Christmas on a Budget

Christmas is known as the most wonderful time of the year.  But, it isn’t always that way for everyone.  Learn how to survive the holidays with no money by celebrating Christmas on a budget.

Christmas on a budget

My family has had more than their fair share of hard Christmases.  There have been years where I’ve looked at our bank account and wondered how in the world I could buy presents, or what I would do about making a nice Christmas dinner when we literally would have no money for Christmas.

Planning for the holidays didn’t feel very wonderful during those difficult years.  However, we always managed to have memorable, happy Christmases, despite the fact that we had no money.

We’ve grown accustomed to Christmas being bigger and better every year.  It’s no secret that the holidays have become over commercialized.  Walk into any store months before the Christmas season and they are already filling their aisles with more Christmas products than we know what to do with. 

No longer is it standard to have only one Christmas tree in your house.  The average person has two or more.

If you are the type of person who enjoys multiple Christmas trees in your home during the season and it doesn’t break your budget, than I say go for it.  But if you are like our family, and have a more modest type of budget during the holidays, it’s time to remind yourself that you don’t have to keep up with those around you. 

It’s time to believe that Christmas can be just as magical without all the bells and whistles.  You may just need to tune out the noise going on around you so that you can focus on a different kind of Christmas that you can provide for your family.

I’ve already talked in previous posts on how to make money for Christmas, as well as how to save more money for Christmas, but what if no matter what you do, there just isn’t time to have enough cash for Christmas presents and celebrations?

If that sounds like you, then read on to see how to have a Christmas on a budget that is still magical and memorable.


Keep presents to a minimum for the kids, and shop at thrift stores.  In our house we do four main gifts for the kids – “something to wear, something to read, something you want, and something you need.” 

While our budget is not quite as tight as it once was, years ago all their gifts were either from the thrift store, or homemade.  They didn’t care where they came from, because we still picked out things we knew they would like.  I literally bought books for a couple dollars for them at that time!

Make gifts.  There are so many creative gifts you can make for kids.  I really like this “I Spy” game you can make with many trinkets you have around the house.  I also make play dough for stocking stuffers every year.  I am loving this homemade play dough construction site kit as well!

Buy gifts for only you kids and spouse.  Giving presents to our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc. can be such a special thing to do.  However, if you are struggling with extreme financial problems that will cause you to go into debt if you buy Christmas gifts for everyone on your list, it may be time to sit down with your family and explain the situation, and that maybe you need to pass on buying gifts this year. 

You can do other things like bake them some homemade bread or cinnamon buns, write a heartfelt letter, or offer to do some chores for them.  You could also suggest drawing names among extended family so that you are all buying one gift instead of a bunch for everyone. 

But, if you have no money for Christmas, it may be time to rethink the long list of people you usually buy for.

Make your own wrapping paper or re-use gift bags.  We keep gift bags from presents we’ve received over the years.  We are able to put gifts in them again and again!  You can also make wrapping paper from supplies you have lying around at home.  If you are broke for Christmas, skip the store bought wrapping paper and get creative!

Take part in free Christmas activities.  Christmas is a busy time of year for community events and many of them are free.  Our family takes in a free Christmas parade every year. Our local mall sets up a model train every Christmas that my kids could watch for hours! 

We also visit a local pioneer homestead conservation area that puts on free Christmas celebrations.  Churches and schools put on Christmas plays, and organizations like YMCAs over holiday events as well.  There is no shortage of fun things to do for the Christmas season that are free.  We usually run out of time and never seem to get to do all that we want to do every season!

Make your own advent calendar.  Okay, you can get advent calendars pretty cheap at the dollar store, but anyone who is absolutely broke beyond broke understands that EVERY DOLLAR MATTERS and that it all adds up. 

So cutting expenses wherever, even when it is just a couple dollars counts, especially when celebrating Christmas on a budget.  Years ago when we were at our tightest I made advent calendars, and instead of doing chocolate, I put a little slip of paper in each pocket with something we would do that day together. 

Things like, drink hot chocolate while watching a Christmas movie together, build a snowman, go see the model train at the mall, do a Christmas craft, etc.  The kids LOVED that I was intentional about spending time with them each day and didn’t even miss the chocolate.

Make Christmas decorations.  If you have no money at Christmastime but are lacking Christmas decorations, there are tons of items you can make yourself often with ingredients or items you have at home. 

The last couple years we made salt dough ornaments for the tree, and in all honesty, I prefer the old fashioned rustic look of the salt dough ornaments for Christmas decorations.

We’ve also dried out orange slices and hung them on the tree.  You can make paper chains with your children, or even paper snowflakes to hang around the house.  It’s actually quite amazing what kinds of things you can make to decorate your home.

Cook chicken instead of turkey.  Buying a chicken instead of a turkey is cheaper.  Other ways to save on the dinner is to make your gravy from scratch from the meat drippings instead of buying premade gravy, making your own rolls or bread,  and making your own desserts. 

You can make something like brownies or pie for a fraction of the cost you would pay for fancy premade desserts in the grocery store.

Have a potluck.  If you are hosting Christmas dinner, consider doing a potluck.  Ask guests to bring a side dish, and you can cook the meat and a few extras.  This can cut down on costs considerably.


If we all had it our way, Christmas would be the one time of year that we had more money and were able to be a little more free with it. Christmas on a budget is not necessarily the way we dreamed the holidays would be. 

However, if we are not wise during the holiday season, then come January we will have a horrible feeling in the pit of our stomach as we look at our credit card bills and wonder what we were thinking and how long it will take us to pay it off. 

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year, but only if we aren’t thrown into debt over it!  It’s okay to do Christmas a little differently than what society tells us it should look like.

As we have spent the past few years being more mindful about our expenses at Christmas time we have felt more peace and joy over the holidays.

Even our kids have responded well to a more budget friendly Christmas by really enjoying those special times of celebrating with simple things like family time watching Christmas movies and trail walks in the snow.

If you are wondering how to survive Christmas on a budget, apply some of these tips and just really soak up those magical moments with your family, no matter how simple they may seem.  Those are the times that are often the most special.

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