Saving money while still making the season festive

We are living on a single income for what’s becoming a big family. We’ve had years where money was REAL good. And others where unexpected expenses made it impossible to save up to cushion this season. This year just happens to be a year where money is tight (hi moving then getting pregnant with no insurance.) But no matter what the budget, no holiday season ever felt better or worse than another because of it. We just have to make adjustments. I hope others find this list useful. And as someone who was once an unemployed single mom I did try to keep in mind things that could be purchased with food stamps! 

Budget Friendly Activities:


1. Dough ornaments (Average cost: $5-$8) who didn’t see this coming? lol. But I’ve never met a child who tired of getting to play with dough. Salt dough is simply flour and salt. And cinnamon dough is just cinnamon and apple sauce. They also make great gifts for kids to give to relatives.


2. Tree Lightings or Holiday Markets (average cost: $10) It may be too late this season but many towns will have a tree lighting. There may even be a parade. It’s free and local businesses will set up booths with candy canes or even hot cocoa. We also love to hit up the holiday markets. In Edmonds there’s a free holiday trolley. The key is to say we are looking not buying then surprise them with buying a fresh pastry.


3. Homemade Garland (average cost: $10) you can use popcorn or cranberries.  Dried orange slices  or paper chains . The most expensive part will be the twine to hang it on but that can be used for countless other crafts too and instead of ribbon of gifts so it’s actually a great thing to have around. 

4. Tv Christmas Movies (average cost: FREE) Look up when holiday specials and movies will be on tv instead of letting little ones talk you into renting or buying. If you have a DVR or Comcast go through and take like 10 minutes to set recordings for all the good ones.



5. Hot Cocoa dates (Average cost: $8) One on one time is so special to kids and means more than toys to them in my experience. Instead of Starbucks hot cocoa randomly in the the drive thru, set up a time to go to a coffee shop and make a big thing of it. Most coffee shops put loads of whip and sprinkles on top especially this time of year. Or make a hot cocoa bar at home with marshmallows and crushed candy canes. It’s a good opportunity to talk about what gifts they want to give others or retell them the nativity story if that’s what you’re into! 

6. Make anything you need to get anyways a gift. (Average cost: depends) Example. The girls need holiday dresses so instead of just ordering them I made it an advent calendar activity for Dad to take them dress shopping. Hold off on new jammies and wrap them with a library Christmas book. Only big kids will even notice the library lable and they won’t miss the book when it goes back cause most are all christmas’d out by January.

7. Tablets and Cellphones (Average Cost: Free-ish) I know it sounds out there and isn’t for every family. But in the past we got Lucy a phone just cause it’s a ‘big item’ that will cost us nothing the first month. Especially this time of year, by adding another line your bill won’t go up by much and you get a free phone and/or tablet and there are often other freebies. We got some sports watch thing and a speaker from Sprint the last time we were eligible to upgraded our phones, which Justin went and sold on eBay for over $100. We actually made money by upgrading our phones. 

8. Decorate Stockings (average cost: $15) target has $3 stockings this year and dollar tree has $1 stockings which are simple and screaming for some kid crafty decorating and piping their names at the top. Crayola sells glitter paint pens for $5. Bells are also a fun addition and some dollar stores have. If kid crafty Christmas kills your aesthetic let them hang them in their room. Or give them to grandparents to hang for the kids.


9. Bake something connected to a tradition in another country (average cost $10) the ingredients are rarely pricey and going to European delis or markets are an easy way to get unique ingredients cheaper than gourmet shops. We do St. Lucia Day buns  and a Vasilopita cake with a lucky coin or almond baked in. We make pomander orange balls which are just oranges with cloves stuck in them. It’s a way to explore your own family heritage or learn more about traditions in other parts of the world or other eras. My kids are always fascinated by new traditions!

10. Remember that gifts don’t make Christmas (average cost: free) we’ve had years where the kids got hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of toys. And years we had to go for the $10 baby doll and wrapping everything from thrift store puzzles to new tooth brushes. They’ve never said “wow! We can tell you were really financially irresponsible this year. Thank you!” Or alternatively “This Christmas sucked.” They remember decorating cookies and they remember going to the Christmas carousel or driving around looking at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music. And my favorite memories are just lazing around Christmas Eve! 


Pitfalls to Avoid (if you can swing it no shame. But if you can’t…skip these):

  1. Custom Photo Christmas Cards. Photographer mini session are a great money saver and photographers are booking now. It’s also a wonderful way to support small business owners! Still it’s around $100 which for us just doesn’t fit in our budget. Also. Printing the cards is around $2.50 each unless you order more than 75. This means to send out 40 cards could easily cost you more than $300 after postage. Comparatively, Target’s selling 40 packs of Christmas cards for $15. Most people can see up to date photos on social media, and for the few people in your life who aren’t on social media you can get prints from Walgreens to put in the card for around 10 cents each.
  2. The Nutcracker. Major company productions aren’t cheap. PNB, the most popular in Seattle, tickets start at $100 and quickly go way up from there. Instead find a local ballet school and go to their showing. Tickets will be a fraction of the cost and the show will likely be shorter which is a perk for most children who will find bigger productions too long. This year we can’t even afford that though and Justin’s taking the girls to a matinee showing of the Nutcracker movie. 
  3. DIY gifts. So often I see diy suggested as a money saver. It can be. But it can also be a trap. Take homemade soap or bath bombs. By the time you buy all the ingredients, which individually can be pricey and may require buying in bulk, the molds to make them, then the packaging to gift it nicely…you may have just been better off ordering from an Etsy shop which still offers the homemade feel but saves you money and is an opportunity to shop small. I think used books are the real cheap gift VIP.
  4. Santa photos. There are free options out there. The photos rarely turn out good. The nicer quality photos are expensive and require standing in line at a mall which is a major spending trap. And there’s pressure to get nice outfits for the photo. All that work and chances are your child will cry or bad cheesy grin. If you love them. Treat yourself. But I’ve never regretted missing out on this tradition.