The winter holidays are often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, and that sentiment often proves true—at least at the moment. However, when the credit card bills arrive a few weeks later, the feeling can become a little less wonderful.
But, you don’t have to let the holidays wear down your bank account! Here are some of our favorite tips for celebrating with gusto—and without a lot of money.
This year, why not create a new family tradition and make your own decorations? Turn your home into a winter wonderland or give it a festive holiday feel with simple DIY projects like these:
- Classic Ornaments: Stores like Target, Michaels, and Walmart often offer cheap, plain holiday balls that you can paint, fill with glitter, write on with permanent markers or decorate with washi tape! If you have small children, create a simple cast of clay with the ingredients already in your cupboard. Your kids can press their palms into it, leaving their handprint in the ornament. After the clay is baked and set, paint around their palm print and hang it with ribbon. (Can you say decorations PLUS great Christmas gift ideas? Check out a tutorial here!)
- Turn Sweaters Into Stockings: We all know stockings can get pricey… Plus, there’s something special about homemade versions. Look through your wardrobe and find a sweater that you no longer wear. This is especially meaningful if it’s getting unwearable, but has some fond memories associated with it. Use an easy tutorial (like this one) to turn that old sweater into this year’s Christmas stocking!
- Leftover Christmas “Trees”: Don’t have room for a real tree this year? Or maybe you want to add some life to a small room or entryway? Attach some leftover wrapping paper to the wall, in the shape of a tree! Get creative, stringing garlands, popcorn on a string, or twinkle lights back and forth across the two-dimensional “tree.” For an added effect, you can even lean some gifts (fake or real) against the wall beneath it.
- Make Your Own Menorah: Want to celebrate with a menorah, but don’t want to buy one? No worries! Fill some of your prettiest drinking glasses or goblets with marbles or glass beads (just make sure the glasses are sturdy). Then, slip a candle into each of the glasses using the beads to hold each in place. You could also execute this same idea with candles slipped inside empty, painted wine bottles.
- Wall Hangings and Garlands: Purchase some fancy or sparkly cardstock paper and cut it into the shape of fancy stars. Add some glamor by cutting the stars as you would a paper snowflake, so that each star contains its own individual design. Once you’re done, hang the stars from ribbon or string and use them as decorations—over doorways, above a mantel, or along your walls. Wondering how to cut a nicely-shaped star? Check out this tutorial!
- Driedel Snow Globes: Find some glass canning jars and line the bottom with some shredded coconut or other “snow” substitute. Then, slip a dreidel inside each jar. These make for great centerpieces and miniature decorations around your home!
- The Kwanzaa Colors: If you want to add a touch of Kwanzaa, but don’t feel like completely redecorating (because who has time for that?), try adding a taste of red, black and green. Slip these colors into your décor through ribbons around candles, fabric flowers in vases, or a second-hand vase that you’ve painted festively.
- Kwanzaa Wreath: Use mesh to create your own black, red, and green wreath to hang on your door. Better yet, incorporate some textiles. Why not spice it up with some fabrics, straw, leather, or even ears of corn?
- Decorate with Food: Why buy decorations when you already have them in your kitchen? Highlight different fruits and vegetables in baskets, vases, or as centerpieces around your home to celebrate crops and harvest.
Remember, nothing says ambiance like some good music and a fireplace. Don’t have a fireplace and don’t want to buy new holiday music? Tune into one of the YouTube or Netflix videos of holiday classics set to the backdrop of a roaring fireplace in a twinkly room. Let that play in the background on your TV to really turn your home into a holiday wonderland.
The key with gifts is not to think “expensive” or “large,” but to think “meaningful.” Does the gift remind you of the person? Is it something that will make him or her feel loved? Check out our Holiday Shopping on a Budget blog article for ideas and guidance!
While we’re talking about gifts, why not try using the following money-saving options instead of traditional gift giving?
- Secret Snowflake: The trick is to draw names ahead of time, so each person is only buying a gift for one other person (rather than for everyone in the group). Better yet, impose price limits on the gifts. Not only will this save money, but it will also force each person to get creative with the gifts they buy—or create.
- White Elephant Gift Exchange: Each person brings a wrapped gift and receives a randomly-chosen number (e.g. if you have 20 people in attendance at the holiday party, the numbers would be 1-20). Each person takes a turn choosing a gift (or stealing one that’s already been opened by someone else) in the order that his/her number is called. For the most fun AND savings, you can even make up rules like requiring each person’s gift be something he or she already has at home. That weird candle or ugly sweater you got last year but never used? Re-gift it! The funnier, the better.
- Offer Your Services: Instead of buying gifts for each other this year, give the best (and most affordable) gift possible—your quality time! Whether it’s washing the car, doing a week’s worth of dishes, or a babysitting voucher—there’s no better way to spend quality time as a family and come home feeling happier than ever!
THE BIG MEAL
Nothing says “the holidays” like lots of delicious food—but it doesn’t need to be expensive in order to taste gourmet. This year, try incorporating these tips to save your dollars while treating your taste buds:
Tip #1: Look for cheaper alternatives.
Is there a staple you traditionally serve for your holiday dinner? Start to look for inexpensive substitutes. While meat can add up quickly, some cuts of meat are more expensive than others.
Tip #2: Try something new.
This could be the year you create a brand-new tradition! Who says ham is for the holidays? Why not have a casserole, a chili cook-off, or a Mexican fiesta?
Tip #3: Cook from scratch.
Some items are cheaper if you make them yourself, while others are cheaper to buy pre-made. Do a little research to see what makes sense to cook yourself and then get to it! You could even turn an evening of cooking into family bonding time—complete with holiday music, and movies.
Tip #4: See what you have before you shop.
The age-old secret to saving money when grocery shopping is checking your kitchen before you go out (and, of course, not shopping hungry). Do you already have canned cranberry sauce or bread crumbs hiding in the back of your pantry? Take careful inventory before making your shopping list.
Tip #5: Hosting a dinner party? Serve the portions yourself.
An easy way to run out of food is when people overserve themselves and end up throwing half their dinner out without having touched it. If you’re hosting a dinner party, have a couple people dress up as “chefs” ladling out the food onto each person’s plate or dressed as “servers” and offering pre-made plates from the kitchen. Not only will this help conserve portion sizes, but it will also give the appearance of a much fancier event. Make it a candlelit dinner and the service will seem thoroughly elegant.
With these ideas, you can keep things exciting—without spending all your hard-earned money this holiday season.
What helps YOU celebrate the holidays on a budget?