How to Plan a Frugal Christmas (That’s Still Fun)

All the gifts and costs around the holidays really add up. See how you can keep your spending in check with a frugal Christmas, while still having fun.
Ahhhhh, November. Parents everywhere are packing their little one’s costumes away, raking blankets of crispy leaves into neat, brightly colored mounds, and beginning to think about the winter holidays.

In previous years, just the thought of the holidays was enough to send me into a stress-induced panic. Historically, buying gifts for two children, as well as for an ever-growing list of family and friends, has proven costly. When you add in costs associated with hosting family and friends, holiday attire, and travel, you’re looking at a significant expense.

textAbout two years ago,  I heard a friend talking about her family’s “frugal Christmas.” It involved buying her children something from four categories: something they wanted, something they needed, something to wear, and something to read. The idea struck me as brilliant.

All the gifts and costs around the holidays really add up. See how you can keep your spending in check with a frugal Christmas, while still having fun.

At the time, my children had boxes upon boxes of lonely toys sitting in the basement. From birthday gifts, to previous Christmas loot, to gifts from relatives “just because,” we certainly had our share of trains, dolls, and shape-sorters. My husband and I discussed my friend’s idea, and concluded that our own “frugal Christmas” would be a great way to control the influx of “kid stuff” to our home, as well as limit spending. Like many other middle-income families, we aren’t exactly rolling in the dough.

I should probably mention that my family and I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. Instead, we observe it as a day to be together, to reflect upon, and express gratitude for each other, and for all the other, wonderful things in our lives. Although our children are small (ages one and three), we also take the time of year as an opportunity to teach, and show them how we can help others.

All the gifts and costs around the holidays really add up. See how you can keep your spending in check with a frugal Christmas, while still having fun.
Our oldest, enjoying her “something to wear,” last year.

Last year was our first attempt at a “frugal Christmas.” Overall, we saved a substantial amount of money, and our children were happy. The look of wonder in our daughter’s eyes as she came downstairs on Christmas morning is a picture I’ll carry with me always.

I’ll be completely honest, though: Our frugal Christmas wasn’t without a smidgen of guilt-guilt, I presume, for not buying the children lots o’ stuff. I’m hopeful the guilt will lessen over time, because if we’re being honest about young children, they don’t need much to have a good time.

My children have a grand time “making soup” from the bowls and utensils in our tupperware cabinet. They spend hours upon hours of gleeful, giggle-filled hours climbing into, and crawling out of cardboard diaper boxes. My children have even been known to play with take-out bags from Chipotle (please see exhibit A above). They will survive without having the newest gadget, doll, or action figure.

All the gifts and costs around the holidays really add up. See how you can keep your spending in check with a frugal Christmas, while still having fun.
A felt board easel is the plan!

This year, we’re making a few additions to our frugal Christmas. First, my husband I will be making something for our children (a felt board). Wish us luck, as neither of us has used a staple gun before. And second, since our daughter is becoming more aware of the world around her, we will be asking her to look through her clothes and toys for nice items to donate to a child who may want/need them.

While we could certainly be more minimal with our Christmas, the “want, need, wear, read” method of gift-giving works for us at this time in our lives. My family and I are creating our own tradition, and I love it. It’s also great to know I won’t have a giant credit card bill after the holidays!

Now I’m curious: How does your family manage the costs associated with the holidays?

All the gifts and costs around the holidays really add up. See how you can keep your spending in check with a frugal Christmas, while still having fun.

8 thoughts on “How to Plan a Frugal Christmas (That’s Still Fun)

  1. Because mine is too little to know what’s what, I’ve compiled a list of things I think would promote her movement or get those neurons firing, but I’ve also asked for things I need (diapers to cover her cute lil bum) and “experience” items (swimming lessons). The list isn’t too long, but because she’s a first to many in the family and this is her first christmas, I made sure to put on a variety of things ranging in prices so that those who want to buy her stuff feel welcome to choose which they’d like. Other than that, we’re spending the day together (more than likely nothing bought from me), and that’s just fine to me. When she’s older, I will limit what I get her (can’t control the grandma), and when she’s old enough to understand, we will also be donating items and probably volunteering somewhere.

    1. Thanks for reading, Autumn! I think diapers are an awesome gift for little ones- we did the same thing for both kids when they were little. They have no clue what’s going on anyway!

  2. Great post and something I’ll keep in mind! Last year while I was wrapping I realized I had over bought and then ended up feeling guilty for spending too much! Sometimes, I think with this whole guilt thing we can never win. If we go small we feel guilt, if we go big we feel guilt. Too help with the cost of holidays I start purchasing whenever items go on sale (for all family) and so I’m not buying everything all at once…which can lead to buying a little more than planned. This year, I’ll definitely plan to go smaller although I have already surpassed your great, frugal plan (unfortunately). I did let my girls know they have to select several toys to go to charity to make room for new things and we will be ding some volunteering this year. Also, we always make home made gifts which I think are the best gifts of all. I can’t believe the holidays are nearly here!

    1. Julie, you are so right. It seems noatter what we do, there’s guilt. I like the idea of spreading the gift buying out. I think that also gives you time to really think about your purchases!

  3. Great post! We too are scaling back this year. I can totally relate to your Chipotle bag pic. We’re wrapping up some Ziploc bags, notepads, and file folders. Best Christmas gifts ever that will entertain for a good chunk of time.

    1. Julie, thanks for reading! Yes, that is totally another motivator! I don’t want my children to grow up thinking the world should be handed to them on a silver platter.

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