Frugal Christmas

Posted on December 20, 2007. Filed under: Frugal Living |


Photo by jurvetson


The commercials and hype would have you believe that you have to go run out to some packed mall and spend, spend, spend! I am trying to do otherwise. This time of year is always stressful — buying gifts, winding down at work to take a few days off, sending out cards, school events, parties, family plans, shipping packages, visiting with friends, decorating–all of this adds up to a stressful season. Now add the possibility of racking up serious credit card debt, and it just doesn’t make sense. So when I think about a “Frugal Christmas” it begins with saving money and not going overboard. But it’s also about saving sanity, working towards simplicity and trying to actually enjoy the season.

So here are the things I do to have a frugal, and fulfilling, Christmas:

  • Set a budget. And stick to the budget. I set money aside for use during Christmas and like being able to get gifts for the people I love knowing that it will not put me further in debt. This helps to avoid the anxiety I feel when money is being spent, but it isn’t clear to me where that money is going to come from (DAMN those credit cards!) I have an idea of how much I want to spend on each gift based on my budget and can focus on the giving without worrying about the spending.
  • Make something. I have knitted scarves, made gourmet food baskets, burned CDs and created family calendars with all of our photos to give away. I made butter for the first time a few weeks ago, and learned that it was really easy to do. So this year I decided to make a bunch of flavored butters to give as gifts. My package will have three butters one flavored with sea salt, another with fresh herbs, and the third with chopped radishes (sounds weird, but I am told it tastes great). My daughters spent this evening making cookies for all of their friends to give as gifts, so I am pleased to see that they have learned you can make things that are worth giving as gifts.
  • Limit the number and size of gifts. For years I have been advocating that we limit gift giving to the children in the family, but could never get anyone to agree. Then I advocated for doing a Secret Santa where each adult puts their name in a hat and we all buy one gift for the adult whose name you pulled from the hat. Again, no one agreed. So I decided to institute my own Secret Santa. Each year I get a small gift for all of the adults in my family (eg a picture frame with a family photo inside). However, I pick one person to be my “Secret Santee” and get them one big gift. I simply go in alphabetical order to determine whose turn it is to receive the big gift. This year it’s my Dad’s turn to be my (not so) Secret Santee, which is nice because it has been a tough year for him because of his health.
  • Round Robin. This is actually not one of my ideas, but a coworker told me he does it in his family with the adults and I thought it was a great idea. He has a large family and when they get together for Christmas each person brings one gift. Then they all pull numbers out of a hat. The person with the number one randomly selects one of the gifts and opens it. Then the person with the number two opens a gift. He can then decide to keep the gift or can take the gift that belongs to the person who already opened a present. So it goes on with each person opening a gift, and then deciding if they want to keep it, or want to trade it for one of the gifts that have already been opened. Then when everyone has selected a gift, it goes back to the person who was number one and they get to make the final trade for the gift they want among all of the gifts that have been opened. With a large noisy family, the fun is in the trading and laughing.
  • Buy nothing. My husband and I have agreed to not buy each other gifts for the past couple of years, and it has been great. No trying to figure out what he wants, one less gift to get, no need to make room for more sweaters. The other approach is to use Christmas as a time to buy something new for our home that we both want. Whatever the approach, the goal is to keep it simple a low stress.
  • Don’t buy seasonal items. This really applies to my wrapping paper and Christmas cards. Instead of getting something that screams CHRISTMAS, it’s better to get someting that can be used all year. So wrapping paper can be a basic red color, without Christmas prints and used all year long. Cards can have a neutral theme and be used as thank you cards during the year. No Christmas towels, dishes, aprons, pot holders or other items that would look ridiculous if used in August.
  • Take the kids out to look at Christmas lights and decorations. An advantage to living in New York is access to places like Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center. At this time of year, there are lots of options in terms of places to see great Christmas decorations and holiday lights around the city for free or for minimal cost. Here are some listed in New York Magazine. Closer to home in Westchester, there are some families that go over the top with decorating their homes every year, and visitng them to see how they have decorated is an annual event for some. Here’s that list.

I am always looking for ways to make this season easier and simpler. This list is the beginning and I hope to get more ideas.Anne


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  • About

    Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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