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frugal Christmas

Christmas on a Budget (How to Have a Fun, Frugal Christmas)

With all of the wonderful (but often pricey!) purchases and events that often are part of the holiday season,  Christmas can definitely be a real budget buster! Fortunately, you can still have an awesome holiday season even when you are planning Christmas on a budget and planning for a frugal Christmas. In this article I am going to share some of my favorite ideas for how to plan Christmas on a budget and have a fun and frugal Christmas season.


Quick tip: Save the image above to Pinterest so that you can easily refer to this article on how to have Christmas on a budget for a fun and frugal Christmas later!



Planning Christmas on a Budget for a Frugal Christmas

The good thing is that even when you are trying to plan Christmas on a budget and have a more frugal Christmas, you can still have a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends! Just because you decide to spend less money doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy wonderful traditioins and time with family and give meaningful gifts and make delicious Christmas meals and take part in fun Christmas activities and all of those things that make up the holiday season.

You just have to be intentional and do some planning, and you can have a wonderful Christmas, even if it is a frugal Christmas!

Like many young couples, when my husband and I got married, we were in school, and we just didn’t have a lot of money for an expensive, elaborate Christmas.

And once we were done with school and started to learn about personal finance and managing money, we decided we wanted to get unburied from the big pile of debt that we had. So we never got into the habit of spending  a ton of money on Christmas.

Now that we have three kiddos we definitely spend more money on Christmas than we used to, but we still have a pretty frugal Christmas. We still plan Christmas on a budget. My husband and I aren’t big spenders anymore, so we don’t spend a lot of money on gifts for each other, and we limit our Christmas gift spending on the kids to about $50 to $75 per child.

We also do a lot of other things to have a frugal (but still really fun!) Christmas season.

Read on to find my best ideas for Christmas on a budget to have a fun and frugal Christmas!


Heads up! Also be sure to check out this related article for ways to make more money for Christmas! That way, you can spend more money on Christmas, guilt free!


***Pro Saving Tip! Use the free Christmas planning printables just below to help you plan a frugal but awesome Christmas!***



Why Plan Christmas on a Budget to Have a (More) Frugal Christmas?

I love Christmas as much as the next guy or gal—really! But the spending on Christmas these days can be kind of over the top sometimes! It’s one day of the year!

Granted, it’s a very important day of the year. If you’re Christian like me, it’s one of the very most important days of the year. But it’s not primarily because of the toys and gadgets and all the stuff.

The average American family spent about $970 on Christmas last year. That’s about $700 more than we spent on Christmas for all of our gift giving. And that’s not because we’re scrooges, but because we do realize that Christmas is just one day a year and we want to save our money for things that we love even more than a bunch of gifts on Christmas. (Don’t worry, though; our kids already have plenty of stuff and tons of toys. They’re not deprived! 😊)

What we would rather do is spend more money on meaningful experiences like fun family vacations and less money on stuff that might just collect dust in a toy box, for example.

Most families have credit card and car and other debt, and if you can save some money and still have a wonderful Christmas (you can!), then you won’t add any more debt to an already strained budget.

So read on to learn some of my best ideas for how to save money and still have a great Christmas on a budget!




How to Have an Awesome, Frugal Christmas on a Budget!

Here are some simple things we do—that you can do too!—to have a more frugal Christmas but still have a wonderful holiday season with your family and loved ones. These are great tips to help you plan an amazing Christmas on a budget!



1. Start with a great plan to enjoy a fun but frugal Christmas.

Like with virtually everything else in life, you will have a better Christmas, a more joyful, intentional, peaceful, and all around more successful Christmas, if you start with a plan. You will have a less stressful and more joyful holiday season with a plan in place!

And when it comes to Christmas, there are a lot of aspects you can plan: the activities, the meals, the decorations, the visiting, the service, and of course, the shopping and gifts!

***Pro tip: Be sure to grab the free Christmas plannting printables just below to help you plan the best Christmas ever!*** 



Create a Christmas Shopping Plan

One of the most important ways to save money on Christmas is to create a reasonable Christmas shopping and spending plan (aka, make a Christmas budget). I know that’s probably not your favorite thing to do (creating a spending plan or budget), but I’ve made it really easy with the free Christmas printables above! And once that’s out of the way, the work is done, and the fun part can begin!

You will know how much you can spend and how much you want to spend on the different Christmas and holiday related expenses, and now you can just sit back and relax! Yay!

Tip: Get these simple tips for how to have a debt-free Christmas, and take the stress of added debt out of your holiday season!


For most people, the biggest Christmas expense is gift giving, so start planning there by deciding what is reasonable to spend on gifts for the different people in your family and the others that you purchase holiday gifts for.


Decide What Is a Reasonable Amount to Spend for the Holidays This Year

Of course, what is reasonable to spend for Christmas varies widely from family to family. For us, a family with three young kiddos, we’ve decided that $50 per person for Christmas gift spending in our immediate family is what is reasonable. (Though this does fluctuate some, like the year we got all three of the kids bikes for Christmas.)

I know of a couple of other families who have chosen that number as well, and I know of some families who have chosen more than that. And I think many (perhaps most?) families don’t really budget for Christmas at all, and instead they just try to mitigate the damage and brace themselves the credit card payments that will come in January.

For other gift giving outside of your immediate family, decide a reasonable spending amount for that, as well. Ways that you can save money on gifts for others is to exchange names instead of giving gifts to everyone (I really recommend this one), do a white elephant gift exchange instead of a traditional gift exchange, give homemade gifts, give gift baskets like fruit baskets, and so on. I’ll talk more about these and other ideas that go along with planning a frugal Christmas below!


Check out these related articles with awesome ideas for budget-friendly Christmas gifts:

30+ Awesome Ideas for Christmas Gifts for $10 or Less!

101 Budget Friendly Christmas Gifts for Everyone in the Family!


***Pro tip: Grab the free Christmas budget printable above ☝️ (and other awesome free Christmas planning printables!) to help you stay on budget and plan an awesome, joyful, and stress-free Christmas this year!***


And if you want even more help with budgeting in general (like ways to slash your monthly expenses to find money to save!), then be sure to also grab the free printables below!

2. Create a Christmas bucket list to help you enjoy your frugal Christmas on a budget.

As you consider your plans for a frugal Christmas on a budget this year,  make a holiday season bucket list!

You may not have time to do everything that you would like to, so make note of the activities that you would most like to participate in, and schedule those activities first. Remember, too, that you don’t have to try and do everything that you would like to. Your family might have more fun by actually doing fewer planned activities! That leaves more time for being together and relaxing at home and also for more spontaneous fun!

Get the free Christmas planning printables above to help you plan the perfect Christmas season! ☝️


3. Make a Christmas shopping list as you plan your Christmas on a budget.

As I mentioned briefly above, another important way to plan a more frugal Christmas is to make a Christmas shopping list.

As with everything else in life, you will achieve the best results if you are intentional and you make a plan—so plan to be intentional with your Christmas shopping expenses. Like Santa, make your list, and check it twice. 🎅🏻

After you figure out how much money you can reasonably afford to spend on Christmas, figure out the number of people you need to buy gifts for and how much you will spend on each person, and write it all out. And then stick to your Christmas budget.

***Tip: The free Christmas planning printables above ☝️ include a Christmas gift list, so be sure to grab yours!***

Yes, it takes a little bit of time and effort to plan out your Christmas or holiday budget, but then once you have that part done, you can enjoy your holiday season stress free (and, I hope, debt free!)!



4. Save money on your Christmas shopping with free apps like Ibotta!

An easy way to save money on your Christmas shopping is to use apps like Ibotta and Rakuten.

I’ve been a member of Ibotta for years, and they are a fun and easy way to save money whenever you shop! With the free Ibotta app, you earn cash back on purchases you make every day from your favorite stores such as Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Dollar Tree, Sam’s Club, Amazon, and many, many more! With the easy-to-use Ibotta app you can get cash back when you shop not only for groceries but also for clothing, home improvement supplies, travel services, and more!

I can even use Ibotta at several of our smaller, local stores, which I love!

Signing up takes just a minute, and then you can start to save money whenever and wherever you shop, at physical stores and online! Sign up for your free Ibotta account here!


**Pro tip: Find ways to make money at Christmas, too!

Finding ways to save money at Christmas isn’t the only way to have an awesome debt-free or less stressful Christmas! Making extra money for the holidays is another way to enjoy an amazing Christmas!

Check out this article with more than 80 ways to make more money for Christmas!


5. Focus on traditions and family time more than on gifts and other things that cost (a lot of) money.

There are so many fun Christmas traditions that you can do for cheap or for free to help you enjoy Christmas on a budget! For example, you can bake Christmas cookies and take them to your loved ones or neighbors, go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood, make fudge or Christmas candy, make gingerbread houses, do simple Christmas crafts, make Christmas cards to give to loved ones, read favorite Christmas stories, do the 12 Days of Christmas for a family, and so much more!

You could also watch your favorite Christmas movies as a family, listen to Christmas music, sing Christmas songs, and so on.

Here are some additional ideas for fun and frugal Christmas traditions:

If you currently don’t have any wonderful Christmas traditions that you love and that don’t cost a lot of money, this is a great time to start some!


Related article: For even more great ideas, check out this huge list of 75+ fun Christmas traditions and activities you can do with your family!


6. Make fun and easy (kid friendly!) Christmas crafts to help you enjoy Christmas on a budget.

The holiday season is a wonderful time to do crafts! Kids generally have a long Christmas break, and many parents also take time off during the holidays. So that makes it a perfect opportunity to have some fun and let your creativity come out!

At my house and with young kiddos, we like to keep the crafting super simple. Here are some fun and cheap Christmas craft ideas:

  • Make Christmas tree ornaments.
  • Make construction paper chains to count down the days till Christmas.
  • Make homemade Christmas cards.
  • Decorate Christmas stockings.
  • Make salt-dough handprint ornaments.
  • Make paper snowflakes.
  • Make snowmen, reindeer, elves, or other fun Christmas-related figures out of construction paper.


7. Find simple ways to serve to enjoy a more meaningful and frugal Christmas.

Another wonderful way to have a fun and frugal and more meaningful Christmas is to find ways to help other people.

One of the things that I really love about the Christmas season is the fact that people are more inclined to give and to be kind and to serve one another. For example, you could do one or more of the following:

  • Take someone dinner.
  • Visit someone who is ill or homebound.
  • Take a plate of cookies to a neighbor.
  • Give a family winter hats, scarves, and mittens.
  • Leave a gift card in someone’s mailbox
  • Ring the bell (make sure they’re home first!) and leave cash in an envelope on someone’s door.


And here are some more fun service-related Christmas activities that are great for families:

  • Do a service scavenger hunt.
  • Make a list of random acts of kindness to do.
  • Participate in a Sub for Santa or similar activity.
  • Take the kids shopping to buy a toy or other kid-related item to donate to a local charity.
  • Do the 12 Days of Christmas for a family in need.
  • Serve at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
  • Buy coats (good quality used ones are great!) to give to a family in need.
  • Fill a Christmas sack with tosy to give away.
  • Start a tradition with the Kindness Elves.


8. Do your Christmas gift and other shopping online to keep Christmas on a budget.

For another way to save money on Christmas, shop online. That way, you will know exactly how much you are spending so that you won’t overspend your Christmas budget. Not to mention it’s just easier and quicker (in terms of actual time spent shopping).

A couple of years ago, I had all of our Christmas shopping done by Cyber Monday, and I bought everything online. I did not even leave the house to buy any of it. It was awesome.

And now, I do the bulk of my Christmas shopping online. I buy very few items from brick-and-mortar stores.

You can also buy Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, and other Christmas-related items online to help you easily track your expenses and avoid overspending, as well.


9. Take advantage of free shipping.

Use stores that offer free shipping when you can to help save money on your online shopping.

For example, with Amazon Prime, you get your gifts delivered fast and free. Have you tried it yet? It’s a great service at a really reasonable price.

Plus, get free 2-day shipping when you sign up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, and enjoy the many benefits of this awesome service!


10. Watch your favorite Christmas movies at home or even have a Christmas movie marathon.

For many people, watching some of the many Christmas movies available is a great way to enjoy the holidays. You could choose to watch a favorite Christmas movie each Friday and Saturday evening, for example. Or if you enjoy a lot of shorter animated Christmas films, you could choose to watch one or two several evenings of the week. ANd watching movies at home is a great way to enjoy Christmas on a budget!

You could also choose to watch a Christmas movie each night for the week leading up to Christmas to help you count down the days to that happy event.

Budget-friendly options for accessing Christmas movies include getting them from the library (my favorite) and Netflix, Amazon Prime (very budget friendly), or similar venues.


Tip: Have you tried Amazon Prime yet? Get access to tons of movies that you can watch for free with your subscription, plus unlock unlimited free 2-day shipping when you sign up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. Join today to enjoy the many benefits of this awesome service!


For those videos that you really want to have and keep, then building a Christmas movie collection is a great idea.

Here are a few of our own family favorites (or my family favorites :)):


11. Have family game nights (and even play Christmas-themed games!).

Especially with the cold nights of December, having a family game night can be a fun way to pass the time during the holiday season, so that you can stay home (and save money!) in your own cozy house!

But this is a tradition that can last well past the holidays! I know families who have a weekly game night or family night all throughout the year, and that is something I want to be better at with my own family!

One fun option for Christmas games are Christmas minute to win it games!

And here are some other fun Christmas-themed games!

And you can find tons of other Christmas-themed games here!

12. Have a more Christ-centered Christmas.

Another wonderful way to enjoy a more frugal Christmas and keep Christmas on a budget is to focus more on the reason for the season: our Savior, Jesus Christ.

In our own family, we try to not let the commercialism that can seem to so easily permeate this holiday overshadow the reason that we celebrate the holiday. We try to help our children remember to think of Jesus Christ and His birth and His life and to follow His example of kindness.

Participate in these fun Christ-focused Christmas activities to help your family remember the reason for the season.

You can also find more Christ-centered Christmas books here.

  • Make Nativity sets a focal point of your Christmas decor. I think some of the most beautiful Christmas Nativity sets are these:

Kurt S. Adler Nativity resin set

Holy Birth Nativity set

Holy Family Nativity set

And now that we have young kiddos, I love especially wooden and metal Nativity sets (that are more durable and not fragile!). Here are a few of my favorites:

Wooden Nativity ornament (we have this one or one very similar to it)

Fun Express wooden Nativity set

Willow Tree Nativity set

You can find more fun and beautiful Christmas Nativity sets here.

  • Hang Christ-centered Advent ornaments. Some of my favorite advent or Nativity ornaments that we have are carved from wood (because they are less destructible; I love our glass ones, too, but I have to be a lot more careful with those ones with our young kiddos).
    For example, I like this set of wooden Nativity ornaments.

You can find more ideas for Christ-themed advent ornaments here.

  • Count down the days till Christmas with a Christ-themed Advent calendar. My personal favorite type of Advent calendar is one that counts down the days till Christmas with an idea for a different service project each day. I really like this colorful and bright advent service calendar geared fror kids from Nourishing Joy.A couple of my favorite Christ-centered Advent calendars for kids and families are these:

Count Down to Christmas with Simplified Bible Verses Coloring Book

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas

  • Go to church.
  • Make Jesus a birthday cake.
  • Listen to Christian music.
  • Attend a Christ-centered musical performance, such as Handel’s Messiah.
  • Pray with your family.
  • Invite a friend or another family to a Christmas activity or worship service at your church.


13. Practice gratitude to help your family have a more frugal Christmas.

Another wonderful way to have a more frugal Christmas is to focus on gratitude during the holiday season. Help your children to remember how blesses they are and how everything that we have on this earth is a blessing from our loving Heavenly Father.

The month of December is a great time to practice gratitude. Some fun ways to practice gratitude are to do an Christmas activity like the gratitude chain or gratitude box mentioned above,

You could invite your children or even extended famly like aunts and uncles and cousins over to be part of a gratitude activity where you all write down and share 5 or 10 things (or as many things as you can think of) that you are grateful for.


14. Bake it up as part of an awesome frugal Christmas on a budget.

Another of my favorite frugal Christmas activities is to make yummy treats during the holidays! Below are some of our own family favorites.

  • Make your favorite varieties of Christmas cookies.
  • Make Christmas pancakes. Making Christmas pancakes is another fun Christmas tradition that your family will enjoy. We do this for some of the other fun holidays, too, like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Halloween, too!)
    The way we do this is to pick a food color (like green, if you want to do Christmas trees, or green and red, to make it even more Christmasy), then make big round pancakes like you normally would, and after you let them cool a little, use cookie cutters to make them into fun shapes. Then serve with your favorite toppings, and enjoy!
  • Make caramel popcorn balls.
  • Make homemade hot cocoa.
  • Make a gingerbread house.
  • Do a hot cocoa bar, and include fun toppings like mini candy canes, mini marshmallows, whipped cream, mint or peppermint hard candies, colorful sprinkles, and so on.
  •  Make other favorite traditional Christmas treats, like divinity and fudge.


15. Make decorating for the holiday season a family affair.

Let your kids have fun helping to decorate your home for the holidays as part of your fun Christmas on a budget! My kids are too the age now where they love to help put on the lower ornaments and to help put our Christmas knickknacks and so on.

For example, you can:

  • Decorate the Christmas tree together. You can find inspiration for beautiful and fun Christmas tree ornaments and other decrations here.
  • Buy a fun ornament each year for the family or each person in the family that represents something about that year.
  • Put out some fun and budget-friendly yard decorations.
  • Put lights on the trees or lights outside.
  • Hang some mistletoe.
  • Hang your Christmas stockings.

These are some of my favorite stocking designs (click the image below to learn about them):


And find some more fun and some fancy stocking ideas here.


16. Write letters to Santa. (This helps keep your kids’ expectations for Christmas realistic as you guide them in their gift requests. :))

Writing letters to Santa can be another fun and frugal Christmas activity for kids. And you can find a simple and fun Santa letter template that you can print off for your kids to use here.

Note: I do want to quickly mention, just to be true to myself, that in our family, we don’t treat Santa Clause like he is real. (You can learn why near the end of this article.) But we still have fun with him and read books about Santa and watch movies about Santa and all of that good stuff.

To help keep your children’s Christmas expectations realistic, I think it’s a great idea to guide their Santa letter writing a little. For example, if they are writing a letter to Santa to let him know what they would love to have for Christmas, you might suggest that they limit their requests to 3 gifts, for example, that are within a certain price range.

To help with this (and help take a lot of stress out of the holiday season!), if you are happy with your children believing that Santa is real (or if they already do), I think it’s a great idea to let your kids know that just as your family has a budget that they follow because money is finite, Santa also has a Christmas budget that he follows to make sure that all of the children throughout the world can have a few gifts that they will enjoy and love.

And if you want your child to receive a reply from Santa, go here to learn how!

17. Set reasonable expectations with extended family and friends, too, to enjoy a more frugal Christmas.

To save money on Christmas, also set realistic expectations with family and friends.

This should probably start with the Christmas gifts. You can find lots of ideas for ways to spend less money on Christmas gift giving in that item below!

You can also set realistic expectations by requesting that Christmas dinner be potluck, if one family is used to hosting the party and footing the bill.


18. Keep it simple, sweetie!

One of the best ways to save money on Christmas (and life in general) is to keep things simpler! 😊

A lot of times we make things a lot more complicated than they need to be. We make them a bigger production than they need to be.

How often do you buy a gift for your children, and they have just as much (or maybe more) fun playing with the box or the packaging as they do playing with the gift?

Buy simple, durable gifts like wood blocks, plastic building blocks, balls, wooden train sets, tool sets, kitchen sets, and so on, and you can’t go wrong!


19. Find ways to save money on Christmas gifts to help you have a frugal Christmas.

Christmas gift giving is often the biggest Christmas budget buster. But it does not have to be! There are lots of ways to save money on Christmas gift giving. I share some of my favorites below.


Money-Saving Tip: Find more than 100 fun and frugal gift ideas for the whole family.


Give baked goods as inexpensive Christmas gifts.

Another great way to save money on Christmas is to give home-baked treats as gifts. I don’t know about you, but I love to bake during the holidays. There’s just something about Christmas and baking that feel like they go hand in hand!

It might be partly because I don’t like to go outside much during the winter (I would hibernate all winter like a bear if I could!), but I think it’s also that it just helps our home to feel warm and cozy—and smell amazing! There are so many fun treats to make, and it’s great to also give them away so that we don’t eat them all ourselves. #sweetsgostraighttomyhips


Follow the four-gift (or five-gift) rule.

This is a very simple guideline to help keep Christmas focused on family time and experiences rather than all.the.stuff.

For this easy Christmas gift-giving tradition, you can keep things simple and really affordable by buying just four or five gifts for each child or person. There are different versions of it, but perhaps my favorite is this one:

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read
  5. An experience (such as a family activity)

The fifth thing could also be a homemade gift, a gift from a sibling, a used gift, a gag gift, a white elephant gift—there are a lot of fun options here!

The point is just to keep the potentional craziness of Christmas gift buying in check.

This has a lot of benefits. It helps children to be grateful for  appreciate more what they get and what they have. It helps you to stay on budget (of course! :)) It helps keep your children’s rooms (and your home) from getting overstuffed with toys and stuff. It helps to keep expectations realistic. If you are Christian, it helps keep the focus of Christmas on Christ.


Consider giving Christmas gifts just to the kids.

Another way that you can save money on Christmas is to keep the gift giving for the kids, whether in your immediate family or your extended family. In many cases, it’s the kiddos who have the most fun receiving gifts anyway.

For my husband and I, some years we get each other presents, and some years we don’t. It depends on if there’s anything that we really want at the time. When we do buy each other gifts, they’re generally pretty inexpensive, since we’re both savers (now; that was not always the case, at least for me :)) by nature.


Communicate with family about your Christmas gift budget.

For example, don’t be afraid to talk with your extended family about what is reasonable for you to spend each year given your overall budget and financial situation. If you are in debt, consider keeping your Christmas spending minimal so that the money can instead be used to help free you from debt.


Exchange Christmas gifts with just one person rather than giving gifts to each person in a family.

With our extended family, we no longer buy gifts for each person, since our families are growing. We exchange names and set a spending amount, and we spend that much on the family whose name we chose. For the last couple of years the amount has been $60, and that has worked well to be able to get a few gifts for the families with kiddos or one nicer gift for siblings who aren’t married or who are married with no children.

Even if you can’t be all together to draw names, you can draw some people’s names in their behalf, or use this website to draw the names electronically for you!



Make fun homemade DIY gifts rather than buying all the gifts.

Just because it’s DIY doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome! You can find tons of ideas for great DIY gifts on Pinterest.


Do a white elephant gift exchange to help you have a more frugal Christmas.

You could also do a white elephant gift exchange with extended family, rather than a traditional Chritmas exchange, and even put a cap of $5 or $10 on the gifts if you choose. Or suggest that the gifts shouldn’t cost anything, if you want to really stick to a true white-elephant gift experence.


Give acts of service as free gifts.

Give service as a free and much-appreciated frugal Christmas gift. For example, you could write a coupon to wash someone’s car, do the dishes, mow the lawn, read to a child, and so on.


Have a potluck dinner together instead of exchanging gifts.

With our friends, we don’t really exchange gifts. What we do with some of them is get together for a nice potluck Christmas dinner or for a movie night. It’s spending time with the people I love that I appreciate even more than a thoughtful gift.

You could also do this with family, as well. Meaningful time spent together is far more precious than a material gift.


Consider buying and gifting used toys and clothes to the kids (and yourselves).

You can also save a ton of money on Christmas shopping by giving used items. If you’ve been a parent of toddlers or young kids for longer than 10 minutes, you probably figured out that they’re pretty rough on their toys (and everything else).

So the way I see it, I don’t need to spend $20 on a toy that might only last a few days or weeks or months when I can buy it used and spend $2. Then I won’t feel as bad when it gets broken. (Though they still feel just as bad. 🙂

And young kids don’t even know when something is used or not—they can’t tell the difference. And even older kids, such as our soon to be six-year-old, don’t have to feel that new is better.  We have never taught our kids to think that way. If anything, our kiddos might grow up thinking that used is better (I hope they do!).



Give your kids things that they need anyway as frugal Christmas gifts.

If you have items that you know your children (or your spouse) need anyway, then give them as frugal Christmas gifts! This is a great way to save money!


Give fewer Christmas gifts, in general.

If you have gotten into the habit of giving gifts to virtually everyone you know, dial things back. Yes, it is a nice gesture to give gifts to others to show them that you care. But a heartfelt note will do the same. Or even a heartfelt conversation.

You do not need to give gifts to all of your neighbors, coworkers, the letter carrier, your babysitter, all of your friends, and all of your extended family. Because even inexpensive gifts add up! Pretty much everyone I know, even those on a tight budget, already has plenty of stuff and virtually everything they need, and much of what they want.

Instead of giving gifts to everyone, especially if money is really tight this year or if you are working to get out of debt (or if you should be working to get out of debt!), give gifts just to immediate family. Or give gifts to immediate family and do a name exchange for extended family.

And if you aren’t able to all get together to draw names for your Christmas gift exchange, you can do draw names online!


Consider regifting to save money on Christmas.

You can also save money on Christmas by regifting. If we receive a wonderful gift from someone that we’re just not going to use (I assume that happens with some of you, too, with gifts from well-intentioned family and perhaps friends), we’re OK giving it to someone else who will appreciate it. Reduce, reuse, recycle. 😊




Consider opting out of the jolly big lie.

I know I may get some flack for what I am about to share, but please hear me out and think about the benefits of making this same decision for yourself before making a judgment about it.

When our first daughter was probably about a year old, I was talking to a few coworkers at our annual Christmas luncheon. Somehow we got talking about Santa, and I mentioned that I didn’t like the idea of lying to my kids and acting like Santa was real when he’s not. I’m not a perfect parent (I so wish I were better!), but I want my children to be able to trust that what I say is true to the very best of my knowledge. And even though it’s easy to brush off this lie of Santa being real as a fun cultural tradition, I just didn’t want to do it.

Perhaps the clincher that made me decide to not lie about Santa being real was that one of my coworkers we were talking with at that luncheon told me a little story about one of her friends growing up. When her friend got old enough that her parents told her that Santa wasn’t real, she asked, “Well, then is Jesus not real either?” That hit me hard.

Now, I don’t want to make it into a bigger deal than it is, but I want with all of my heart and soul to have my children grow up following Christ and trying their best to be like Him—and believing that they can put their complete trust and faith in Him. That’s one of the very most important hopes and goals I have in my life, is that my children will grow up to be faithful followers of Christ.

Having a simple, relatively inexpensive, somewhat lower key Christmas aligns with our financial values, and it also aligns with our values as Christians. I want Christ to be the center of our Christmas, and by not making such a big deal of the big red guy, it’s easier to not have Christ completely overshadowed by Santa.

And it’s also easier to keep expectations realistic in order to save money on Christmas. When you teach your kids that there’s this magical guy who’s there to fulfill their every Christmas whim, it’s easier to get sucked into the trap of spending more than you should. (And if you’re using credit cards to pay for Christmas and you don’t pay them off that month, then you are spending more than you should.) But when your kids just grow up knowing that you are footing the bill for their gifts, then you can keep their Christmas wishes in check.

And that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with this Christmas tradition. We love Santa! He’s a jolly old fellow who brings joy to kids around the world. We read stories about him and watch movies about him and hang stockings and all that good stuff. We just don’t treat Santa like he is real—any more than we treat the Paw Patrol or Shimmer and Shine or Princess Sofia or Bob the Builder like they are real.

And I don’t know about you, but even though I love Christmas—I really, really do!—Christmas has just never been the same ever since that sunny afternoon (we lived in California at the time) when my dad took me for a drive and told me that Santa wasn’t real. Christmas has never been quite as magical—there was just something that was lost forever that day. (And I was I think 8 or 9, so it’s not like he was crushing my little heart at a super young age or anything. :)) But by not lying about Santa in the first place, my children will never have that letdown—that wonderful, magical bubble will never be burst.

I feel it’s so important for their long-term joy and contentment that our children learn that it is people and experiences that they should focus on and that really matter and that can bring real lasting happiness, not stuff.

Because of our very natures as humans, the value of stuff just doesn’t last most of the time. We get the newest smartphone, and then a year later (or less), there’s a better (more expensive) model out, and our cool phone just isn’t cool enough anymore. Same with video games, computers, cars, toys (the little people kind), boats—anything and everything.

It’s a true hedonic treadmill, where you can get caught up in continually buying more stuff—bigger and better and nicer and shinier stuff—in an endless effort to be happy. But because money is finite, you just can’t buy your way to happiness. Once the shine of the newest thing wears off, then you want something else, and then something else.

It just never stops, and it’s a way to be discontent and unsatisfied your whole life. What you have just isn’t good enough anymore. And that’s the perfect way to stay broke and never save and invest for the things that are so very important, like a comfortable retirement and your kids’ college educations. So let’s not get so caught up in all of that!

Now, all that being said, I know that many of you will have probably already told your children about Santa, and acted as if he were real. And so I don’t really expect you to then tell your children right away that actually, Santa isn’t real—unless what I say above just really resonates with you, and you want to (gently) let your children know the truth.

But if you want to continue to pretend that Santa is real, if you love the magic of the fairy tale Santa, then that is fine. You can still keep Christmas expectations reasonable and realistic by just saying that, like your family needs to live on a budget to meet all of their responsibilities, Santa has to live on a budget too in order to be able to give presents to all of the millions of children in the world who count on him.

So once your children are old enough to understand to some degree the concept of money, help them to know what gift requests to Santa are feasible given your family’s financial situation, and help guide them toward a reasonable Christmas wish list. To help build their young little characters, steer them to try and think of giving presents as well as receiving them and to not get too greedy in their gift requests.


20. Eat at home rather than going out to eat.

Eating at home is way cheaper than eating at a restaurant, so make your own delicious meals at home to help you have a more frugal Christmas. 

For example, if you normally go out to eat for Christmas Eve, start a new tradition where you make one of your favorite but less frequently eaten meals, instead.


21. Plan simpler Christmas dinners and parties to help you keep Christmas on a budget.

As I mentioned above, we like to have gatherings with family and friends during the holidays, but we don’t go overboard. You might want to save some money (and your sanity) this Christmas by scaling back a little yourself, especially if you routinely find yourself overcommitted or overextended during the holiday season.

The gatherings we have with family and friends are often potluck dinners, and they’re pretty informal and low key. But that doesn’t keep them from being fun! In fact, I think it makes them more fun, because there isn’t one person who has the responsibility of planning and paying for the whole thing. It allows for less stress and more fun!


22. Find fun things to do at Christmastime that don’t cost a lot of money (or any money!).

Similar to the item above, you can find tons of things to do during the holiday season that don’t cost a lot of money (many of them are even free!).

For ideas, check out this big list of fun winter activities that you can do for cheap or for free: 61 Free and Cheap Winter Activities for Kids



23. Do your Christmas shopping early (or even all throughout the year).

You definitely do not have to wait for Black Friday to begin doing your Christmas shopping.

In fact, a great time to buy Christmas items for the next year is the day after Christmas of this year. 🙂 You can get aweome deals on all kinds of Christmas paraphernalia that way, including Christmas pajamas, Christmas sweaters, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, and much more!

And by keeping your eyes out for great deals throughout the year, you can find great prices on items that your loved ones need or would want. Just be sure to keep a list of what you buy (the free Christmas printables found below can really help with that!) so that you don’t forget what you already bought. 🙂


24. Learn to be content with what you already have to enjoy a more frugal Christmas.

You can also save a ton of money and keep Christmas on a budget when you are already truly content with what you already have.

Another reason that my husband and I don’t feel a need to go crazy buying stuff at Christmas is that we are already happy with what we have. We already have plenty of stuff—all of what we need and much of what we want. So there’s no reason that we have to buy more. (Hint: And there’s no reason that you have to, either. 😊)

Read this article to learn more about the amazing power of contentment.

25. Commit to a cash-only Christmas.

One of the best ways to have a more frugal Christmas and keep Christmas on a budget is to have a cash-only Christmas! (This is one of my personal favorite ideas of all of those shared in this article. :))

For a cash-only Christmas, you commit to not go into debt for Christmas. So that means no credit card debt, no personal loans, and no other debt used to pay for Christmas presents and Christmas meals and parties and activities.

Having a cash-only Christmas, a no-debt Christmas, is a wonderful Christmas tradition and legacy to pass on to your children, as well.

Related article: Learn the 5 simple steps to plan a debt-free Christmas here!

And to help you plan for a wonderful debt-free Christmas, grab one of these awesome Christmas savings trackers!


3 Month Christmas Savings Tracker (Save $500 or $1,000 in 3 months!)

free Christmas Savings Tracker printables











Or grab this fun Christmas savings tracker printable!
















Final Thoughts on Having a Frugal Christmas

The holiday season is such an amazing time—it’s one of my favorite times of the year. I feel it really is magical. But it’s not because of the gifts. It’s because of time spent with family, time spent doing fun traditions, and time spent focusing on the Savior. It’s because we can make fun memories and pass on fun traditions to our kids.

You can enjoy a fun and frugal Christmas and have a wonderful Christmas on a budget if you will please divorce in your mind the holiday season and having to spend a bunch of money. I promise that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great holiday! Your kids will be just fine if they have a few meaningful gifts (or even just one, like one family I know does).

Or instead of gifts, you might give your family meaningful experiences, like going out to dinner or going on a cruise together or a volunteer vacation together.

If you spent $500 less than you spent last year, for example, you could put it toward your emergency fund or toward your children’s education savings accounts (ESAs).

And then rather than having that much more stuff taking up space in your house, you could move your family one step closer to financial freedom.

Last year we spent about $250 for all of our Christmas gift giving. And yet the kids got a handful of (relatively inexpensive) gifts that they really enjoyed, and we got to focus on the Christmas traditions that really make the season bright for our family.



What do you do to have a frugal Christmas and enjoy Christmas on a budget? What do you feel is a reasonable amount to spend? What do you think about opting out of the big, jolly lie? I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts, so please leave a comment below!



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