How to Have a Frugal Christmas

Seven ways to have a slow, simple, and frugal Christmas. Cut through the traps of consumerism and busyness to find what really matters.

Kraft paper christmas gift with homemade greenery

If you spend any amount of time watching commercials in December, you’ll get the idea that Christmas is a time to buy a car for your wife, go on a two-week Caribbean cruise, and get at least a dozen giant plastic toys for your kids that light up and sing.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Not even a little.

There are so many reasons you might want to have a simpler, more frugal Christmas this year. Even if you have an unlimited budget, maybe you just don’t want to fill up your house with junk. Or maybe the idea of celebrating in a slower, more old-fashioned way appeals to you. Or you can’t afford all the fancy things advertisers would have you believe you need.

Here are seven ways to make sure this Christmas is one you can afford and one that you enjoy. Take what’s helpful to you, and leave the rest.

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1. Skip the gifts for extended family

This one is easy to say, but hard to do for some families. Many people will be offended by the suggestion that they are giving too many gifts. Others find it hard to admit that they just don’t want to buy a present for a cousin they see twice a decade.

If you are afraid of offending your relatives, saying that you simply can’t afford gifts this year will smooth over any hurt feelings, but it may be too embarrassing to write.

When you’re having a hard time telling family to please pause the gifts, try one of these tactics:

If all else fails, accept anything you are given gratefully. Most people understand when you can’t reciprocate and they won’t hold it against you.

2. Keep all decorations simple and natural

Be honest. How many boxes of Christmas decorations do you have in the basement that you don’t even like? So many decorations are a waste of money and space. They add clutter to your life and steal your money. But there’s good news! Christmas decor can be simple and frugal, or even totally free.

There are plenty of ways to forage and thrift for what you need to decorate your house frugally. Here are some ideas that are cheap or free, yet are still charming for the holidays:

  • Holly or boxwood in vases
  • Dried orange garlands
  • Homemade paper snowflakes
  • Candy canes in a glass jar
  • Simple white candles on the mantle
  • Winter botanical prints in simple frames

Related: how to make your home cozy for Christmas

3. Stay home

Christmas is a popular time to travel because almost everyone has time off from school and work. But, since everyone has time off, it’s an expensive time to travel! I think a holiday trip to Disney World sounds lovely, but I absolutely cannot afford it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that and just letting it go.

If you are visiting family out of town, of course you should continue to do that! Just do your best to avoid extended hotel stays and lavish trips.

Take some time before the Christmas season to clean and organize your home so that it feels like a cozy and restful place, not a bunch of work that you have to do.

4. Fill stockings with essentials, not luxuries

Some of the stocking stuffer ideas out there are crazy. A stocking filled with gift cards, gourmet candy, and other luxuries will cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

There is nothing wrong with making daily essentials a part of your Christmas shopping. Children and adults can get toiletries, coffee, gift-worthy baking supplies, and other essentials in their stockings.

Of course, no one wants a stocking full of things they buy at the grocery store. Make sure you change it up a little bit and get new brands, new fragrances, or new flavors to make everyday essentials feel like special treats.

Don’t forget the age-old mom trick of refusing to buy your children basically anything they need after Thanksgiving and giving it to them as a Christmas gift.

5. Make homemade goodies when you can

Homemade is not always the simplest way to do something, but it’s almost always the most frugal. Buying pre-baked pies, cakes, and cookies can get very pricey over time when you are buying for an extended family dinner, plus cookies for Santa, plus little baskets for the teachers, etc.

Grocery stores often discount flour, sugar, and other baking supplies from October through December. Go ahead and stock up so you can turn out homemade treats whenever you want.

Some favorite homemade Christmas desserts and breads:

Don’t forget that a homemade treat makes a perfectly lovely gift. Also, don’t forget that a homemade Christmas takes time, which brings us to…

6. Make a plan

If there are things you’d like to do before the season ends, make sure you plan for them! You don’t want the middle of January to roll around and think “I should have done gingerbread houses this year,” or “we never had time to bake cookies for Santa”.

At the beginning of the Christmas season, sit down with your immediate family and make a (short!) list of things you’d like to do this year. And then make a plan actually to do them!

If you want to cut down a fresh Christmas tree this year, think about WHEN this is going to happen. Be realistic! If there’s something you just don’t think you can do this year, don’t even write it down. This is not a season for regrets.

7. Set a budget for a frugal Christmas

…and stick to it!

If this is something you struggle with, you aren’t alone. But even those of us who have a difficult time sticking to a year-long budget can likely stick to a holiday budget. It can work well to set aside a small amount of money every single month to have a Christmas fund.

Too late for you to do that now? That’s okay. Just take a long, hard look at what you can really afford for gifts, food, decorations, the works. Set aside that money in a way that works for your mind. That may be envelopes of cash, a separate savings account, or with pre-purchased gift cards. When the money’s gone, it’s gone.

More saving: 31 Old Fashioned Frugal Living Tips

And there you have it!

I hope this list was helpful to you and allows you to slow down and simplify this holiday season. Christmas can be beautiful and affordable. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

How to Have a Frugal Christmas

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