Celebrate Christmas Without Spending

  • Drastic Measures

    No one wants to disappoint eager children and other loved ones during Christmas, and some struggling parents make drastic financial moves just to avoid the shame of having few gifts under the tree, or even wake the kids up Christmas morning empty handed. If you have little or no money to spend and you’re searching at the last minute for ways to afford the holidays, forget about selling your blood for money on Christmas Eve or writing checks that you hope won’t clear until you get paid in January. Here are some tips from Karen McCall, a counselor at the Financial Recovery Institute, that can make for a bright Christmas without causing that January debt regret. Photo Credit: ansik, Arenamontanus
    1: Ease Holiday Anxiety
  • 1: Ease Holiday Anxiety

    It’s easy to get out of touch with your finances during the holidays, so it’s important to make it to Christmas morning with a plan, says McCall. With some reflection, you might realize that the best Christmases you’ve had in the past had little to do with how much you spent or what you gave or received. Thinking of those fun family moments may help to ease your holiday expense anxiety and help you work this year’s frugal but fun Christmas strategy. You should be honest about your financial situation and make a commitment to rein in your spending this year to avoid going further into debt, McCall says. Photo Credit: kevindooley
    2: Take a Look Back
  • 2: Take a Look Back

    Think about last Christmas and prior Christmases, McCall suggests.  Does spending all the time, energy and money on the holidays lead to debt buildup every year, causing a damper when the holidays are over? Think of your best holiday memories.  Do you have family traditions that don’t involve presents?  What have you liked about past holiday celebrations and what are some things you’d want to change about previous Christmas celebrations? Photo Credit: alliet
    3: Imagine the Ideal
  • 3: Imagine the Ideal

    “Create picture of success,” says McCall. It may sound silly, but if you imagine your perfect Christmas, you can identify what matters most to you and your family. Does the smell of pine and hot apple cider make the holidays happier to you?  Does the sight of pretty stockings on the mantle and glimmering lights on your Christmas tree bring joy to your family’s world?  Those simple moments don’t cost much. Beyond Christmastime, consider what your family’s favorite activities have been.  Ask your kids what their happiest family moment of all time was and think about how you can recreate that, McCall says. Photo Credit: fisherga
    4: Make a Plan
  • 4: Make a Plan

    “Everyone needs to really sit down and plan,” says McCall.  And that means sitting down and listing all the friends and relatives you want to buy for and how much you’d spend, who you’d tip and how much, and don’t forget to add in postage and other smaller costs that add up. Come up with a total dollar amount. For many, that’s “way beyond what they can afford,” McCall says.  “But people will have so much freedom if they plan ahead of time” instead of trying to avoid facing a difficult situation until the last minute.  Even a few days before Christmas, you do still have time. Photo Credit: kevindooley
    5: Talk With Your Family
  • 5: Talk With Your Family

    Admitting you can’t afford Christmas may be daunting and uncomfortable, but there are more positive ways to approach your family with this.  “Kids may be more understanding than you think,” McCall says. Ask them their favorite things about Christmas that didn’t cost money, cost little money and cost a bit more money.  You may not even anticipate what your child will say. Tell them you want to focus on the things that cost little or no money.  “Don’t say we can’t afford it.  That puts a burden on children. Say, ‘In our family, this is how we’re going to do it,’” McCall suggests. Photo Credit: chefranden
    6: Know What They Really Want
  • 6: Know What They Really Want

    When a child makes a Christmas wish list, parents often feel like kids absolutely must have the items on that list.  But if you check with your kids, you may find that there are a couple of items they don’t want as badly. If you’re planning on buying presents at all, it may help to find out which items are most important.  “Bring your family in on the process,” McCall says.  Or consider buying just one item that the whole family will benefit from, like an affordable video game system. Photo Credit: gemsling
    7: Focusing on the Experience
  • 7: Focusing on the Experience

    If you have little money, or none at all, “decouple the concept of Christmas with materialism,” says McCall.  Instead, spend quality time with your family.  For many families, that means decorating the Christmas tree, playing games and going to see neighborhood Christmas lights, McCall says.  McCall herself says her family likes to build graham cracker houses as an evening event together. If there aren’t going to be gifts under the tree Christmas morning, make sure you have other plans.  If you have older kids, you could go to a soup kitchen to help spread the spirit of Christmas as a family, she adds. You can get together with other families and or go play in the snow together. Some families even write, practice and perform their own Christmas play for the family.  And all the preparation takes focus off of the gifts, McCall notes. Photo Credit: John-Morgan
    8. Shop at Home
  • 8. Shop at Home

    Instead of buying tacky gifts that aren’t very useful just for the sake of buying a gift, there are ways to give without spending money. If you have a good friend or relative has been admiring something in your own home, and you wouldn’t miss it, it could make for a thoughtful gift, McCall says.  “A silver candlestick, a crystal bowl, the older the better,” she says. Photo Credit: Elsie esq.
    9. Swap
  • 9. Swap

    If you know families with children the same age as yours and they’re in the same financial situation as you, get together with them and exchange a few things that your kids don’t use anymore. After all, if a kid gets an old Xbox that’s wrapped nicely, they’ll be thrilled to get one used as opposed to not getting one at all, McCall says. Photo Credit: platinum blonde life
    10. If You Must Shop
  • 10. If You Must Shop

    If you absolutely must have new things under the tree Christmas morning, your family can do a drawing for a gift exchange, like Secret Santas, so that each person only has to buy one gift. Photo Credit: anne.oeldorfhirsch
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