I know how it feels to have NO money for Christmas. As in zero, zilch, nada.
And it’s something that other people don’t understand unless they’ve gone through it themselves. Friends are sweet and they try to be helpful, giving you ideas for ways to have a frugal Christmas: abide by the 4-gift rule (something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read) for your kiddos, buy gifts used from the classified ads, buy a smaller Christmas ham…
But when you have nothing extra, suggestions for how to ‘do Christmas cheap’ make you feel like you are climbing an insurmountable mountain. They don’t help. There will be no Christmas ham, and there is not even a dime for Christmas gifts, whether used or limited in number. There is just no money.
My husband and I married young and started our family right away. We had our first two babies while we were both in college. My husband worked an internship part-time, while going to school, and he sold plasma twice a week.
I had a few odd jobs, but it didn’t amount to much. Our income didn’t cover our rent and utilities, let alone anything else!
I cooked from scratch, sewed our clothes (from my siblings hand-me-down’s so I didn’t even have to purchase fabric) and we rode our bikes everywhere to save gas money. I knew all the frugal tricks in the book, because my dad is the master of frugal and I learned them growing up.
My frugal skills kept our head above water, and life was really great even though we were poor. But there was no money for toys or gifts or anything that did not sustain life. So I remember feeling like even the most frugal advice was completely non-helpful. We didn’t have two dimes to rub together.
We thought everything would magically get better once we graduated, but it didn’t. Because we needed health insurance, my husband had to take the first job he was offered, for much less than he anticipated. We bought a house, because it was cheaper to buy than to rent, and we found ourselves still eating a whole lot of beans and rice for the next several years.
I am grateful for those lean years because they gave me plenty of time to hone all my frugal skills and to learn to create great things from practically nothing. I actually feel like I gave my older kids, who were little during our lean years, a whole lot more than I’ve given our younger kids, who have received far more in terms of worldly goods.
Probably the most important thing I learned was that my happiness has nothing to do with how much spending money I have. Society teaches the opposite. Hollywood and corporate America try to teach us the the only path to happiness is a bigger house and a fancier car.
And Christmas is when they work the hardest to convince us that we need all the stuff!
My dear friend, you don’t need those things. Your children don’t need them. They need you! There is nothing you could buy that would ever replace the time you get to spend with your children.
Just in case any of you are in the situation I was, where you’re living frugally but still have nothing extra for Christmas or other special occasions, I want to share with you a few of the ways in which I learned to make Christmas magical without spending a dime.
Seriously. Not a single dime!
Ways to Make Christmas magical without spending any money
You’ve probably noticed that kids are experts at seeing the magic in everyday things. It’s amazing and something we adults could learn from them. Anything out-of-the-ordinary will seem magical to your kids.
Decorate your house without spending a dime
- Decorate your house with homemade decorations. They are fun, free, and if you learn to look at them with childlike joy, beautiful! They don’t all have to be paper chains and stringing popcorn, either.
- You can gather pine boughs from your yard or the park to make wreaths, swags and garland for your mantel.
- While you’re gathering pine boughs, gather pinecones, too. You can turn them into pretty ornaments, glue them to a wire fram to make a wreath, or heap them in a bowl as a table centerpiece.
- Cut snowflakes from plain, white paper, or even from catalog pages and tape them to your windows.
- Make your own, homemade stockings. I sewed our first stocking and I like them so much we still use them! (Sneakily separate out and save a portion of your children’s Halloween candy for stockings.)
- Make homemade, salt-dough, Christmas ornaments.
- Print free, Christmas-themed Subway art, or draw your own
- Make a homemade Nativity with your kids.
Make holiday meals fun without spending an extra penny
- Drink your milk out of goblets.
- Pancakes are extremely inexpensive, and when you pour the batter into cookie cutters on the skillet it automatically makes them special without costing you a penny. *Tip- spray the inside of the cookie cutter with nonstick spray, otherwise your pancakes will not come out….
- Add sprinkles to your pancakes.
- Have a picnic dinner on the floor in front of the fireplace.
- Roast marshmallows or popcorn in the fireplace.
- Set your table with a tablecloth and candlesticks to make it feel fancy. Speak ‘British’ with your kiddos and teach them to drink their hot cocoa with their pinkies in the air. They really, truly have so much fun with so little.
- Most grocery stores have a reward system where you can earn points toward gift cards or other merchandise. Save up your points all year and redeem them at Christmas time toward free groceries or something you need.
- Shop the loss leaders at the grocery store. Use these 7 Secrets For Cutting Your Grocery Bill in Half.
Fun, FREE holiday activities
- Here is a big list of fantastic Christmas books you can enjoy together. You can find everything on this list at the library. It will work best if you reserve them ahead of time, because holiday books go fast.
- Here lots of fun Christmas storytime ideas. Create a whole afternoon of free fun for your children, using activities, games and snacks all centered on a Christmas book.
- Cut snowflakes out of plain, white paper (or the free catalogs that come in the mail) and tape them to all your windows. Your kids will think they are beautiful, and will beg you to let them cut snowflakes every year from here on out.
- If you live where there is snow, go sledding or build a snowman. My kids still talk about the different snowmen we have built over the years.
- Have a snowball fight.
- Play a game (links to free games)
- Christmas carol around your neighborhood, or even just around your piano.
- Decorate homemade sugar cookies. Sugar cookies cost less than $1 a dozen (including icing!) to make from scratch.
- Drive around the neighborhood (or walk if you can) and see all the lights.
- Have a slumber party around the Christmas tree.
- Blow bubbles outside and watch them freeze.
- Make Christmas cards and take them to your local nursing home. Be sure to spend a few minutes visiting with the residents!
- Have a family game night.
- Pretend you’re a pioneer and try some hand sewing. Turn your creations into gifts for each other.
- Borrow Christmas movies and books from the library or from friends.
- Look up free Christmas events in your city. Most have a Christmas parade, craft fairs and fun church events.
- Homemade gifts are as much fun to make as they are to give, plus they’ll cost you a whole lot less. The very best way to create gorgeous gifts for FREE is to use your own two hands. Those hands will save you some serious dough. Here is a list of 33 Handmade Christmas Gifts that Don’t Suck. Let your kiddos help you pick a DIY gift that you already have the supplies for, so it won’t cost you anything. Your little people will have fun making the gift, and you get to cross someone off your list! The biggest problem we have with homemade gifts is that my littles can’t wait until Christmas to give their gifts out!
- Sing Christmas Hymns around the piano.
- Invite friends over for a potluck meal and games. Be honest about your financial situation with your friends and neighbors, and don’t feel that you need to provide a main course or anything fancy for the potluck — think ‘Stone Soup’ style meals.
Christmas gift ideas that won’t cost you a thing
- Give experiences instead of gifts. They last longer, are more worthwhile, and won’t clutter your home! The very most meaningful and memorable gifts of experience won’t cost you anything. My dad gave my children woodworking lessons one year, and invited each of them to spend an afternoon with him (one child at a time) in his garage, creating a project of their choice. My kids will never forget their time with grandpa, and an added bonus is that they learned how to safely use awesome tools! I’m sure you can think of a way to spend time individually with your children that won’t cost you anything.
- Wrap gifts for FREE in newspaper or the brown kraft paper amazon stuffs packages with.
- Search Pinterest for a million ways to repurpose old jeans. Surely you have some old, holey or outgrown jeans. I’ve seem people turn old jeans into quilts, hair accessories, jackets, handbags, teddy bears and more. I’ll bet someone on your list would love a handmade gift like that.
- Speaking of repurposing, take a hard look around at what you have that you could repurpose into gifts for loved ones. One lean year I just wanted to give my children ONE fun toy! We had nothing. My sister offered me a tattered, old (but large) stuffed bear. I was tempted to decline, but brought it home. After staring at it for a few days, I realized I could build a rocking-horse frame, cut the bear open to insert the frame, and sew it back up around the frame. In the end, it was transformed into an adorable rocking bear that made my children very happy!
- Give the gift of time. Your kiddos might not appreciate it much, but for the elderly, time with loved ones is precious. It’s a far better gift than anything that can be purchased. You could make coupons for things like babysitting or a dinner together in the future.
- Make Christmas morning last. I personally dislike how much time and effort I put into making Christmas Morning special – just to have the kids rip through it in a few minutes. Instead, open one gift at a time and enjoy the gift before moving on to the next gift.
- If you want to make Christmas morning last a little longer, consider letting your children treasure hunt for their gifts.
- Track Santa (for FREE!) at NoradSanta.com. Your kiddos can see where Santa is at on his journey and how soon they need to get in bed.
- With the Santa Mail program from USPS, kids can get a reply back from Santa when they write him a letter and send him their Christmas wish list. You’ll need to include a personalized response to your child’s letter, but then the USPS will mail you back the letter from Santa, with a postmark right from North Pole, Alaska.
One final tip. ‘Tis the season of advertising. Instead of letting these ads encourage the gimmies in your kiddos, choose to eschew them. Throw away the mailers outside and don’t even bring them into your home. Turn off the TV.
Read together instead. Books like Little House in the Big Woods and The Long Winter will help your family remember how truly blessed you are!
Spend the time you would have spent watching TV doing other fun activities that will help your family grow closer and remind them of the true meaning of Christmas.
And most of all remember that you, dear friend, are the secret ingredient to a magical Christmas. Your children want you to read to them and sing with them. They want to snuggle in your bed in the mornings and to feel warm and secure in your arms. They want you.
The state of your bank account does not matter because you are enough.
I wish you the merriest Christmas ever!
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