I might have overdone it last Christmas due to a little thing called overcompensation. The first Christmas after separating from my ex and the first (but sadly not last) Christmas eve I didn’t spend with my kids. This year they wake up Christmas morning here and I’m all about making that special for us – but not about spending the money.
Holiday magic when you have NO money
Truth is, all the junk we bought that year (except the Xbox) is mostly cast aside. Yet my oldest still talks about that one time she came home from school and there was a scavenger hunt set up.
Instead of spending a fortune this Christmas, we’re focusing on what really matters. No, we’re not religious, but if you are you can do your thing. What we are celebrating is family. You can do that with no money.
Leading up to the holidays
- Do a fun advent calendar! Instead of the cheap chocolate kind we’re making our own that will be filled with fun activities and surprises.
- Take advantage of free activities. Photos with Cabela’s camo Santa, anyone?
- Host holiday parties on the cheap. Make everything a potluck that way you’re not out a huge cost and don’t forget to remind them to bring their own beverage.
- Create some family traditions. Looking at Christmas lights, a winter walk followed by hot cocoa, anything can become a tradition.
- Purge purge purge! There’s nothing like realizing how much junk you have to put a stop on holiday shopping.
- Take your own photos. I’m a huge supporter of professional holiday photos but if you can’t afford it DIY. Why not?
- Go digital. With the high cost of postage (and rolling strikes here in Canada right now) the mail is not a frugal way to do things. Print photos or do photo gifts for the important relatives and send the rest by email or social media.
- Skip it. They’re not necessary, really. Call your extended relatives or send them a Facebook message.
Gift giving when you have no money
- Make it practical. One year my mom gave the kids a case of Kraft Dinner and box of mandarin oranges. They loved it! Some other ideas are bath supplies, personal items they need (eg. water bottle), hats and mittens, and clothes. My middle kid asked for a hoodie like her brother got for his b-day.
- Break it apart. If you want to make a bigger impact break larger gifts into smaller packages, if you can. I’m famous for individually wrapping pairs of socks.
- Thrift and freebies. You’d be surprised how much you can subsidize you gift giving at the thrift store. I already have a bunch of great gifts for my kids that one cost a few bucks but are worth way more.
- Dollar store. Sometimes you can find good scores here, especially when it comes to stocking stuffers and craft supplies. The best part about something like Dollar Tree where everything is a set price though? Taking the kids shopping. They can pick anything they want for gramma and it’s going to run under $10. In these cases the thought really does count.
- Don’t buy junk. This is the worst part about the holidays. Instead of buying junky gifts because you want to make things equal or feel like you “didn’t get enough” don’t. Step back and realize that it’s not about the stuff and it’s definitely not about filling your, or someone else’s, house with more of it.
- Talk to your kids about the situation. It’s OK to let them know when you can’t afford a gift they’ve asked for, or that they won’t be getting everything on their list.
- Focus on the activities. Instead of making getting gifts the main focus shift gears to your family time.
- Give. Even if it’s small this is a great time to get kids focused more on giving then getting. You can also DIY stuff together for family and friends.
- Tell you relatives no. Instead of buying for everyone host a gift exchange with a low cost. We do one where you have to thrift or DIY everything and the budget is $20.
- Keep Santa magic alive. Tell the kids he doesn’t deliver expensive gifts because there are so many kids to worry about.
Wrap it up
Wrapping paper is so expensive! Here’s where you can get it for FREE:
- Reuse newspapers (our local paper has wrapping paper print on a few pages as a feature right now).
- Use the paper your kids have drawn on as wrapping paper instead of throwing it away (especially if you have a large roll you use).
- Freebies/the dump (seriously I found a bunch of wrapping paper at our local dump. They have a section where you can leave things for free. Also got a doll house there!).
- Reusable bags are not totally free but a great way to wrap up gifts and have wrapping you’re not going to throw away.
Buying it on sale after the holidays is a great way to stock up as well.
Make Christmas morning magical
- My favourite holiday tradition is what we do Christmas eve. Each year the kids get to open one small gift. This year I’m going to be very intentional doing a Christmas Eve box for them so we can have some family time together.
- Don’t put the presents under the tree. A tradition from my own parents and aggravation to my kids, I don’t put their gifts under the tree before Christmas morning. This leads to a big “wow” moment when they wake up the next day.
- It’s all in the details. Have the fire roaring, the Christmas music playing, and Christmas smells in the air.
- Take it slow. Don’t just tear into gifts. Take as long as you can to open them one at a time.
- Show gratitude. For the kids’ cheesy DIY gifts and things you don’t even like. Model it for the kids and encourage them to show it too.
The truth is we can afford some holiday gifts thanks to my blogging and business income. I also like to have pretty big Christmases for my kids, although anything with 5 kids is big! The difference is I try and be very intentional with my gift giving and try not to spend too much money. We’d rather use that cash on vacations or home stuff.