Ways to stretch your Christmas budget
Many of us are struggling with how to make Christmas “work”. Money is tight, prices are high, and it seems like the Christmas we may want to have is far out of reach. With a little bit of financial finagling and a willingness to try new things, Christmas does not have to cause stress and heartache. There are many areas where you can stretch your budget this holiday season. Four of these areas are entertainment, gifts, activities, and food.
- Go for a “sleigh ride” (in your family vehicle) around town and look at the Christmas lights. Many shopping centers have displays or you may live close to a city that has a residential contest. The lights are fun and pretty to see and often each display is unique. Even big kids can enjoy the creativity that goes into the different displays. Make it even more Christmas filled by listening to or singing carols while you enjoy the decorations. Or read a Christmas book while you drive around. (A few examples of Christmas books are: A Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi, Polar Express, The Night Before Christmas, Room for a Little One, and Christmas in the Big Woods.) Be sure to bring along snacks.
- Borrow movies from the library or save them on your DVR. Christmas movie marathons are a tradition for many families, but purchasing or renting all those movies can rack up the dollars and easily push you over your entertainment budget. Instead of buying the movies (especially if you only watch them once a year) or spending the money to rent them, check out the movies from your local library. It’s important to get the movies on hold now, so you can hopefully watch them before Christmas as the waiting list for these movies can be long. Another option is to use a DVR. If you have a DVR, look up when different Christmas/holiday movies will be on air and record them. Then, when it’s time for the movie marathon, play the movies from your DVR.
If you aren’t able to borrow movies from the library or you usually invite guests to your movie marathon, have everyone bring his/her favorite movie and snack/drink. That way you don’t have to provide all the movies or food, and you get to have your friends enjoy the movies with you!
- Attend a Christmas tree lighting. Most cities and towns have a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Some are small with just a few songs and speakers, others are large with a concert, celebrities, and are even televised. These activities are usually free and allow you to spend time with family and friends (if you wish). If you’re not sure when or where there are tree lightings in your area, be sure to look it up on the computer or check your local news station’s website.
- Have a “handmade” gift exchange. Instead of spending $100s on gifts for all the different family members, suggest a handmade gift exchange. With the help of Pinterest, finding crafts that are simple or intricate (and everything in between) is as easy as a few clicks. You may need to purchase some supplies, but there are plenty of ideas on how to repurpose items you may already have. If you don’t have a Pinterest account, it takes little time to create one. Go to Pinterest and click on create account. If you don’t want to create an account, a simple internet search for frugal handmade gifts, should give you some great ideas.
- Make treats for gifts this year. Similar to making a handmade gift, foods and sweet treats that you make yourself are usually welcomed gifts also. Whether you make fudge and give everyone a dozen pieces, bake muffins or cupcakes, gingerbread cookies, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, or miniature loaves of pumpkin bread; food is a thoughtful gift. (If you do choose to give food as a gift, be sure to know of any dietary restrictions or allergies. It stinks to be given an edible gift that you can’t eat.)
- Have a used gift exchange. This is a bit unusual, but it asks for more creativity in the giving. Each person finds something they own, that they think would make a nice gift. Something they don’t use or have a need for anymore. It should still be nice and in good condition, just not something they want anymore or something they think the receiver else would like even more. Some examples are unused candles, (my family happens to be allergic to most scents, so candles aren’t often burned at our house), books, cookbooks, DVDs, tools, extra cooking utensils and bakeware. The key to this is making sure it’s something the other person will use or enjoy. It’s not meant as a way to get rid of the junk around your house.
- Purchase stocking stuffers from the dollar aisle or dollar store. It’s amazing how many items you can find for $1 if you have the time to look. Many large stores have a $1 aisle that offers all sorts of small items that are perfect for stuffing a stocking. Stores like the Dollar Tree, are filled with items are all $1 or less. Some items you may find are candles, dishware, coloring books, diaries and journals, board books and chapter books, art supplies, small toys, hairbands, cookware, stickers, and more. A good way to make sure you stay on budget in these situations is to give yourself a certain amount to spend and don’t spend more than that amount. It’s easy to go overboard in a $1 store or $1 aisle, and making a list isn’t always easy, because the merchandise can change frequently. This is the perfect place to take a friend or family member with you to help you stick to the amount you set and pick out what would really be the best choices for each persons’ stocking.
- Stay away from Black Friday sales. Sometimes the offers on Black Friday aren’t really that much of a deal or the product isn’t a very good one. (Talking from experience, a Netbook purchase from a Black Friday sale has never worked well and has altogether been a waste of the money and time spent.) Another reason to stay away is because of all the enticing deals that you didn’t plan on buying, but are just too good to pass. The stores are counting on you seeing these deals and spending more of your money. An easy solution, if you’re not there to see it, you’re not going to buy it.
- If Black Friday is a tradition, or there is something you CAN’T pass up, make a list of what you’re going buy and stick to it. To make the shopping more fun and help you stick to your list, have a friend go along who will act as an accountability partner. You both can help each other stick to your budgets and have fun waiting together in the l-o-n-g lines.
- Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. A great way to spend less is to serve others who have less than you. It helps us feel better, takes time away from thinking of what we want to focus on others’ needs, and reminds us to appreciate what we do have. Suddenly our “want for Christmas” lists become shorter, and hopefully our kids’ lists do too.
- Participate in a Christmas program. Many times, participating in a program reminds participants of what the holidays are really about, and participants can see the program for free. Whether you act, sing, help build the set, make costumes, run the lights or sound, work the ticket booth or usher; participating in a holiday program brings feelings of good will and gives the family something to do together. Programs are customarily free to participate in and are well worth the time spent in preparation. And the memories are priceless.
- Attend a free program celebrating Christmas. Some churches and communities have free Christmas programs that may include a play, music, dancing, reading, etc. As with other activities mentioned, programs like these can help us remember why we celebrate Christmas and spend time together with family without spending more money.
- Have a potluck meal for Christmas. Instead of putting all the food on someone else’s plate to prepare for Christmas, have a potluck dinner instead. Have everyone who is coming bring something (the host can determine who brings what or offer a sign-up for guests). This gives everyone a chance to make something and share in the work. It also lets the person bringing the item decide how he/she wants to make the mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. Keep in mind, different can be good!
- Buy food from a discount store. Even though it can seem that the big retail grocery stores have the best prices for turkeys, rolls, and produce; that’s not always the case. Some discount stores such as Save-A-Lot and Aldi, have much better prices without the brand name.
There are other discount stores that carry groceries and other goods that have been rejected from retail stores. These “damaged goods” stores can be a good place to look for unusual items or food. The problem with this kind of discount store, is that they don’t always carry particular items. So it may save the moolah, but may not save on the time.
- Have a cookie exchange with friends. Each friend signs up to bring three dozen cookies (or more depending on how many people come and how many cookies you want to take home) of a different type. This is a fun way for your family to enjoy Christmas cookies without having to make them all yourself. And you get to have different kinds of cookies instead of three dozen gingerbread everyone tires of within a few days.