The holidays are a cozy, family-filled time of year — and they also tend to get really expensive. Between purchasing gifts, choosing a tree, decking the halls of your home, and attending festive events, it’s easy to spend more money than you’d planned, only to cringe at the sight of your bank account by the time the New Year rolls around.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be expensive, though. In fact, there’s a lot you can do to cut back on cost without sacrificing fun or your favorite traditions.
Here are 10 ideas for creating memorable, budget-friendly holiday traditions.
Choose a tree that lasts
If trimming a tree is part of your holiday season, then you know there’s nothing quite like that fresh-cut tree smell. But the cost of buying a real tree every year adds up fast.
While an artificial Christmas tree can be a more expensive up-front purchase, fake trees can last for years. That means your tree investment will help you save money over the long term.
If you’re set on having the classic pine-needle smell throughout your home, there are ways to do it for a lot less. Try inexpensive pine-scented candles, plug-ins, and ornaments, or make your own essential oil blends.
An evening of hot cocoa and Christmas carols can be just as enjoyable when you’re trimming an artificial tree.
Create your own holiday decor
Speaking of trimmings, creating handmade holiday decorations can be an enjoyable tradition for the whole family. Crafts, like ornaments and picture frames, will also carry meaningful memories every time you look at them over the years.
Older kids can string popcorn and cranberries to make traditional garland. DIY wreaths can be an elegant, customizable option for a lot less than those sold at stores. And this list of homemade ornaments can help you cover your entire tree.
Not feeling crafty? Holiday ornaments and decor typically go on sale right after the season ends. If you can wait, consider shopping after-holiday clearance sales to deck the halls next year.
Make a “countdown chain”
No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, if you have little ones at home, a “countdown chain” can be a lot of fun. Each paper link represents one day until the holiday, and you break one with each day that passes. Kids can help out by decorating the links with crayons, markers, and stickers, too.
The best part? All you need for this activity is construction paper, scissors, and a stapler or glue.
Volunteer as a family
One of the best ways to feel the true spirit of the holidays is to begin a tradition of giving back to your community.
While you’ll want to keep safety a priority due to COVID-19 this year, there are volunteer options, like meal delivery, that require no contact with others. Research charitable organizations near you to get started.
Host a night of baking
There’s no shortage of holiday desserts on Pinterest or baking blogs that are great for all skill levels. With holiday-shaped cookie cutters, festive sprinkles, and brightly colored icing, holiday baking night might easily become a family favorite for years to come.
Baked treats also make for great presents for family, friends, teachers, and neighbors — and for a fraction of the cost of store-bought gifts. You can make dozens of home-baked treats without spending much money at all; you may even have some ingredients on-hand.
For an extra thoughtful touch, place baked goods in festive packaging with ribbon, and deliver them to everyone on your list.
Build gingerbread houses
What’s better than a holiday craft? A holiday craft you can eat! Gingerbread house building and decorating can be fun for kids and adults alike. Many grocery stores and pharmacies sell gingerbread house kits — many of which are less than $10 — so you’ll have everything you need to get building.
Buy packages of your favorite sweets, like chocolate kisses, candy canes, or nonpareils, for even more decoration variety.
If you have kids, then you know unused toys pile up quickly every year — especially around the holidays. Why not make room for any coming gifts and spread holiday cheer to families in need by donating gently-used items.
Encourage your kids by explaining the importance of charitable donations, then have them pick toys they’re willing to part with — and throw in some of your own items for good measure. Children will love to see that you’re giving a “toy,” too. Gently-used clothing, electronics, and even kitchenware or sporting goods can help make someone else’s holiday brighter.
Have a holiday movie night
From beloved holiday classics to brand new favorites, there’s no shortage of entertainment to get you in that festive mood.
Come up with a list of movies to watch with the family — or maybe a show worth binge-watching. Make a whole night of it, complete with hot cocoa, sweet treats, and cozy blankets. Holiday-themed sweaters and pajamas are highly recommended, too.
Go on a light-display road trip
Some people really go all-out for the holidays with decorative light displays. Take advantage of your neighbors’ artistic creativity by hopping in your car, blasting some holiday music, and driving around with your family to see the festive decorations around town.
Start preparing for next year
A little bit of planning can make a huge difference, especially when it comes to saving money for the holiday season. Make it a year-round tradition to put aside even one dollar a day. By the time the holidays roll around again, you’ll have a built-in budget ready to spend.
And your savings will go even further with these frugal traditions in place.
The holidays are such a fun time of year, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make them count. Here’s to inexpensive, meaningful traditions that you can implement for years to come.
Looking for more ideas on how to save on everyday expenses? Here are 25 tips.