Often times, we think that there is nothing worse than being broke during Christmas. It completely stinks. It stinks even more when you have children.
We have had those Christmases ourselves in our past when we were in our own financial troubles (those times that we learned a great deal about money and finance which brought us into the debt-free lifestyle we enjoy today). We survived those broke Christmases. It didn’t feel like we would. But we did. Our kids did and they really didn’t know any different!
Before we share those practical tips we learned, its important to share one of the most important tips: A lot of the success of your “broke” Christmas will depend on the attitude and outlook you have as the parent or person in your household. We have shared this thought in other similar contexts as well (e.g., why you shouldn’t tell your kids you can’t afford the item they are requesting). It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Our attitudes often set the whole family of the family, so just remembering this one tip will help set the stage for your Christmas.
With that, let us tell you about ideas from our past Christmases and share practical ways in which you can enjoy the season with no money.
1. How to handle the decor (specifically the tree)
For the Christmas decor, more specifically, the Christmas tree – consider these ideas. Real trees are expensive. Fake trees are everywhere and equally expensive (although it does cost more that first year you buy one) but the good news is that you can find used fake trees all of the time.
One of our broke Christmases, we did not have a tree. We did not have the budget for a real tree and certainly could not buy a new fake tree. We visited thrift stores and found a nice fake tree for $10. This fake tree served our family for 7+ years! Three years ago, we upgraded to a new tree in an after Christmas clearance and gave this tree to someone that needed it.
Which brings us to our next idea – ask your circle of friends/family/church members if anyone either has a fake tree they are no longer using, or if they have a fake tree that you can borrow for the season. Many households have a couple of them, including smaller ones, that they might not even be using.
Finally, check freecycle.com, listia.com, Craig’s list and local classifieds. It is very possible to find a fake tree under $10!
2. Consider buying used toys (or other gifts)
We have mentioned this before in previous articles. It totally fine to do! In fact, we did it for a few years ourselves. Our kids had no idea and they were perfectly happy and content.
Do the same for books, clothes, etc. You can also spend $1 or $2 at Dollar Tree or the dollar section of Target and grab something new. We would recommend the books/coloring books from Dollar Tree (as the toys really don’t last). There are also name-brand clothing items to be found at the thrift stores for the older children at home. It does take more creativity and effort with older kids, but it can be done and better than nothing and better than becoming even more broke.
For kids’ gifts to one another, something we still do today is have them make a special card or note for their sibling and wrap this card up. They LOVE this! It is good for their relationship and it is a great learning experience for both! Keep these in a memory bin as it will be one gift that will be remembered and cherished for life.
3. For the the “non-kid” people on your list, consider the gift of services, baked goods and handmade gifts
The baked goods and handmade gifts are a sweet way to go if you have the ingredients on hand. The last thing you want to do when you are broke is to spend money buying groceries/supplies – it does seem to defeat the purpose. But you can find affordable treats/foods and gifts to make if you have some of the items on hand!
One such baking, gift idea is flavored popcorn! It’s cheap, yummy, loved by most and looks really pretty in a clear gift bag or ziploc with a bow! I love the chocolate popcorn: pop popcorn, add a little butter and salt, lay out on a cookie sheet, melt chocolate chips and “drizzle” over the popcorn. Let it dry and bag it up. Its a super cheap, gourmet gift treat!
As an example of a non-food gift: sugar scrubs are the simplest, most affordable handmade gift to make! All you need for the most basic version is 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract. Mix it all together and place in a glass jar or plastic container that you already have on hand (I keep the jars from foods we ate for projects like this too). You can also add a candle from the dollar store too! This is just one example, but there are many affordable handmade gift ideas!
But, even better may be offer your time for services of some kind – helping clean the house for a day. Washing dishes/cleaning the kitchen. yard work, cleaning out a garage, organizing, babysitting (this is my favorite :)), etc. Also, tell other adults that you don’t need much or anything for Christmas – this helps to set the stage as well so you don’t feel awkward being “out-gifted.” But if you are, be appreciative and thankful and realize that you gave all you could in your situation and your family/friends will recognize that.
4. Spend quality time together
Play games, read (and act out) a book or watch holiday movies to fill up the time and spend time together. Focused time together is probably something nearly every family member would prefer over anything else! Children want that time with their family and their parents. They are probably begging for it at different times throughout the year, even if they aren’t expressing it well. They really do desire this! Make memories by setting aside all of your distractions and spend an evening or two doing holiday themed activities.
5. Cook together in the kitchen
Along the same lines as spending time together, consider making something together in the kitchen! Kids love to help in the kitchen, they love to be with you, help you, learn from you! Baking and making together is a special time!
What’s great about this as well is you can complete two of these tips at the same time – not only are you spending wonderful, quality time with one other but you could also be baking those homemade gifts for some of those “non-kids” on your list. 🙂
6. Find creative activities for all of the family members in the house
We all know there seems to be a plethora of time available in the season – especially when you don’t have money to spend on activities throughout the community. And you can’t always make every activity a family activity. So why not help each family member brainstorm – and even set up – different activities to keep them entertained this season.
We know that kids often love crafts! Making a kids craft station with random stuff from around the house is a fun activity for kids. Gather together what you can find: wrapping paper scraps, ribbon scraps, paper bags, paper plates, paper clips, beans, odds and ends of all kinds and let them go to town on their own creations!
Sometimes those older kids need a bit more guidance in finding those enjoyable activities. Consider activities they can do together with one another or even their friends – its just a matter of being creative. For example, consider a Christmas scavenger hunt. Make a list of fun activities (e.g., sing Christmas carols to a few neighbors, go find so many houses with a certain color of decorations).
Even consider giving them the gift of “a night with friends” at your house or something where they can plan to get together and play games, watch movies, or even just hang out. As a hint, the most affordable snack you can serve is air popped popcorn or oil popped on the stove. Then provide a “popcorn bar” with salt, marshmallows, butter, chocolate chips, garlic salt, onion salt, pepper, etc. so they can make their own popcorn creations. It really is one of the cheapest snacks you can provide for this “party.”
It does take more creativity and effort with older kids, but it can be done and better than nothing and better than becoming even more broke.
7. Find “perfect gifts” at the thrift store for your older children
For the older kids at home, there are name-brand clothing items to be found at the thrift stores for the older children at home. Find those name brands at that discount. And if you know your kids interests, you can often find a used version (for some – even a “collector’s item”) at the thrifty store as well. The key is creativity!
8. Do odd-jobs to find spending money this season
Finally, ask friends/family/neighbors/church members if you can provide a service to them in exchange for some Christmas spending money. With even only $10, you can make, find and create something nice for some or many on your list.
We also recommend that you read the article on Help, How Do I Control Spending and Stay Out of Debt This Christmas as there are many other ideas as well.
Finally, the most important thing to remember during Christmas are the blessings you have, the blessings your children have and to communicate with them. As we mentioned before, we don’t recommend saying: “You can’t afford Christmas for them” because this can introduce a whole host of other emotional issues, but rather encourage you to communicate with them about the budgeting issues you had this year, other things that came up that took over the budget and perhaps how the family can be better prepared for Christmas next year. Older kids will especially appreciate, respect and understand treating them like an adult and communicating with them and helping them to realize the real issues of life. In some ways, this could be the greatest gift of the year. 🙂
Little kids may or may not understand, but it also doesn’t take much to make them happy!
In all of this, we wanted to remind you again that the biggest factor to setting the stage for a successful broke Christmas starts with your attitude towards the situation! Younger kids will follow suit and may not even know; older kids will know, but maybe understand the situation better and reflect your attitude as well.
As we know ourselves, this time of life shall pass. Just don’t forget there so are many things in life to be thankful for. Let’s focus on those things and get creative this Christmas!