Kids, Christmas, and Frugality

If you check your calendar, you’ll note that Christmas is just five weeks away, which for many of us means that planning has already begun. This year happens to be the first year that my son is old enough to really begin to understand and participate in Christmas-related activities. He can open his own gifts and can help with a lot of the normal tasks, like decorating the tree and making Christmas cookies, and he’s actually made at least one gift suggestion to us (“more Legos,” which means that this is likely in his future).

Even though we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, my parents always made Christmas very memorable growing up, so I asked my parents for some advice on how they did it, and I also did some research on my own, collecting ideas from various places. Here are eight suggestions on how to create a wonderful Christmas that minimizes the materialism and unnecessary expenses but creates great memories for your child and maximizes their creativity.

8 Tips for a Fun and Frugal Christmas Experience

1. Use end roll sheets from a newspaper, let the kids decorate it, and use it for wrapping paper.

This idea came from

a friend of mine who indirectly suggested it with some other parenting tips. Just go to your local newspaper’s office and ask if they have any end rolls for sale – most of them do for $1 or $2. This roll will provide more than enough paper to wrap all of your gifts. Then, go home and cut a sheet off of this roll big enough to cover your table, bust out the green and red and black and yellow crayons, and let the kids color up a storm on them. Suggest that they draw Christmas trees, wreathes, candy canes, etc. When they’ve really covered one side of the sheet well, you have a ton of unique wrapping paper for gifts.

2. Minimize the gifts you buy your child.

Once you get past the third or fourth gift, no matter how great the gifts are, you hit a wall of diminishing returns with your child where some of the gifts won’t be met with much enthusiasm and will be tossed aside. Instead, focus on three or four quality gifts for them instead of a pile of junk. It was because of this tactic that my parents were able to get me some very memorable Christmas gifts even though they were quite poor – they just focused usually on one or two incredible presents.

3. Use LED Christmas lights.

Now that LED technology is becoming prevalent, one common place for them to pop up is in Christmas light strands. LEDs largely look the same as normal lights, but they eat far, far less electricity – as little as 20% as much – and they have a much longer life than incandescent Christmas tree lights. The only drawback is a higher initial cost, but that cost difference can be recouped in two years and the strands can easily last ten years (whereas incandescent strands seem to die out much quicker).

4. Use natural Christmas tree decorations – and let the kids help.

Almost everything on our tree aside from the lights (and a few sentimental ornaments) is natural and edible. We usually make a giant bowl of popcorn and make popcorn strands (interspersed with some dried cranberries) and use pinecones and small red ears of colored corn with ribbon to hang them with. It’s pretty inexpensive and then virtually everything can be eaten or naturally recycled/composted, and it makes for a gorgeous tree, plus it has extra meaning because it reflects our values.

5. Involve your children in any and all Christmas food preparation.

Seriously, there are few things more fun than making frosted sugar cookies from scratch with your child on a lazy Saturday afternoon before Christmas – and even the frosting is every easy. You can do similar things with other foods you might prepare for the holidays; getting your children involved with the process teaches them how to cook things from scratch, which can be a valuable (and very frugal) life skill later on.

6. Make sure at least one of the gifts for your child is very open-ended.

Open-ended toys – meaning ones that encourage creative play – are often ones that have huge amounts of replay value for the kids. Compare, say, Legos to a Tickle Me Elmo doll. The Tickle Me Elmo doll gets tickled a few times, it rolls around, and the kid laughs, but it grows old quickly. On the other hand, Legos can be used to build an infinite array of items (at least until you get into the “kits,” but even those can be modified by a creative child).

7. Videotape Christmas morning.

My parents did this a few years and those are absolutely wonderful videos to watch – my sheer excitement the year I received my Nintendo Entertainment System makes me smile even now. Best tip: put the tripod across the room from the tree and have everyone open gifts near the tree with no one sitting behind the camera – that way, the whole event is captured without any interruptions, changes in perspective, or cuts. You can also do the same with decorating cookies or decorating the tree. I’ve heard from other parents that they often build up to Christmas morning by watching several of these tapes and enjoying memories.

8. Have your children write thank-you notes for the gifts they receive.

Many parents eschew this, but I’ve found that time and time again it’s a very good way to teach your children the importance of being thankful for the gifts that they receive. A package of blank thank-you notes is very inexpensive and the process can easily be managed in the afternoon – and you can set an example by writing your own thank-you notes.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...