Making Christmas frugal

I like to think of Christmas as a time of giving, happiness, love and friendship. The spirit and magic of Christmas and Santa are about kindness and sharing a celebration.

The decorations add to the atmosphere and magic, but are a bonus.dollars hanging on Christmas tree sketch

Gifts can be a lot of fun, but I think they should be secondary to the real Christmas feelings, but it takes effort to avoid the commercialism of Christmas in the western world.

So if we take away the expensive trimmings, Christmas doesn’t have to cost us a lot of money.

If we keep a lot of the trimmings, it will cost us but here are some ways to minimise those costs. Hopefully others will add to my list so we can all have a Merry Frugal Christmas this year!

  1. make Christmas gift tags and cards instead of buying them
  2. make paper chains out of junk mail as a cheap alternative to tinsel or bought streamers
  3. if hosting an event, ask people to bring a plate to share
  4. when cooking for Christmas events, make a green salad, rice salad or pasta salad instead of a plate of char grilled vegetables or other expensive vegetable options
  5. plant lettuce, tomatoes and others so that they will be ready for harvesting at Christmas time and you have a really cheap salad or vegetable dish to present
  6. where appropriate, you could regift some things
  7. make some gifts – choose ones with materials you already have or can get cheaply. Some good simple gifts I’ve made include bath salts, cake ingredients, herb vinegars and beaded necklaces
  8. use a plain red sheet as a table-cloth – brighten it up with glitter, tinsel or baubles off the tree and it will still be cheaper than most purchased Christmas table cloths
  9. find inexpensive alternatives to Christmas wrapping paper – use kids’ artwork, use brown paper with some stickers or drawings on it, recycle last year’s paper, buy in bulk, use gift bags that can be reused, etc.

    collection of brown boxes with purple gift ribbons

    Simple brown packaging can look stylish without costing a fortune

  10. get the kids to make decorations – this saves buying decorations, gives the kids genuine self-esteem and is probably cheaper than many other entertainment options for the kids!
  11. have a tree of thanks instead of the common decorations – cheaper and very special
  12. when people ask what you (or your kids) want, tell them! It may not save you Christmas money but if you are given something you need it will make your overall budget go further. And that includes getting others contribute to a large gift you want to give your kids
  13. make vouchers so you give the gift of your time and skills rather than things that cost you money. Try vouchers for babysitting, walking dogs, gardening, spring cleaning a house, giving a massage, running errands or doing admin tasks.
  14. think of resources to give as gifts. For instance a list of good books or information about choosing a computer could be really valuable to others
  15. do your Christmas shopping throughout the year. This gives you the chance to grab things on sale (and avoid any mark ups in December) and spread out your spending (which may not save you money in total but makes it easier to bear – and it can save interest payments from over used credit cards)
  16. set a budget for gifts. Personally I find this very hard to do but if you have a budget it does keep things under control. $10 a head for 20 people is $200 – if that sneaks up to $15 or $20 for even half those people it will now cost you $300  – it adds up quickly so think about what you can afford in total then divide it between the number of people (evenly or otherwise).

OK, 16 is my favourite number and I’m about out of ideas for now but they will all save you money and get you thinking of other things to do. Have you built up any traditions or habits to make your Christmas more affordable?

Maybe you don’t like the idea of a frugal Christmas at all – if so, let us know how you manage…


 * Images courtesy of 123rf & Love Santa

50 Responses to Making Christmas frugal

  • Miranda1127 says:

    Wow, so many great frugal ideas. I do many of them myself. Christmas frigality started out as a budget concern, now….it’s more about getting the fullest out of the holiday. It’s so much more fun to find creative ways for you and the kids to trim the tree, deck the halls, wrap the presents, and most importantly make the presents. We LOVE LOVE LOVE personalizing Christmas, it just feels so much more amazing that way. Thanks for all of the well thought out tips. I will certainly be adding some to my current list.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      You’re welcome Miranda.

      And I have to agree – it’s not just about saving money but being creative and making Christmas more than money when you find ways to be frugal and do things your own way.

      Do you have any suggestiosn to add to my list?

  • SBradford says:

    Living at home, I always expected my family to splash out at christmas, but now, living on my own, I’m going to try a frugal Christmas. Like Santa’s Elf said, it’s not about saving money or being stingy, it’s just making the most of what you have.

  • pocs says:

    When my oldest went away to college, we were all on a tight budget. She had called home right before the holiday talking about how everyone in the dorm was going all out with trees and decorations. We just didn’t have the money to spend on extras. So I had a idea. She has always had a love of cactus. For her 16th birthday we bought her one as a present. I went thru all my decorations and selected small ones, and made a small one that said cactus first Christmas, as a tree that is. I showed up unannounced with cactus and decorations in hand. We ordered pizza, popped in a Christmas cd and decorated her cactus. She loved it, so much in fact every Christmas from then on she proudly displays her cactus and decorates it with her husband. That was over 8 years ago and just like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, it comes to life with a loving hand.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Who says a Christmas tree must always be a large fir tree? Go with what you have and what you enjoy and the tree is that much more special anyway.

      Thanks for sharing another lovely Christmas story, pocs πŸ™‚

  • thousandtrees says:

    As a child, I used to make ornaments with my mum, and we actually still have a number of them! It’s amazing how a simple paper ornament can stand the test of time if it’s stored properly. Every time they come out, we get to reminisce about making them.

    A few years back, I spent my first Christmas away from home – in a different country with no family. I spent it with some friends and in lieu of getting a tree, we decorated a medium sized house plant with bows. For a star, I cut one out of cardboard, covered it in tin foil and taped it to an unfolded wire coat hanger. It was pretty cheery for three lonely foreign girls, especially after we roasted a chicken together and watched our favourite Christmas movies. Barely spent a dime!

    • Santa's Elf says:

      A house plant ‘tree’ is definitely frugal but also personal and obviously gives you good memeories πŸ™‚

      I think some homemade decorations wuld last much better than some of teh cheap stuff you can buy in shops…

  • pocs says:

    Remember those looms to make pot holders? My kids would make me tons of these as presents for every occasion, but especially Christmas. My kitchen towel draw would be over flowing. One year instead of buying material and making new place mats . I took all those pot holders and sewed 6 together and made beautiful 11 beautiful place mats. I still have them today, they are a bit worn to use though.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Your kids enjoyed making them or thought you liked collecting them?

      I don’t tjhink I’ve ever seen a loom for making pot holders – I can’t think of anything remotely like that from my childhood – the closest is a knitting nancy (for finger knitting).

  • pocs says:

    They enjoy making them and I love to get anything from my girls. A pot holder loom, and this might not be the proper name is a square wooden or plastic frame with rows of small post on all four sides. You stretch the cloth bands across one side to the other. Leaving two sides of the post bare. You then hook one band on a post and weave over and under until you reach the other post and slip it on. Continue to do this until all the post have a loop. It’s really simple and doesn’t cost a lot. Children love doing them.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      I think I had something similar as a kid, pocs, but it was done with lengths of wool rather than bands. I have to admit I got bored before I made very many of them though! I spent heaps of time on other crafts but not that one.

  • gerkmeister says:

    Those are some great ideas. I definitely set a budget per person and have been regifting a lot the last couple of years. I also save the gift bags and bows from the years before to use again, and look for wrapping paper and other christmas items on sale right after the holiday. You can get some great deals. I’ve also used the comics section from the newspaper to wrap gifts.

    Also, try making your own cards and gift tags on your computer and print them out yourself.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Comics sectino of the paper is a colourful idea, gerkmeister πŸ™‚ And home made cards are definitely a maoney saver – it is so expensive to buy cards!

  • Magic Pixel says:

    Great article. Reminds me of the time when we used to cut out stamps from potatoes to make hand-made wrapping paper. So many amazing ideas to give you that wholesome feeling you get around Christmas.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Potato stamps – I haven’t thought of them in ages but they are really useful for making wrapping paper (and entertaining the kids while waiting for Santa to arrive πŸ™‚ )

  • hohoho says:

    I am a crafter so have been giving hand-made gifts for at least 30 years. That’s not only a way to save money on the holidays, it’s also a great way to relax and enjoy the holiday spirit for yourself. Another thing I do to keep my Christmas frugal is to shop all year long, or at least, most of it. I purchase items on clearance sales or with excellent online coupons and save them in big plastic totes inside my ‘gift’ closet. These items work for any gift-giving occasion throughout the year, as well.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      You have a gift closet – good plan! I end up with multiple gift storage spots as the two drawers aren’t enough towards Christmas so they spread (plus my eldest knows about the drawres…)

  • Magic Pixel says:

    Potato stamps are not just for children actually. I remember seeing something with heraldic symbols once in a craft book that was unbelievably ‘believable’! I think they feel really ‘homely’ and rustic, which is a nice feeling around Christmas. Maybe we’ll see an article on them on Love Santa.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Hohohoho – that’s a good article idea, thanks for suggesting it Magic Pixel πŸ™‚

      Most crafts are just as much fun for adutls as kids, but we don’t often allow ourselves the time to be creative unelss we’re passionate about crafts.

  • pocs says:

    I often have several crafts going at one time. Even a heavier load at Christmas. More recently I have been adding to my Halloween holiday craft decorations. But Christmas crafts are my first love. With so mant things to either carry or repurpose the possibilities are endless.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      I have several crafts going at once, too – some have been ‘going’ for years though πŸ™‚ It is fun to be creative and find new ways to use old thigns πŸ™‚

  • Isabellas2007 says:

    This is some great information! I never would have thought about some of these items. I definitely would not have thought about the gift wrap with the kids pictures they make. Thank you for the ideas!

    • Santa's Elf says:

      You’re welcome, Isabella πŸ™‚ I hope they help spread yoor Christmas budget a little further,and giv eyou some fun along the way, too.

      • Mario says:

        My wife and I have been very blessed in our lives. We have also lived through very tight times but have always felt the love of others so want to share that love, too. When my wife and I ran into financial issues, we were blessed by people who remained anonymous with a $500 gift card twice. We always asked why. We had a very hard time accepting. Why us?

        Many times, we picked up the bill for another at a resturant. Other times we paid for another’s groceries. Another time we put together a baby shower for a lady who had just left an abusive home. Instead of money, we gave a man in the rain a sleeping bag, a coat, and accessories along with a gift card for a meal at Denny’s.

        I Love Pay it forward – It will come back when needed. That’s how we spread peace and also enjoy Christmas.

        • That’s a lovely way to live Mario, and I’m glad you got help when you needed it most, too.

          Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference for some else.

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  • IronSight90 says:

    I find that being frugal at christmas comes naturally, when it comes to giving gifts, because there are lots of things that are cheap to buy, but are truely valuable in the eyes of the person recieving the gift. Something they had wanted, but forgotten about. I love the look of surprise and delight on people’s faces as they receive the gift they never thought they would get around to owning and had since forgotten about. In short, buy something valuable to the person, but not necessarily expensive.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      You’re right, IronSight90, that the value is for the recipient, not the price tag. I, too, love giving a gift that is special to someone and surprises them – well done for bringing that joy to people.

  • arajoo says:

    I have my own ways of making our Christmas frugal. I try to lessen the cost of Christmas wrappers by using newspapers and white paper instead then adding in colors. I also tried using the comics section and magazine pages before. Sometimes instead of giving ingredients I just give out a ready made refrigerated cake which they can enjoy right away.

  • vida_llevares says:

    I agree. Celebrating Christmas does not have to be expensive. You do not have to burn your pockets to give your loved ones presents they will surely appreciate. After all, your thoughtfulness would mean more to your loved ones than the price tag of the gift. Also, just a friendly tip. Look for something the recipient would surely use. They would not need things they could just display on their shelves.

  • pocs says:

    A giving something with a personal touch, is frugal on it’s gift list go by what I think the recipient would like with what I think will be appreciated. Many of my gifts are crafts, that can be used daily or durning the holidays. Frugal doesn’t mean cheap or cheap like to me. It means thoughtful!

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Frugal to me is saving money, which doesn’t have to be ‘cheap’.

      But I have the same principle, pocs, of giving gifts that are personal and thoughtful. And crafts are definitely not ‘cheap’ gifts – apart from the value of your time and effort for the person, buying the materials can be more expensive than buying some gifts anyway.

  • allswl says:

    In my home we use decorations that we have had for over 40 years with a few new additions. When we go to buy presents we tend to be more conservative with regards to the amount of money we spend. Our attitude is there is life after Christmas is over.

  • Fren says:

    For our Christmas Tree we have traditionally gone into the forest and collected fallen branches and twigs. later we arrange these into a “tree” which we decorate with other things found in the forest such as fir cones, nut shells etc. We also decorate our tree with homemade decorations made from newspaper and old envelopes cut out and then coloured by the children. This activity makes for a lovely, family-orinted build-up to Christmas, much more enjoyable than trawling the shops for more glitzy decorations. Most of the tree and it’s contents are recyled. Each year we save at least one of each child’s homemade decoration and write their name and the year on it. We have some decorations going back 28 years – each child has their own box of decorations now, things they made as they grew up. Our oldest is 28 and she is doing the same with her children – whilst they love to see what their mum made. For us, it was lovely to see how their decorations became more sophisticated and how, some years, they reflected their changing tastes.

    We estimate that over 28 years we have saved hundreds, if not over a thousand pounds by doing this – and we’ve built boxes of great memories.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Fren what awesome Christmas trees and experiences you’ve had πŸ™‚ I love the reuse of tree bits to make a tree and the home made decorations is such a lovely idea – 28 years of memories collected is fantastic.

  • dorothymoreno says:

    I agree Christmas should be a time of joy, not of burden. Although its nice to get gifts, thats not what is all about, sometimes being able to spend time with loved ones is more valuable then a gift. We should remember the reason for celebrating Christmas and not make it so commercial to the point where instead of Christmas being a time to look forward to becomes a burden, something that puts you in debt and regret. I guess what I am trying to say is , make the most of what you have and be happy with what you have and not worry over what you don’t have. Remember the reason for the season, the warmth of family and friends, the gift of family and friends is more valuable then a gift that most likely will be put to the side. Enjoy Christmas rejoice the season with those around you, make you happiness from what you have!

  • Lisa Jean Hawkins says:

    These are good ideas and some I am going to try. I do try to save when I can at Christmas. I have a huge family so buying for everyone can get expensive. One way that I do like to save is to make my own Christmas gifts. I like to write each person a very personal letter on how much they mean to me. I tell them how they make me smile and how my life would be empty with out them. I make each letter different. I then decorate the letter and I place it under my Mom’s Christmas tree. This is problaly the cheapest gift you can give but the most expesnive gift from the heart. I want each member to know that if something happened to me they have that letter to remind them of how much I care.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      Lisa, that is the most beautiful gift suggestion – a letter that makes people feel valued and loved is precious beyond words. And very thoughtful to ensure they will have a means of remembering their worth to you if you weren’t around to tell them.

      You’re completely right, too, in that it is financially very cheap but its value is priceless.

  • Clauzetta says:

    One year, instead of my neighbors and friends exchanging cookies and small gifts, we got together along with our kids and had a potluck Christmas party. We all brought different ingredients to make a ‘cookie in a jar’ gift for each family. This was a lot less work and less expensive than each mom making cookies. The idea was that the kids would fill the jars with the different cookie ingredients but they were so busy having a good time playing, that we moms were left filling these jars. We had a good time too, since it was a lot easier than baking cookies. And yet, we eat brought home a ‘batch’ of cookies – to be baked at our own convenience. We saved money and time and it helped keep Christmas from being so frazzled.

    • Santa's Elf says:

      That sounds like a lot of fun, Clauzetta.

      Having a ready-to-go batch of biscuits for after Christmas is probably better than piles of biscuits just before Christmas – you feel obliged to eat more than necessary when someone has given them to you, but if you can space out when to eat them, you can enjoy them all the more.

  • mizztiger03 says:

    One of our favorite things to do at Christmas time is make homemade ornaments out of Salt dough. It is just a mixture of flour, salt, and water. You can then cut out chapes or make hand prints, then bake, paint, and seal. They are great for decorating your own tree or for Christmas gifts. We usually give them as presents for my son’s teachers.

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