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With all of the parties, decorations, gifts, and everything else associated with the holidays, it’s easy to blow through a lot of cash quickly. That’s why I was inspired to create this post of frugal Christmas traditions. If you’re looking to get back to the togetherness of the holidays and build great memories with your family, I guarantee these ideas will get you on your way to a very merry Christmas!
Deck the Halls
One of the easiest ways to build frugal Christmas traditions is to make it a priority to do things you’re already doing together. And what better place to start than decking the halls?
Put up lights together
There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by putting up some twinkly lights. Yes it can be challenging to put up lights if you have small children but they will be so excited to help. They don’t need to climb ladders to the roof but let them help put lights up on the bushes and at other low-lying areas.
Head inside and put up the garlands, knick knacks, snow globes, etc. Let go of wanting your house to look like a magazine and let the kids help. Sure, things may be crooked and not how you would put them, but the kids will feel involved and proud of their decorating (and you can always shift things around once they lose interest!).
Make your own decorations
This year we decided to make salt dough ornaments. The kids got to pick out which cookie cutters they wanted to use and made ornaments for our tree and for family members. Once the ornaments were baked they got to paint them. We used regular craft paint that we had on hand and then I sealed them with some modge podge for a nice glazing. The kids handed them out at Thanksgiving to all of the grandparents and they were a definite hit!
There are probably millions of other Christmas/winter craft ideas out there. Do a search on Pinterest and check out my board on kids crafts for new ideas. Hang your creations around the house for some festive cheer! Make crafting part of your frugal Christmas traditions! Here are some of the favorites that we have tried. Since they’re more winter-inspired rather than Christmasy, they’re great for snow days too!
This is a simple one. Paint the kiddos’ hands white with finger paint and have them press down on the paper. Rotate the paper as they keep placing their hand down, applying new paint when needed. When they’re done, they’ve created an original snowflake.
There are probably thousands of snowman crafts out there but this one is really simple for toddlers and preschoolers. Draw a snowman on a piece of paper and let your kids use a glue stick to apply glue all over the circles. Then raid the kitchen for supplies to fill in Mr. Snowman.
When we did this project I had a ton of oats that were getting ready to expire but you could also use sugar, salt, marshmallows, or anything else that’s light colored. We finished him off with chocolate chip eyes, a candy corn nose, and pipe cleaner arms, but get creative and use whatever you have on hand. Have the kids complete his look by adding a dapper top hat.
This is a simple craft that will entertain young ones for a spell. Draw a tree with a bunch of bare branches. Give the kids some white paint and q-tips or cotton balls and let them blot away to create a beautiful snowy tree.
Terrific Tree Traditions
I remember as a kid I would always get so excited to pick out the Christmas tree. It was so much fun to go through the aisles of trees and try to find the perfect one. Of course I always wanted to pick one out that was ten times as bigger than we needed! Even though the price of trees can get expensive, there are so many things you can do surrounding the Christmas tree that make wonderful frugal Christmas traditions.
Cut your own
For a fun family outing, see if you can find a place nearby that lets you cut your own tree. You’ll definitely need to work a bit harder but it’s probably a great memory to build with your family.
Ball root trees
Some Christmas tree places sell trees with the ball root. You bring them home in large pots and when Christmas is over you plant them in your yard to watch them grow for years to come. Now that’s a good return on your investment!
Decorate as a family
With apologies if this is how you do it, I never understood the families that just had one person decorate the tree.
Growing up, decorating the tree was pretty much the highlight of the Christmas season. Dad would put on the lights and then sit back and spend the next hour untangling all of the wire ornament hooks. Meanwhile my mom, sister, and I would hang the ornaments.
We had a tradition to listen to the “John Denver and the Muppets Christmas” album while we decorated. And we had a rule (that I strictly enforced) that we couldn’t listen to any of the songs from that album until it was tree decorating time. Find some music that’s special to your family and make it part of your tradition. It’s these little elements that build the warm memories your children will carry into adulthood.
Yearly Christmas ornaments
Another Christmas tradition that I looked forward to every year was receiving a Christmas ornament while we decorated the tree. My mom looked long and hard to find the perfect ornament for us for that particular year. For example when I started band I got a bear playing a triangle. When my sister was having a particularly tough year she received an ornament that was a little mouse holding on tightly to a Santa hat saying “hang in there!”
Our lives are documented through Christmas ornaments, thanks to the thoughtfulness of my mom. It’s a tradition I’ve begun with my children. I have a lot of fun trying to pick a highlight from their year that will be memorable to them as they grow.
The yearly Christmas ornaments also had a lot of foresight to them. When I moved out I took my ornaments with me. For my first Christmas tree I didn’t have to spend tons of money buying new ornaments (thanks, Mom and Dad)! It’s also been fun showing my husband, and now my kids, my ornaments and telling them the stories that go with them. I hope my kids will have the same warm memories to share with their families when they’re grown.
My mom always stuck to Hallmark ornaments but I’ve had a lot of luck on Etsy and with smaller retailers. There’s a lot more variety, which allows me to find the perfect ornament for my kids. For less than $20 for an ornament, this is definitely one of the frugal Christmas traditions that will have a big impact on your family.
In the Kitchen
Kids love to bake and the idea of baking cookies for Santa is sure to get them excited. But I’m going to be honest: I don’t necessarily love baking with my kids. With grabby, curious hands, I’m never sure what’s going to end up in the mixing bowl. I know they love it though, and it’s going to be one of those things they look back fondly at when they’re older. So we bake. I just tried to reserve the simpler recipes for them, and do the more complex ones solo. (P.S. if you have any tips on how to make baking with kids easier, please let me know in the comments below! THANKS!).
Teach your children how to make your family recipes
We all have them: those dishes that only come out once a year for the holidays. For me, it’s chocolate cherry cookies. For my husband’s family it’s bracciole. Whatever your family’s specialties are, involve your kids to start passing down the traditions. Again, you’re going to be making these dishes anyway, so they become frugal Christmas traditions: you build family memories without spending anything more than you would anyway!
While you’re cooking, tell your kids about your memories making these dishes with your family. Not only will they learn about their family’s dishes, they’ll learn about their family history.
Make Christmas Cocoa
After a day playing outside in the cold or decorating for Christmas, come inside and make some Christmas cocoa. Go ahead and splurge and add some whip cream and sprinkles. Christmas only comes once a year!
Hit the Town
Just like the fall, winter and Christmastime offer loads of cheap and free activities for the community. Check out local churches and nonprofits to see what festivities they offer and start making these events part of your frugal Christmas traditions. For example, you can look for:
- Christmas tree lighting
- Holiday parades
- Ice skating
- Community meals
Remember too that many religions and cultures celebrate their own traditions at the end of the year. Consider broadening your family’s horizons by joining other faiths and cultures for their open community events.
Neighborhood light tour
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, do some recon while running errands at night to find the neighborhoods and streets with the best light displays (don’t make separate trips for this, because who has time for that?!). In the week before Christmas, pack the family in the car and take them out the best light displays. Bring some Christmas cookies for snack and if it’s chilly don’t forget the hot cocoa!
Here Comes Santa Claus
No Christmas season is complete without a visit with Santa. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to go see him. Here are two frugal Christmas traditions to start with your family that will guarantee a happy wallet and a happy kid (okay given my toddlers’ experiences with Santa I can’t guarantee a happy kid but I can guarantee a happy wallet!)!
Mall not required
Skip the expensive mall photo shoots and see where else in your town Santa might be visiting. Churches and civic organizations often host pancake breakfasts where Santa is the guest of honor. For a small admittance fee or donation, you can get breakfast and a visit with Santa. Much better than shelling out $50 or more for just a few minutes with the big man!
Write a letter
And make sure Santa knows what you hope for under your tree by writing him a letter. The United States Postal Service has instructions on how to address a letter to Santa so your child can receive a response with a North Pole postmark! For the price of two stamps, that definitely qualifies for my list of frugal Christmas traditions!
My kids are still a bit young for a movie night, but this is something I am looking forward to adding to our list of frugal Christmas traditions.
Whether you’re a traditionalist or prefer more modern classics, pop some popcorn or load up on other family favorite snacks and snuggle in to enjoy the show. If you have time, do a few movie nights so everyone gets a turn to pick their favorite movie.
Read Christmas stories
Nightly story time is still a regular occurrence in my household. As soon as Thanksgiving has passed we turn to Christmas stories. I typically buy a new Christmas story for them every year, but to be even more frugal, you can check them out at the library. Reading as a family is so important when your kids are young. Do your best to make the time and add this to your list of frugal Christmas traditions!
Some of our favorites include:
Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck: A sweet board book about those who were present for Jesus’s birth, perfect for the tiniest readers.
Five Christmas Penguins by Steven Lenton: A cute book following five penguins enjoying Christmas festivities.
The Story of Christmas by Patricia A. Pingry: This simple story is a perfect introduction to the story of Jesus’s birth, ideally suited for older toddlers and preschoolers.
Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker: If your child loved Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train, this is the Christmas companion story they won’t get enough of!
A Christmas Wish for Corduroy by B.G. Hennessy: Based on Don Freeman’s classic little bear, this tale follows Corduroy’s adventures immediately before we meet him in the original story.
Pajamas on Christmas Eve
Every year we were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. And every year it was always pajamas. Knowing what was in the box didn’t take away from the excitement of opening it. I got so accustomed to getting pajamas that it took me a few years after moving out to realize I needed to buy my own pajamas from now on. It was a bit disappointing!
Spend time looking through family photos
Take a break from the Christmas craziness and spend some time looking at family photos. Share stories of Christmases past with your kids. It doesn’t get much more frugal than that!
Other Frugal Christmas Traditions
Whether it’s picking out a toy together for Toys for Tots, bagging groceries for a food bank, or delivering meals to the homebound, volunteering is the perfect way to celebrate the holidays. Take a break from the chaos and commercialization of Christmas and embrace the spirit of the season.
Make wrapping paper
This would be a fun and easy project, especially when the kids (and parents!) need a more structured project. Get some plain white butcher or craft paper and let the kids go to town with stamps, markers, crayons, paints, or any other art supplies you have on hand. If you get gifts for your children to give to family members, let them pick the wrapping paper you use to wrap the gifts. They’ll feel proud for contributing.
After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother would stay the night on Christmas Eve so she would be with us to celebrate Christmas morning.
Every year she would make homemade cinnamon rolls. She’d make them the day before and let them rise overnight. On Christmas morning she would wake up early and put them in the oven so we had hot cinnamon rolls ready for us when we woke up. They were heavenly. The smell of cinnamon rolls baking is now permanently wrapped into my Christmas memories.
Unfortunately I don’t have my act together enough to make homemade cinnamon rolls like my grandmother used to, but I’ve found that the Pillsbury refrigerated cinnamon rolls make a decent substitute. Now my kids look forward to cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning too.
Whether it’s a decadent French toast bake, scrambled eggs and sausage, or an elaborate bagel spread, find a breakfast that works for your family and make it every year. It’s something everyone look forward to. And because you’re going to have to eat something for breakfast, it certainly counts as one of your frugal Christmas traditions!
Your Frugal Christmas Traditions
How do you celebrate the holidays without blowing your budget? I love hearing about all of the unique traditions families have developed over the years. Share your family’s favorite frugal Christmas traditions in the comments section below! And best wishes to you and yours for a very merry, happy, and healthy holiday season!