You asked for ideas about celebrating Christmas with lots of spirit and little cash. Choosing to simplify Christmas can be enriching , no matter why you've arrived at that choice. Don't be concerned that your children will suffer just because money is tight this year. What's important to them is that you're all happy together. Remember that for children what's important is the process, not the finished product. You *can* create a storybook Christmas for yourselves and your kids if you model it after the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie, rather than TV ads showing "perfect" family gatherings. In fact, why not give them the gift of family-activity nights, instead of mindless TV watching? Plan to watch only the Christmas specials you KNOW will help increase the gratitude and wonder. you want them to feel this season. Let everyone be involved in the planning and the doing. Here are some starter ideas:
Putting magic into holidays takes a flight of fancy, not a spending spree. Creating Christmas spirit is like believing in fairies: it takes some we WILL-thinking , instead of we WON'T (as in we won't have, we can't afford, etc). For thousands of years people made their own fun. You can do it, too.
Use what you have: your imagination and knowledge, combined with the resources at hand or within this year's budget. You know some Christmas songs. Teach them to your children. Gather family and friends, hold a practice session, then go caroling at a nursing home, hospital, shelter and/or around your neighborhood. You'll feel great! If your children are old enough, tell them stories about your favorite childhood Christmas. Make up one. Check a few books out from your library and read a new story every night for a week. Your librarian will help you choose the best ones. Get the whole family outside together as often as possible. Nature reminds us of our place in the world, fills us with a wonder appropriate to the season and helps restore our souls- and it's free! Take a family walk, have a sledding party, hold a marshmallow roast
Eat and/or read stories by candlelight every night during the holidays. Your kids will never forget this experience. If they're all wound up, candlelight has a magical, soothing effect. Whining, argumentative children start whispering and getting this dreamy look about them. If you have a fireplace, build a fire and turn the lights out. Sing or tell stories. Pop popcorn. Drink cocoa. Bundle up together.
No matter what the budget, think in terms of giving something of lasting value. Don't wimp out with "joke" gifts or things that fit the budget but that's all. No cheap plastic. It's within your power to give a gift that's suitable for all ages and appreciated by all. Write a letter to each of the people you'd like to remember listing ten things you love about them. If you have children, help them write a letter to each family member. An extended family can do this instead of drawing names this year. This is a gift of your time, effort and love, and it will be kept and remembered for a lifetime. If you're creative, make each person a card on which to record your list. . Sit around the tree on Christmas morning and read the letters out loud.. Even if there are no other gifts under the tree, even if there's no tree, this Christmas will be full of love. And isn't that what it's all about?
Toys of lasting value are especially important for children. You want a toy that's built to last for years, does what it's supposed to do, can be used by children of various ages and can be used in many different way. Some examples::. A real rubber playground ball (at least 10" in diameter) . Vinyl balls don't bounce true, thwarting a child's efforts to become skillful. A real baby doll that feels good in a child's arms. A book worthy of being read over and over.(Ask a librarian for recommendations. Read the book in the library or check the best possibilities out. Buy when you're sure.) A dump truck that can haul loads and passengers, instead of a specialized vehicle that only does one thing like a backhoe. A real teddybear that can sit and is the right size for the child. (We adults often err by thinking big is better, and especially for an attachment toy, it's not.) Give more value to toys by adding accessories that generate imaginative play: a hat and cargo suggestions for the truck driver, a bed for the doll (more important than clothes for pretend). Toys don't have to be new, just clean (this means bleached, especially for the in-the-mouth-set.) and safe. Spend time before you spend money. The library has books on the most loved toys for each age group. If you can, visit the best small, independent toy store in your area and watch. What keeps the kids' interest? What attracts kids, no matter what their ages?
For years of fun, create a dress up box. Find a stout box. (Remember the box itself is a great toy. Preschoolers will use it as a car, a boat, a train. It can be a stove, if you turn it over and draw "burners" on the bottom. If you can afford it, cover it inside and out with contact paper. It'll look great and last for years.) Check your closets for dress-up potential. Visit a few garage sales and/or thrift stores. Possibilities: hats of all kinds, (cowboy, crown, "princess", sailor, baseball, fireperson, hard hat, space helmet) lace curtains (worn as veils, trains, headdresses, skirts) scarves, vests, full petticoats and full skirts with elastic waists cut to fit, capes, props such as wands, flashlights, lunchboxes, swords, shields, ballet and tap shoes. Watch for Halloween costumes and snap up the ones that encourage pretend play.
A make-it box in which you put arts and craft materials will also be used for years, by all ages, for all things. Make one for each child or make a family box, depending on the budget. Find a stout box with a separate top and bottom (like a shirt box, only bigger and heavier) or one that has a hinged lid . It has to be big enough to hold the size of paper you come up with. (For preschoolers, 18" x 24" is better than 8" x 11"). Find a small cigar size box to hold markers, crayons, pencils, scissors, etc. This can go into the big box, or be stored separately. Decoration depends on budget and materials at hand. Cover with contact paper, inside and out. Or cover the outside with brown grocery sack paper and decorate in your own style. Put each child's name on the outside. Fill it with age-appropriate "making and doing" materials. (Preschoolers need big, fat kindergarten crayons and markers, and small, blunt-tip brand name scissors. that work. as they should.) Put in what you can afford/find: markers, crayons, colored pencils, a glue-stick, scissors, tape, construction paper, cardboard, fun foam, odds and ends of yarn, braid, rick-rack, fabrics, buttons, wrapping paper, foil , shelf paper scraps, wallpaper samples, cardboard rolls from toilet paper, glitter, beads, gift wrap and paper towels, egg cartons, round oatmeal boxes, foam trays that come with fruit or bakery products *(not* meat packages). and paper plates. Add large plastic needles available at craft stores for crewel work and use the foam trays to teach your child to make designs using yarn. The nice thing about foam and cardboard trays and paper plates is that pictures, designs and collages become instant ready-to-hang, self-framed "art". Get in the habit of considering your recyclable for their "making" potential year-round. The cotton from pill bottles makes wonderful 3-D clouds to a landscape, or texture to a collage. Plastic bottles become funnels and scoops for the sandbox., bathtub, garden and beach. (The kids can also spread the cotton along your bushes and fences this spring for nesting birds.) Spend a little time at your library with a crafts for children book to get more ideas. Stock up on papers, paints, markers, etc. at next year's back-to-school sales. Garage sales and thrift stores are always great sources of cheap crafting materials.
Use what you have. Bring home what you find on walks: mistletoe, holly, any branches with berries, beautiful leaves may be left in some parts of the country, pinecones, nuts. Make ornaments of as many as you can by adding ribbon or string or what-have-you. Spread peanut butter on the pinecones and hang them on trees and bushes in your yard for the birds. Roll them in birdseed if you have it. Make garlands by stringing what you have on hand or can afford: cereal, cranberries, popcorn. Again, check the library for ideas. Ask your frugal friends for their best ideas. Ask your folks what they did in lean times. Take a leaf from your "simple" friends and use natural and recycled materials. Wrap presents in grocery bag brown paper and tie with twine. Potato print or slatter paint a design.
If a tree is out of the question, make a game out of hiding presents (homemade and/or under a designated dollar figure ) until Christmas morning, when they can be retrieved from their concealment and presented with much fanfare . Stealth and surprises add fun and drama.
Let there be light! Bring out every candle you own and light it. If you have a Christmas tree, give it lots of attention and admiration. Decorate it with ceremony.
As the Grinch found, celebrating the season in style doesn't take tinsel and trappings. Lights, a little food, some music and a family to DO it all with (instead of just watching people on TV do things), and voila! Christmas!!
I'm the happy mom of two and grandmother of four. I've had time to learn that our best Christmases were when we gave our children the gift of our time and attention. When we focused on what the kids really wanted (calm, unhurried, happy parents) and unplugged the Christmas machine, we had peace on earth. (It turned out to be my ego, my desire to do it all, that was the biggest problem.) Relax. Have a Happy Christmas.
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