Having Joyful Holidays on a Tight Budget

This time of year things can get very stressful for those of us who live paycheck to paycheck or with very little discretionary income. All year we manage to squeak by each month by with lots of prayers and various thrifty methods, but then along comes the expensive months. Higher electric bills, sick kids, winter clothes, unexpected repairs and lots of things can make it very difficult to buy Christmas gifts and pay for the many related costs of celebrating the holiday season.  This time of year can cause guilt, shame, embarrassment and depression for those who wish they could provide more for their families. More than one person has committed suicide for this very reason, feeling like a failure during the holidays, which is a terrible, terrible thing! So many are working so hard to provide for their families and yet inflation and taxes and stagnant wages and other uncontrollable factors keep them from improving the bottom line.  Do not think that you are the only one and don’t despair!

Let’s get to the tips. Here’s some music to listen to while you read.

If we make it through December by Merle Haggard 1974

1.)  Evaluate and discuss the budget. If you are married and share a bank account, you need to come together and make a plan.  This step is crucial in avoiding hurt feelings and debt later. In most couples, one person is a spender and one is thrifty, even if they are on a very tight budget. Is there any money AT ALL that is not budgeted for bills and living expenses? If so, how much? Don’t have a budget? Then make a list of all your weekly/monthly expenses and your regular income and see what is left.  Look carefully at the numbers. Is there a category that you can save some money by spending less on it this month? Maybe try to save money on GAS by driving less or carpooling. Or save money on FOOD by shopping the sales even more carefully, use coupons, eating less snacks, and not eating out at all. Or one of my favorite tips, use a BALANCE TRANSFER to move money from one credit card to another which will save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on how much debt you have. Doing a balance transfer can also eliminate that month’s payment if you do it early enough in the bill cycle. (This option may not be available if you are behind in your payments. ) For NEXT year, consider planning much further ahead and set aside money all year for the holiday season. Even $20 a paycheck can add up to a nice little savings.


2.) Avoid using credit for gifts. Trust me on this one. You will regret it later. Better to save credit cards for real emergencies. I understand the temptation. Payday loans, title loans, high interest credit cards are a TRAP.  If you don’t have the money now, how will you have it later to make these payments? Something else will probably eat up that money you think you might get later. Then you will be in worse condition than before. Pay day loans are the worst and should be illegal. Instead, consider selling things you don’t need or things you make to sell, or maybe get a second or third job. I think that’s way easier said than done for most of us. But first see the next tip.


3.) Don’t buy it. This is my number one tip. If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it. I should probably put it first in the list! How can you achieve this? Turn off the TV and radio and throw away all advertisements and catalogs! Stay far away from the mall or department store or craft fair (unless you’re selling and making money) or other places that call ‘Buy me! Buy me!”. Don’t even walk down those special aisles in Walmart! In a few weeks, all that stuff will be on sale, if you REALLY need it, or it will be dropped off at Goodwill by people who didn’t like their gifts or got newer models. That’s part two of this one, wait until after the holidays and then go buy a few carefully selected items if you have the money. But don’t buy stuff just because it’s on clearance! This applies year round. One way people get into trouble is buying things they can’t afford just because it’s a ‘good deal’ or ‘on sale’. Don’t fall for the trap!


4.)Do not put too much value into giving the perfect gift. Your worth is not measured by how well you master the art of gift-giving! We all know that person who is so good at choosing, or even making, gifts that light up the face of the person receiving them. We want to do that, too! Those are the creative, crafty, and usually, more spendy, type of people. Good for them! They are important. But so are you. You have other good qualities! Share your sense of humor, your handiness, your listening ear, your musical talent, your cooking expertise, or just your friendly personality with those around you. Everyone appreciates a fun person, a good storyteller, a helpful person, a good cook, someone who makes them laugh. Some of my favorite people have never given me a gift other than themselves.

5.)Shop outside the box. If you do have a little money to spend, consider the following non-traditional places to shop. Goodwill or other thrift stores. Garage sales. Ebay and other online auctions. Craft shows. Facebook marketplace. Just be careful to check the price and make sure you are getting a good deal, including shipping. Dollar General and Family Dollar often have some lower priced gift items, especially things that don’t vary that much in quality, such as socks, candles, food items, candy.  The modern tradition and belief  that we must give popular brand, store-bought , new items was created by people that sell those items! Be independent. Give whatever you want to give. It can be fruit from your trees or flowers from your garden or pecans from the trees in the park (I would love that!). A family gift such as a membership to the zoo or a gift card to a restaurant may be cheaper than buying each person gifts and it’s something that will bring the family together.


6.)Consider charities, bartering, and re-gifting.  If you have NO money and are barely making the rent and having gas to get to work, consider checking with some local charities or churches for toys for the little kids. Or, maybe barter with someone whose kids have extra toys. Wrap it up, they don’t need to know it’s used. For adults, most of us are fine without getting anything and especially do not want anyone to spend their rent money buying us things. I know I’d rather hang out and eat a festive meal with my family than anything else! Another idea is to look around and see if there might be something in your own house that you would like to pass on to someone, in other words, re-gifting. It’s okay! In fact, some things are really nice to give, like books, movies, CDs, household goods, nice clothes.

7.) Decorate your house. The season is about celebrating a joyous occasion, the birth of God’s son! Even the poorest person can put up a few homemade decorations. You don’t need to spend a lot, but it’s more festive to at least have a wreath or tree and a few lights or some candles. Thrift shops and Goodwill always have holiday decorations. Garage sales are great for finding cheap decor.  If you have school aged kids, ask them to draw some pictures and hang them up. Or maybe they will bring home some artwork they made in school that you can display. Pick up some pine cones and coat them in glitter glue. Make paper snowflakes. One year we made a snowman out of bags of plastic bags! Another time we made long chains of construction paper rings. If you have a printer, print out some artwork from the internet or seasonal coloring pages and color them!


8.) Celebrate with food! You have to eat anyway,  so take advantage of the annual buy a ham and get a free turkey deal or whatever your store offers . One of our stores offers a bunch of free items with the ham. It’s worth the price of the ham. Buy two if you can and freeze one. Now is the time to do some pie and cookie baking and other treats and consider that part of your holiday celebration by letting the family in on the fun, even if they do make a mess! Rice krispy cereal treats are cheap and you can add red and green sprinkles or use the colored cereal if they have it. Be careful not to overspend on recipes that have expensive ingredients. Sometimes you can substitute cheaper ingredients or just leave things out. Home cooking is USUALLY cheaper but not always , so count the costs. But if the cooking is the entertainment, it might be worth spending a few bucks more than the bakery pie. I made this cake for Thanksgiving this year and it was super cheap with a cake mix, pineapple, Cool Whip and pudding mix.

9.) Celebrate with people. Instead of shopping,  get together with friends or family as much as possible during this time of year. Enjoy food, music, games, movies, crafts,  whatever you like to do. It is enough. Be thankful. Count your blessings! Love your family! Some will not be alive the next holiday season. Do not sit at home alone because you can’t bring gifts to the party! Go to church and community events, like parades and Santa visits, choirs and nativities. Look on Facebook or in your local newspaper to see what is happening and just do it, even if you have to go alone.

10.)Focus on the true reason for the season. Jesus! Here is a post I wrote about the meaning of Christmas. Put up the Christmas Tree! Hang up the Lights! Go shopping! Yes, I know it says, go shopping, but only if you can afford it.

I hope this post encourages those who might be feeling paralyzed with anxiety or depressed over not having a lot of money for the holidays and gifts.  It’s easy to assume that everyone else is spending more than you, but remember there are millions of us just making ends meet in America.  However, compared to the rest of the world, we are rich!

So let’s be thankful to live in a country where even the poor have so much and for the freedom to celebrate our faith in Jesus without persecution.  Let’s encourage each other with the joy of knowing a Savior was born that first Christmas long ago who came to rescue us from darkness and sin. Let us share the good news with enthusiasm like the angels, wise men and shepherds did when our Lord was born! 

Joy to the world by George Strait Youtube video




  1. Thanks for the actually practical tips 🙂 Sorry, nothing annoys me more than reading an article about how to be more thrifty, or save some money without even trying, etc etc, only to realize about one or two tips in that we are already doing ALL THESE THINGS!! Sorry…pet peeve 🙂 This time of year, while my favorite, is also stressful. Thankfully, our kids know not to expect a lot, but it’s still hard to hear them talking about all the things they would like to have and to know that they won’t get. They are always grateful for what they do receive and as they are starting to get older, are making more presents for each other. We LOVE this and encourage it wholeheartedly. So while the gifts might not be very good, or practical, or made of great long lasting materials, they are loved. Some of their favorite presents are stuffed animals that look nothing like what they are supposed to, are sewn with the seams inside out, and have lopsided button eyes 🙂 That’s what I hope they remember. The love they have for each other and that we and they gave what we had available and that Jesus is the reason for the season!! God Bless!

    • That is so sweet! You sound like a great mom. I read one good blog that suggested writing a letter to your kids telling them what you love about them and their unique qualities and giving them some small item that would match them. I have friends that give each kid a book, new pjs, and one toy. I hope you have a happy holiday season!

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