Creative ways to be frugal at Christmas (and still have a lot of fun!)
As Moms, we all want to give our kids a super fun and meaningful Christmas filled with memories and laughter and great gifts. However, my budget doesn’t always jump with joy when it comes to all the costs associated with the holiday season! But in the last few years I’ve started to feel less stressed about Christmas expenses as we’ve figured out some pretty creative ways to be frugal at Christmas- and still have a wonderful and special holiday season.
I’ve compiled my top tips on how to plan a frugal Christmas and grouped them below into 4 main categories: the basics of planning a budget-friendly Christmas, how to spend less on gifts, how to spend less on Christmas celebrations, and frugal ideas for making memories.
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The basics of planning a budget-friendly Christmas
In order to spend less this holiday season, there’s a few basic principles that the whole family needs to be on board with. If you can get together on these, you’re well on your way to saving money!
Start with the heart of Christmas
What does Christmas mean to you? Christmas means different things to different people, but the historical basis of Christmas is God giving the ultimate gift- His own Son- born as a baby, to spend time on earth with the people He created.
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas in this way, most everyone would agree that the heart of Christmas is the same- sharing love, spending time with family, and celebrating together by giving gifts.
Since this is the heart of Christmas, the first step to a frugal Christmas is to start with a thankful heart. Penny-pinching at Christmas can feel very Scrooge-like if your focus is on how little you have to spend. Instead, focus on how much you have been given, and see anything else as a sweet Christmas bonus!
Prioritize what means the most to your family at Christmas
Talk with your family and figure out what means the most to them about your Christmas celebrations. What are everyone’s favorite traditions, and what could they leave behind? Then plan your budget around trying to do those things, if possible.
My family likes to go to a particular Christmas Tree farm that has some “extras” like hot chocolate and donuts on site. The extras are something we budget for because it adds to the experience and the memories! It’s a planned splurge, if you will. 🙂 Figure out what makes your holiday special for your family and spend your money accordingly.
Start Planning for a Frugal Christmas early!
The time to plan for a budget-friendly Christmas is not December 1st; It’s January 1st. It can be hard to put out a big chunk of change all at once, but it’s not as big of a deal if you’ve been saving up for it all year.
Figure out your Christmas budget (realistically!), then divide it by 12 and commit to setting aside that amount every month. I love using YNAB (You Need a Budget) for this- it makes it very easy to see and save up for our goals. Then when December arrives (and before that when you find good deals!) you’ve got the money in the plan- aaaaaah less Christmas stress!
If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, check out our Personal Finance 101 course! It’s designed for young adults, but is perfect for anyone learning to budget!
How to Spend Less on Christmas Gifts
For most of us, the biggest expense at Christmas is gifts. So how can we save money on Christmas gifts without feeling like we’re scrimping on holiday spirit? There are so many creative ways to be frugal with Christmas gifts- let’s look at a few!
First, set up expectations about Christmas gifts.
Talk with your extended family and friends about expectations/limitations for your gift exchanges. Since you’re trying to plan a Christmas on a budget, talk with them about possible limitations or arrangements for gift exchanges that can help you be frugal without limiting the fun; it might seem like a downer of a conversation topic, but you’ll be surprised how many people are very much on board with these ideas because it helps them, too.
Here are some ideas for how to limit spending on gifts:
- Buy gifts only for the kids. They’re the most fun to watch anyway!
- Put a spending limit on each person. Pick an amount that is reasonable for all involved and agree to only spend that much on each individual or family.
- Draw names/do a name exchange so that each person is buying gifts only for one other person. Depending on your gathering, this sometimes is a little more fun if the guys pick the guys’ names and the girls pick the girls’ names, etc.
- Do a White Elephant Gift exchange instead! It’s easy to find something funny from around the house or on super sale. On one side of my family, there’s this hideous candle shaped like a hilariously dressed woman. It makes it’s appearance every year, and it’s half the fun to see who will end up with the candle!
- Choose a group experience instead of gifts! Go see a play or get family pictures taken or go to a local event together.
Second, cut back on other areas of spending for a bit.
Assess your budget for ways that you can be more frugal for a period of time. Cut back on eating out or turn off some subscription services or gym membership for the month and put that money toward your Christmas spending. (For a bunch more ideas, check out our 30 Day Money Saving Challenge!)
Related bonus: Did you know that you can take your loose change to a Coinstar machine and trade it in for an Amazon Gift Card or other restaurant gift card, etc. for no fee? YUP! Round up those pennies!
Save Money on the Christmas Gifts you DO buy
Saving money on gifts is a great way to be frugal at Christmas. There are so many creative ways to save a few bucks! Here’s a list of ideas to get you started
Buy gifts second-hand.
So, obviously there are some circumstances in which it’s not appropriate to give a second-hand gift. But, for example, my kids are 4 and 1….they don’t know the difference between a brand new toy and one that is in great condition but came off of a buy/sell/trade group! And often people sell new-in-box or new-with-tags items on those groups for a great deal. If it’s a fitting present, why not start looking now and find some deals on second-hand items?
Trade instead of buy!
There are a lot Facebook groups out there for trading/swapping instead of buying! I just swapped a pair of sunglasses and a belt I didn’t need for two backpacks for my kids for Christmas. I’ve often swapped things I wanted to get rid of for things I could use like frozen foods, paper towels, and diapers!
Find your local Buy Nothing Group.
The Buy Nothing Project is in 30 different countries, so chances are there’s one near you! It’s strictly gifting and asking for things you’re trying to find, so it’s all free!
Make gifts instead of buying them.
Make salt dough ornaments with your kids, give flowers or herbs you’ve grown, bake goodies, or come up with other ways to use your creative talents to create something for your loved ones. Handmade and homemade gifts are always appreciated! Check out our Epic Mom Skills Collection!
Gift your skills.
You’re good at something that someone else wishes they could do. Why not give that as a gift? Offer to teach something how to do something they want to improve in, or do the thing for them that you’re so good at!
Gift your time.
No lie, one of my all-time favorite gifts that my dad would give us almost every year was a month or so where he would do the dishes every night (which was usually a chore my sister and I did). I LOVED being able to jump up from the dinner table and go do what I wanted to do, and more than that I felt loved because he was doing it for me.
Your time is valuable (and as moms, sparse, right?). So consider giving a coupon for a back rub, a chore done, a dinner out together, or whatever says “love” to the receiver. You can also create a cute little certificate super easily for free on Canva.
Price check everything!
Use the Honey extension to check for coupons while you’re shopping online and alert you when a price drops (and as you use it, you accumulate points that go toward gift cards!). Use a service like CamelCamelCamel to notify you when a price on something on your Amazon wish list drops so you can get the best deal. A little research and some planning ahead of time can save you a lot while still getting you the thing you want!
Also, a fun hack on Amazon is to enter what you’re searching for (say, Magnet Blocks) then add “&pct-off=10-15” (so, I’d search “Magnet Blocks &pct-off=10-15”). That will bring up Magnet Blocks that are 10-15% off! Or try other numbers for percent off and see what you come up with! Amazon doesn’t always show the best deal at the top (surprise!) but instead shows what they can make the most money on. So to save more money, do a little deal digging!
And while we’re talking about Amazon, don’t forget to check out things like their Lightning Deals, Black Friday sales, Warehouse Deals, etc.! And don’t forget that you can buy many things secondhand on Amazon, too- look for that “Buy Used” button next to the item you’re looking at!
Get cash back for shopping
- Use Ratuken and other cash-back sites to get a percent of your purchase back when shopping online!
- You can also use a cash back credit card like this Freedom Card from Chase (psst you can also get $200 in cash after spending $500 with this card!) to accumulate points for cash back (but only if what you’re buying is in your budget of course!).
- Use Paribus to make sure you got the best deal- they’ll notify you if a price dropped, and either ask for a refund of the difference on your behalf, or send you a message that you can copy and paste to request the difference based on the store’s policy!
Stick to your list!
Make your list and go for what is on that list. No impulse shopping!
Shop Black Friday/Cyber Monday/etc.
BUT ONLY FROM YOUR LIST! 🙂 Or if you see a great gift, trade it for something you haven’t found- don’t just add it because it was a good deal. The best deal is not spending the money in the first place!
How to spend less on Christmas celebrations
Of course, Christmas is much more (and has many more expenses) than just gifts. So here are some other ideas for how to creatively save money while still having a lot of fun!
Be creative with coupons and gift cards!
My family has the tradition of a “Christmas Eve Date” (though with the kids it’s turned more into a sometime-in-the-couple-of-weeks-before-Christmas-date). Because we have a lot of family nearby, our time on Christmas Day itself is always a hot commodity, and we wanted to make sure we had something special for just our immediate family unit. So on one day sometime before Christmas, we take the whole day and do fun things as a family!
It’s not a cheap day (though I’m getting extra creative this year!), but one of the ways we have saved money on that day is to use gift cards and coupons that I’ve scouted out (I always check the RetailMeNot app for coupons!) and saved up ahead of time to make each thing a little less. It means being a little more flexible with our choice of places- but it makes for a fun adventure! (And remember the Coinstar trick from above? You can use your spare change to fund gift cards!)
If you know ahead of time where you want to go, you can also use a site like Gift Card Granny to buy gift cards to those places at a discount and save even more!
Save the Bags and Bows!
Become your Grandma and save those bags and bows from last year’s gifts to wrap this year’s gifts in! I haven’t bought gift bags, tissue paper, or bows in….um….ever. Why pay money for something that is literally given to you every year?
Buy decor and wrapping paper when the season is over.
Now, if you’re reading this right before the holiday season, it’s a little too late for this one this year (unless you’re like my husband and think it’s hilarious to mismatch wrapping paper with the wrong holiday….Easter wrapping paper, anyone?), but it’s a great thing to keep in mind for right after Christmas! Note what you need (a new string of lights? a new wreath?) and score it on clearance after the holidays are done.
Buy food items on sale and with coupons.
So many of the traditional foods go on major sale right before a holiday, so we stock up on anything that I know we’ll eat. I freeze at least a couple of hams, and it’s a great time to buy baking supplies and chocolate chips (mmmm chocolate….)!
Want an easy strategy to learn how to get your groceries on a budget? Check out our Master Your Menu course!
Buy extra gift cards!
If you can afford the intial output and you’ll use them well. Many restaurants will have some sort of “buy 4 get 1 free” type of gift card deal around the holidays. Now, this one gets tricky, because you don’t want to just buy a bunch of Chick-fil-a gift cards and then use that as an excuse to get CFA all the time- that’s not being frugal! But if you can use them when you normally would (and not otherwise), this can save you some money in the long run- plus they make great gifts!
Get a shorter/smaller tree.
Christmas Trees are generally priced by height- so can you be just as happy with a 5ft tree as a 6ft tree? Then go for the shorter one and save that money.
If you’re hosting, do a potluck!
Food is expensive! So share the load (and be willing to share when it’s your turn to attend) by doing a potluck. It’s a great way to learn about others’ favorite Christmas foods, too!
Plan your party for AFTER Christmas day.
The advantage? Sales! A great creative way to have a more frugal Christmas is to buy items when stores are wanting to clear them off their shelves after the holidays.
Make your own decorations and use what you have.
Another creative way to be frugal at Christmas is to make your own decorations! My daughter is old enough this year that we ought to be able to try making paper snowflakes to decorate our house- and while I’m not excited about the paper-cutting mess I fully expect to result, I am excited to be able to share this easy way of decorating and being together with her.
We also live in a state with LOTS of pine trees, so I’m thinking it would be fun to gather up some pine cones, throw on some glue, and sprinkle some glitter on them and BOOM instant decorations! That will leave my house covered in glitter for months…ha!
Don’t waste food!
It can be so easy to get overwhelmed by the quantity of food that comes in right around Christmas. Rather than let that food go to waste, commit to including it in your meal plans and freeze what you can’t use in time- and as a bonus you’ll have an easy meal or piece of a meal prepped for later!
Get creative with your travel!
If you’re traveling for the holidays, use travel deal sites to book your flight, hotel, etc. to help you save! If you know far enough in advance, you can also use things like a travel credit card to get some cash back or bonus points toward something you need!
Memories don’t have to cost money. A frugal Christmas can be fun!
One of our favorite traditions right now is doing a Jesse Tree. Each night we read a (very short) chapter from The Jesus Storybook Bible, and we add an ornament to our tree. It doesn’t cost us anything, but the sweet snuggles and conversations we have are priceless.
Want to try out the Jesse Tree Advent Activity? I’ve made it available to you here!
Whether it’s listening to certain music, driving around and looking at Christmas lights, or playing a certain game as a family, there are many ways to create traditions and memories that make it a special time without having to break the bank.
Here are a few ideas to create some fun holiday memories with your family that don’t cost much (or anything!):
- Bake Christmas cookies or other goodies together
- Make pancakes or another special food on Christmas morning!
- Drink hot chocolate by the fire, or while watching a movie or reading a book out loud together
- Find some fun local Christmas lights and drive around to see them
- Do something kind for someone! Randomly bring someone donuts or some other treat or something they need- just because.
- Listen to Christmas music and decorate together
- Cut out snowflakes and hang them in your windows
- Do a Christmas movie marathon in your pajamas
- Make your own wrapping paper together
- Wrap the gifts together- let the kids pick the wrappings for each present!
- Do an advent calendar or something like the Jesse Tree
- Do a family game night
- Make Christmas presents together for each other or for extended family
- Make ornaments together
- Make Christmas cards and mail them
- Go to the dollar store and pick out stocking stuffers for each other
- Create a family play about Christmas
- Go to a church service or candlelight service
- Go Christmas caroling
In summary: a frugal and fun Christmas is very possible with a little planning!
Celebrating doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. A little creativity and planning ahead can create a Christmas that is both frugal and fun for the whole family!
Speaking of planning ahead- while you’re saving money on all those gifts, why not keep track of them super simply? Drop your email in the box below and I’ll send you a free Trello board template for keeping up with what you’ve got for whom and what else needs to be done with/for ea
Do you have other creative ways to be frugal at Christmas? Comment below and let me know!
Looking for more Christmas ideas? Check out these posts!
- 40+ Fantastic Christmas Gift Ideas for Moms
- Battery-free Gift Ideas for Toddlers
- Creative Play Inspiring gifts for Preschoolers
- Frugal Ways to Say “I Love You” (Christmas or otherwise!)
- Our 30 Day Money Saving Challenge (a great way to start out the New Year!)
- Our Personal Finance 101 course– learn the basics of budgeting, banking, and buying in today’s modern age!
- Our Jesse Tree Advent Ornament Printable and Activity
- Our Epic Mom Skills Collection
- Our Living on Less Collection