How do you manage the holidays on a frugal budget?

Amanda Witman
By Amanda Witman on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - 10:56am

Keep in mind here that "frugal" might be externally OR internally imposed.  For some of us, living frugally frees up capital that can be invested in various ways.  For others here, there is no extra to free up, and frugality is our only option.  Both are valid.

So, a frugal holiday season... this idea is totally at odds with the mainstream consumerist culture.  There's a good discussion here about rejecting holiday materialism.  But rejecting materialism is only part of the picture for those of us who practice frugality.

What ways are you making do this holiday season?  How are you using what you have on hand to bring about the material things that you do value?  How have you shifted your traditions and expectations away from dollar-funded options and toward homemade, homegrown, repurposed, regifted, consumable, re-used, needed, created, found, downsized, bartered, bargain, add-your-own-frugal-word options?  How have you attempted and/or succeeded in changing the expectations of your spouse, children, extended family, friends, and neighbors to prepare them for a different kind of holiday(s) than money can buy?

I have lots of ideas but would love to hear what others do.  With 83 members in this group, I am sure we can amass a fine long list of ideas.  Please share yours with us!


jasonw's picture
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Joined: Sep 17 2011
Posts: 1029
The Homebrewed Gift

For a couple of years we have given to family the "Holiday Sample Pack" of homebrew. We set aside a few bottles of each batch we brewed up and then designed and printed custom labels for each bottle.  It was a great way to give a worthy gift to family and not spend a lot of money.  Mostly time and will power to not drink the reserve bottles. 

Note: the only problem with this gift was that if gave me ideas of going bigger and getting that 27 gallon stainless steel conical fermentor.  Now that would be a lot of beer.  Maybe a "holiday keg pack"! :)

The homemade food gifts are our norm.  We have also given seed packets from that years harvest and collection and put them in nice white packets with labels.  Easy and useful for the gardener types. 

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
Frugal gifts I have given

Frugal gifts I have given over the years:

  • A collage fish tank background with the theme "gone fishing." The kids and I had a blast making it and the recipient loved it.
  • Homemade scarves and silk-cord necklaces
  • Gift baskets: you can get baskets dirt cheap at thrift stores and fill them with fancy imported goods from dollar stores. Add some florist's cellophane (I buy it from my local florist by the yard), some easter grass (I buy it at the after-holiday sales),add a bow and voila! A really nice gift.
  • Really little kids do not care if their toys are used. Playskool stuff can be washed in a soap and bleach solution and look good as new.
  • We've gifted hot chocolate mix (dry milk, coffee creamer, sugar or substitute, Hershey's baing cocoa, and a pinch of salt) in a pretty jar with a measuring spoon tied to the neck with a string.
  • Basil-infused  (I use the dried seed stalks) vinegar or oil; even better with a garlic clove.

Frugal holiday things I have done over the years:

  • Make paper chains as decorations with younger kids
  • Cardboard star with aluminum foil covering. Tree-topper!
  • Popcorn strands (note: threading these and cranberry strings keep the kids busy)
  • We cut a free Christmas tree from a lot they were about to build on, with the builder's permission
  • Decorate with pine cones; just make sure you run them through the oven to dry them out before you work with them - that's what florists do).
  • Decorate with pine boughs cut out of the forest.
  • Hand-paint wooden oranaments: we got the blanks from Michael's in the crafts section.
  • Save the red bows from everything, including old wreaths. They can be reused every year, like on your mailbox.
  • Shop the after-Christmas sales for ridiculously low prices on things like cards, ornaments, light sets, and decorations.

magnolia leaves and eucalyptus

I'm looking forward to making wreaths and such with Southern Magnolia leaves: florists use them and the trees, with their distnctive wide evergreen leaves, and they grow far to the north. Some of our neighbors have eucalyptus, too. And this year we re-planted a "volunteer" (read: wild) holly that tried to grow in our garden to the front yard. I'm sure we'll do future holiday cuttings from that.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Great ideas, Wendy!

And that magnolia wreath is gorgeous.

I told my sister where I hid the gifts and she was stunned that they fit in such a 'small' spot.  It's...well, I can't say where it is, or my eldest (who has a username here) might find out!  About the volume of a steamer trunk.  I think it's PLENTY for our family of five.  I guess we just don't have any really big items this year, but that would be because nobody needs anything really big right now!

Some of our under-the-tree gifts this year are thrift-shop finds, free rehomed items, and regifts, though some are new.  Some are consumable.  Some were made by a local craftsman.  Some are inherently useful, hopefully "lifetime" gifts (like sturdy backpacks, new bedding, jackknives).  Some foster cooperative family entertainment (like a game or puzzle).  Usually there is a gift of some kind of artsy-craftsy materials (colored paper with a book on paper airplanes or origami; felt and embroidery thread in many colors; beginner knitting kit.)  Other than a few small things in stockings, I like to give under-the-tree gifts for the whole family rather than individual kids.  I guess I will check in after the holiday when I can actually reveal exactly what my kids are getting, LOL.

The kids have decorated the house with paper chains, and the cards we receive become a decoration (hung over a ribbon on the doorframes).  Christmas cards for friends/neighbors/family are handmade.  Grandparents, great-grandparents, and my sisters get 5x7 photos each put in a special frame we gave them about a decade ago. 

My kids usually make "homemade art" cards that we stuff with a 4x6 photo and a printed letter about what our family has been up to -- half-sheet and modest.  Real signatures.  I know some people who get them treasure them for years, so they themselves are a gift.

In the past, for extended family we've done local maple syrup (from farmer friends), homemade loose-leaf tea mixes, natural cleaning kits (in a basket, as you suggested), homemade ornaments, etc.  We keep it very very humble and thankfully our family is fine with that, or at least they have adjusted.

Keep the ideas coming!

(Love the new username, Wendy.  wink)

suziegruber's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 3 2008
Posts: 228
Skip the Material Gift Altogether - Interact!

I was talking with my 83 year old mom about the holidays and gifting the other day and she said that what's most important to her isn't gifts but spending time together.  What if instead of giving physical gifts, we give the gift of meaningful time together. Yes, that can be expensive if you live far from a loved one.  However, a meaningful, real-time (not Facebook, not e-mail) interaction on the phone or over Skype really warms my heart and helps me know I have family and only "costs" time.

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