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The Holiday Crunch

The holidays can be a very difficult time to be frugal. There are presents and decorations to buy, parties to attend, and the list goes on. So how do you make it through without going broke? I wish I had one simple answer, but alas, life is not simple.

Here are some ideas and ways that we have saved money on the holidays. Many of the ideas below are things to do throughout the year, but it’s never too late to start!


  • We swapped trees with my in-laws. At their stage in life they wanted a smaller tree, and with two kids we were looking to upsize from the 4 ft. apartment tree we had, so we swapped!
  • Buy your tree after Christmas when they are on clearance. This is how we got the original 4 ft. tree.
  • I have seen many Christmas trees posted to Freecycle.
  • I’ve always had an artificial tree, so I don’t have any good tips on live ones, so if you do please share them!


  • Again, buying after Christmas can save you a ton, and watch Freecycle.
  • Garage and estate sales are also great places to find Christmas decorations.
  • Have your kids help you make homemade Christmas decorations. AllFreeCrafts.com has a huge selection of free ideas and instructions.

Cards & Wrapping Paper

  • The best way to save on these is to buy them after Christmas. Target’s after-Christmas clearance is the best for this. As the days and weeks pass after Christmas, they keep dropping prices until eventually it’s all 90% off. I’ve gotten boxes of 50 cards for as low as 79 cents and wrapping paper as low as 39 cents a roll.
  • Send an eCard or email greeting containing pictures of your family.
  • The comics section is a traditional, tried-and-true money-saving option for wrapping paper.
  • Take paper bags and have your kids decorate them and then use it as wrapping paper.
  • Make your own fabric gift bags. Check out the great article on this at Almost Frugal.

The Biggy–Gifts!

Last year we gave gifts to 21 people and our 2 children (each of our kids had 8 presents under the tree). The total amount we spent out-of-pocket was under $250. This is how I did it.

Budgeting for Gifts

  • The most important tip: Figure out what you can AFFORD to spend! This can be an overall amount or an amount per person. The meaning of Christmas is not to go into debt! Even if your kids are dying for a Wii, a cell phone, or something else, it is not worth going into debt over it.
  • It is easy to get wrapped up in the commercial hype of the season. Try and turn on your blinders to this and keep your spending goal in mind.
  • Once you have figured out what you can afford, don’t feel like you HAVE to spend all of that. If you can do it for less, great!
  • If you are really strapped for cash, talk to your relatives. They may be willing to not exchange this year, and they may even be in the same situation.
  • Set spending limits with family members you regularly exchange presents with. Don’t be afraid to say no if someone suggests a spending amount that you can’t afford.
  • One way to budget for gifts is setting up a Christmas Savings account at your bank or credit union. I have never done this but have friends who swear by it. By putting away a little each month, you don’t have to come up with one big lump sum at the end of the year.
  • If you are a member of any online rewards programs or banking rewards programs, now is the time to turn in your points!

Buying Gifts

  • The great thing about young children is that they don’t know if something is new or not. I admit to the world that I have bought my children used toys for Christmas. It has had no effect on their excitement on Christmas morning or the love for their “used” toys. Check out garage sales and consignment stores.
  • I may get some eye rolling on this one: Freecycle. Yes, I admit to the world that I have given gifts that have come from Freecycle. Most often they have been children’s toys but it is also a good source for containers for homemade gifts.
  • Target Clearance. Target is my best friend when it comes to Christmas and birthday gift shopping. I watch the clearance end caps throughout the year and pick up things as I see them. Watch for their major toy clearances twice a year. Usually mid- to late-January and at the end of July or the beginning of August. I’ve gotten toys for anywhere from 30-90% off. At Target’s after-Christmas clearance you can get their own private-label toys and novelty gifts at up to 90% off.
  • I also watch updates on RefundCents.com for great deals from online retailers and magazines.
  • As I mentioned above in budgeting, if you are a member of any rewards programs, it’s time to turn in your points. You can redeem those for gift cards that you can give as gifts or sometimes magazine subscriptions.
  • I have also made gifts. Check out the Frugal Holiday Gift Ideas From The Kitchen article on Show Mom The Money or Making Do With The Not So New for ideas.

I hope you gained some new ideas from this post and feel free to leave a comment below and share with other readers how you save money during the holidays.

5 Responses to “The Holiday Crunch”

  1. April says:

    Thanxs! I love the idea of wrapping from comics!

  2. admin says:

    You’re welcome!

  3. Barb Wise says:

    We get rolls of wallpaper for wrapping. January’s have a nice selection. We like to stick to one family of color (burgandys, greens, or blues). Then just write names on the paper with gold markers….they turn out beautiful.

  4. admin says:

    Great idea Barb! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Veronica says:

    I think my mother-in-law is the inventor of the comic Christmas wrap. She has been doing that since 1960’s. We started doing it when our kids were young. Since she and my father-in-law are a product of the Great Depression they have lots of frugal ideas.

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