No Money for Christmas? Here’s How to Have a Magical Holiday Anyway

When you are on a tight budget, the month of December can make you break out in a cold sweat. Even seeing the Christmas décor and advertisements go up in the stores makes you wish you could bypass the festivities altogether. Luckily, even if you have no money for Christmas – you can still have a magical holiday (no financial stress necessary). 

Celebrating a frugal Christmas might not be ideal, but it is the best option if you are struggling. Yes, it’s hard to imagine enjoying the holidays on a budget. But not only is it possible, but it might even be one of the most liberating things you do this year.

Here are six ways to celebrate Christmas with your friends and family – without breaking the bank:

A little girl placing an ornament on a Christmas tree.

1. Change Your Holiday Mindset

The first thing to do is change your outlook on Christmas. It is tough to adjust your mindset if you have grown up in a family with big, lavish holiday celebrations. Or perhaps you are used to throwing those for your own family, but have traditionally gone into debt in the past because of it.

Instead, try to get in touch with the true reason for the season. If you’re religious, perhaps you focus on the nativity story and birth of Jesus, and what that means to you. If you’re not religious, you can focus on the values behind the holidays – connecting with loved ones, kindness, gratitude, etc.

When you change your mindset, it will free you up to celebrate in new (and less costly) ways.

You may want to try to set up expectations for your family as well, depending on their age and how big of a change this will be. If they are expecting an extravagant celebration, it might be best to sit down with them and explain that things will be a little different this year. Try to engage them in holiday activities that don’t revolve around presents or spending money to help shift their mindset as well.

Another tricky part of changing your own attitude is avoiding temptation. Over the holidays, stores and websites lure you in – “Get this Black Friday deal for 12 hours only!” or “There’s only 3 left in stock and 20 people have this in their cart!”.

Remember that they are not the ones on a budget; you are. Stand your ground and do not let yourself be swept up into spending money unnecessarily. Practice willpower as part of your holiday mindset.

2. Decorate Your House For (Almost) Free

With creativity and know-how, you can bring the festive season into your home without spending much on decorations. You can use natural items from outside or get your family to make decorations from paper and other arts and crafts that you already have around the house. 

Here are a few ideas for cheap and even free décor:

  • Create décor using natural items, like pinecones and green branches. Not only can you find many of these items for free outdoors, but they are absolutely beautiful.
  • Add pebbles to leftover clean jars and place taper candles in them to place on mantles or as a table centerpiece.
  • Get crafty by making cute Christmas trees using cupcake liners or a string Christmas tree (the later requires you to have some craft supplies at home already; don’t go out of your way buying a ton of craft supplies – these are just ideas).
  • Make salt dough ornaments for display or to hang on your Christmas tree. This is also a great gift idea for the grandparents!
  • Find any spare Christmas tree ornaments (balls work best) and put them into a glass bowl as a colorful table centerpiece.
  • Make a Christmas wreath using old scraps of fabric that you have lying around (great for clothes that have holes or stains and aren’t great for donating).
  • Make Christmas garlands and snowflakes using paper.

In addition to these crafty ideas, don’t forget to also check Facebook marketplace and local town wide Facebook groups to see if people are giving away extra Christmas decorations they no longer need. Even if you don’t see this offered, ask – I have been surprised how many people have things in their basement that they want to part with!

Pinecones and greenery as natural free Christmas decorations.

3. Enjoy Inexpensive Activities With Family

Christmas is about spending valuable time with your nearest and dearest and enjoying various activities together. Over the holiday period, there are many things to do that will cost you little to no money to enjoy.

Lift your Christmas spirit by participating in some of these free activities:

  • Watch Christmas movies from your collection, YouTube, Netflix, or the local library.
  • Read Christmas stories before bedtime. Don’t have any on hand? Save money on books and instead borrow them from your library. You could even make it a goal to read a new Christmas book each day from December 1st to the 25th, making for a special free tradition!
  • Make Christmas arts and crafts using supplies you already have on hand or inexpensive supplies from the Dollar Tree.
  • Find free Christmas activities in your town, like a local tree lighting ceremony, Christmas parade, or school/church play.
  • Go caroling in your neighborhood.
  • Make copies of free Christmas-themed coloring pages that your kids can color.
  • Have a Christmas-themed campout in your living room. Think Christmas music, games, movies, and smores over the stovetop or in the microwave.

4. Entertain on a Budget

Having a frugal Christmas does not mean you cannot host family and friends over the holidays. The trick is to make it affordable and not get too tempted by the various food platters and festive combos that the stores are trying to sell you – keep it simple.

The key is remembering what is most important: spending time with your loved ones. Here are some great tips for when you are entertaining people over Christmas:

  • Make inexpensive treats, like popcorn, chocolate-dipped pretzels, or Rice Krispie treats.
  • Have a Christmas cookie exchange, where everyone brings a few batches of cookies to share. Participants all get to take a few of each cookie home with them.
  • Invite your family or friends for a holiday potluck, where everyone brings their own dish.
  • Having families with kids over? Host a festive scavenger hunt for guests to receive small, inexpensive treats.
  • While entertaining, play Christmas music from a radio station or free online music account.
  • Host a holiday game night using games you’ve already got on hand, and ask guests to each bring a snack.
  • On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, have a festive brunch for family instead of a lunch or dinner. Foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes, home fries, and fruit salad are all far more economical than the traditional roasts, hams, or turkeys often served at lunch or dinner. [Find more frugal breakfast ideas here.]
  • Try using apps like FlashFood or Too Good to Go to grab inexpensive food for hosting parties. For example, I’ll often grab meal-type items on FlashFood and let that guide my menu, or grab desserts from local bakeries on Too Good to Go (that’s how we got a ton of donuts for last year’s neighborhood Christmas party for just $5).
Pancakes decorated like Santa on a white plate.

5. Get Creative With Christmas Gifts

Gift-giving puts a lot of pressure on people over the festive season. Think outside of the proverbial Christmas box: hunt for bargains or even get away with making presents for free.

Whatever they unwrap on Christmas day, family and friends should appreciate the thought and effort, not the price tag.

The following gift ideas will go easy on your wallet:

  • Check out thrift stores and garage sales for unique and thoughtful gifts. I really wish we could normalized second-hand gifts, because I think you can score amazing finds. For example, one year I got my entire family Patagonia jackets that were secondhand from a photoshoot they did (long story on how I ended up lucking out with that, but I did, haha). Last year, I got my niece the most precious old-school vintage tea party set for a grand total of $3 at the thrift store. A few years back, I scored an unopened Rock Tumbler (90’s kids, I know you feel me on this) for my kiddo for $4. So many good deals.
  • Give loved ones homemade gifts from your kitchen. Do you grow certain types of fruit? Make jams to gift during the holidays. Love baking? Create a delectable dozen of cookies. Are you a grilling pro? Make a custom spice blend for steaks and pork chops.
  • Have a big extended family? Rather than buying for all your siblings and nieces/nephews, draw names for gift recipients to cut down gift costs.
  • Make homemade bath bombs or homemade sugar scrubs. (If you don’t already have key ingredients at home, it may not be worth it to shop for a bunch of new ingredients to make these though. But it can be a great option for those who have most things on hand).
  • Create family coupons, promising to do certain acts of kindness or chores for someone. Or, for your spouse, maybe a naughty coupon book will spark their interest! 😉
  • If you have a small budget for Christmas gifts, start looking early and take advantage of sales for the items you’re shopping for.
  • That tip about Facebook marketplace and local town wide Facebook groups applies here too. For example, last year my kiddo really wanted Pokémon cards. Rather than buy a bunch of brand new packs before I knew if he’d really like them, I asked if anyone in our local moms group had extras they didn’t need. I ended up with a bunch for free.

6. Give Back To Your Community

Christmas is all about love, friendship, kindness, and being thankful for the blessings in your life. No holiday activity supports this more than giving back to the community.

Extending a helping hand to your local community is the perfect way to celebrate the festive season. It is also an opportunity to get your whole family involved in the gift of giving, so make the most of the following activities:

  • Participate in a canned food drive (if you have some extra non-expired foods to part with), or give your time to help at a local food pantry.
  • Donate your old clothes to a local charity or coat drive.
  • Help out at a local animal shelter.
  • Do random acts of kindness throughout the holiday season (and beyond) that don’t cost anything. For example, help someone carry groceries to their car, bring homemade cookies to your local fire station, or volunteer to read stories at the library.
A child donating extra toys they no longer need.

7. Let the Community Give Back to You

Some people might toss around that they have “no money for Christmas”, but refer more to a lack of a defined budget or not having as much as they want. However, I know there are also many of you out there that are truly struggling, and might need some extra support this holiday season.

Don’t hesitate to look into local resources and charities that can help your family this time of year. For example, we have a community fund nonprofit in my town that provides Thanksgiving food baskets and Christmas gift cards to neighbors in need.

Local community programs may offer adopt-a-family programs, where you can let them know you need help and someone else from the community “adopts” your family to shop for at Christmas. Food pantries may provide special items during the holiday season, and local churches may also have outreach programs to help with foods or gifts.

Browse for these resources online, or call your town to ask if they know of support. Don’t let your pride get in the way if you need help – that’s why these organizations exist.

Conclusion

For many of us, having a lavish Christmas has been ingrained. When your budget is tight, it is often difficult to get out of that mindset. The reality is that you can still have a magical Christmas on a shoestring. It just takes a bit of creativity and an open mind!

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