Doing Christmas on a No Joke Broke Budget

Christmas is hands down my favorite time of the entire year. Between spending time with family members you rarely get to see, the Christmas tree, the Christmas lights, the family dinner– it really is a wonderful time of the year.

But what happens when the holiday season is upon you and your bank account shows $2.17? Let’s take a look at what you can do to still have an amazing Christmas– even when you’re broke.

christmas on a budget with family

Start Early!

Christmas budget already tight? Start early.

First, just because Christmas happens at the end of the year, doesn’t mean you have to start thinking about it then.

Saving Early

If you don’t have much money– I’m talking you’re on a tight budget– you need to be a little savvier when it comes to holiday shopping.

A great first step is to not wait to start thinking about holiday spending.

Come up with a realistic budget and create a plan to spread the cost out over time.

Whether you start in January or after summer break– starting a sinking fund and making little contributions over a longer period of time, is much easier to manage than having to go into credit card debt or trying to “find” $500 for Christmas this year.

Shop Strategically

Shopping sales can be a great way to save money, but a great way to find inexpensive Christmas gifts is by doing a little outside the box thinking.

Dollar Tree (or really any dollar store!) –especially for younger kids– they’ve puzzles, books, arts and crafts– all which make great inexpensive gifts for your small budget!

Checkout thrift stores, like the Salvation Army or Goodwill, and consignment shops in your area. I’ve seen tons of items with tags still on for very little money.

Pro tip: Sometimes you can find wrapping paper gift bags and Christmas decor at the thrift store!

Flea Markets. If you’ve never been to a flea market, it can really be hit or miss depending on the market itself. Sometimes you’ll see used goods, new toys, clothing and sometimes you’ll find handmade items and everything in between.

Use what You Have and Get Creative

Christmas doesn’t have to be about going out and buying a lot of new “things” for Christmas. With a little creativity you can DIY some really meaningful (and cheap!) gifts this holiday season.

Make Christmas Presents Yourself

Handmade gifts have been and continue to be some of my all time favorite gifts each year. I mean who doesn’t appreciate a thoughtful gift?

You don’t need fancy clay or modge podge to create Christmas crafts for your loved ones, just use what you have around the house to create Christmas gifts your family and friends will love.

Here are a few handmade, great ideas for gifts for your friends and family this year.

  • Coupon Book: Create a book with “coupons” for activities you and your loved one could do together or you could do for them in the coming year. (Wash the Car, Babysitting, Movie night, etc.)
  • Framed Photo.
  • Favorite Poem
  • Art by you
  • a framed list of things you love about that person
  • Baked goods (some of my personal favorite homemade gifts!)
  • Knitted blanket/scarf
  • Personalized books. Right before I left for college a dear friend of my family’s created a book for me called, “50 Things You Need to Know”. It was basically and adulting primer meets book of encouragement.

Saving on Christmas Dinner

If you are like many families, you probably have a tradition of eating together.

Feeding groups of people can get expensive -fast!

You can absolutely keep costs down and still have an amazing holiday meal.

Step 1: Know how much you have to spend on your dinner.

Step 2: Skip the expensive high cost meat. Opt for something a little more budget friendly like a turkey or a chuck roast.

Step 3: Make it a potluck. If you have a ton of people showing up for dinner, have everyone bring their favorite dish!

Step 4: Start stocking up on ingredients like canned goods or things for the freezer weeks before to help defray the cost.

Cheap Ways to Decorate for Christmas

Christmas decorations can be expensive when purchasing new and on season. But if you are like me and love a holiday decorated house, let’s talk about some easy ways to bring a little bit of Christmas spirit to your house.

Be sure to check out the dollar stores in your area as they usually have seasonal decorations. I also love picking up our christmas cards from here as well. You can get a pack of cards for just $1 and they have some super adorable options.

Look around your house and find things you can upcycle. If you’ve got pictures already hanging on the wall– why not wrap them in festive wrapping paper and ribbon?

Repurpose some of your Christmas ornaments and throw them in a vase or bowl for a really fun centerpiece or to place on your mantle.

Along similar lines, if you’ve got any decorative dishes, you can very easily incorporate those with ornaments or ribbon you have on hand (or from the dollar store) to keep your decor to either free/super low cost options.

Visit a craft store and grab some lettering and some paint and spell out “Merry Christmas” to hang.

Take a look at thrift stores– sometimes you can find some really great holiday items without the expensive price tag!

If you aren’t super crafty or creative, jump on Pinterest. There are hundreds of really fun options you can use for inspiration!

The sky is literally the limit!

Finding Money for Christmas Presents

If you are struggling with not having a lot of money for this Christmas season, another option to make a little extra money.

Sell what you don’t need

An easy place to start is by taking a look around your house and seeing if you’ve got stuff laying around that you don’t need and that you could sell.

You could host a garage sale, post on Facebook marketplace or on Craigslist.

This is a super simple way for a quick cash infusion.

Utilize cashback Apps

There are so many options when it comes to cashback apps.

Rakuten is my current favorite. Right now they are offering $30 free cashback when you sign up and spend $30 when you use my sign up link.

If you are planning on doing a little online shopping anyway, why not get paid for it.

No, you will not get rich quick, but I’ve made hundreds of dollars over the years, just by doing my normal online shopping.

Apps like Ibotta* and Checkout51. You can upload your receipt and earn cash back on certain items that you purchased! You should check what items are earning cash back prior to going to the store to see if anything you need would qualify. 

Fetch. Similarly to Ibotta and Checkout51, you earn cash when you scan your grocery receipt. ** When you sign up with my link you’ll get $2 in points free when you snap a pic of your first receipt.

I use Fetch every time I shop. It’s so simple to use and you’re making money on groceries you’d have purchased anyway.

Make money while you’re in your PJ’s with online surveys.

One of my favorites is Swagbucks, but there are lots of good options.

** Note, that just added a feature where you can earn 1 SB for every coupon printed! BOOM– that’s a double savings, ya’ll!

Survey Junkie. Every time you take a survey, you earn points. Points can be redeemed for gift cards or Paypal. Super simple.

Find a New Side Hustle

Whether you pickup babysitting, dog walking, tutoring, mother’s helper, delivering groceries and food– there are so many easy and very part time ways to earn a little extra money.

Make Christmas Less About Spending Money and More About Making Memories

Christmas can be expensive to keep up with, but Christmas doesn’t have to be centered around spending money to make it special.

Christmas is about spending time with your family and friends. It’s about making memories and celebrating relationships.

So instead of going out and buying a bunch of “stuff” for Christmas this year, consider making Christmas less about spending money and more about making Christmas memories that you will never forget.

Christmas is a time where family and friends get together to spend quality time with one another– so spend Christmas eve decorating Christmas cookies and Christmas morning making Christmas pancakes together. Or bake your favorite cookies. Or go caroling.

Whatever brings joy and happiness to you and yours– make that your focus!

Photo of author


Kristen is the founder and content creator at Mom Managing Chaos where she teaches busy moms how to simplify and organize their life and finances. She writes about frugal living, budgeting, productivity and organization.