Christmas is likely the one single holiday that cuts into your bank account the most. Forget birthdays and weddings, hosting a Christmas party for family and friends, buying gifts, and entertaining can put you on a diet for months after and your budget in severe need of counseling.
You can still have a Merry Christmas without the obscene spending though. It just needs a little bit of creativity, and perhaps just as much time as you would normally spend planning. You don’t even have to worry about shortchanging your loved-ones, chances are nobody will feel the difference. Except for your wallet.
Here are our 150 ways to save money during Christmas time by spending less on food, entertainment, gifts, and even Christmas cards, gift wrapping, and decorations. All together, you can save big bucks using these tips.
Save Money on Christmas Decorations
Christmas starts in early December. Heck, it even starts sometime in November for some retail stores. The bottom line is that you generally start decorating for Christmas well before mid-December. So here is how you can shave dollars off your decorating budget.
- If you have no decorations at all, buy them close to Christmas when they go on sale.
- Buy decorations after Christmas at 75% below the original price and store them for next year.
- Save your kid’s (or grandkid’s) holiday crafts and artwork from school every year. After a few years you will have a home full of free and meaningful ornaments and decorations. The kids will feel great having their work displayed and appreciated, while you save big on Christmas decorations.
- Instead of waiting for a few years for the artwork to pile up, round up the kids and get together to make your own ornaments and decorations a few weeks before Christmas. This is also a great opportunity to tell them family stories or share your view of what the Christmas spirit really is all about.
- A cheap way to decorate: pop some popcorn and string it to decorate your tree and house. Add cranberries for some color if you like.
- Decorate with free things you can find in Mother Nature: use pinecones and acorns. This also makes for more environmentally friendly decorating than the (expensive) plastic pinecones you can buy. If you live in the city, how about spending a family day out in a forest sometime before Christmas and collect a few pinecones to decorate your home with? Your travel costs should be far less than you would spend on decorating otherwise. Less environmentally friendly, but you can also spray paint your pinecones gold and silver for an extra festive touch.
- After Christmas, buy an artificial tree that will last you for years. They will go on clearance as soon as you are done unwrapping presents.
- There are endless decorations you can make yourself with items you already have in your home. Browse the internet for nice Christmas craft ideas and you’ll be surprised. There really is no need to spend a penny on decorations this Christmas. Here is an example: make a (mini) Christmas tree out of a paperback.
- Make decorations out of items you would normally throw away.
- Use empty boxes and cans, wrapped in Christmas themed paper, as decoration. Stack them in a corner or on a table for a festive look. You can use cereal boxes, or boxes you pick up from the grocery store.
- Use fiber optic decorations: fiber optic trees are very energy efficient. Most of them use only one light bulb in the base of the unit to light the entire decoration.
- Limit the time your Christmas lights are on for. If you wait to turn them on until it is dark, and turn them off before going to bed, you are using a lot less energy.
- Put all your electricity powered decorations on a timer to limit the ‘on time’ to a maximum of six hours a day.
- Turn off the lights in the living room when the tree is lit.
- Decorate with candles. Going back to old times and using candles can cut down your December energy bill.
- Drop a tea light candle in a cleaned out glass mayonnaise or jam jar. Tie a red or gold ribbon around the neck and you have a nice Christmas decoration. You can go further by nestling the candle in sand, nuts, or (Christmas) candy.
- For outdoor light strands, use the ones that are wired in parallel. When one bulb blows out, the rest still works and you don’t need to replace the entire string.
- Use smaller light bulbs that have lower wattage to save on energy.
Save Money on Christmas Cards
- Don’t send Christmas cards at all, or write down every single person you want to send a card to, and cut the list in half.
- Send letters (decorate them with a nice Christmas-themed stamp!) or postcards instead.
- Send free e-cards.
- Cut off the front of last year’s Christmas cards and send those as post cards. It’s a greener, cheaper option.
- Postcards cost less postage than regular cards. So whether home-made or purchased, postcards will always translate to a savings.
- If you must send Christmas cards, they go on sale in December so pick some up last minute.
- Buy some cards at deep discounts after Christmas, and save them for next year.
- Deliver as many as you can yourself, but only to locations you already go to anyways. For example, don’t mail them to colleagues at work or to relatives you are visiting.
- Instead of sending a card, call instead. A seven minute call would still cost less than a postage stamp, and your loved one will appreciate it more to hear your voice than to receive a card.
- Make Christmas cards yourself using construction paper and some inexpensive glitters or stamps. This is also a great project if you have children.
- Take a family picture with your Christmas tree and write a message on the back. On average, printing a photo should not cost more than $0.25 and it will make a great card with a personal touch. Pictures of pets or children dressed up as Santa also do well.
- Take a digital picture and send an email instead of a card. It’s even cheaper (virtually free) and you know it will arrive on time!
Save Money on Christmas Gifts
Now that the decorations are up and the cards are in the (e)mail, it is time to look at some frugal Christmas gift shopping. The most frugal way to say money this Christmas is not to shop at all, of course. So these gift options go from very frugal (spend no money at all), up to strategies for reducing your spending if you must buy gifts.No gift is ever truly “free”, there will always be either time, or items you already own, involved. However, they are free in the sense that you are not spending any cash on them outright.
- Print ‘love-coupons’ that entitle the receiver to back massages, movie nights (at home of course), dish-washing, baby sitting, dog walking, you name it! The possibilities are endless, and they can be a great (cheap) way to offer the gift of time and attention throughout the year.
- Seniors will enjoy a gift certificate giving them homemade baking once a month for the entire year. It will be very little extra effort to bake a few more muffins if you already make them for your own family, and it can mean the world to an elderly person who might enjoy your company even more than the baked goods.
- A babysitting certificate will really compliment a restaurant voucher for new parents. This gift can be as cheap as $10-20 and some of your time.
- If you have kids, frame some of their art work and give it to your parents or in-laws.
- Print and decorate customized address labels using your home printer.
- Find a nice journal or binder and make a recipe book with your favorite (family) recipes.
- Instead of presenting recipes in a book, print out nice looking recipe cards. Here is a link to free recipe card downloads. They will look best when printed on card stock instead of regular paper.
- Print out a “birthday sheet”. This sheet is a list of interesting things that happened on the day the recipient was born. You can find free birthday information here or also using the Wikipedia “On This Day…” feature. You can go into the archive and select any date to see interesting events that happened throughout history. Select some that are of interest, and print them out on a sheet. Decorate or frame the sheet for an interesting and original Christmas gift idea.
- Some parents or siblings make it their business to keep track of all family occasions. Birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If you have an event-loving family member, make him or her a personalized calendar with all these important dates pre-filled into it! Whether you get free trail software (do an internet search for free calendar creators), or use a program you already have (like photo shop), the investment will be minimal! If you want to spend a few more dollars, you can get it professionally bound to make it look even better.
- Re-gift: although there are some important regifting etiquette tips to follow, it can be a very cheap way of getting around gift-giving around the holidays.
- Plan gifts in advance. If you plan in advance you are better equipped to stick to your budget. Instead of buying something last minute for the sake of getting a present.
- Give a “shopping spree coupon”. In the spirit of coupon giving, make one that promises a shopping spree (up to a certain amount) to your loved-one. After all, just after Christmas prices drop and even if you won’t spend less, at least you get more for your money and reduce pre-holiday stress.
- Agree to buy gifts for kids only. This is one way to cut back big time on Christmas spending: agree with all adults not to buy each other gifts.
- Agree to an maximum amount for adults. If you want to get each other a little something, stick to a small (fixed) amount. For example, $10. See how creative you can get for very little!
- Initiate a gift exchange (“secret Santa”). Instead of buying one gift for everyone, have everyone only receive one gift. You can draw names or figure out another way to pair up the adults. The point is that you are responsible only for one person’s gift.
- Give a framed picture. You can give a picture of yourself, or of another family member of the recipient. For example, if you have a nice picture of your niece lying around, framing it and giving it to your sister-in-law is bound to be appreciated.
- Instead of using a frame, pick up a customizable coffee tumbler (Starbucks carries them as well), and use a picture of your choice. Wrap it, and it makes a very nice and cheap gift that can be used every day of the year.
- Pool resources for a big gift. Instead of buying someone something small, get together with other family members of friends and pitch in to get one bigger gift together.
- Make a basket. Fill a basket (you can get one at a thrift store!) with homemade chocolates, jam, candies, or sauces. There are endless ways of being creative with this, and you will always save money while giving a really substantial and nice looking gift.
- Shop in antique stores and flea markets for unique, frugal Christmas gifts.
- Knit and afghan or a scarf.
- Sew a quilt from scraps of fabric or cut-up old T-shirts.
- Instead of a gift only for your spouse, agree to “give” each other one large item for the house, or that in some way benefits you both. If you are married or living together, ultimately what you spend comes out of the same combined resources. Pool your budget and get something for both of you.
- If you have children, give them one item from their wish list, and not all. Spoiled kids are not happier kids.
- Give a savings bond. There is no waste, and it gives something for the future. It is also a great way to teach children about money and saving.
- Buy gifts that don’t need electricity or batteries. 40% of all batteries are purchased during the Holidays. Cut the spending by curbing electronic gifts.
- Does your loved-one love to read? Get them a magazine subscription! Subscriptions are, compared to other gifts, very cheap and they look quite substantial. Buy one issue off the rack and wrap it up nicely with a note saying the recipient will receive one each month of the year.
- Recycle last year’s Christmas cookie tins: fill them up with freshly baked cookies (or buy some in the store).
- Another great idea is to fill your recycled Christmas tins (or mason jars from a local thrift store) with baking ingredients and your favorite recipe. Turn an ordinary tin and some flower into a ‘ready to bake’ kit for a thoughtful and fun gift that costs less than $5.
- Iron-on T-Shirts can be a cheap personalized gift idea. Print out cute pictures of your kids or grand kids, and iron them onto a T-shirt. This can run at less than $5 per shirt if you buy a pack of them.
- Stuff mugs with candy or nuts. Wrap the whole thing in cellophane and you have a nice fancy looking gift. You can do the same with bowls or glasses. Kids can get a mug with school supplies (pencils, crayons, etc).
- Put together a ‘care-kit’: get a nice looking box and fill it with soaps, shampoo, deodorant, mints, face wash, and razors. You can make a ‘girls’ and ‘guys’ kit and personalize it easily. Using coupons this can cost less than $10, depending on what you put into it.
- Put together a White Elephant gift exchange.
- Look around your house: old clothes and jewelry make a great dress-up box for kids!
- Make a meaningful gift for your spouse or boy/girlfriend by putting together a photo album full of pictures of the past year you spend together. Include notes, or mementos related to the events in the pictures.
- Make a slide show of your favorite digital pictures or videos. Add your favorite songs or some romantic music.
- A gift for people who travel a lot: record yourself reading one of their favorite books as an MP3 file they can upload to an MP3 player or burn onto a CD.
- If you do the traveling, record a month’s worth of bedtime stories for your kids to listen to when you are away.
- Family heirlooms and memorabilia make great gifts for the next generation. The older we get, the more stuff we have. Some of it is valuable and some is a reminder of our past. These make great gifts from parent to children or grandchildren. It doesn’t cost any extra money, and it can pass on a sense of family history.
Save More During Christmas with Gift Ideas Under $10
Here are some more gift ideas that cost less than $10 each:
- Gourmet coffee with a coffee mug.
- Pound of nuts, wrapped in a nice cello or organza bag and ribbons.
- Journal with a personalized message on the first page.
- Homemade cocoa mix in a nice jar.
- Family photo collage.
- Stationary & good pens or note cards.
- Bottle of wine or sparkling cider.
- Home baked cookies, bread, or cake with the recipe!
- Baking mix and a nice baking pan.
- A famous family recipe, framed or in a recipe book.
- A basket with deli cheeses
- Craft supplies (great for kids too!)
- A serving bowl or platter, with fruit or other food in it.
- Decorative napkins with napkin rings
- Fancy chocolate bars, wrapped or tied together.
- Flower seeds with a nice pot, or with gardening gloves.
- A photo album you personalized or decorated by hand.
- A collection of different magazines tied together.
- Gift certificated for a movie theater
- Board games (pick classics you loved when you were a kid for nostalgic value! Particularly if you are giving them to a sibling, and have fond memories of playing together).
- Specialty cookbook (did your friend love traveling through Asia? Get him an Asian themed cookbook!)
- Paperback books, or certificates for a bookstore.
- Set of dishtowels.
- Nail polish kit.
- Kitchen gadgets
- Pepper mill and fresh peppercorns (great for the cook in the family).
- Nice box for keepsakes, or some home-organization help for those living in cramped spaces (or friends who are just challenged in that area).
- Christmas ornaments are also a favorite cheap gift: it is very personal and the recipient will always remember you for giving it. As a result, it will have special meaning every year.
- Embroider a favorite quote and frame it, or embroider it on a pillowcase.
- Plan your shopping far ahead of time so you stick to your budget, and make fewer trips. Take public transit when possible, or drive once for one large shopping trip. Don’t underestimate the money being wasted with all those little extra trips to the store for gifts you forgot to pick up.
Save money on wrapping paper
After buying the gifts, you will need to wrap your packages. Whether you are spending a penny or a hundred dollars on gifts, at least you can save some more on the packaging. Don’t worry; your Christmas gifts will still look amazing.
- Use colorful magazines pages to wrap small presents.
- Use the comics section of your local newspaper for nice wrapping paper, particularly for kids. You can save them up a few weeks before Christmas, and have a stash of paper.
- If there is artwork your kids made that won’t make it to the fridge, and they don’t mind giving it to their aunt or uncle, use it to wrap gifts.
- Use packing paper. Large reams can be bought for very little money.
- You can even decorate packing paper (fun, cheap family event!) with glitter, stamps, and paint. If anyone you know is moving, you can probably get all the paper you need for free.
- Save wrapping paper you receive throughout the year and roll the pieces onto a tube to protect them. Reuse paper that still looks nice and is undamaged.
- If you live in a big city, look for free Asian newspapers. The pages will make neat looking wrapping paper. So will regular newspaper pages.
- Use cheap ribbons, they will look just as nice as expensive ribbons!
- Instead of buying ribbons, hunt around the house for fabric scraps that can be made into great ribbons.
- If you like to sew and have quite a bit of fabric scraps, use them to wrap your gifts as well. It will be lovely, and creative, wrapping.
- Use kraft paper or recycled brown paper bags to wrap your gifts. You can reuse paper grocery bags as well, just add a bow or ribbon and you’re done.
- Wrap in take-out containers. Rinse out empty Chinese take-out containers well, and ask for extra ones when you order. Changes are you’ll get them and, provided they are clean, they make for really nice gift boxes that don’t cost a penny.
- Use left over wallpaper, or browse your local thrift store for wall paper. If you are going the thrift store route, look for paper that work for Christmas. Anything green, gold, yellow, red, or stripes work perfectly.
- Don’t spend money on gift tags: make your own. Use scraps of wrapping paper too small to wrap a gift with, but too large to toss away.
- Cut up old Christmas cards also make for good gift tags.
Save On Your Christmas Food Budget
The gifts are under the tree, but hopefully you didn’t wait this long to start planning Christmas dinner. There are a number of ways to save on food, no matter how large your party is!
- First and foremost: plan ahead. If you know what you need for Christmas, you can keep an eye out for your local deals. Browse store flyers and stock up on canned items or dry goods that are on sale.
- Compare prices: not every sale is a good deal. Shop at different grocery stores in your neighborhood and take advantage of their best deals. Don’t buy the items that are more expensive though, get them on your next trip to a cheaper store.
- Cook at home. No matter how busy the Christmas season is, if you want to save money you need to cook at home. Resist temptation of buying ‘ready to eat’ packaged foods. They are less healthy and they cost more money.
- Use store brands whenever possible. If you cook at home, no one will notice the difference!
- Use coupons when you shop. Frugal-minded shoppers do this all year long, but Christmas time can be a good time to save as well on items you buy anyways. Look for coupons online and in your local flyers.
- Host a pot-luck Christmas dinner. Ask each family member of friend to bring one particular dish, and you can provide the main course (for example the turkey). All side dishes will be taken care of this way, and your food budget can be slashes down to a third of what you would normally spend.
- Use dishes instead of paper plates. It can be tempting to buy paper plates if you are having a large party, but dealing with the mess afterwards can save you a lot of money. Disposable dishes are not free either, after all.
- Bake/Cook several dishes at a time. An oven will cost just as much energy to heat for one dish as it does for two. Bake several dishes at a time and use your oven less.
- Use the smallest possible appliance: if a microwave or toaster oven can do the job, then don’t fire up your largest oven for a small cooking task.
- Keep lids on pots. This reduces time needed (=energy) to cook, and over time it adds up.
Christmas Entertaining and Saving Money
- Rent movies and host a family movie night, instead of going to the theater. By renting a movie, and popping your own popcorn, the average family can save $50 or more in one evening.
- For formal evenings, consider renting formal clothing or buying them cheaper at consignment stores.
- Sew your own dress for formal Christmas dinners, or spruce up an old dress shortening a long gown, adding rhinestones, ribbons or other decorations.
- Carpool or walk to neighborhood or family parties.
- Bring your own camera instead of using disposable cameras to capture holiday memories.
- Faster film speeds, such as 400 or 800, reduce the use of flash and extend battery life, and cost you less money in replacement batteries.
- Buy rechargeable batteries and a charger to save big over time. Particularly if you have a digital camera.
- Play board games or share stories. Bond with your loved-ones and save money while having fun.
- Take your family for a drive around town to see the Christmas lights.
- Leave the car at home for even bigger savings, and walk around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights, then come home to hot cocoa.
- Sing Christmas carols together. Attend a community group or church and participate in Christmas activities that don’t cost a penny.
- Gather the family to decorate the tree together, bake cookies, make gifts or gift wrapping and spend time together.
- When entertaining guests, turn down the thermostat. Filling a house with extra bodies will bring up the heat, at zero cost to you (as long as you turn down the heat).
- While spending time together as a family (or if you go on vacation), unplug your electronic devices. TVs, DVD players, computers, printers, and radios still use energy even when they are turned off. Unplug them to save on energy.
- Attend a Christmas pageant in your community. Many churches and schools put them on and are a great way to spend an evening during your Christmas holiday.
- Set up a family slumber party in your living room and camp out together using sleeping bags. Keep the Christmas lights on for this one night, and enjoy each other’s company as a family.
- Look at pictures from past years Christmases. You can leaf through your photo albums, or set up a slideshow. You can show your kids pictures from Christmas when you were their age, and tell family stories. With the size of an average family’s photo collection these days it is easy to spend an evening this way.
- Read Christmas stories together. Get books from the library or buy classics that will be enjoyed year after year.
- Visit a nursing home. Christmas is a difficult time for elderly people who don’t have (m)any loved ones left. Bring someone a card and some cookies or food and your company will brighten their day.
- Track Santa Claus using NORAD.
- Go ice skating. Ice skating rinks often have special rates around the Holidays. Call around to find a good deal. Most big cities have free rinks as well.
- Use Skype to call loved-ones who are far away. It’s free, so it will cost less than sending a Christmas card, and if you have a web cam it can mean the world.
- Watch the Christmas specials on TV. My personal favorites are Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
- Have a Christmas tree picnic. Gather with your family, or just with your spouse for a nice dinner by the Christmas tree. Turn of all the lights and just leave your Christmas lights on.
- Last, but never least: invite someone you would never think of inviting. You never know who will be alone this Christmas, and inviting someone to celebrate with you can be the biggest gift you could ever give.
Christmas is not about spending money, it is about spending time together with the people you love. Regardless of your view on Christmas, if you are planning a frugal Christmas this year these 150 strategies and ideas should get you pretty far. Do you have any of your own ideas to add to this list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!