Inexpensive Christmas ideas for your family

Cheap and Fun Christmas

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Cheap and Fun Christmas

How do I make Christmas cheap and fun? I have a 4- and 5-year-old and I am planning a wedding in April. I really don't have time to make gifts. Any ideas?

Make Christmas Last All Year

One year, my husband and I were searching for a nice present for our children, but we had very little money. I came up with an idea that went over well. I went to a dollar store and bought a child oriented calendar for each one of them. One day each month, I wrote something special down. Some examples included favorite meal night, bake your favorite cookies with mom day, and movie of your choice (at the $1 movie theater of course!). Each child had a different day of the month. It made it very special to them. They anticipated the day all month. In December, to end the year, we allowed them each to pick an extremely small Christmas tree ($5 at a local tree farm) to put in their rooms. They absolutely loved it. That was the most we paid for any of the monthly gifts. It made Christmas last all year, it was extremely inexpensive, the kids loved having their special days, and most importantly, we did not lose sight of the most important things about Christmas.

Start Some Family Traditions

The children are at the perfect age to start some family traditions. Here are a few ideas that are free. Bundle up and drive around after dinner one evening to see all the holiday decorations. Play Christmas music in the car and stop and admire the decorations. Another is to check out your local calendar of events and go to your local tree lighting ceremony. Most towns will have an "official" tree. Also check and see when Santa arrives at your local mall. Usually, there is a celebration and some trinkets are given out to the children.

Creating frugal holiday traditions

For a little money, you can bake holiday cookies or breads, etc. with your children or make a simple food item to gift to relatives or friends. Also, some civic groups sponsor a breakfast with Santa where you can breakfast and get some up close and personal time with Santa.

Other charities may sponsor a festival of trees where you can view a lot of decorated trees for a small donation, and sometimes a garden nursery will put on a festive holiday walk for free in hopes that you will purchase a tree from them. If you are religious, remembering the reason for the season is the best way to celebrate. Take the children to a church Christmas pageant or service to remind them of Jesus' birth. Another fun thing is to bake a birthday cake together for Baby Jesus and then enjoy it on Christmas day. All these focus on spending time together rather than the monetary expenditures.
Linda S

Make Their Eyes Light Up!

Your children are the perfect age for the best gift I ever gave my kids at that age. I have boys, but this would work for girls also.

I got a big cardboard box and filled it with dress up clothes! I found many things at the dollar store. I also made some of the items out of scrap fabric that I already had, and I threw in some things just because I thought they could be creative with them. They loved it!

You could do the same type of thing for girls, picking up crowns, tiaras, boas, gloves, etc. at Big Lots or the dollar store. Then you could pick up some "dress up" type glittery and fun clothes at Goodwill or Salvation Army, or from a raid from your own closet!

The best part about the present, besides the way my boys loved it, was I only spent about $12 on a huge box full of stuff that went to both boys! You know how much seeing a big box under the tree really makes their eyes light up!

Give a Gift That Keeps Giving

You didn't mention a budget, but one fun gift is a family membership to the zoo. This lasts for a whole year and often includes parking passes, guest passes, and reciprocal visits to neighboring zoos. Instead of a gift that is going to wear out or a toy they will break, this is ongoing fun. Grandparents can take the kids, and since you have a pass, no one feels the need to go to every single exhibit. It's very fun and relaxing, plus you often get newsletters that the kids will enjoy.

More ideas for making Christmas meaningful

Learn to Appreciate the Simple Things

We adopted the idea of the wise men giving baby Jesus three gifts for our family. Occasionally, someone will get something else if it's something they really need. We also give candy, toothbrushes, and a piece of fruit in stockings.

Garage sales and thrift stores are super sources for inexpensive toys and clothing. Shop carefully and find things that are still in good condition.

Don't forget eBay. You can find great deals on things like Legos there. Look in your community for free or inexpensive ways to celebrate the season:

  1. Churches and universities give a lot of free or inexpensive concerts in December.
  2. Take an evening to drive around looking at Christmas lights.
  3. Go to the library and check out Christmas stories. The Fourth Wise Man, A Certain Small Shepherd (Owlet Book), The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, A Christmas Carol, One Wintry Night, and EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS are just a few of our favorites. Read one or several during December for a cozy, free family fun time.
  4. Make a batch of cookie dough, buy some food coloring and sprinkles, get out the cookie cutters, and let your kids cut out and decorate cookies. Yes, you'll have a mess to clean up, but your kids will have a great time! Even my 20-year-old still loves to do this.
  5. One of our family Christmas traditions is making or buying a Christmas ornament for each child.

Don't hesitate to jump off the Christmas hamster wheel! Keep the holiday simple and inexpensive, yet fun. Your kids won't miss a big glitzy celebration, and you'll all appreciate the season more.
Lee Ann

Have a Scavenger Hunt

After separating and moving into our own apartment three weeks before Christmas, there wasn't any extra money to spend for luxuries. I managed to buy my daughter, who had just turned 8, three or four much-needed sweat suits, some underclothing, pajamas, gloves, crayons, several coloring books, a few dollar store items and one nice porcelain doll for about $10 to $15.

Christmas was a scavenger hunt. The first present included a note giving her hints on where to look for the next present and each of the following did the same. The hunt continued until she found the final present, which she dearly loved. She received mostly clothes from me, which she needed, but it was the thrill of the event that she still fondly remembers, despite the circumstances and poverty. In fact, she still has the little notes.

We now celebrate Christmas on New Year's Day, because she and her younger sister always go to their father's house for Christmas. His family goes all out and buys presents for all the kids, spending way too much. We make our Christmas on New Year's special, with new traditions we have started for our small family of three (in PA). This allows me to purchase after Christmas bargains, along with items I have managed to purchase and hide throughout the year, getting them things they need and want while still keeping my costs low.
Suzi G.

Making Christmas memories with these frugal ideas.

Be Together!

Often, we overlook what really matters at Christmas. If you are looking for something fun and cheap, your best bet is to make it a Christmas of memories that even young children will enjoy. Sit by the lighted tree on Christmas Eve and read "'Twas the night before Christmas." Make hot cocoa with lots of whipped topping and chocolate sprinkles. Let the children pick out an inexpensive gift for one another. Take the time to go outside on Christmas day to play with the kids. Your time is most likely the best gift you can give to them, especially if you are busy with other plans right now. Be together!

Ingenuity at Its Best

Once, when I was a kid, my Dad was laid off from work at Christmas time. My parents didn't have much money, so my Mom looked around the house and used some items she already had for Christmas gifts.

She gave me a beauty parlor by giving me the make-up, lotions, hair gels, curlers, etc. that she no longer wanted and made a beauty cape by taking a piece of fabric and sewing a tie on the end of it for draping over "customers."

She gave my brother a store by saving and cleaning empty food containers and then gave him some toy money from the dime store. We had a lot of fun playing with these as kids, and many times, our friends would ask their parents if they could save containers so that they could play store or beauty parlor.

Three is the Magic Number

My friend gives each of her children three gifts. (Jesus received three gifts - frankincense, gold and myrrh.) She gives one fun gift (a toy), a practical gift (something the child needs), and a piece of clothing (a sweater, pair of pants, etc.)

If you do the stocking thing, the dollar stores are packed full of great things for children. It is possible to give children a great Christmas without spending a fortune.

Also, sing Christmas songs on Christmas morning, put on Christmas music when you get up and have it playing all morning, and read your kids a Christmas book. You make Christmas special, not the "stuff" your kids will get.
Barb in New Berlin

Give Them the Gift of You

In the past, when dealing with my young nieces and a very tight budget, I decided to offer them my attention rather than another toy or book. I told them early on, before Christmas, that my present to them would be an all day outing. The first year, I decided where we went. We took the cheap tour on the Queen Mary (in Long Beach, CA) and followed it up with a movie. They got to spend the day being kids, and we had some good quality time together. To this day, they (now 17 and 19) still remember that trip, especially the part where we ran through the rain, splashing in every puddle we could find.

Create Memories to Be Cherished

Check your local newspaper for free town/city sponsored activities at parks and libraries! Take advantage of holiday fares on public transportation to get where you're going. My local train offers three free kid's rides with an adult fare. Kids love train rides and bus rides especially if it's something they've never done before. Check out your local zoos and museums. Many have free or inexpensive holiday programs aimed at kids. Sometimes it's fun to just pack hot drinks and cookies and then walk or drive around your neighborhood to see the lights. Be sure to set a reasonable time limit on your activity since your kids are little. Getting your money's worth by spending as much time as possible at the activity might be dollar wise, but not create a very endearing memory.

One year, for less then $10, I took my nephew and niece (ages 5 and 6) on a train ride downtown. We spent about an 1-1/2 hours downtown to have hot chocolate and "special holiday" cookies, and then to see a few of the big buildings (each had holiday decorations in their lobbies), the traffic, and the crowds of people. The whole trip lasted under three hours. The kids loved the train ride, the holiday decorations, and just the experience of doing something out of the ordinary. They're late teens now and still fondly remember the first time I took them "downtown" for Christmas!

Gifts that are "New" to Them

Since you didn't specify if your children are boys or girls or one of each, the most generic answer I can find is to find things they can do together. Board games are fun and a lot of stores run sales on games.

Another solution is looking at your consignment shop or Salvation Army Thrift Store. You will find things like kitchen centers, laundry centers, trucks, cars and some really nice board games and clothes. I have done this, and when I bought larger items used, I bought the accessories new. For example, when I gave a kitchen center (that someone was throwing out!), I bought food and a pot and pan set new. My kids never realized the kitchen center was used, after I used some elbow grease to clean it up. I put a big bow on it and they had the new wrappers on the accessories.

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Stocking Stuffers Galore

I've noticed recently that $1 bins are emerging in stores like Mervyn's, Target, and Wal-Mart. You'll find endless stocking stuffers! I'm amazed at what I've seen in the $1 bins at these nicer stores. I was able to get all of the prizes for my sister's bridal shower at Mervyn's. They had a lot of toys, too. At Target, I was amazed by the amount of journals, photo frames, cooking utensils, etc. At Wal-Mart, I saw a lot of things for babies and younger children, like bath or small pool toys. If you check with these stores often to see what they have in their $1 bins, then you would have all of the stocking stuffers and smaller Christmas presents taken care of in no time and with little cash.

Teach a Christmas Lesson

This is a wonderful time to start teaching your children that Christmas is about more than presents. When I think back to my childhood, I remember very few of the gifts I received, but the memories of decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, and wrapping presents make me smile. Here are some cheap or free experiences for you to enjoy as a family:

  • Take advantage of your local library. Check out Christmas books to read with your children. Christmas movies and music may also be available to check out. (My library often has very few DVDs on the shelf, but by searching the computer catalog, I can find them and place them on hold so that when they are checked in, the library will notify me and hold them at the circulation desk for a few days.) The library is also a great source of community information, and you can look for seasonal events that are free to the public.
  • Watch the TV listings for Christmas movies and specials to watch together.
  • Even if you are too busy to craft this Christmas, you can encourage the kids to make things. Search the Web for age-appropriate crafts for the kids, and set them loose to make decorations, gifts, and Christmas cards.
  • Put the kids in charge of wrapping presents. Start collecting boxes now (cereal boxes are good) to put their gifts in so they can be wrapped sight unseen.
  • When the season gets too hectic, turn off all the lights except the tree lights and snuggle together with the kids. Add mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows and tell them stories about your own childhood Christmas memories.


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