How do you do frugal holidays?

Jordann over at My Alternate Life wrote about a minimalist Christmas. Hers is out of both necessity (debt repayment) and general minimalist tendencies.

It got me thinking about the impending holidays and traditions therein.

As you may remember, we had a very frugal Christmas last year. This year, money is still tight with the in-laws. It’s not great for us either, since our car gave us the early Christmas gift of $1,500 in repairs.

So we’re definitely doing a redux this year. I want to raise a little, maybe to $30. Anything over $35 and we’re raising last year’s costs by half.

But beyond this tactic, how do you have a frugal holiday?

Obviously, the best way is to set a budget. Not exactly groundbreaking. The thing is it’s still pretty easy to get carried away — especially if you do your shopping early.

I think the best ideas would be to:

1. Keep a detailed list of what you’ve bought. Alternately, you can just separate your purchases by recipient.

When you get tempted to get just one more thing, go peek at your list or swag pile. You’ll quickly realize you’ve already bought plenty.

2. Set an item limit. Instead of just setting a budget — unless your budget is as low as our family’s — also set a maximum number of presents. The more you buy, the more likely that some of those items won’t get used. But if you can only buy three or four items, you’re going to make sure they’re actually what the person wants.

But that’s just the shopping side. Jordann gave some other fun suggestions for frugal holidays.

First up: gingerbread cookies. Me+ molasses is a recipe for disaster, if you’ll pardon the pun. But Betty Crocker has a gingerbread mix that I might look into.

More importantly, I miss making holiday cookies. It was a tradition that Mom and I did each year. Including the yearly swearing at the cookie press. (Seriously, you can never get it to work until you’ve wasted half a canister!)

Some butter cookies and, more importantly, peanut butter blossoms will have me in good holiday cheer. And probably stretchy pants.

Next: cheap holiday decorations.

I’m not going to make any of our decorations by hand, but we do things pretty cheaply anyway.

The tree is a must, in my book. We have a fake one, so no recurring costs and no pine needles to pick up.

Each year, it’s kind of an occasion. I put up all my ornaments — many of which are from my childhood tree. I still have ones from McDonald’s holiday promotions, like the mice from Cinderella. Still pretty adorable and now probably considered retro kitsch.

 Next: Donating/charity.

Jordann goes through her place and donates items not being used. We’re about to do a thorough cleaning of the house, so I’m betting on similar results.

Don’t forget Angel Tree, Toys for Tots and other similar programs. Stores like Kmart will have $5 board games off and on throughout the season. Toy cars also get heavily discounted. And there are plenty of plush animals free (or nearly free) with minimum purchases.

You get to exercise your frugal chops and make a kid happy. What could be better?

And finally,  remember the reason for the season.

All that careful thought and attention you put into buying and wrapping gifts? Done in under an hour. Probably significantly less.

So remember that the holidays are about more than gifts.

Whether that has religious implications or just means spending time with loved ones, it’s the best way to have a wallet-friendly holiday.


 How do you guys deal with the holiday spending bug?


  1. take_flight says

    A few years ago we had a very rough year, and I barely scraped together gifts. Since then, with 5 kids, we have adopted a different kind of Christmas. The years I shopped-til-I-dropped I always felt like I was missing that "Christmas-y feeling", and now that we concentrate on Christmas more than gifts, I have gotten that feeling back.

    We concentrate more on Christmas itself, what Christmas is all about. Jesus, celebration, food, cookies, music, the annual Christmas parade. The youngest is done shopping for first, gifts for small children are inexpensive. The 2 "twenties" get cash, (not a ton), and some small things. The 2 teens get 1 thing each that they REALLY wanted, purchased early, and then small things. Parents, relatives, and close friends get Christmas cards, real ones, and gifts from my rewards that I get free or nearly free, Omaha Steaks, photo gifts- the grandparents LOVE those, etc.

    At my in-laws, we exchange only for children, (a family gift, like a game), and do a cookie exchange.

    One tradition that we have kept is on Christmas Eve we have a big dinner and invite any friends that don't have anywhere to go on Christmas. There's at least one every year. While setting the table and putting food out we listen to Dominick the Christmas Donkey, (lol), and then after dinner we watch the Polar Express.

    • says

      I love the idea of giving family games to your relatives' kids! And, yes, once you don't have to worry so much about hitting sales, there's SO much more time to enjoy the other season's offerings.

      I really miss the Seattle Gingerbread House show. It was always amazing to see the intricacy.

  2. says

    Hey thanks for the mention! I wish I had some childhood ornaments, but alas I think we'll have to start from scratch with boring old store bought ones. I guess over time we'll accumulate lots of our own Christmas keepsakes.

    • says

      Yep, I love to hit the clearance sales post-Christmas. A couple of years ago, I nabbed a Wolverine one for Tim and a Swedish Chef scene for me. I giggled last year when I put them up.

      That said, I wouldn't mind some slightly nicer — aka grown-up — ones. Maybe one day we'll have a small tree for the childhood ornaments and a tree that looks like it's actually owned by grown-ups!

    • Nancy says

      We don't have many traditional ornaments and balls on our Christmas tree. We have an assortment of things others may find odd: the plastic block from a nephew's baby shower, ribbons and glitter something from an old New Years Eve corsage I wore, dough ornaments a friend had tied to a present as a name tag, old McDonald's Happy Meal toys – dolls, trucks, Hot Wheels, etc., party favors from bridal showers, a paper and plastic replica of our daughters' sandbox – probably was meant for an Easter tree or something, interesting shells from beaches we have been to and anything that had/has some type of meaning or memory for us.

      • Abigail says

        Nancy: I’m sure it’s a unique view, but it sounds personalized, which is the best part of the holidays. Personal traditions are what really make it all so special.

  3. says

    Well, since I really don’t want any more stuff myself I try to urge my family and friends that we really don’t need to exchange gifts at all and that I’d much rather spend some special time with them over a meal (preferably a homemade one). If that doesn’t seem to be working (some people really don’t believe you don’t want gifts or perhaps they really want gifts themselves so they insist on a gift exchange) I tell them I’d rather that they make a donation in my name to one of my preferred charities and I’d be happy to do the same. If *that* doesn’t work, then I will consent to receive their gift and give them something homemade in return. Since I really like to cook and put up food like preserves and pickles, their gift is usually a couple jars of something homemade. It may also be something I knit for them, although I prefer to knit gifts for people only after they have expressly asked me to do so, since often people don’t like to wear hand knit items. (I think they believe hand knits are either difficult to care for or they may just not like the style.)

    I guess it mostly comes down to me trying to model the behavior I’d like from them. Some people don’t like that, so I will cave in and buy something for the sake of peace, but it is usually a small gift card or something. So far I haven’t lost any friends with my “odd” gift behavior, at least! :-)

    I do the same thing with my boyfriend for birthdays and other holidays. I’d much rather have a special meal together or get something like a small box of special chocolates than get a knickknack of some kind. I’m not really a killjoy, I just sound like one in writing!

    • says

      I don't think homemade gifts — and asking for charitable donations instead of store-bought gifts — counts as being a killjoy. Most people I know LOVE homemade stuff. My aunt sends us peanut brittle every year. Back when we lived in Seattle, she would give it to us in person and send us home with some homemade pesto (!!!).

      if someone I knew wanted no gift, I'd respect that. Or make a donation in their name. (People might get a little weirded out there because then you know the amount? Whatever.) Heck one year I was only giving out cookies, since I was broke. But one of my friends was trying very hard to lose weight. So my gift to her was actually NOT giving her cookies. And she *thanked* me. So it's all about how you look at things, I guess.

  4. Catseye says

    I just don't have very many people to buy for. I'm much more into exchanging Christmas cards than I am gifts. Which reminds me, I need to tell a close friend that we're not exchanging gifts this year. I'm unemployed and she's always broke, so that should work out alright. ;o)

    • says

      Jumping off from Abby's "I didn't give her cookies" idea: Maybe you could have lunch with your friend (at home, of course) and talk about all the things that you DIDN'T buy each other! "Oh, these gorgeous Jimmy Choo stilettos…A wonderful red sports car….A high-def TV and theater sound system plus 100 of your favorite movies…Just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you!"
      Or how about setting this ground rule: Any gift given must be free or cost less than $1? Examples: Regifting something that looks brand-new, a collection of freebies you sent away for or received as samples while shopping, a hardback novel from the dollar store (sometimes they actually have "real" books vs. what looks like vanity-press Christian romances), or free-after-rebate stuff from Office Depot or Staples or Walgreens on Black Friday.
      Also, I did a piece on "how to get free stocking stuffers" for MSN Money. Some of them would work as small gifts:

  5. says

    I make my Xmas decorations from construction paper. And I search high and low for the RIGHT gift per person instead of an expensive one. And its usually just one or two gifts per person.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge