Does my favorite season have to break the bank, or can you truly have a frugal Christmas?

As much as I love love love Christmas, if I’m not careful it can really take a toll on two things I try hard to protect: my health and my bank account.

I always used to leave the Christmas season with a few extra pounds (and bad skin) and a few less dollars… and I know I’m not the only one.

When I was about 22 I figured out the secret to staying healthy and NOT gaining weight at Christmas (but that’s a story for another day)… it took me a little more time to take control of my Christmas spending. Learning how to have an inexpensive Christmas takes effort!

But I think I’ve finally got it.

No longer does Christmas make me cringe with the thought of how on earth we are ever going to justify the extra $1000+ we are gonna drop over the course of the month… because we have learned how to have a frugal Christmas (that’s still awesome.)

Related: 10 things I crossed off my list this year (to save money) 


How to have a fun frugal Christmas

I fear people might stop reading because the number one thing I put on any list for saving money is always the same. But that’s just because it’s honestly the most important thing you can do to save money! So say it with me –

Re-prioritize. Practice contentment.

If you think “Christmas”, and you think “Shopping! Gifts! New things!” then you are in for a major bank account struggle.

The best way to have a frugal Christmas is to think Christmas and then think “Family! Friends! Candlelight service! Watching movies in my PJS and eating too much!”

Make Christmas about people and experiences, instead of things. That is the number one way to save money at Christmas time.

If you plan a materialistic Christmas, you are planning an expensive Christmas.

And if you feel like you can’t give your kids a great frugal Christmas because you’re not giving them expensive stuff, well, I feel bad for your kids. Because what you are actually giving them when you put the focus on stuff is an attitude of entitlement and a lifetime of chasing after things that will never make them happy.

What your kids need for a great Christmas is a great season with you. (Plan to start some fun family Christmas traditions this year.)

In fact, sometime in the next month, I challenge you to watch the absolutely mind-blowing documentary The Queen of Versailles. Easily the best documentary I have ever watched, and I’ve seen it three times. Pay close attention to the whole Christmas shopping trip and Christmas day stuff.)

Related: How to make Christmas Magical for your kids (without spending a fortune)
Related: The Ultimate Clutter-Free Christmas Gift Guide for Toddlers to Teens

Now that that’s out of the way, I do know that at Christmas we are gonna buy some things. But there are lots of practical ways to make these things cheaper 🙂

Start planning one year in advance. 

I know it might be too late for you to get this done THIS year, but it’s important to know so you can keep it in mind at the end of the season this year.

Stocking up post-Christmas on the sale stuff ISN’T always the best way to save money (the best way to save money is to not buy things “just because” even if they are cheap).

But there are some things that I always buy post-Christmas in the sales, because they are things that I know I will need next Christmas, and they keep. From this year on, wrapping paper, Christmas crackers, napkins etc should never be on your shopping list leading up to a frugal Christmas. They should be in storage in your attic, purchased for 75% off the year before.

Set a “frugal Christmas” Budget and STICK TO IT. Do not pull out that credit card. 

Determine how much you can / want to spend this Christmas.

Get that amount out in cash before you go shopping, and leave the credit cards at home. Speaking of shopping –

One shopping trip in November. One 1-2 weeks before Christmas. That is all. THAT IS ALL.

I know it sounds absolutely nuts but hear me out. Impulse buys are one of the greatest culprits when it comes to overspending at Christmas. Stopping in the store to pick up one (or four) last-minute things is bound to result in 10 extra things and an extra hundred bucks down.

This is how I avoid (almost) allllll the Christmas shopping. Start planning in Oct (even Nov is not too late) for gifts. Have a list. (A small list is ok – remember, Christmas can be about the experience and not the gifts!)

Buy the bulk of Christmas gifts in advance, online.  Get an amazon prime account (free for 30 days as a trial) and order as many of your gifts as you can through amazon. (You can cancel the prime account after you do all your shopping).

You won’t have to pay for shipping if you Try the Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial, BUT you also won’t be able to impulse buy ANYTHING. (Trust me, this is the goal.)

Make a list for gifts you absolutely can’t find online, and a list for food things that can be purchased in November (before Holiday price rises take effect). Do one shopping trip in November and check everything off that list.

Allow yourself one more well-planned shopping trip 1-2 weeks before Christmas for the rest of the things you need (because really, lettuce just isn’t going to keep from November to Christmas). Have a “frugal Christmas” calendar with parties and meals planned out, to make this easier. Even if you don’t meal plan normally, I would strongly suggest trying it out for the month of December! If you are a terrible impulse shopper, send your other half / oldest kid / mother /neighbor into the store for you if you are desperate for salad and coffee cream.

Stay. Away. From. The. Stores.

Related: Free Printable Christmas Menu Planner

Cut back on gift buying (without cutting back on gift giving).

If you generally buy gifts for a whole family that’s not your own – maybe your sister’s family, or your best friends from down the street – buy one family gift instead of individual ones. A board game or “movie night” (DVD, popcorn, hot chocolate etc). Here are more great gift ideas for families!

If you generally buy small things for co-workers, make them cookies or Christmas candy yourself.

If your kids have “forgotten” or unloved toys in good condition (and most do!), see if you can find a friend to trade with and each give your kids “new to them” toys.

Set a “no purchased gifts” with your spouse rule – find FREE ways to make each other feel special.

Also, impose a hard rule that all stocking stuff gifts for preschoolers are under 10$.

Related: The Ultimate Clutter-Free Christmas Gift Guide for Her, Him & Grandparents 

If you “need” new decorations, go all second-hand.

It’s absolutely astounding the amount of Christmas decor my local thrift shop brings out of hiding in the month before Christmas. For the most part, I don’t think buying new decorations is necessary at all – use what you have! But if you’re in a situation where you are a little short on decorations (you lost all of yours in a cross country move or something), second hand is the way to go. If you’re tired of your decorations and looking for a change in color scheme, see if you have a friend in the same boat who’d like to swap. (Or better yet, go for all free and rustic – and decorate with homemade wreaths and pine cones and popcorn strings.)

Plan a potluck dinner instead of preparing all the food yourself, if you’re hosting.

There is nothing wrong at all with asking everyone coming to your place to bring something for dinner. It’s easier, it’s cheaper, and it’s fun!

Use Groupon to plan a family outing (or dinner out) .

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or go out for a nice dinner with your friends. Just don’t pay full price. Use groupon to find great deals in your area at significant savings. (You can also use groupon to GIFT an outing to someone as a great clutter free gift, at the fraction of the price of what a restaurant gift card ect would cost!)

Plan a GARAGE SALE gift exchange instead of individual gifts for extended family / friends.

You can do it traditionally and draw names from a hat and buy the person you draw a nice gift. Buying one gift is still cheaper than buying 6!

But we take it one step farther and make it a garage sale gift exchange game. (I talked about this in my Christmas Traditions to try this year post. Actually, I’ll copy and paste it here, so you can plan one too, because they are the most fun ever!)

We play it like a standard gift exchange game-  except that years ago we realized that none of us really need another box of soap or other sort of standard gift exchange type gift… so we decided to bring “garage sale gifts”. Things you would typically get at a garage sale. ANYTHING you want to get rid of, really.

Everyone “playing” brings one gift to the game, is assigned a number and then as numbers get drawn out of a hat you get to choose a gift from the pile. The first person opens a gift, the second person can either take that gift or open a NEW gift. The third person can choose from either open gift, or can open another gift. If someone steals your gift, you can steal someone else’s open gift (just not the one that was stolen from you) or you can open a new gift. Each time a new gift is open, that’s the end of that “round” and the next number is drawn. (We play that a gift is “frozen” – no longer available for stealing – after you have had it 3 times.)

(I got a half-eaten box of liquor chocolates one year. Last year I got an antique breast pump (cira 1900 perhaps) that a neighbor lady found in an old cabin they were bulldozing. Serious. We literally laughed until we cried.) If you get something particularly terrible, keep if for next year and make someone else take it home.

We have so much fun playing this game, it totally trumps actually spending money on giving or receiving real gifts. We look forward to it all year. (Especially to see what sort of bizarre gifts will show up.) The best part is that we are all together, and all having a freaking awesome time.

(Or do the standard gift exchange thing, if antique breast pumps and laughing are not your style.)

A frugal Christmas can still be a fun Christmas. Spending money does not equally living fully, it never has and it never will. Remember that, and enjoy every second of your frugal Christmas. 

(If you’re up for something REALLY different, you could even save money by taking a family vacation instead of having a regular Christmas. Sounds crazy – but think about what you usually spend on the season!)

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