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Can’t Afford Christmas This Year? Try These 17 Things

What to do if you can’t afford Christmas

The holidays are in full swing, with Christmas only a few weeks away. Are you worried that you can’t afford Christmas this year?

If you are like many families, you may be worried about how you are going to be able to afford Christmas on a small budget without much room for extras besides your typical bills.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend an average of $1,047.83 on holiday expenses this year.  Yikes!  For many people, that may be half of their monthly pay.

As Christmas approaches, are you looking at your bank account and getting nervous wondering how you will be able to pay for it this year? Many families take on loads of new debt each holiday season trying to keep up with Jones’.

Some common holiday expenses can be:

  • Presents
  • Christmas Tree
  • Ornaments
  • Christmas lights
  • Decorations
  • Wrapping paper, bows, gift bags, tape, name tags
  • Family photographs
  • Family Christmas cards to mail to family and friends
  • Travel expenses if visiting family out of town
  • Holiday party and church attire
  • Meals or decorations for parties
  • Activities for the holiday
  • Crafts
  • Baking

Luckily, there are ways to reduce your costs and try to have a frugal holiday season this year.  We hope that if you implement some of these things, they will make it easier to afford Christmas on a small budget.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through my links. This is at no extra cost to you. View our full disclosure here.

Find ways to make money for Christmas.  Check out our list of remote jobs that are hiring now and a list of work from home jobs to work remotely.

Can’t afford Christmas – How to survive Christmas with no money

Set a budget and stick to it

Before you begin your shopping, write down all of your expenses and create a budget.

You can grab our free Holiday Budget Planner here to help you plan your budget and track it.  Our planner includes 9 pages, including templates for holiday meal plans, grocery lists, budget, shopping list, etc.

Encourage friends and family to do a Secret Santa exchange

Maybe you need a gift for your parents, your kids, your spouse, your in-laws, your ten nieces and nephews, your best friend, your siblings, your boss, your co-workers, and your cousin’s new baby.  Those costs can add up tremendously.

Suggest doing a secret Santa exchange.  For example: my husband’s side of the family has 12 kids.  Instead of us purchasing a gift for each child, each family chooses 2/3 kids randomly to buy a gift for.

So instead of buying gifts for 10 nieces and nephews, we only purchase for 3.  This alone saves us tons of money since we started.

You can also do this with your co-workers, friends, and even your immediate family.

Only shop for the kids

Another way to save money, is to only shop for the kids in your family.  My husband and I do not buy gifts for our siblings’.

We only shop for the kids in the family, parents, grandparents, and each other.  Of course you will want to have a discussion with your siblings to make sure everyone is on the same page if you are going to make this change.

Host a potluck dinner

If you typically host the holiday party each year, it can become very costly to decorate, buy and cook dinner, and dessert.  If you are comfortable asking your guests to each bring a side dish or dessert, this could save you tons of money.

Maybe make the main entrée and ask guests to bring a dessert or beer.  Some families are very traditional and believe that if they are hosting the party, they should be providing the food.  My family is this way.

But it’s okay to suggest a potluck dinner if money is tight.  Your guests might enjoy getting to participate in baking a yummy cake or appetizer to share.

Re-use your holiday décor

Every year, I pull out the same decorations to decorate from our attic.  And each year, my kids glow with delight pulling out each piece and talking about a memory that is attached to it.

We may buy one or two new decorations each year, but we always save everything to re-use.  Not only does this save money, but it helps the environment by not wasting anything.

I love re-using our decorations because it gives a greater sense of tradition for the holiday season as well.

Buy an artificial tree

This was one that was hard for me to get behind.  During my childhood one of our family traditions was to go buy a real Christmas tree every Thanksgiving weekend.

I continued this tradition for many years with my own kids.  Then when money was short a few years ago, my husband suggested getting an artificial tree to save money.

So we bought one, and have used it every year since then.  I miss the tradition of going to choose our own tree and I miss the smell of real pine needles in our house. But on the bright side, we are helping the environment (and our wallet) by re-using our tree each year.

save money for christmas with a fake christmas treePurchase an artificial Christmas tree on Amazon.

If you can’t do without the smell of Christmas from a real tree, then keep the scent of the holidays alive in your house by grabbing one of these products on Amazon.

candle for christmas

How to survive Christmas with no money

Shop with Rakuten

Rakuten is a cash back website that gives you a percent of your money back for eligible purchases.  If you grab their browser extension, they will alert you if a website you are on has a cash back offer or if there is a promo code or coupon available.

Rakuten is great to use during Christmas time because they offer cash back at most stores.  I did all of my Christmas shopping online through Amazon, Target, and Kohl’s.  I received cash back for almost every purchase I made.  They also applied coupons and promo codes that I would have never searched for on my own.

It really is the best.  I use it all year long because as a busy mom of two, I do most of my shopping online.

Sign up for Rakuten. I’ve already earned over $350 back since I started using Rakuten!

Shop the Sales

Obviously shopping when things are on sale is one of the best ways to save money.  I saved $55 shopping the sales at Target plus the cash back I will earn through Rakuten on my purchases.

Some people think that they have to get gifts at the dollar store or a consignment shop to save the most money.  But sometimes you can find toys for 50-80% off.  Many gifts I have bought for my nieces and nephews are priced at $10-15 on sale but are originally $20-30.

Target had many sales on their toys for the holidays, and Walmart always has lots of items for a low cost.  I love getting my son’s name brand shirts from Kohl’s because they are a fraction of the price at other stores.

For example: I found a pair of Van’s shoes for my son for Christmas that were originally $60.  I paid only $35.  On sale!

The Children’s Place is another great place to find kids’ clothing at a highly reduced price.  They also offer free shipping.

I like to get matching shirts for my boys’ during each holiday and have it shipped to my house.  Last Christmas I got them two matching shirts for church and had it shipped to my house – I only paid $8.

Sales are your friend.  Find them.  Find extra coupons.  Shop through Rakuten to save even more.

Shop at the Dollar store

The Dollar store does come through with decorations, things to use for crafts, stocking stuffers, and even items for hosting a party such as silverware, plates, napkins, etc.

You can purchase wrapping paper, tape, gift bags, cards, and name tags there, as well.  And everything is only a dollar.  (Even at Walmart, a gift bag costs at least $2.50.)

I love using gift bags because they are re-usable.  When our family gets presents in a gift bag, I always pull off the name tag, then re-use them for future gifts.

Make homemade crafts, gifts, & décor

When I was growing up, every year my godmother would have all of her godchildren over to homemade gifts for each person in our family.  We’d spend the whole day creating different handmade items for our mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather, sister, and brother.

It is one of my favorite childhood memories.  The crazy thing about it is that Pinterest and the internet didn’t even exist back then! So every year she was coming up with 5-8 different gift ideas all on her own.

I have taken that joy of creating gifts and crafts and now do it with my own kids.  Luckily, we have Pinterest now.  Pinterest and Google can help you come up with a zillion different ideas.  And many of them can be made using items you already have in your own house.

If money is tight, have your kids make a homemade gift for Grandma and Grandpa.  Honestly, as a mom, these gifts are the ones I cherish the most.

Because they are pieces of our children and will last far longer than a shirt or other present.  These will be the things I look back on in ten – twenty years and smile about.

Honestly, as a mom, these gifts are the ones I cherish the most.  Because they are pieces of our children and will last far longer than a T-shirt or other item.  These will be the things I look back on in ten – twenty years and smile about.

We also create homemade crafts and holiday décor.  Yesterday, we made Christmas tree ornaments out of popsicle sticks and hung them up on the tree.

The kids’ loved making them and they will be used every year for the rest of our lives.

Give family photos as a gift

When you are trying to stay within a budget and have a lot of people to shop for, you can always consider taking a great family photo in front of your tree or at a place with a pretty background.

You don’t have to pay for great photos.  My sister and I take amazing photos all on our own.  If you pay attention to the small details, you can take great photos as well.

If you want a great photo, the little things do matter.  Fix your child’s shirt and hair, make sure the lighting is great, and you are on your way to a near perfect picture.

You can even use a recent photo that you love.  Develop the photo in the size you can afford (4×6 photos and frames are usually the cheapest, but 8×10’s are great if you can afford it.)

Shutterfly constantly has sales going on for developing photos or making photo gifts for a fraction of the cost of a store like Walgreens or CVS.

Photo gifts are perfect for family members.  You can’t go wrong with this idea.

Stick to the rules for your children’s gifts

Lots of people like to stick to the 4 gift rule of:

  • Something to wear
  • Something to read
  • Something they want
  • Something they need

Maybe you want to stick to 5 gifts.  Or 4 toys, something to read, and something to wear.

Maybe you want to just give the gift of an experience.  This can be tickets to a sporting event, theme park, movie, or something else you know your kids would enjoy.

When your children grow up, they aren’t going to look back on Christmas and remember the toys they received.

They are going to remember the family traditions of making hot cocoa, roasting chestnuts, decorating a gingerbread house, making holiday crafts, watching Christmas movies together, or driving around to see the Christmas lights.

That’s also why giving the gift of an experience is a great idea for a gift.

When your children grow up, they aren’t going to look back on Christmas and remember the toys they received.  They are going to remember the family traditions of making hot cocoa, decorating a gingerbread house, watching Christmas movies together, or driving around to see the Christmas lights.

Attend free holiday events

Maybe you want to get into the Christmas spirit, but don’t want to spend extra money on activities.  Many communities put on free events for the public during the Christmas season.

In our hometown, there are literally tons of events happening every weekend for free or nearly free.

Our local Chik-fil-A put on an event yesterday with fake snow (We live in Florida where it never gets cold), Santa, and free Kids’ meals with each adult purchase.  The kids had a blast.

Other local businesses in town had free holiday events with crafts, photo ops, bounce houses, and food trucks.  The local library usually has Santa Claus reading stories to children.

Local parks put on extravagant lights that are free to walk through and view.  And even our local movie theater played “The Polar Express” for free if you brought in a donation of a canned good.

If you have Facebook, that is the best place to find these free activities.  Click on the Events tab on the left side of your homepage.  You should be able to find local holiday events.

Bake your own cookies

Instead of purchasing cookies from the bakery at your local grocery store, try making them from scratch.  There are tons of special holiday recipes on the internet to take your cookies up a notch.

Instead of making chocolate chip cookies, try creating Christmas Crinkle cookies, or Snickerdoodles.  Try out a pumpkin cookie recipe or Powderpuff Kiss cookies.

The kids’ will love to help out in the kitchen, which gives you another chance to create a memory with them.  You can also create your cookies in big batches to give to co-workers and family members as gifts.

Giving cookies as a gift are thoughtful and usually well-received by many.  It is also relatively cheap because you usually have many of the ingredients you need in your pantry already.

Consider doing a No-Spend November

If the budget is extremely tight, try cutting out any extra spending in November.  A No-Spend November means that you only pay your bills and buy the essentials like groceries and household items.

That means you cut out items such as going out to eat, having Starbucks or Dunkin Doughnuts everyday, and buying extra items like clothes.

If you regularly spend money during the month, then doing one big no-spend month might give you just the amount of money you need to do your Christmas shopping.

Related post: 100+ Things to do on a No Spend Week

Do online surveys to make some extra cash

If you are really strapped for cash, consider doing some online surveys to make some extra money.  You won’t get rich quick by doing surveys but you may be able to come up with an extra hundred dollars to help with your expenses.

Our favorite survey sites that are the most reliable are Survey Junkie (they pay up to $50 a survey) and Swagbucks. You can get $5 to start by signing up for Swagbucks through our referral link.

Sell items to make some extra cash

If you have followed Dave Ramsey, then you know he always says to sell, sell, sell.  Go through your children’s clothing and toys to see what they don’t use anymore.  Then take them to your local consignment shop.

You can also do the same with your own clothes and shoes.  Maybe you have an instrument you no longer play, or a couch that is sitting in your garage taking up space.

You can easily come up with an extra $100 by going through what you own and selling items.  It will also help you declutter to prepare for a Merry Christmas.

We like to go through our house and find items that are unused to sell.  Whatever doesn’t sell, we then donate.

Here are some places to sell your items:

  • Local consignment shops such as Moonbabies, Once Upon a Child, or Plato’s Closet
  • Offer Up
  • LetGo
  • Ebay
  • Craig’s List
  • Facebook Marketplace

Remember that if you are selling something locally, to always be safe.  Always meet in a public place and always make sure that you run some errands before going home after to make sure you aren’t followed.  Most people you sell to will be safe, but you never know and should always think about your safety first.

I hope that this list has helped you find ways how to survive if you can’t afford Christmas this year so you can make this holiday season a little bit less stressful.  

Looking for other money saving tools?

Earn cash back through every online purchase with Rakuten.  A rebate site that lets you shop at your favorite stores and earn cash back on every eligible purchase.  They also help you find any promo codes and coupons available and apply them to your purchase.  Sign up for Rakuten.

Another great resource is to use $5 Meal Plan.  With $5 Meal Plan you get a pre-made weekly meal plan and shopping list to help you save time and money with your grocery shopping.

Ibotta earns you cash back anytime you shop online or at brick-and-mortar stores such as grocery stores, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Domino’s, Petco, Sephora, Target, Gap, REI, and many more.  Sign up for Ibotta to start earning money back today.

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