Holiday savings: How to celebrate Christmas on a budget

By: Louis Catania, Patient Navigator, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Sleigh, Queen. Sleigh.🛷

The holidays are expensive. The bigger your family, the worse it gets, and it can sure suck the fun out of celebrating with your loved ones when you also have to worry about 🤮 money.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Festivities on a budget can be just as fun (or even more fun because you must get creative) than a big-budget celebration. Whether you’re looking to spend Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Las Posadas, or Christmas on a budget, we’ve got you covered.

❄️S-know what you’re working with

If you’re doing the holidays on a budget, then you gotta start with a budget. 🏦

Lock down these three things:

  • Your current savings (how much money you have, right now)
  • Your income (wage, gifts, etc.)
  • Any estimated outgoings (rent, bills, etc.)

That’ll give you a number you can work with. ?? If you find out that you need extra money for your planned festivities, you’ve got two choices: You can try to find additional sources of income, such as picking up an extra shift, or you can cut back on other aspects of the holidays. Read on to find out how to do that second part!

🦃 Bougie food? No thank you

A huge part of doing any holiday gathering like Hanukkah or Christmas on a budget is the food. From crispy latkes to overcooked turkeys, a meal is super important. But it really doesn’t have to have all the bells and whistles.

So how do you do that?

  • Grab a pen and paper 📜 and make a list of your essentials: These are the dishes your holidays can’t live without.
  • Next, check out seasonal donation programs at grocery stores near you to see if you can already find a lot of what you’re looking for! Alternatively, visit a food bank in the area.
  • Check out discount grocery stores and dollar stores for frozen and canned ingredients you need for your recipes.
  • Cut down on appetizers and sides to focus on your big-ticket items.
  • Now grab your oven mitts, 🧤 because cooking from scratch is much cheaper than buying pre-prepared food at the store.

Looking for a simple, low budget recipe? Check this out. It’s an entire holiday meal on a sheet pan that we estimate to be about $7 per person.

Need more ideas for low-cost recipes? Here’s a list of 30 meals you can make for less than $10 each.

Your presents 🎁 is not requested

One of the best ways to celebrate the holidays like Kwanzaa and Christmas on a budget is to just… not do presents.

Gift giving can be a stressful part of all this, and many would prefer to just be together for the festivities instead. Since this isn’t the norm for some people, be sure to agree to this beforehand. If your friends and family catch your drift, they won’t be too hung up on skipping gifts.

You could also limit gifts by doing something like “secret Santa!” 🧑‍🎄 That way everyone is only responsible for one present, and it means you don’t need to buy a something for Cousin Calvin who you’ve only met twice in your life.

If you’re looking for ways to keep the cost of gifts down, here are some neat tips:

  • Decide collectively on a spending limit for all gifts: This way there’s no pressure to go above and beyond. Also, remind others to not go above the spending limit. They’re not cool. They’re actually kind of mean. Tell them they have resting grinch face for us. 😡
  • Use price trackers: If you know what you’re getting someone way in advance, then set price trackers on that gift. That way, you can get it at its cheapest and save yourself a healthy buck 💸.
  • Get creative with the wrapping paper: It’s going to get ripped in five seconds anyway, no need to buy the latest and greatest paper. Have a birthday-themed roll of wrapping paper lying around? Go for that. Use newspapers or magazines for a cool, edgy look. Or dress up that paper bag and turn it into a gift bag. Anything is possible! 🎁
  • Buy cheap gift cards: Check out eBay or other online shops for cheap gift cards. Many people want to make their own purchasing decisions anyway, so everyone wins.
  • Get crafty: You could also make the present! A homemade gift, like a unique drawing or framed photo, often is extra special and sentimental. Make it personal and sweet, and you’ve got a winner. 🤗
  • Do an IOU: After Christmas sales are great, so why not wait? Let someone know in advance that you’ll get their present to them afterwards, so that they don’t think you just forgot, and you’re good to go. 👍
  • Use those points: Supermarket saving schemes or loyalty points can get you far as well, especially if you’re looking for a smaller gift. Use them! 🛒
  • Be charitable instead: You can also opt to make a donation in someone’s name. Not only does this help the less fortunate, but it’s also something that can be handled at a later date. 😇

🎄Activities you’ll never fir-get

Some families like to go above and beyond for the holidays, like renting a cabin, taking a trip on a boat, that sort of thing. That’s all a lot of stress, money, and work, if you ask us.

Instead, why not have more fun with activities that cost a whole lot less? 🤑 You could:

  • Decorate cookies! 🍪
  • Attend a parade 👀
  • Put on a family play 🎭
  • Drive around to see neighborhood lights displays or go to a tree lighting ceremony💡🌲
  • Go caroling/listen to some holiday music outside🎤
  • Gather everyone’s recipes to make a generational family cookbook🧑‍🍳
  • Take turns to tell stories from your family or friends🗣️
  • Play in the snow! ☃️

The sky’s the limit here, but the important thing is that everyone wants to be together and just have fun. That’s the whole point of the holidays, really. 💗

🎍Tree-mendous decorations

Decorating can mean anything. It’s honestly just another fun activity to do with family and friends! 👪

Start with just finding items around the house. Do you have old fairy lights from Halloween or some other holiday long ago? Those will work! It’s the little things that add a bit of festive cheer. Check out social media for inspo, too! Hashtags like #budgetdecor and #DIYChristmas will get you far.

Also, the ‘great outdoors’ is your best friend. If you’ve got nature around you 🌲, grab some pine needles or branches, or any other kind of leaves that’ll look great with some icy glitter. Herbs, mistletoe, pinecones, holly, you name it - it’s the best time of year because you can literally bring the outdoors inside. 🏠❣️

If you need even more decorations, check any place selling live trees for clippings they’re going to throw away, or make use of sales and coupons at craft stores/thrift stores. There’re so many other ways to find cheap decorations - paper to make ribbons by hand, garlands out of cranberries and popcorn, free printable decorations, the list goes on.

Keep it fun, keep it healthy

The holidays are a wonderful time to get together, but they’re also often a source of stress and anxiety. 😥

Make sure to take care of yourself during these times. We’ve written a few helpful blogs, such as caring for your body, mind, or spirit, or a guide for getting yourself out of debt! You could also sign up for the Positive Peers app to get access to a resource for lifestyle and health info, as well as finding a larger community of people to give you advice when you need it.

It’s a wonderful time of year, and you deserve to have a wonderful time. 👩‍❤️‍👨