Frugal Living: How Do You Celebrate a No Money Christmas?

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The frugal living no-money Christmas

About ten years ago, I started training my children to expect a frugal living (no-money) Christmas. It worked so well that Christmas is now pretty much a non-event in our home, which is a darn shame.

I was sick of spending money on stuff that the boys would rip open, spend ten minutes on, and then completely forget. I noticed that they were not really having much fun, anyway. The let-down after the ten minutes was over didn’t do much for them.

I remember when Sir Empath was just a sprout, and I hid his Christmas presents in the back of our station wagon. He noticed them one day, and whined and wailed until finally I realized there was nothing for it but to give him something. So I gave him the Nerf football. He tore it open, threw the football back into the car, and promptly fell totally in love with the box it came in.

I know, it’s an old familiar story, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Another year, I gave O Psychic One a cardboard tube from the wrapping paper, which he re-imagined into a light saber a la Star Wars. We got a flashlight and taped it to the end of the cardboard tube, and voila: Light Saber. I grabbed a scrap of red and green tartan plaid fabric I had lying around and made a cape for him so he could be Darth Vader. He wore the cape and took the light saber everywhere for months on end. People would ask him if he was Mel Gibson in Braveheart. He thought they must be nuts not to realize that clearly, he was Darth Vader incarnate.

Noticing that my boys were ultimately a lot happier with less stuff, I seized the opportunity to institute a Christmas policy: one present each, and a stocking. The stocking would just be for fun stuff – sweets and whistles and colored pencils and stuff.

Sidebar – When I was a girl, my best friend’s family had the absolute coolest stocking-stuffers — little bottles of shampoo, and hotel soaps, and perfume samples. Looking back, I realize that was because the dad in that family had a job that required travel. He collected those tiny cakes of soap and travel sizes of toothpaste and hand lotion, and that’s what filled the stockings.

But back then, I thought that was just the most exotic stuff. In my family we got candy canes and tangerines and homemade fudge in our stockings, which now seems charming, but then seemed fuddy-duddy. I wanted the tiny bottle of Breck shampoo, never mind that I had a large bottle of Breck shampoo in the shower.

Go figure.

Anyway, my children now do not expect presents for Christmas. This year, O Psychic One told me he distinctly wished me NOT to get him a Christmas present, because he wants the new Wii when it comes out sometime in the future. Sir Empath says he does not need or want anything at all.

Perhaps you think I am the luckiest mother in the world. There is much to be said for that point of view. But here’s the thing.

Christmas doesn’t seem like a very big deal in our household. And I find that really sad.

I have achieved the panacea of training my children not to see Christmas as an opportunity to accumulate stuff. But I have failed to substitute anything else. And here is where I need your help: I beg you, please tell me your Christmas traditions, that I may commemorate this time of year with my children in ways that they will remember fondly when they are grown.

To me, Christmas is not a religious holiday (because I’m not religious), but it is a spiritual one (because I’m spiritual). December ushers in the darkest time of the year. The days are short and the nights are long, but spring is just . . . around . . . the corner.

This is the time to look inward, to prepare for the coming of a new year and the planting of new seeds. In the darkest night, Christmas represents a reminder of of the light to come. In fact, Jesus to me is a metaphor of the coming of the light — the Light of the World.

It’s a worthy holiday to celebrate.

So tell me, World of Dreamers, how do you celebrate a frugal living (no money) Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza or any other winter holiday you celebrate)? One without spending much money.  Even if you do indulge in the exchange of gifts, surely you have other traditions?

Leave a comment below and give me some ideas!

In return, I wish you a happy/merry, a salutation I stole from an acquaintance this week. So much better than the bland and generic “happy holidays,” don’t you agree?


  • Heather Montgomery, Product Launch Dreams

    Christmas Eve is the big night in our family. We started drawing the kids names when they were little for a gift exchange – and you can’t get your own kid! This gift is exchanged after the big family meal on Christmas Eve so the kids get a preview of the gift opening.

    Growing up the Christmas tradition was so many gifts, you couldn’t see the tree. Our budget this year is 10% of what is was just 3 years ago. Sounds crazy that we did actually spend that much! Honestly, I’m loving the low-key, less presents, just enjoying each other version of Christmas we have now.

    Of course my son also has Christmas-time birthday so I really try and make that a big deal so his celebration doesn’t get lost in the season.

    Enjoy the season! – Heather

  • John

    Do a Christmas Eve Camp-Out. Light a big fire in the fireplace if you have one, buy hot dogs and make sure you have enough wire hangers. Buns optional. Marshmallows are great too. Roll out sleeping bags in the living room, and hold a family camp-out underneath the Christmas tree – or string lights across the ceiling and camp out under them. Straighten the hangers and use them to roast the hot dogs in the fireplace. You could share scary Christmas stories, or watch everyone’s favorite movie or have a movie marathon.

  • Bake some inexpensive sugar cookies the week of Christmas, get some cheap little bags from the dollar store and put some sugar cookies in bags with little notes to your neighbors telling them how great they are (even if they aren’t). Leave them anonymously hanging on their doorknobs Christmas eve.

    Volunteer at a local charity serving Christmas dinner.

    Write 100 things you each love about each other. Open the letters Christmas morning. Read them aloud to each other. You could also make this 100 things each of you are thankful for, but giving the people you love a list of the 100 things you love about them reaffirms your love and lets them know things they may never have known about themselves. This is especially great for siblings because they are forced to look at the reasons they do love each other.

    Give each other the gift of giving time. Write an IOU for “Two hours of my undivided attention to do whatever you want” coupon to each other. They have to redeem it by next Thanksgiving.

    Gather all the loose change in your house, place it in a pretty jar, leave it on the doorstep of a family who is having a rough go of it … if they have little kids. Say it’s from Santa. Leave it Christmas eve.

    Make a written promise to change one thing as a family for the following year. Write it on a piece of paper … frame it.

    Make Christmas a family morning where you always go for a hike through Spring lake or a local state park.

    I’ve got more …