Christmas is supposed to be fun. Families getting together, exchanging gifts, sharing laughs, and eating way too much…good times. If you’re struggling to make ends meet though, Christmas can be incredibly stressful. You’re supposed to decorate your house, host elaborate dinners, buy gifts for friends, family, co-workers, neighbours, and basically everyone you’ve ever met. It’s a lot! I get it, I used to be a broke college student and didn’t have much left in the bank to cope with Christmas. And I was lucky, I only had a small family to deal with.

Let’s try to eliminate that stress and put the fun back into the holiday season. I’ve got six ideas to help you get through December with limited stress and no money related breakdowns by embracing a frugal Christmas. I can’t make promises about family-related breakdowns though, that’s not my domain ๐Ÿ˜‰

Come Clean

Just about everyone comes on hard times at some point and your family isn’t going to love you any less because you can’t afford all the expensive Christmas gifts this year. Make a point to let them know you’re strapped and come up with a few suggestions to make things less awkward on Christmas morning.

Maybe you can set a spending cap on gifts so everyone only spends $25 or even $50 on each family member. That way you’ll still be buying everyone gifts but things will be equal. Or, if you have a large family, consider doing a secret Santa gift exchange. Then you can buy one person a super awesome gift instead of everyone something mediocre. I have a small family so this was never an issue for me but I know things can get crazy if you have a few siblings who all seem to keep having babies.

Be Sentimental

Remember how impressed your mom was when you brought home that macaroni Christmas tree decoration in first grade? Embrace that motherly love and make her something again. You’re 30 now (or whatever) so you’ll have to step up your game but sentimental gifts still go a long way with parents and grandparents.

One thing my mom always loves getting is a framed picture of me and the bf. It sounds super weird giving someone a picture of yourself, but trust me, parents love it. You could also make a scrapbook of a favourite family vacation or a handwritten letter thanking Dad for always being there for you. Gifts like this will cost you little to no money but they’ll win you big brownie points.

Get Crafty

Put your DIY skills to good use and make gifts for people. Maybe you’re a good photographer or know how to crochet or can make pottery. Take advantage of that and start whipping out presents for everyone in your life. Putting a nice photo of a local landmark in a cheap frame will workย for everyone from your sister to your kid’s teacher and you can make a crocheted toque fit anyone’sย head.

Don’t think you have any skills? It’s not too late to learn. A couple of years ago I taught myself to crochet using YouTube videos. That same year I gave infinity scarfs to a bunch of people. I promise, if I can do it, anyone can. My crochet skills have far improved from that point, but I still refer to YouTube if I get stuck on a certain stitch.

Image Credit: abeautifulmess.com

Here’s a couple of simple ideas for even the least crafty people:

The easiest slouchy beanie hat. You only need to know how to do two stitches and it comes together nice and quick.

These colourful handmade candles. I haven’t made these before but they sound simple and would make perfect stocking stuffers. Plus, they’re made from crayons!

My favourite chevron throw. I’ve made four of these since I started crocheting, two for myself and two as gifts. They do take awhile to make but the pattern is simple and you’ll be cruising along in no time.

These jewellery dishes catch my eye every time they pop-up on Pinterest. They are made out of oven-bake clay and look like something you’d buy off Etsy.

Or Embrace Your Inner Foodie

If you’re really against getting crafty then what about whipping up some Christmas baking in the kitchen. This is my go-to for all those hard to buy for people on your list like co-workers and neighbours. Everyone loves baking…it’s a fact. And the calories don’t count if it’s a gift. Grab a few tins from the dollar store and start baking up a storm with a few of my favourite recipes:

Image Credit: http://damndelicious.net

Cranberry Orange Shortbread Cookies

Easy Homemade Toffee (we do a nut topping and a candy cane topping)

Big Soft Ginger Cookies

If you love to cook but need something that’s a step up from baking, then what about buying a copy of your favourite cookbook and gifting that with a freezer-friendly meal highlighting one of the recipes? This would only work if you (and the gift-receiver) are both local, but the addition of a ready to cook meal makes a simple cookbook a little more special. A suggestion? The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt along with a frozen batch of the ultimate bolognese sauce. That book is the cooking bible according to my bf and I can attest that the bolognese recipe is to die for.

Offer Services

Get your minds out of the gutter, obviously I don’t mean ‘those’ kinds of services. And to anyone who didn’t go there…I’m sorry. Instead of spending money on Christmas gifts, consider giving the gift of your time. Maybe you have a sibling who has a young child at home? You could offer up a night of babysitting so they can go out on the town. What about an elderly neighbour? You could shovel their walk for them when it snows. Live near your parents? Offer to do their spring yard cleanup or complete a renovation project they’ve been planning.

You can even make fancy looking certificates or coupons so you actually have something they can unwrap on Christmas morning. I use Canva for all my graphics. It’s free and there are lots of different templates that would work.

Unique over Expensive

If you still want to give a ‘real’ (ie. spent money on) gift, then consider going with something more unique. If you buy someone something from a big box store then there’s a good chance the giftee will know exactly how much it’s worth. Instead, consider shopping at a local craft show or ordering off Etsy. You should be able to find something more thoughtful and for a more reasonable price. And a few suggestions:

Jason Blower Art Print (local Edmonton illustrator)

Handmade Leather Dog Collar (also Edmonton area based)

iPad or E-Reader Case (I bought one of these for my mom and she loves it)

Hopefully, you’re able to check everyone off your shopping list with some of these ideas and do it in the most thrifty way possible. If you’re looking for more tips on saving money at Christmas then check out this post.

What do you guys do to celebrate a frugal Christmas? Any go-to DIY gifts or recipes that you make again and again?

How to have an incredible #Christmas on a budget! #savingmoney

This post was proofread by Grammarly.ย 


  1. Broke Christmas can be very stressful. I think “coming clean” is a big one just be upfront with your family. I care 0% if a family member can’t afford a gift for me, I just want to spend time with the people I care about. It takes all the pressure off and what you realize is the people you tell might be in the same boat! How do you get ready for Christmas shopping?

    • Sarah Reply

      I would hope most families are the same, mine sure is.
      I try to do the bulk of my shopping online to avoid the mall. I’ll keep a list in my of everyone I need to buy for, and jot down ideas throughout the year. I buy a lot of gifts off Etsy, and sometimes Amazon.
      Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • Sarah Reply

      I’m always so thankful that I have such a small family, it makes Christmas much simpler and cheaper!

  2. My Stupid Debt Reply

    Great post. DD and I are having a very low key Christmas. We already set our spending amount. I admit I felt a bit guilty, but she was great about it.

    We will also: No gift exchange confirmed with family already; We will embrace more cooking baking (yay!), making paper crafts (paper chains, paper stars, orange and cinnamon dried smelly things); and partake in lots of community events (like simple browsing Christmas lights).

    Truthfully, I think a simple Christmas is way more fun anyway then getting stuck in parking lot traffic, majorly cramped malls, and spending money like its infinite in a matter of minutes, etc…

    • Sarah Reply

      I couldn’t agree more, simple Christmases are the best. That’s a good point about the community events. There are always so many free activities happening during the holidays that you can celebrate without having to spend money.

  3. I’m not broke and I prefer to do Christmas this way! ๐Ÿ™‚ My friend actually gave me one of those clay jewelry dishes! A group of us girlfriends made handmade gifts for each other for years (I think it was 5-7 years). This is the first year that we have decided not to do gifts (it was a bit stressful trying to figure out what to make!) and we are spending time together instead ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Sarah Reply

      And that’s probably one of the reasons you’re not broke ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I love the idea of doing handmade gifts for friends. It’s so much more fun to create something than it is to go to the mall (unless it turns into an epic Pinterest fail!)

  4. I have stopped giving gifts to most of the people in my life. I buy gifts for my two nieces, but I try to do something experiential like dinner and a play. For my Mom, I buy her season’s tickets to the theatre. My brother/sister-in-law and I don’t exchange gifts. It is great for me, as it means minimal time spent shopping/wrapping gifts and more time to relax and enjoy family.

    • Sarah Reply

      I love giving experiences over a physical gift, and always appreciate when I get those instead. It’s a cool thing to be able to send someone to a new restaurant or a great show or for a spa day. Often these are things people won’t spend the money on for themselves but always want to.

      • Yes Iโ€™m the same with gift experiences, it gives the recipient something to look forward to as well ๐Ÿ™‚

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