For many Americans, the “most wonderful time of the year” is also the most expensive time of the year. Just how expensive? Experts estimate that the typical American spends between $1,000 and $2,000 on Christmas each year (source).
Thankfully, you don’t have to have a couple thousand dollars on hand to celebrate Christmas! We’ve never spent that much, but we always have enjoyable, memorable celebrations. One great way to keep Christmas affordable is to make simple, money-saving modifications to your current traditions.
Frugal modifications to common Christmas traditions
- Gift exchanges. It can cost a small fortune to purchase Christmas gifts for each member of your family. Given that Christmas really isn’t about the gifts, why not try something different? You can skip gifts altogether or you can try one of these ideas for alternative gift exchanges. The last couple of years we’ve had great success with a couple of these alternatives.
- Wrapping paper. If you do decide to give gifts, you don’t have to spend money on paper to wrap them. You likely have some items on hand that make great alternatives to wrapping paper. Newsprint, scrap fabric, pages from old books, used gift bags, and a number of other common items can be used to wrap and embellish gifts.
- Christmas cards. When you send Christmas greetings via mail, you get hit with a financial double whammy: the cost of cards and the cost of postage stamps. Though I love sending and receiving Christmas cards, I’m becoming convinced that e-cards or some other alternative that utilizes technology is the way to go. There are several free and low-cost Christmas greeting options discussed here.
- Decorations. If you already own wreaths, garlands, and an artificial tree, then you can set these out at no expense. Be careful with Christmas lights, though. Newer LED lights can be operated for next to nothing, but old lights can take a lot of electricity to use. If you have these old ones, then you’ll have to decide if you’re okay with an increase in your electric bill. If not, then you’ll have to obtain some energy-efficient ones or skip the lights this year. If you don’t already have decorations, then you can use some frugal approaches to get some. You can make decorations out of items you have on hand and check craigslist or thrift stores for used items.
- Travel. The days and weeks surrounding Christmas are peak travel periods, so airlines, hotels, and gas stations will charge more over these dates. Thankfully, with a little careful planning, you can travel to Christmas celebrations affordably. If traveling by air, you can find more affordable tickets if you purchase them early or make reservations to fly on Christmas Day. Try to hitch a ride to the airport so you don’t have to pay for parking. If traveling by car, pack your own meals and snacks so you can avoid the expense of eating out. Try to stay with friends or family while traveling to avoid hotel stays. If this isn’t possible, then stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. Click here for a more comprehensive list of ways to save money on Christmas travel. Will Christmas travel be too expensive even if you enlist these strategies? It’s okay. You can still celebrate with family using one of these long-distance Christmas celebrations.
- Family photos. Many families have professional photos taken during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. It can cost quite a bit to hire a professional photographer. Have you considered taking your own photos instead? Get your hands on a good camera and try taking a few shots. You may be surprised at how well the photos turn out! Another option is to hire a photography student or a photographer who is building his or her portfolio. These individuals often charge lower fees for their services.
- Christmas dinner. An elaborate Christmas dinner can be quite pricey, especially if it includes a lot of specialty foods or foods purchased from bakeries or restaurants. However, a simple meal that is still hearty and tasty can be prepared quite affordably. Keep a close eye on grocery ads because many traditional foods (turkeys, hams, sweet potatoes, etc.) go on sale in the weeks before Christmas. Stick with homemade dishes as much as possible because these are generally more affordable than their pre-prepared counterparts. Another possibility is to have a potluck where each family member brings a dish to contribute. This is nice because everyone can bring his or her favorite!
If you’re pinching pennies this Christmas, how will you modify your traditions to save money? What strategies have worked in the past?