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Layers of white snow blanketing the ground. Gorgeous bulbs lighting up the brisk black of night. The smell of hot cocoa near a cackling wood fire. Stockings hung perfectly imperfect next to the towering green tree.
Christmas is the most beautiful time of year.
Except for when it’s not.
With hectic schedules, extra expenses, rude customers and plenty of added stress, Christmas time can easily become the least enjoyable time of year.
When you have more people to buy gifts for than you do money, it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed. A quick glance at Facebook will leave you wishing you could put more under the tree and create the perfect Christmas morning. It’s hard not to feel like an insufficient underachiever.
I know how hard it can be to bring your dream of a Facebook-worthy brag post Christmas dreams to reality. When work slows down, out of town visitors take a toll on your pocket book or any other of life’s emergencies take a hit at your savings account, it can leave you feeling pitiful.
But Christmas morning doesn’t have to suck. Just because you can’t afford this year’s hottest toys or even a fancy Christmas dinner, doesn’t mean you can’t have the best Christmas of your life.
We’ve rounded up 10 simple ways to enjoy the season when there’s no money for Christmas.
There’s something amazing that happens when families volunteer together. It helps kids realize how lucky they really are and keeps the “gimme” attitude at bay. The fact that they are able to help out, whether at a soup kitchen or a children’s hospital, for the day will make them think twice about what’s important in life. Volunteering alongside parents and siblings will teach kids to be thankful for the things they do have. The hours will pass quickly as they meet new friends and learn to look past circumstances and truly see people.
Hit the Town:
Staying home on Christmas can be a drag when there’s no money for Christmas gifts but it’s the perfect time to get out of the house. Parks and hiking trails are forgotten by most families so you can have the whole place to yourself. Grab your bikes and take the kids for a ride. Go for a stroll and take in the peacefulness of the day. If it’s too cold to be outdoors for long, try going for a drive. Turn up the Christmas music, grab a cup of cocoa and head out for a drive. Let the kiddos pick the route, with no plan in mind. Traffic is generally light, as most people are home with their families, so you can get a whole new view of the town, as it looks while basically deserted.
Start a New Tradition:
The secret to flipping an inexpensive Christmas morning into a great day is simple: Just make it fun. Come up with your own fun tradition and the kids will look forward to it, year after year. It could be as simple as cooking a huge brunch together. That could take up the better half of your morning and you kids will love working alongside you in the kitchen. Another fun idea is to skip the traditional Christmas meal and instead host a Christmas picnic under your Christmas tree. A cheap frozen pizza and a carton of ice cream will have kids talking about your tradition for years to come!
Limit it to Stockings:
A few years ago, we decided to trade our Christmas gifts for Christmas memories. It wasn’t born out of a lack of money, although it has certainly saved us quite a bit. Instead of the usual 10 or 12 Christmas gifts for each kid, we opted to give only stockings. If it couldn’t fit in a stocking, they didn’t get it. That year, we filled stockings with super affordable items: lip gloss, candy and an interactive stuffed animal. In their stocking, each child got a slightly more expensive gift, like a personalized pocket knife.
The kids were thrilled with it and it was a much bigger success than I’d ever imagined. For under $100, all 3 of my kids had an amazing Christmas.
Make it a Party:
Kids tend to love parties! Invite your friends and family over for a big dinner and ask them to bring a dish. The kids can make the invitations, plan your dish, decorate and greet your guests as they arrive. Have a few fun conversation starters for the entire party. (We like to ask questions like: “What is the best present you ever received? What’s your favorite Christmas memory? What’s the one thing you would buy for your husband if money was no issue?” ) Go around the table and let each person answer every question. Be sure to include you kids in the conversation, as they sometimes get pushed aside during adult gatherings. You can also let your kiddos come up with the questions ahead of time. Simply have them write questions on strips of paper, fold them and let each guest draw a question.
This is the perfect time to get to know neighbors or friends without local family. Don’t forget to invite older folks, who will otherwise be spending the holidays alone.
There’s no denying it. Kids love gifts. No matter how hard we try, it’s inevitable that they’ll want something to open on Christmas day. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to spend a lot of money. Instead, make it a rule that everyone must make each other’s gifts. They could create something simple like a coupon book or they could use a skill, like crocheting, to create a gift. Even just a special loaf of their favorite homemade bread can make a kid light up like New York City. My girls love making homemade beauty treatments for each other. Sugar scrubs are their specialty and they are super cheap and easy to whip up!
While you may not be able to buy each kid the latest iPhone for Christmas, you can scrape together your money to buy one large gift that the whole family will love. If your budget allows, grab a new board game or movie that the kids have been dying to see. Even a new game for their gaming system can be a huge hit. (We like to buy the new Just Dance each year.) Trust me, this will keep the whole family busy all day! One year, my entire extended family couldn’t walk on the day after Christmas. Turns out, we were all so sore from bowling on the new-to-us Wii that we could barely get out of bed. 😀
By purchasing gifts used, you can really stretch your money. The trick to buying used is to start early. In December, everyone is trying to find a good deal on something their kids will love. In August, you’re much more likely to find a great deal, as less people will be doing their Christmas shopping. You can buy local through sites like Facebook Market Place or Craigslist but don’t forget to look online. Often times, even with shipping, you can find items for much cheaper on Ebay than anywhere else.
Use these same sites to sell your old items that you don’t need anymore! You can even make $100 by the end of the week!
Wrap Every Single Thing:
Kids love ripping the wrapping paper off of gifts. Many times, they don’t even care abut what’s on the inside of the paper. The joy of ripping the paper carelessly brings just as much joy as the gift itself. One way to make sure that your kids don’t feel the lack of presents on Christmas morning is to wrap every single item. That includes anything in the stockings, no matter how small.
If you purchase a 4-pack of Hot Wheels for your son, open the package and wrap each package individually. The same idea can work with make-up kits, play sets, jewelry sets and anything else that has more than 1 piece.
Treat the Day Special:
Let’s face it: As parents, we set the mood for the day. If we wake up in a rush and act sad that there is no money for Christmas gifts, the kids will pick up on it. If we instead act excited about a new way to celebrate Christmas, they will echo our excitement. (This will definitely be harder with older kids, but they will come around.)
Prepare ahead of time to make the day extra special. You can make the day more fancy than usual (think heirloom tablecloth and the “nice” dishes for a grand dinner) or make it more relaxed (paper plates and donuts? Yes, please!) Light a candle, turn off all electronics and be present with your family. The kids will notice and truly enjoy the extra efforts you’ve put into making the day one to remember.
Even on the years when there’s no money for Christmas, you can still have an absolutely joy-filled day. Don’t let the commercialism make you feel bad about your situation. Instead, take control of the situation and make it the best Christmas ever!