We never really have a whole lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts, but this year feels especially light. December and January are always slow months at my husband’s commission income job.  We are also doing everything we can to save for a larger van by the time our baby girl arrives in April, and we need to be pre-paying for the delivery.  And the downstairs flooring needs to be replaced – not an emergency yet, but if we let ourselves spend the money in our savings account, it will never happen.

I *know* that presents don’t truly make kids happy, but as a parent, I would love to be able to just buy some of the items on their lists without worrying about the cost.  Not to mention gifts for my sweetie – we rarely get each other anything!

Yesterday, the boys and I went out for lunch after being iced in for four days (this is what happens in Texas where there are no snow plows!), and everyone was a little grouchy after all the dreary weather and being stuck inside the house.  At the restaurant, one of the boys launched into a full scale pout and mope session after I told him that he could not have more Cheetos until he ate his sandwich.  The behavior was so exasperating, and I gave into the temptation to be frustrated and angry with him.

Later, I was thinking about gifts.  And the meltdown at lunch.  And I realized that although the kids would probably not admit it at this stage in their lives, it really is true that people are more important than things. When they are grown, their primary memories will probably not be the number of gifts under the tree and how that compared to what their friends received.  But they will remember the relationships.

Sometimes, buying “things” is easier than controlling my tongue with an uncooperative child, reading yet another story, or taking the time to really listen.  But I know it’s true that the latter are the most important things.  For one, the Bible says they are.  And we see this played out in real life.  A couple months ago, I took a poll of my readers on the Frugal Fun for Boys Facebook page.  I asked if people had grown up in a big family, and if so, whether or not they liked growing up with a lot of brothers and sisters.  The responses fit my theory – the biggest factor in the happiness of large families seems to be the attitude of the parents (contentment, love, and treating the children as a gift and not a burden) and really has little to do with finances.  I imagine that this is actually true regardless of family size!

And so I am giving myself a firm talking-to.  I am thankful that we have money for the things we need, and that we even have money to make decisions with at all.  I am reminding myself that not buying a lot of gifts is a choice we are making because we want to be wise with upcoming needs.  And I am thinking of all the ways that we can enjoy a Merry Christmas without spending a lot of money on gifts or entertainment this season.  There are plenty of ways to enjoy the season and to create fun family memories without spending a lot of cash!  

Celebrating a Merry Christmas when money is tight

  • Play board games by the tree.
  • Keep your holiday schedule relaxed.  Don’t keep going and doing to the point where everyone is tired, stressed, and grouchy.
  • Make time to keep your focus on Christ as the reason for our celebration!
  • Choose to smile, be content in God’s provision, and set a cheerful tone for your house despite the finances, bad weather, traffic, sickness, or cranky children.
  • Find a Christmas concert to attend.  Many churches offer a free Christmas program – I know ours does!
  • Establish some family traditions.  Choose a few things to do every year, and make a big deal out of them!  Traditions make people feel like they are part of something.  This is one that we really could do better on.
  • Write a love note to your spouse and put it under the tree if there is not money for gifts.  Do this even if you are buying gifts.  Gifts will be forgotten, but the relationship is worth cherishing!  (We did this one year, and I’m so glad we did.  We should do it again!)
  • Pray – You never know how God might provide gifts to give from unexpected sources!
  • Let your kids see how much you care about and respect their dad.  Family stability is a powerful gift that you can give them. (I know this isn’t always possible, but I’m just saying – don’t neglect your spouse with all of the busy-ness in your life!  Kids need to know their parents love each other.)
  • Cut out paper snowflakes or string popcorn.
  • Choose to make someone else’s season a little brighter.  Take homemade cookies or Christmas ornaments to your dentist or doctor, or leave a little treat out for the mail man.  Show your kids how to appreciate people who may not ordinarily receive gifts at Christmas – like the lab people at the doctor’s office.  Who takes Christmas cookies to their phlebotomist?
  • Eat dinner on a blanket and watch a Christmas movie.
  • Watch for coupons.  Hallmark usually has some good $5 off a $10 purchase coupons that I have used to get small stuffed animals for stockings.
  • Tell your kids every day something that you love about them.
  • Do a Jesse tree.  It’s not too late to start on Jesse tree devotions – no one says you have to do them all, and they are short enough that you can double up on days.
  • Go caroling.
  • I borrowed this last tip from Amy Lynn Andrews.  She recommends telling your kids, “We’re choosing to spend our money on something else,” rather than saying, “We can’t afford that.”  I LOVE this advice.  This is especially applicable to Christmas.  Instead of saying, “We can’t afford a lot of gifts,” we are telling our boys that we are choosing to save our money for a van and for other things that we need.  In our area, kids tend to receive a lot of expensive gifts.  I want the boys to understand that we are not victims – we are just choosing to spend our money a different way.  And our happiness won’t be compromised in any way!

What ideas can you add for making Christmas merry without a lot of expense?  I’d especially love to hear ideas for meaningful homemade gifts!

Also, when money is tight, you want to make good decisions about gifts.  Check out my list of Christmas gift ideas that won’t turn into more toy clutter.


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  1. Kacy Dec 10, 2013

    Great post! I especially like your idea about a love note and the point about stability! Wonderful. Hope you have a merry Christmas!

  2. Cathy @ NurtureStore Dec 11, 2013

    Really good ideas Sarah, that any family will benefit from. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

  3. Jessalyn Hutto Dec 11, 2013

    Wow. I love this post. Sometimes it is just good to hear that you are not the only ones having to think about these things! I love how you connected the relational aspect of our families to the gift giving. I think the hardest part for me is extended family. We can easily pull back on our family's Christmas gifts (we too don't exchange gifts between mommy and daddy out of necessity) but I always feel aweful not being able to give more to our parents or siblings. I never want to come across skimping, but we truly cannot afford to spend money on gifts. This is an area where I have had to remind myself to be content with what God has given us and not be concerned with how others will view us.

  4. Katie Dec 11, 2013

    Thank you so much for this perfect post! We have struggled financially since my husband decided to leave the military. After long deployments and injuries in Iraq, we decided it would be better to have him alive and home! These last two years have been very scary after his company laid people off and then it seems like everyone took their turn with medical issues and trips to the ER. When it rains, it pours! This year we finally had to file bankruptcy. My oldest child is almost 7 and he tells us that he doesn't care about gifts and that this season is about Jesus. He knows he is loved and that others without a house or family need more than he does. That right there makes me feel that at least through all of this I am raising my children with the right heart, even though I know deep down he does want those presents! :) The activities, attitudes of the parents and laughter are the memories that will matter, not the amount of presents under the tree. I especially like your ideas for the love note and the Christmas light scavenger hunt! Thank you again for another great post!

  5. Courtney Dec 13, 2013

    I love all of your suggestions! Toys are soon discarded and forgotten. What they will remember and treasure fondly are the traditions that were created together as a family and shared year after year. Have a blessed holiday! <3

  6. Diane Mortier Nov 21, 2014

    I grew up very frugally as my father abandoned the family

    and later ended his own life.

    I love your posts!! And realize the creativity I turned to as a child,

    is back in "fashion" for many now days.

    from Vermont,


  7. Sharon Dey Nov 24, 2014

    A brilliant post. We have always left each other notes to show what we mean to each other. I leave notes in my children's lunchboxes too :-) Christmas is a huge pressure - they want everything they see but I think it just feeds greed. We're choosing to get our children an experience this year rather than toys - makes more lasting memories :-) merry Christmas x

  8. Missy Nov 25, 2014

    Thank you.
    Thanks for reminding me that God gives gifts in unexpected ways. Last Christmas, my then 5 year old son was really into ballet. I took him to a kids production of the nutcracker because that was all we could afford. Then a couple of weeks before the 25th I was alone at work listening to the radio station left on by my coworker(not a station I would typically chose). I called in on a whim when they announced a prize for the 7th caller and I got through. Won tickets to the nutcracker ballet in the city. It was such a special gift to share with my oldest and though we probably will go the community kids theater for the nutcracker this year, I know he'll never forget his first ballet

  9. Linda Nov 26, 2014

    I loved reading your article"Celebrating a Merry Christmas When Money is Tight"! We did not have a lot of money when our children were growing up but we enjoyed traditions (my homemade "pocket calendar" aka advent calendar; making gingerbread houses, etc.) Today my husband and I can afford nice gifts for each other - but every year I ask my husband for the same thing - to make a card for me (a love letter) - and he does. I have been saving them for years. They are THE BEST gifts I could every receive from him! Nothing beats know you're loved! Merry Christmas!


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