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Are you facing Christmas with no money? Is your Christmas budget non existent? Your holidays can still be magical. We’ve got ideas for free gifts and activities, no-cost decorations, and tips to help you deal with food and entertaining.
You long to create a magical Christmas for your family, but you are flat broke. The kids are getting excited about the coming holiday, but you are stressed out just thinking about how to pay for it. I have some great news. You CAN celebrate Christmas with NO money! I did it for years and I have some excellent tips to help you do just that.
This is a long post with loads of ideas, so I created a table of contents. That way you can jump to directly to the sections that interest you. Click on the little blue arrow to come back to the top.
A WORD ABOUT CHRISTMAS BUDGETS
Are you sick and tired of hearing words Christmas budget? You’ve tried everything but you are just managing to stay afloat financially and then some well meaning person writes something along these lines
- “Once you’ve figured out the total you want to spend for Christmas”
- “First, decide how much you can spend on Christmas gifts.”
- “This is how the best Christmas budget tool works. First, decide how much you are going to spend.”
Do you see the common theme? They all assume you have money for Christmas.
- But what if you have no money set aside?
- What if you spent your Christmas fund on an unexpected car repair?
- Perhaps you expected to have money, but you are now dealing with the panic of job loss or unexpected illness.
Is it still possible to have a wonderful Christmas?
You bet it is! It’s going to take some creativity and thinking outside the box. It may mean changing the way you do some things, but Christmas will still be amazing. Are you ready to begin?
FIRST OFF – ADJUST YOUR MINDSET
I know it’s really hard to get excited about Christmas when you’re stressed about money. But here’s the thing – our attitude towards Christmas will make a huge difference. Have you noticed that your kids pick up on your feelings really fast? If you’re excited about Christmas then your children will be too.
You’ve got this and it’s going to be fabulous.
NOW PUT A HOLD ON COMMERCIALS
At this time of year we are bombarded with even more advertisements than usual. Flyers, catalogues, e-mails and TV ads all do the same thing. It is their job to create an anxiety – to tell you that you are responsible for recreating the perfect Christmas shown in the advertisement. Why your very worth as a parent hangs in the balance.
Then they provide the solution- you can buy it from us at $40% off. What a deal!
It is utter bullshit of course, but those commercials are really convincing.
Companies shell out millions of dollars to target you (and your children) and they use every mind trick in the book. Frankly they DON’T care about your well being (or your children’s). They have one goal. To get you to spend money you don’t have on things your kids don’t need. You don’t need their voices messing up your thinking. It’s time to stop them in their tracks.
This might mean
- unsubscribing from e-mails that advertise stuff
- stopping junk mail
- tossing catalogues straight into the recycling,
- installing ad block software onto your browser <– BEST thing I ever did!!
If you want to go one step further, cancel commercial television. I know! So hard! But stay with me here.
You’ll be amazed what happens when your kids are no longer watching advertisements. You do not want them hearing the message that their life will be meaningless if they don’t get (this years expensive, gimmicky, toy). You will find that “I wants” are easily tamed when they don’t know what they are missing.
Let your kids watch DVDs from the library or programs on Netflix and enjoy living in a commercial free zone.
TALK TO FAMILY (AND FRIENDS)
This is the point where you need to have some frank conversations. I’m sure that your spouse/partner is aware of your financial situation. Still you want to make sure that you are both on the same page when it comes to Christmas. Find some time to sit down and talk about your goals and desires for the holiday. Brainstorm ideas. You are going to need their support and help.
Next figure out who in your extended family (or friends) needs to know.
- Perhaps you usually exchange gifts with particular friends or family members?
- Maybe you have traditions that require spending money, such as shopping trips with a friend, or going out for a special evening with another couple?
You don’t need to go into detail, but simply let them know that finances are tight and you can’t do those things this year. You can probably find free alternatives, so suggest those things.
You also need to talk to your children. I’m not sure that younger kids need to know, as they won’t notice the difference. Younger kids don’t care about presents, but they will find wonder in the decorations, family traditions, and movies. All those things are free for the taking.
However you do need to talk with older children and teens. Reassure them that Christmas will still be wonderful, but the focus will not be on gifts. Enlist their help. If you want to ham it up, present them with a challenge.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help us find ways to celebrate Christmas, that are completely free.”
The one who finds the most creative ideas can be crowned the queen or king of Christmas.
Older kids/teens can help
- Come up with fun Christmassy activities that are completely free. Here’s a great list of simple traditions to help get you started.
- Create a free Christmas play list on Spotify web player.
- Pick out Christmas books, movies and audio books at the library.
- Find and make simple ornaments.
- Help you make simple gifts
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SKIP SOME THINGS THIS YEAR
We want to celebrate a great Christmas WITHOUT spending any money right? So that might mean giving up the things that cost money and replacing them with free alternatives. Here are some things you can give up without missing out on Christmas magic.
- Buying and mailing Christmas cards
- New decorations
- Commercial Advent Calendars
- Gifts for extended family and friends
- Splurging on masses of Christmas treats
- Expensive gifts
There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but they all take money you don’t have right now. If you need to write yourself a permission slip, go right ahead. I find it helpful!
Family Tip: Make a list of all things you usually do at Christmas. Highlight everything that costs money. Find creative ways to replace them with free activities. For example there are loads of free Advent Calendars that can be downloaded and printed.
CREATING A CHRISTMASSY FEEL WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME
Let’s dive in and get to the things that will start to create Christmas magic for your family.
Decorate the House For Free
Before we go any further we’re going to decorate the house. It’s that simple. There is something magical about Christmas decorations isn’t there? It is one of the things that make the season so special. Here’s how to do it for free
1.”Shopping your house” is a great way to start. It basically means using what you already have. For example you could
- Gather candles from around your house and arrange them with ornament you already have.
- Pile spare Christmas balls or into glass containers or bowls for pops of Christmas color.
- String spare fairy lights along windowsills and book shelves, and arrange decorations amongst them, it makes the room look very festive.
2. Use natural items that you can pick up on a nature walk or scavenge from your garden (or a friend’s yard). Here’s some lovely ideas.
It’s amazing what you can do with a few green branches and some pinecones. Here are 3 simple ideas from Pinterest. Two of them could replace a Christmas tree .
3. Use Free Christmas printables. There are loads of beautiful Christmas printables available on-line and many of them are completely free. All you have to do is download the file, print them out and put them in an old photo frame or display on a clipboard. Try these or these .
4. Ask friends if they have any decorations they don’t use. If you have no decorations at all, then send out a message to friends asking if they have spare ornaments or lights to offer. You will probably be deluged!
Nine years ago I was newly divorced with no money. I covered a cardboard box with a red cloth. On top I placed a tabletop tree that I got for next to nothing. We decorated the tiny tree with the few ornaments and lights we already had. Then we arranged the rest around the apartment. I tucked sprigs of greenery and pinecones in among our decorations and lit candles. It cost me nothing, but made our home feel like Christmas.
For more ideas: Read Christmas Decorations on a budget
Play Free Christmas Music
Seasonal music is another thing that helps create a Christmassy feeling. Spotify web player lets you set up a free account and create play lists for free. If you are short on time, search for other people’s Christmas playlists and play them.
I actually have a Christmas Pop playlist on right now (don’t judge). There are all kinds of festive playlists from Christmas Classics to Kid’s Christmas. If you find one you like, just add it to your library. You can play them from your computer, or connect your phone to a speaker.
Note: the free version of Spotify does have advertisements every 30 minutes, but they are usually ads for their paid plans and aren’t too obnoxious.
You can borrow audio discs from the library if you don’t fancy Spotify.
Watch Christmas movies
In addition to the decorations and music, you are going to schedule movie nights regularly in the weeks coming up to Christmas. You can find free Christmas movies
- In your own collection
- On YouTube – Here’s a one with a great message or this oldie.
- On Netflix
- At your library (or order them in from other libraries).
- Check to see if your library has access to Hoopla . They have Christmas movies for streaming.
DO SOMETHING CHRISTMASSY EVERY DAY
To top it off, try and spend time each day doing something Christmassy during the month of December. It might be going to look at Christmas lights, enjoying seasonal crafts, or just reading a Christmas books. All of these things are free, but go a long way to creating the magic of Christmas and creating memories.
By now you’ll have realised that a great Christmas is yours for the taking. But we are now moving onto the trickier things.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT GIFTS WHEN YOU HAVE NO MONEY?
We all know that the holidays are more than just gifts. But here’s the rub. The desire to give gifts doesn’t just go away because you can’t afford it. There is something special about giving meaningful gifts to those you love. So what’s the answer?
- Find ways to give gifts for free
- Look for things that give incredible value for very little money.
Here’ some tips
Downsize your giving
Remember that Christmas isn’t a competition to see who can get the most gifts. Unless of course your name is Dudley Dursley! Many parents are discovering that children benefit from having fewer toys. You children will not suffer if they don’t have a huge stack of gifts.
How about giving kids 4 gifts for Christmas? – Something you want, something you need. Something to wear and something to read.
Enlist the help of grandparents
If family members are in the habit of giving gifts, you might ask them if they would like to help you buy one (or more) of the four things.
Shop your house
Most of us have things that we’ve never used. Why not regift them.
- Has your child been given a gift over the last year they have never really played with? Re-wrap it – and stick it under the tree.
- Do your older kids have gently used toys that they no longer play with? Ask for permission to regift them to a younger sibling.
- Gather random supplies you already have around the house, like markers, kid’s scissors, glue stick, crafts sticks, stickers or googly eyes. Use them to fill an art gift basket.
- Print off a selection of play doh mats and make up a batch of playdoh.
- Do you have jewellery, scarves, or candles you’ve never used? They make great gifts.
- Have photo frames that are empty? Fill them with inspirational art like these or these.
- DVDs – package them with some microwave popcorn
Check out the thrift store
Thrift stores are great places to pick up gently used items that can be gifted. Things like
- Dress up clothes
- Art supplies
- Mugs – Here’s 15 things you can put into mugs for easy gifts
- Photograph frames for free printables or photographs.
- silk scarves
Coupons have always been a really easy way to give gifts without spending money. Give coupons for
- Free babysitting (great for a young family)
- A evening of chick flicks and chocolate
- Clearing one flower bed in the spring
- A batch of (insert baked goods)
What are you good at? Organizing closets, gardening, or crafts? All of those skills can be gifted to others with a coupon.
Here’s free printable coupons for
Kids also love coupons they can “spend” at any time is always popular. The two favorites in our house was a week without chores and a batch of favorite cookies. Other ideas include choosing what’s for dinner tonight, a favorite breakfast, and an extra story at bedtime.
Take advantage of reward programs
Most of these programs require a lot of points to get anything worthwhile, but there are a few that don’t require you to save for eons.
- Do have a magazine lover in your family? Join Recycle Bank and watch some of their videos (or do some of their activities) to earn points that can then be used to buy magazines. Magazine subscriptions start at around 200 points. I watched a 4 minute video and earned 30 pints, so it wouldn’t take long to earn enough for a magazine subscription for a loved one. There is a wide variety of great magazines available.
- Air miles can be used to get movie passes.
- Our local grocery store has a point system. You collect points every time you go shopping. These can be redeemed for in-store purchases. We only have two grocery stores in our town, so we shop there often. We saved $120 in the past year.
Gifts from your garden
If you are a keen gardener why not gift the fruits of your labour?
- Homemade jams and preserves are always popular.
- This year we grew a spectacular display of beautiful poppies. Friends and family members clamoured for seeds, so guess what they are getting for Christmas? If you want to make it special print out this cute seed packet.
- My step-daughter and her partner had an abundance of mint last year. They picked and dried it, then put it into drawstring tea bags as part of our Christmas gift last year. Mint tea is a refreshing alternative to coffee or tea and we really enjoyed it.
Gifts From Your Kitchen
Naturally home baking makes a wonderful gift, but it can get a bit pricey. Here’s some cheaper options.
- Mixes are quick and easy to make and use ingredients found in your pantry. Here 30 mixes to package in a jar.
- Mix up some grilling spices or a homemade taco seasoning.
- Make a double batch of an inexpensive dinner you can freeze (soup is an cheap option), eat one and freeze the other to give away to loved ones. This is perfect for families with small children!
Careful with these as they can sometimes get super expensive to make. You also want to make sure that you have the time.
Find gifts that give great value for money
Gifts do not have to be expensive to be meaningful. In fact the more expensive things tend to be gimmicky novelties. This is particularly true for children’s toys.
Here’s some toys that will encourage imaginative play. There cost between $7- $30 and will give really great value for money.
How about toys that will entice your kids outside? These are all $10 and under.
HOW TO MANAGE FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
Good food, treats and alcohol seem to go hand in hand with Christmas. Unfortunately they can also be very expensive. I found that providing a few special things went a long way towards making Christmas special. You don’t need to overdo it.
Try listing five food items that make Christmas to you. My five are
- Cranberry chutney
- Mulled wine
- Dark chocolate
- Christmas fruit cake
Make a list of all the ingredients you need and try buying a few things a week until you have what you need. Here’s some tips to help you keep the cost down
- Check to see what these items usually cost
- Watch for sales and take advantage of them. Be warned that not everything in a flyer is on sale, that’s why you need to know your prices.
- Find some really inexpensive meals to make like soups, omelettes, or mac and cheese. Then spend the money you save to buy some things from your list.
- If family members want to give gifts, ask them to provide the turkey and trimmings.
- Buy generic where possible. Generic flour bakes up as nicely as the brand name and is half the price.
- If your grocery store has a reward system, use the points to buy the extras. This year we were able to buy almost everything on our list with the points we had collected during the year.
Make inexpensive treats
It is always cheaper to make treats. Popcorn doesn’t cost much and caramel popcorn is easy to make.
Here are some other ideas
Entertaining with no money
Having family and friends over is always a special part of Christmas and there is no reason you can’t continue to do this. Here’s the secret- you provide the space and entertainment and ask the guests to bring food and/or drinks with them.
- Invite friends over for a games evening and ask everyone to bring appetizers and beverages.
- Make a big pot of soup and ask guests to bring bread, garnishes and desserts.
- Hold a cookie exchange.
- Have a pot luck supper
- Invite friends for a movie night and ask everyone to bring snacks and beverages.
FIND SOME EXTRA MONEY
By now you’ll have realised that my focus has been how to celebrate Christmas without money. Still one obvious solution to the problem is to find ways to get the extra cash you need.
I would caution you against overextending yourself at this busy season. Still Making Sense of Cents has 11 real Ways To Make Money Before the Holidays
One helpful thing I did was to hold a “no buy week.” Instead of buying groceries I used the food in my freezer and cupboards. Then I would put aside the money I saved for Christmas. Living Well Spending Less has a 31 day spending freeze challenge. Each day is full of really helpful tips for living well and spending nothing. It’s really worth a look.
Do you have any money saving tips to add? What free activities have you found that bring Christmas into your home?