the rage. In my work days, we wore them to work regularly, now they are designed to be made fun of. That’s ok, it allows some creativity.
So, where do you start? Make a plan with the family, those that are old enough should be allowed to create on their own. Spend some time talking about ideas. I recommend going to the local thrift stores for your base sweater. You may even find one already decorated (probably came from my closet a long time ago.) Then embellish, you can use any and all craft supplies. Pipe cleaners with pompoms make great antlers, red rubber balls for noses; ribbon can be sewn on for trees and such. Help with the sewing and hot glue gun work. Make it creative, set a deadline and everyone wear it for a party. Maybe invite some friends over and do a red carpet reveal of the sweaters. Make sure everyone knows that laughter is the goal. No one will be made fun of, but laughed with for a great job done. Don’t forget to take pictures.
If you need inspiration, go to Pinterest and see what you can find there.
- Christmas movies
There are so many Christmas movies, some TV stations make Christmas movies their entire lineup for December. If you’re not up for someone else setting the schedule, make your own. How many can you watch this season?
For a list of great Christmas movies, Google is your friend. What’s your favorite?
I’m partial to It’s a Wonderful Life. When the kids were little, I’d put it on after they went to bed on Christmas Eve and finish wrapping gifts, or assembling toys while I watched the movie. I never failed to cry when the bell rang and Clarence got his wings.
My other favorite Christmas movie is While you were Sleeping. In fact, it’s my favorite movie, it just happens to have a Christmas theme.
Whether it’s Charlie Brown or Rudolph; one of the many Lifetime movies, Miracle on 34th Street or one of the above. Take time to cuddle together and watch, let the Christmas spirit invade your house. If you’re feeling especially creative, film your own version and celebrate even bigger.
- Christmas puzzle
I like puzzles because they take time. Time you can spend together doing something. Do you have a Christmas puzzle? Maybe the local market has an inexpensive one you can set up and work on. If you haven’t puzzled in a while, be sure you start with the edges.
But what if you can’t find one, can you make your own? Here’s a way to do just that. Find a Christmas poster, mount it on thin cardboard or cork. Think shirt box thickness. You can use any old glue to mount it, just make sure it is secure in all areas, no gaps in the glue. Turn it over so the picture is facing down and draw the cut lines on the back. It doesn’t have to be in the fancy pieces you usually find in a puzzle, it could be in squares and work just fine. After you’ve drawn it, use an Exacto knife to cut out the pieces. Mix them up and get back to work putting the pieces in the right places. The smaller the children, the bigger the pieces should be. When you get it all together again, you can use Mod Podge on the front to glue it together and hang it up for the season as a reminder of your good times together.
- Christmas cards
Christmas cards should be a choice, not a chore. Always check the thrift stores for cards, I’ve bought them for $1 a box, even during the holiday season. If you don’t want to buy them, you can make them with the kids. Card stock is easy to find. Hand drawn pictures are a great decoration. If you have ribbons or stickers laying around, you can adorn the cards with those as well.
When you’re making your list, ask the kids who should be on it. Maybe they love their teacher, or their doctor. If there is someone special to them, include them. Addresses are easy to get, just message for them, or send to a work address. Everyone loves to get cards.
I send a little more than 500 cards a year, I cheat and do a photo postcard and have them printed by a local printer so they only cost a few cents a piece. No fancy finish, no online ordering. Remember, we are doing this to save money, not spend it. Postage will be bad enough. I send the cards because no one expects them, and for months afterwards I get thank you’s from those who received them.
You don’t have to go overboard, but reach out to those who matter to you and send them something from the heart. Be sure to sign them, that’s my only pet peeve is those that send cards without a live signature on them. Don’t be that person, put your John Hancock on them.
- Make something
Make something. Make anything. Create a decoration, an ornament, a Christmas tree or tree skirt. Decorate a pinecone, a lantern, make a wreath. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to become an heirloom. Just find something you think is cute and put it together.
Do you bake? Make a gingerbread house. Do you sew? Make a tree skirt Do you have mad skills with a hot glue gun? Make an ornament.
Decorate it, date it. Look for inspiration in the magazines at the library. Find something cool on a blog through Pinterest. Try to find something you already have the materials for, but if not, scavenge a little. Check the thrift stores, look for free stuff. Use recyclables. This isn’t a $100 project, this is a project to do with the kids. If it’s a Pinterest fail, make it worthy. Be able to laugh at yourself, use crayons and markers, use tools the kids can help with. If they are older, let them build their own project. This can take minutes, or days, you choose. Just be sure you work together.
- Cut snowflakes
No really, there is nothing easier than folding some white paper in to squares and making snowflakes. Kids love it, it makes great decorations and every one is different, just like in real life. If you’re not sure where to start, get some regular paper, standard 8 1/2 x 11 – it can be lined, it can have holes in it, it can be colored. In fact, you can use Origami paper, or recycled paper or old school work, any paper will do. Tracing paper is thin and easy to cut through.
Once you have your paper selected, fold in half; then fold in half again. Then fold one edge diagonally to the center, and fold it again the same way. It will have a pointy end. Make sure you folded exactly and crease your edges. Then you can start cutting. You can cut from either side, just be sure not to cut all the way across. When you have your cuts made, unfold. Tape them to the windows to create your own Winter Wonderland.
- Make snowglobes
Snowglobes are one of those magical experiences because they are interactive even after they’re made. Everyone likes to shake them up and watch it snow. You can easily make your own with just a couple of tools.
A jar (any kind, mason, baby food jar, whatever you have available.
Some small object or figurine; think pine tree, reindeer, snowman
Heavy duty glue, I use E6000, but other glues work well too
That’s all you need to put together, glue your object on to the lid of your jar, put glitter in the bottom of your jar, add water, screw your lid on – if you don’t want a future accident, glue the lid on to the jar. Flip it over and shake. Ta.da.it’s a snowglobe.
- Check out Christmas books from the library
Wouldn’t it be great if every night you read a Christmas book for storytime? This is a great way to celebrate the season, practice our reading skills and ensure good habits by reading. Your local library has all kinds of Christmas books, go ahead and check some out. If you have Amazon Prime, maybe load some free books on to your Kindle or Kindle App on your phone.
- Trade almost new toys with other parents
I always loved shopping for toys for my kids because each of the kids were so different. Some years I scored a home run and got them exactly the right toy, other years, not so much. It’s those not so much’s that give us opportunity. You likely have gently used toys and games in the kids closet, things they never really were in to.
Why not plan a play date with your friends that have kids of similar age and ask each to bring gently used toys and games that their children have outgrown or show no interest in. While the kids are playing, the parents can exchange for something that better fits the personality of the kids.
If something is missing pieces or parts, figure out how to replace them. There are tons of game pieces available at thrift stores, special game stores that you could exchange out and make the toy uniquely theirs.
No one said everything under the tree had to be new, just new to you.
14.Build a game board
Our goal this season is to connect, to spend time together. Don’t force it if someone is having an off night, but try to work on things together.
How about building a game board to replace one that has been folded too many times. Or even creating one that is for a brand new game. Kids love to use their imagination, let them design their own game board and name it.
Do you play Monopoly at home? Why not personalize a game board for your family. Use your local street names, places you visit together, make it your own. It takes a square sheet of plywood and some craft paint. Prepare the board by making sure it is a reasonable size, sand all the edges and if you want to paint it a base color, get that done. Then work together for the rest of the placements. Need circles on your board? Use a glass as your pattern; need rectangles, how about a deck of cards. Find objects around the house that fit the size you need and use those as patterns. If you intend to paint, use a pencil, or do it all at once with a Sharpie.
Way back when, we built a Trivial Pursuit board since that was our game of choice. This works great for all kinds of board games.
- Shop dollar stores, Target$section and thrift stores
I am not a regular Dollar store shopper, so I’m always surprised at what’s available when I walk in. There is so much in their thrifty aisles, the key is to only buy what you need. This is a great place to pick up stocking stuffers without spending a small fortune.
The Target dollar section is also fun, especially if you shop throughout the year for little items. Small things put together make cute gift baskets, especially if you need to shop for others outside your immediate family. Create a theme and put it all together. Always, always go to the thrift store for a basket, they have more than they can use. I never pay full price for a basket, after all, that’s just the wrapping, not the gift.
Thrift stores are a great place to shop for books and small appliances especially. Look for items that look new, know their retail price so you don’t overpay and give that. It’s totally acceptable.
- Research how other cultures celebrate, incorporate something new in to your celebration
No doubt your family has holiday traditions, but what about your neighbors, are theirs different from yours? Is there a country you or your kids are interested in that might have different traditions? How about a different religion, do they celebrate differently? Why not spend an evening at the library or online searching out just that question. Is there a piece that sounds fun to you, could you incorporate it in your own family fun? This doesn’t have to be work, it could be as simple as typing in “Christmas Traditions in ___” in your search bar and see what comes up.
Maybe you learn how other countries say Merry Christmas, maybe it’s about the trees or the lanterns, the parties, the gifts. Pick something that the family shows interest in and learn together.
- Wrap every little item.
One way to make gift giving look bigger is to wrap every gift, no matter the size. This includes the items in the stocking! The more unwrapping that is done, the longer the celebration. If you normally give the kids a new outfit, consider wrapping each piece separately. Make unwrapping a game, slow it down. Have each person open a gift with all eyes on them, while everyone else waits their turn. Slowing down the process will make the gift giving feel more special.
How do you slow it down?
Set a specific time to begin opening gifts – no earlier than X. In our house, no child could enter the parents room until 8 a.m. on Christmas morning. We then took our time getting up and ready for gifts. Coffee made, etc.
Put someone in charge of handing out the gifts one at a time. No one opens until it is their turn.
Make a point to take pictures as they open and display their gift.
Put someone in charge of cleaning up all the gift wrap before you get to the next gift. Kids love to have jobs.
After the first round, move to the second – same routine, pass out the gifts, an then take turns.
When all the gifts are open, move everyone to the kitchen for breakfast. Make them leave their gifts alone until after breakfast, it creates another level of anticipation and appreciation.
If you do stockings, this was always the one exception to Don’t touch anything until the parents are up! We always allowed the kids to grab their stockings when they woke up and take them to their rooms so they had something to do while they waited for the magical 8 a.m.
- Take a holiday photo
Holiday pictures can be fun. Do you have a special place that spells Christmas spirit to you? Get everyone together and do some pictures. It doesn’t have to be professionally done, Santa pictures don’t have to come from the mall. Make your own, line up in front of the Christmas tree and take your own family photo. With a selfie stick or a good friend, you can have memories last forever. If you want to theme your picture, even better.
- Prepare a meal for someone who needs your support
How about a pot of chili or Mom’s famous Oyster Stew for a family that things aren’t going well. You already know how that feels,so why not reach out and share some love. Helping others is the best way to help ourselves and move away from our own problems. Throw some cornbread in and some cider to heat up. It doesn’t need to cost much to be a good friend.
- Make paper chains
Do you remember how to make paper chains? Strips of paper glued in to circles and chained together. When we were kids, we used construction paper, but any old paper will do. Remember you can reuse and recycle. Wondering where to get old magazines? Try your local laundromat or city library, they often have some they are giving away. Have some children’s books with pages missing? Use those. Just slice the pages and get some glue out. Think about where you want to hang your paper chains when you’re done…will they go in the windows, around the tree, on the mantle. There are tons of choices.
- Go Christmas caroling
Christmas carols are universal. They speak from the heart, you can find lyrics online, print them to share with the kids and sing along. You don’t have to have great voices, there isn’t a kid alive who doesn’t enjoy a noisy rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Share the joy of singing with your children. If you’re feeling good about what you know, walk down the street singing together, if you’re feeling really good, knock on the doors of your neighbors and sing to them. No obligations to anyone except to wish them a Merry Christmas.
If you can, invite some friends to come along, it’s a lot of fun with a dozen people singing together all the songs you’ve always known. A caroling night around a piano works well too, if the weather isn’t cooperating.
- Find free things in the community to do
Most communities have Christmas programs happening around them. Read the local paper to see what’s available to you. Elementary schools are a good place to look, local Elk’s Lodges, or other fraternity organizations. Is there a Christmas parade? Check out what’s available and experience the joy of being with others. Often they ask for a new unwrapped toy. Make this part of your budget. A $5 toy from the local Dollar Store or Family Dollar to be donated. It makes the kids feel great picking out something for someone with less than they have. Remember we are trying to find the Christmas Spirit without breaking the bank.
- Write letters to Santa
Writing letters to Santa is a great way to give insight to what your kids think about Christmas. It also gives you an opportunity to manage expectations. You see what they are wishing for and can temper extravagant wants down to realistic gifts. If you’ve been sharing your theory on what the Christmas season is about this year, it should be easy to get them to see things your way. What if you asked them to put in what they’d like someone else to get? That’s a great way to teach a child that someone else’s needs are bigger than theirs.
- Go to the library and check out holiday cookbooks
Do you have holiday recipes you enjoy or does the thought of cooking a holiday meal scare you. In a lot of families, that’s always been someone else’s job. So maybe it’s time to learn. Pick one dish that’s always been served and ask whoever usually brings it for the recipe. Can you make it at home?
If you don’t have family recipes to share, go check out some holiday cookbooks and find some things that look delicious. Try to match up the recipes to what you have in your pantry so the cost doesn’t run up. No foie gras here, just some good old fashioned fun. Everyone loves to spend time in the kitchen. Don’t worry about expectations, just cook for fun.
If the library isn’t your thing, although I’d recommend real cookbooks with color photos so the kids can enjoy too, go to Pinterest and look there.
- String popcorn
Did you already make paper chains? Why not add to them with popcorn strings. Pop popcorn on the stove – not microwave popcorn – don’t butter, don’t salt, you want it at dry as you can get it. Get out a needle and thread. Dental floss or fishing line works best for the thread, and string popcorn together.
You can color your popcorn if you’d like, just a few drops of food coloring in a plastic bag, drop the popcorn in and shake, shake, shake.
Hang your popcorn strings on the mantle, around the windows, or on the tree. If you want to feed the squirrels, hang them outside – just expect them to be stripped clean at some point.
- Make the house smell like Christmas
What smells do you associate with Christmas and the holidays?
There are so many ways to make your house smell Christmasy. Of course there are always scents you can buy, but since we are trying to work together to enjoy Christmas, what could we do together?
Gather pine boughs and make a wreath? Or you could have a live Christmas tree instead of an artificial one.
Bake sugar cookies, this adds that vanilla/sugar combination we all love.
Put apple cider on the stove and let it simmer at low to add a fresh scent in the air, adding cinnamon sticks really spices it up.
My favorite is to put whole cloves in to oranges and place in a bowl on the table. Both the citrus and clove make the house smell delicious. For added fun, add the cloves in a pattern so you gain a centerpiece too.
- Hot chocolate night
Everyone loves the idea of hot chocolate, even if they don’t drink it.
Why not put together some hot chocolate mix for your friends in Mason jars that you can give as gifts, add some mini marshmallows, tie on a candy cane and put a label on the jar that tells them how to fix it.
When you are done making jars, use one for your family so everyone knows just how great the gift is for others.
Twenty seven ideas, enough to get you from Thanksgiving to Christmas and keep you out of the stores (mostly). Enough ideas to keep joy in the hearts of everyone in your family without breaking the bank. Christmas is not about money and gifts, it is a season of love. Spend it with your loved ones without worrying about the after effects and your blown budget. You’ll be less uptight, they’ll have more fun, and you’ll create new expectations and traditions. Revisit us next year to remember the great times you had and which ideas you want to continue.