Christmas on the Cheap! How to Find Joy Without A Huge Budget

Life Hacks

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The holidays can be a difficult time for many reasons, not the least of which is limited finances. Especially during a year of economic downturn, you might be looking for ways to do Christmas on the cheap, while still making things magical for your family. We’re adopting the following 6 habits this year…

2020, amiright? What a whirlwind, and frankly disappointment, of a year. Our family has tried to make use of the added together time and create some great memories here at home, but the financial ramifications of almost no business for Luke’s company have been a hard pill to swallow.

You can read more about what we’ve done to adjust to living on a significantly reduced income here. And in this post, I’m sharing the 6 things we’re doing this Christmas season to cut back, without losing the holiday magic!

1. Help kids set reasonable expectations

If you’ve never gone overboard with gifts at Christmastime, then this might not even be an issue for your family, but Luke and I are notorious overspenders during the holidays!

So this year, in early November, we started talking to the kids about our limited budget and how that means that Christmas will probably look a little different this year. They were super understanding and started brainstorming gift ideas that were on the cheaper side of things.

We’ve always been really open with our kids about how much things cost and so this year we told them that we’d probably be spending less than $100 per big kid. This was a really fun exercise as the kids Googled the cost of the things on their wishlists and started added them up in their heads!

Side note, if your kids are firm Santa believers (our already know that parents pay for everything) you might have to get creative with how you explain this. Maybe you could say that Santa’s using most of his resources to help families who are really struggling this year, and he’s asking our family to be OK with smaller gifts.

2. Budget way ahead of time and pay cash

After the kids talked about what gifts they were looking at this year, I made a quick outline of everything we needed to buy. I listed each child’s name, the gift ideas and an estimated cost. I also included costs for grandparent gifts, any secret santa presents, stocking fillers and extra food budget.

Then I added it all up and compared it with our total budget. In years past, when our kids were all on the younger side, we could almost always get away with spending around the same amount on each child. But now, with a couple of teenagers, we’re most definitely spending about 75% more on the over 10 crowd and much less on the younger ones. It all comes out in the wash as long as you stick to your master budget!

Lastly, pay cash whenever possible! If you’ve ever read/listened to Dave Ramsey, you know about the power of the envelope or cash system. Paying cash for everything is kind of a big pain in the butt in this day of online shopping, but whenever shopping in person, cash is king! A few reasons why cash helps curb spending:
• paying cash makes spending REAL! Ever forked over hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash? It’s painful!
• it offers a visible reminder of how much money you have left
• it’s impossible to overspend because when it’s gone, it’s gone.

3. Recycle Christmas pajamas & dress clothes

In this day of Instagram and Pinterest, many of us have this ridiculous notion that the entire family needs a brand new set of seasonal pajamas &/or fancy church clothes for every holiday. It’s totally unnecessary and unrealistic for most families!

A few years ago I invested in some Hanna Andersson holiday pajamas on sale for my kids because the quality was amazing (we also love Primary kids’ clothes and they have even more afforable pjs!) and have just passed them down ever since. When Liam and Juliet (our oldest of each gender) grow out of theirs, we just buy the next size up (also during a big sale) and never have to spend too much at once.

Seasonal dress clothes can also be handed down, recycled and even sewn! But above all, it’s important to remember that new clothes are not the reason for the season. Don’t let the internet convince you otherwise!

4. Fill the Christmas season with service and good food

What are your favorite memories of the holidays of your childhood? I’d be hard pressed to remember more than 1 or 2 actual gifts I received, but I have oodles of memories of doing service (we love secret Santa drop-offs!), simmering wassail, delicious dinners with family and the magic of festive music, hot chocolate and reading books by the Christmas tree.

In other words, the things you spend the most money on this year are likely to be forgotten, broken or lost before next Christmas. Instead, our family is choosing to fill our days with fun memories that will be emblazoned on our children’s minds forever! Ask your kids what memories they’re looking forward to making this year; their answers will probably delight and surprise you.

5. Shop secondhand first

As fun as it is to pick out a brand new toy for a child at the store, there are SO many amazing secondhand deals to be found, especially if you’re shopping for bigger ticket items like bicycles, trampolines, quality dollhouses or bedroom furniture. Chances are really good you can find some high quality versions of these items on Craigslist or Facebook.

Sometimes this requires a little extra time and energy; you’ll likely have to start looking a few months ahead of time and set aside a few hours to replace tires, add a fresh coat of paint or fix dents, but the money saved is often totally worth it.

One of my favorite Christmas stories from my childhood took place when I was toddler and my parents (still in college and strapped for cash) found a rickety old rocking chair in a dumpster. They took it home, reinforced the frame with some screws, refinished the wood with a cheery yellow paint and recovered the seat in a pretty fabric. I woke up to a beautiful *new* kid-sized rocking chair on Christmas morning that had cost my parents almost nothing.
How special is that?

6. Remember the Christ in Christmas

The world has done a fabulous job of convincing us that the holidays need to be all glitter and gold to be special. But if Christmas really is a celebration of Christ’s birth, then shouldn’t almost everything we do reflect our devotion to Him?

Sometimes trying financial times can be just what we need to strip our lives of the fluff so that we can focus on what’s most important. Some of our favorite holiday memories include Christlike acts of service that teach our children how to show love and often cost very little!

For example:
• Dropping off baked goods to a struggling family or a lonely retiree
• Gifting homemade “coupon books” for acts of service to friends and family
• Caroling via zoom or around the neighborhood
• Visiting places of worship, especially if decorated with pretty lights or a manger scene
• Reading a Christ-centered scripture every night as a countdown to Christmas
• Reenacting the story of Christ’s birth with your kids. At our house everyone fights over who gets to be Mary and ride the Dad donkey!

In the end, there are dozens of ways to make the holidays special, even with very little money in the bank (here are a few super simple traditions for busy moms!). What’s your favorite cheap holiday tradition??

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