What to do When you Have No Money for Christmas Dinner

The holiday season is a magical time of year, but it can also be a stressful time of year if you have no money for Christmas.

no money for christmas

While there is so much joy and excitement at Christmastime, it can also be a source of anxiety if you lack the funds to give your family the Christmas you want to. While we often talk about ways to afford presents and stocking stuffers on a tight budget, we can sometimes forget that even figuring out how to provide a nice, Christmas meal for our loved ones can be a financial burden for some people if you don’t have a lot of money.

It isn’t just Christmas Day dinner that can be a huge expense. Many families like to do something special for breakfast on Christmas morning as well.

Fortunately, there are ways to have a wonderful Christmas dinner and Christmas morning breakfast even if you have a tight budget.


Cook chicken instead of turkey. Chicken and turkey meat are pretty similar, yet you can usually buy a smaller chicken for a more affordable price than if you were to buy turkey. Most of us don’t eat all the turkey in one meal and end up having leftovers (can anyone say turkey sandwiches and soup for days??) You can also choose to cook ham instead of turkey too which you can often find cheaper.

If you feel like the only way you can have stuffing is a turkey, think again. There are plenty of oven recipes for stuffing and many people don’t even cook their stuffing in the turkey anymore anyways due to new food safety recommendations.

Purchase some of the food weeks beforehand. Each grocery shop you take in December buy a few items that you can store in the pantry or freezer. This can help ease the burden of trying to buy food for Christmas dinner all at once. You may also be able to score some deals as well if you keep your eye on the flyers for weeks leading up to Christmas.

Invite family to bring a dessert or side dish. If you have family coming over for Christmas dinner, ask them if they can bring something to contribute to the dinner. It isn’t difficult to bring some cookies, dinner rolls, or a caesar salad.

Limit the number of side dishes you make. We often go overboard during holidays when it comes to food. I’m not going to lie, I love food, but we probably don’t need three types of veggies and 4 kinds of pies. Just keep it simple.

Make bread from scratch, and lots of it. Bread is the ultimate frugal food, yet if you make it from scratch it tastes like you are indulging in gourmet food. On top of that, it’s so filling. Be sure to add some type of bread,dinner roll, or biscuit to your Christmas menu. Adding spices and herbs like rosemary and garlic to the top of a dinner roll covered in butter turns any basic bun into a delicious extravagance.

For a special Christmas morning breakfast, make frugal foods like cinnamon buns or eggs. Every Christmas morning we eat homemade cinnamon buns. It’s one of the only times of the year I make them. Cinnamon buns are super cheap to make. Some other cheap foods you could make are eggs, granola, homemade yogurt, or french toast. For us we don’t usually have big, hot breakfasts every day so anything out of the ordinary is a treat for the family.

Focus less on the food and more on the experience. Anything that makes Christmas dinner different than every other dinner can make it special. Light candles to place in the middle of the table. Use a tablecloth, or if you have small kids who have short attention spans pull out crayons and Christmas coloring sheets to use at the table during dinner. Play some Christmas music. Heck, wear your Christmas jammies to Christmas dinner if you want!

Kids especially remember those little fun things way more than they remember what they didn’t eat. When they grow up they might reminisce about the memory of you all eating Christmas dinner in your cozy jammies while coloring pictures together by candlelight and more than likely they will never even know that money was extremely tight that year.

Sign up for a Christmas dinner program. Here in Canada in most locations you can sign up with a local agency or the food bank for a Christmas dinner. About a week or so before Christmas Day they will drop off a turkey along with groceries to make side dishes.

In the US or if you live in a country outside of the US or Canada, it varies on what services are offered, but many areas have either government agencies, churches, or charities that offer some kind of program for Christmas dinner, whether it be a Christmas basket or a dinner you can attend. If you can’t afford Christmas dinner in any way but still want to somehow enjoy one with your family, check around your local community to see what is available.


Above all else remember that Christmas is what you make it. While it can be discouraging to not be able to afford the “traditional” type of Christmas dinner everyone around you seems to be taking part in, you can have a wonderful, magical Christmas even if it doesn’t look exactly like what you are used to.

Remember that our children especially are watching how we react to our circumstances and many times if we stay positive and are thankful for what we DO have, our kids often don’t even notice we’ve fallen on hard times.

A few years ago when my husband entered his first year of trade school our family lived on a lot of pasta and potatoes for a couple months while our income was extremely tight. Many nights at dinner time I made a point to explain to the kids that God was taking care of us while their Dad was in school, and how blessed we were to have food on the table every night, a roof over our head, and clothes on our back.

If you asked my kids today about that time they wouldn’t really remember much of it because we didn’t make a big deal in front of them about our tight budget. Truth is, my husband and I were a little stressed and concerned about how we were going to pay our bills, but we didn’t want our kids to carry that burden so we made a point to enjoy the little things during that time. Of course, we made it through, and God DID take care of us, even if we were sick of potatoes and pasta after 8 weeks. 🙂

It’s the same with Christmas. If you are excited about the holidays with your family no matter what you are doing, chances are they will follow your lead and be excited about the little things too. You can make it through Christmas and in the end have a bunch of memories to show for it, even with a tight budget.  If you have no money for Christmas, use some of the above ideas to enjoy the season no matter how much cash you have.

2 thoughts on “What to do When you Have No Money for Christmas Dinner”

  1. Great article! I would like to mention something, though. When I buy turkey, I go for the utility birds. Generally, there’s something wrong with the way these birds look. One may be missing a wing or not all the giblets are there. These birds cost less than chicken or ham, and even with my gang stuffing themselves, I can get three meals out of one bird! I know we all seem to have the “golden bird served whole & carved at the table” image in our heads, but no one remembers how it looks- just how it tastes!

    Right now, I am saving up my PC Optimum points, so I can get the “extras” for our Christmas feasting without having an anxiety attack on my next grocery day!

    1. Oh, yes! I completely forgot about the mentioning utility birds! Thanks for sharing! And using point programs is another excellent idea! I have done that before too.:)

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