Getting through Christmas frugally

by Sandy L on December 17, 2010

Introducing my very first guest poster by Jack Reed on Frugal Holidays.

The most awaited festival of the year is almost here but you don’t seem very happy. You have been a reckless spender throughout the year and now you are wondering how you can celebrate Christmas with your loved ones. Worry not! Although Christmas is getting too much consumer-oriented each passing year, there are still countless ways you can employ to enjoy the charm of this blessed day even if you are financially strapped.

So here is how you can enjoy a frugal and in fact, meaningful Christmas this year. After all, the beauty of this day is not about how much you spend but connecting with life around you.

1)    Make your own Christmas gifts: Buying gifts consume a major chunk of your expenses during this festive season. Why not make the gifts yourself this year? Be creative and you will be able to save up a lot for other necessary expenses. Baked cookies, home-made chocolates, hand-made woolen clothes; the list is endless! (Sandy’s note: I LOVE home made food. I’ll take good food as a gift any day)

2)    The frugal Christmas tree: Christmas trees can be quite expensive, especially if it’s a live tree. Make your purchase from a large discount store where the cost of the tree will be reasonable. Go for a smaller cheaper tree as it will anyhow last for just a few days. The best option is to settle for plastic trees as this is most economical and can be used year after year with no extra cost. (Sandy’s note. I’m on a big snowflake kick…don’t forget the paper snowflakes)

3)    Budget friendly decoration: Visit the thrift and pound stores to purchase some frugal Christmas decorations. Do not go for lavish decoration as this is quite unnecessary and will only lighten your wallet. Keep the theme of your decoration simple. This is a great time to make use of your old decorations. Try to be innovative. Cut your old cards in a pattern and hang them on the walls and windows, use ribbons to decorate plain white candles or make paper chains from colorful magazines.

4)    Analyze the expense for Christmas dinner: Carefully plan out the cost of the dinner. The cost would depend on the number of guests you are inviting. If you can’t help inviting many of them, ask them to share in the preparations.  This is a great idea as it will split the expense of the meal among the guests and won’t pinch your pocket heavily.

5)    Cut your shopping spree: Most of the people spend recklessly shopping for Christmas. A frugal shopper knows his budget and spends accordingly. You don’t want to end up in debt after Christmas, so limit your expense and try out dollar stores or local discount stores. You can get all items here at a heavily discounted rate, and oftentimes no one will be able to tell the difference between brands and items from thrift stores.

Plan and list out your expenses and spend only what you can afford to. Throw a Christmas party on a tight budget; it is not at all difficult. All you need to do is to be a little determined to stick to your budget and you will be able to celebrate a frugal, yet wonderful Christmas!

Author-bio: Jack Reed is a financial writer with Oak View Law Group. He writes on a variety of personal finance topics with a special focus on debt related issues.

Sandy’s Take: I love the holidays but I think people go way overboard on gifts. I would much rather get an inexpensive or free gift that took a lot of thought or time than vs one that is expensive but not at all in line with my lifestyle. I end up feeling guilty and like an ingrate that I don’t use or want the item.  I also feel bad that someone wasted their money.   To me, time is one of the most precious gifts, especially for elderly family members that don’t often get visitors or company.  Even us young-ins love time related gifts (babysitters, etc).

What was the best free or nearly free gift you’ve ever received?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Richards December 17, 2010 at 1:51 AM

These are nice tips, thanks for sharing. I especially like the idea of sharing in the costs with the guests, that brings along a feeling of togetherness too!

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Sandy L December 18, 2010 at 6:01 AM

Dave – thanks for stopping by. Most people really do want to help with the festivities.

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Rachael Myers December 17, 2010 at 8:53 AM

Proud to say that my husband and I followed all your tips this year. We are not having any guests over this year as we are spending our first holiday away from family. (we have recently relocated) In the past when hosting holiday meals I always “jump” at the offers of food. We have attended many meals and parties where we were told to bring nothing, and feeling so lame have showed up with the 50th bottle of wine for the hosts. I much prefer when I am assigned a dish.

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Sandy L December 18, 2010 at 5:47 AM

Rachael – we started doing Christmas at our house after my oldest started to “get” the whole present thing..around the age of 2. It’s taken a lot of the stress out of driving all over carnation to get places. I also hated sitting in traffic. It’ll be nice.

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Everyday Tips December 17, 2010 at 9:28 AM

I love Christmas, and I don’t mind splurging a little. However, I am careful with what I spend on the kids because I don’t want to spoil them. I don’t mind spending a bit on the food though. Our tree is 20 years old and I still don’t see a need to replace it. (It is fake in case you were wondering… :) )

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Sandy L December 18, 2010 at 5:51 AM

Kris, for me that’s a tough balance. I still think I get too much for my kids at the holidays as I limit spending during the year on them (unless it comes from a tag sale and costs $1). I guess they at least understand that they don’t get new toys unless it’s Christmas or their B-Day.

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retirebyforty December 17, 2010 at 8:35 PM

We have a frugal Christmas tree – inherited from the Mrs’ grandma. It’s great and she loves it.
Analyze Christmas dinner? The basic Christmas dinner shouldn’t be a budget buster. I don’t see the need to do this unless you’re serving up caviar creme fraiche, and Cristals. Yumm, I’m salivating.

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Sandy L December 18, 2010 at 5:56 AM

RB40-I thought that too, until I hosted thanksgiving. My grocery bill was easily an extra $100 on top of the normal $200 we spend. Plus that does not include alcohol costs either. I certainly don’t mind the cost, but I was a bit surprised by it when I got to the cash register. I do make a big feast though. I guess if you’re not hosting yourself and the host family is on a tight budget, I’d just be mindful that it really could be a budget buster and volunteer for something on the more expensive side like the alcohol.

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The Lost Goat December 18, 2010 at 1:17 AM

I am making 2 sets of mittens for Christmas and my husband is making a pair of cuff links. So that is three presents. Everyone else in my family is getting bought gifts, because (a) I didn’t make the time to think of something I could make and they would like and (b) I saw something in the last 4 months that I was sure that they would love and bought it for them for Christmas. Christmas is the one area of my budget that I just can’t seem to get under control; every year I spend more than I have saved up, because I find such neat things that I am sure people will love. Next year, in addition to spending money, I may need to start planning made presents in July, instead of November:)

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Sandy L December 18, 2010 at 6:00 AM

I made marino wool mittens for an ex once. He loved them. I make a lot of homemade food items like jams and things, but they never last til the holidays. I just can’t wait and give them to my friends and family throughout the year. I justify it as it’s nicer to get something in July vs at Christmas when they’re getting all kinds of other stuff too. You don’t want to know what my credit card bill is this month. In addition to spending on gifts, I also buy for myself because I’m too cheap to buy stuff the rest of the year. My bill is always takes my breath away in December.

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Jack Reed December 18, 2010 at 3:20 AM

@ Dave- thanks for liking the tips :)
@ Everyday Tips – yup Christmas does tempt you to splurge, but always good to be on the safe side. And even I din’t know that plastic trees could last so long :-)
@ retirebyforty- True, but sometimes you can’t limit yourself within your budget if it becomes necessary to invite a large number of guests
@ The Lost Goat- All the best to you for thinking of planning to make the gifts yourself. Sure you should start in July, considering it took you 4 months to buy the gifts :-)

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Money Reasons December 18, 2010 at 7:40 AM

I’m a pretty frugal guy overall, but Christmas is the one time I loosen the purse strings or wallet a bit more than normal. I still do keep a close eye on the overall expenses and cost per gift per person.

Great tips though if you are on a tighter budget, or just want to save more…

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Gavin December 18, 2010 at 12:57 PM

Good tips! While I was thrilled our holiday party was a huge success and only cost us under $70 including alcohol, I am forced to spend quite a bit on gifts at Christmas. For those of you like me that are stuck in this situation because everyone in your family would hate you if you tried to bail (seriously), I suggest keeping a Christmas list all year. I have one on Google Docs, and put ideas in it all the time, and watch for sales. I’d also suggest using an Amazon price tracking site to monitor stuff you have in mind so you can shop all year. In addition to getting good deals, it spreads out the cost all year instead of hundreds of dollars in Nov-Dec.

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101 Centavos December 19, 2010 at 2:50 PM

I’m with MR on this. Christmas is for splurging (within reason), and January is for recriminations.

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