Presents. Trees. Gift giving. Just general overspending. If you take a look around at how most people celebrate Christmas these days, it’s all about the spending!
Capitalism has officially taken over Christmas, and has convinced everyone that spending is the right way to do it.
Even the cultural mythos surrounding Christmas is supportive of this whole “spend with abandon” behavior… and social pressure is a very powerful thing. You might get called a Scrooge or find a lump of coal in your stocking (and fewer holiday party invites next year), if you don’t partake in the orgy of holiday spending.
What can a person do about it? Are we resigned to living in a Capitalist Christmas world?
I don’t think so! Our family isn’t big on monetary gifts, but we do enjoy the spirit of caring that surrounds the holiday season. Caring for others should NOT be about how much money can be spent.
The good news is, even today you don’t need to spend a bunch of money to show someone you care. You can celebrate Christmas‘without racking up large piles of debt!
For the Tako family, we have a number of way we partake in the spirit of the Holidays and show caring without spending a lot.
Here’s a few of our favorite low-cost holiday ideas…
1. Gifts from the Buy Nothing Project
We’re big believers in the Buy Nothing Project (and other free communities). We love our local Buy Nothing group. We give and get tons of stuff from this community and it’s saved us thousands of dollars over the years.
There’s no rule that says a Christmas gift has to be new!
In previous years we’ve given the kids “new to them” bikes, legos, games, and even clothes from the Buy Nothing Project. All completely free and in good shape.
It’s worth mentioning that we don’t just take from this community either…. every year before Christmas we have the kids select a batch of toys they want to give back into to the Buy Nothing Community. This perpetuates the giving cycle and makes certain that other kids get a chance to have a bit of fun at Christmas… completely free!
2. Make a Gift
Another great way to show some you care is to make a gift for your loved ones. This is my favorite way to give gifts, but it should also be done in a fiscally responsible way. (Sometimes homemade gifts can end up costing more than just buying them in a store!)
The key is to use resources already available to you, NOT something you’ll need to spend a bunch on supplies for.
This year I made fancy picture frames for all the adults we’re giving gifts to. I don’t profess to be an expert woodworker by any means, but I have a few woodworking tools from DIY projects around the house. I also know how to source free wood. With a little practice I’ve learned to make some decent gifts.
For the kids, I decided to make board games. This style of game is affectionately known as a “Print and Play” board game. Someone else designs the game, puts the files on the internet, and anyone can freely download and print-out their own copy.
Before you dismiss these games as being “bad” or “unprofessional”, here’s one interesting fact — Even some of the hottest new games now have free Print and Play versions online. One of this year’s hottest new board games is called “Root” and it’s completely sold out in stores. You can’t find a copy of this game anywhere in stores… it’s that hot!! Yet you can find the official (and free) print and play files online, right here.
How awesome is that?
If you’re not in to board games, there’s plenty of other homemade gift ideas out there too — cooking & baking, woodworking, artwork, homemade robots, sewing, or even a 3D printed gift! With so many options at your fingertips and plenty of resources at your disposal, there’s no reason to buy a gifts anymore!
3. Gifts from Thrift Stores & Craigslist
Put this one in the “gifts for very little money” category. Some people don’t mind if an item is used or new. If that’s the case for folks on your Christmas list, use your local thrift stores or Craigslist to find very lightly used items.
My kids love getting new toys and games, and they don’t mind if they’re used. One year Tako Jr. #1 got some new rain boots from the thrift store for Christmas. (He loves rain boots.) We lined up all his rain boots and asked him which were his favorite. He chose the one from the thrift store.
Kids simply don’t care as much about ‘new’ versus ‘used’.
4. ‘Free’ Amazon Gift Cards
In the case of Bing Rewards, perform Bing.com searches, and generate points. Points can be exchanged for different kinds of gift cards. I can generate about $10 in Amazon Gift cards a month, and we used a ton of these gift cards to help pay for Christmas gifts this year.
We’ve been generating free gift cards using Bing Rewards for years now, and I even did a post on the topic!
Besides browsing on the internet, you can also generate gift cards via the Amazon Trade-In program. You simply send in you unused ‘trade-in’ items like old Books, Video Games, or Consumer Electronics. In exchange, Amazon sends you gift cards, to buy anything you like!
5. Homemade Holiday Cards
Apparently some people still *buy* holiday cards, but in recent years holiday cards from places like Costco, Snapfish, or Shutterfly have become very popular with our circle of friends. These companies put out really slick personalized Christmas cards, and all you have to do is upload your own photos.
The thing is — these cards cost money! Usually around $1-$3 per card (after taxes and shipping).
Really?!?! It costs mere pennies to print something with an inkjet printer! It’s easy enough to get a photo from your digital camera, grab some snowflakes from OpenClipArt, and maybe a Holiday font from DaFont. Then, whip up a holiday card in you favorite vector graphics editor like Adobe Illustrator (or a free program like Inkscape)!
Re-gifting has something of a bad reputation, but I see nothing wrong with packaging up a unused gift from previous years and passing it on to someone who might make better use of it. It’s a great use of resources already available to you at no cost.
In some circles however, regifting isn’t OK. It’s a social thing, and you’ll have to make that determination for your personal social group. Be sure to check if regifting is OK before you re-gift someone last year’s unused crystal candy dish and get all those requisite dirty looks.
7. The Homemade Coupon
What’s a Homemade Coupon? Exactly what it sounds like — The giver creates a neatly printed “coupon” stating that it can be redeemed for a specific personal service at a later date. Back massages, home-made meals, free babysitting, or ‘Dinner And A Movie’ are favorites around our house. This is also great gift idea for kids who tend to have more free time than money.
Careful though — This gift can backfire if it’s given to the wrong person. Think carefully about the individuals involved! Grandma might not want a Swedish massage.
8. Dollar Store Stocking Stuffers
While not everything at the dollar store is a dollar anymore, it’s still an ultra low cost way to find stocking stuffers. We love Daiso, the Japanese dollar store found on the west coast. They have fantastic Japanese style goods at dollar store prices — Perfect for stocking stuffers or small little gifts, that won’t break the bank.
9. Last Year’s Holiday Wrapping Paper
Holiday wrapping paper is one of those things people put hardly any thought into. It’s too easy to put a fresh roll into your shopping cart every year (at full price) and think nothing of it…. $5 to $10 per roll (depends upon the size) doesn’t register as a big expense.
In previous years iterations of this frugal holiday post, I’d recommended printing your own wrapping paper, but it’s actually far cheaper to buy discounted wrapping paper than it is to print your own!
Simply put, the best time to buy holiday wrapping paper is after Christmas. You can find it deeply discounted after Christmas — from December 26th through January 1st.
Retailers typically don’t want to hold that gift wrap as inventory for an entire year, so they’d rather sell at a HUGE discount. Take advantage of it!
Yes, you do need to hang onto it for a year, but the discount sure beats paying full price!
Got more frugal holiday ideas? Share how you keep your holiday spending under control!