Frugal Holiday Traditions You Can Start This Year

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai.  Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

The holidays are upon us, and while this should be a joyful time, for too many people, it is a stressful time where there is too much to do and too much to buy.

Stores start pushing Christmas products in early September, and the jewelry and toy commercials featuring a loving spouse or Santa Claus have already begun. Getting wrapped up in the marketing bonanza can be all too easy, and you can feel guilty if you don’t drop a lot of money on your loved ones and friends.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.  You can choose to step off the buying merry go round and instead have a more joyful, less financially stressful holiday season.

Within your own immediate family, you can start frugal traditions this year that take the emphasis off of buying and consuming and put the emphasis on spending time with loved ones, being grateful for what you have, and enjoying the season.


Frugal Thanksgiving Traditions

It’s not too late to start some new Thanksgiving traditions.  Remember, the original Thanksgiving occurred after the Pilgrims had suffered a horrible year in the new country.  They had lost half of the original group that crossed the Atlantic to the New World.  However, Thanksgiving was a time to be thankful for the crops they learned to grow and their new found knowledge of how to survive in the New World.

Just thinking of their story can make us more thankful for the lives we have, but these activities will also help:

1. You can express your own thanks by creating a Thankful Tree.  I’ve seen a variety of these across the Internet.  One blogger puts up her Christmas tree early, but rather than decorating with Christmas ornaments, she first decorates with Thanksgiving “Doorhanger” Ornaments.  Later, these can be swapped out for Christmas ornaments.

Another blogger creates hers out of colored construction paper and has each of her kids make a handprint and write all of the things they are thankful for on the hand.  Then, they attach it to the tree.  Create the handprints in a variety of colors, and you have a beautiful fall tree full of blessings.

2. Give thanks by donating your time.  If crafts aren’t your thing, another frugal option is to donate your time.  Every Thanksgiving my aunt and her family spend the morning working at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.  When, later in the day, they celebrate their own Thanksgiving, they have plenty of things to be thankful for.

3. Share your appreciation of, and gratitude for, others.  Speaking of Thanksgiving dinner, another nice, frugal tradition is to have each person go around the table and mention one thing they are thankful for about each person.


Frugal Christmas Traditions

Christmas is the one holiday that is marketed the most and cheapened because of corporate America’s desire (greed) to make money.  Keep in mind that our modern gift extravaganza is only a recent development as Americans get more disposable income.  Sixty years ago or more ago, Christmas was a much simpler affair.

You can bring the simplicity back with some of these frugal traditions:

1. Give your children only three gifts.  The idea is that you give your child one gift to wear, one to read, and one to create.  Or another thought is to give him one gift he wants, one he needs, and one he will wear.  The idea is to simplify Christmas AND save your wallet.  Granted, if you have an older child, this tradition is difficult to begin, but if you have younger children, you can start now and save yourself a bundle of money over the coming years.

Make Christmas morning a bit more special by having all the other family members watch as one person opens his/her gift, and then move on to the next person, and the next until everyone has opened their gifts.  This slows down the gift opening process and helps build anticipation, especially for little ones who are so excited to open presents.

2. Make some or all of your gifts.  Thanks to Pinterest, there are plenty of ideas for cute homemade crafts like these snowmen that are really a hot chocolate kit.  Another option is to bake, but often, people get overwhelmed with baked goods at Christmas time.  A better idea might be to make homemade cookie dough that can be frozen.  Then, the gift recipient can take them out after the glut of holiday baked goods and enjoy them in, say, February.

3. Wrap and read a winter/Christmas book a day to your kids.  You likely have a large stash of holiday and Christmas books.  Rather than making them all available at once to your child, why not wrap 24 of them, and starting December 1st, let your children pick one a day to unwrap and read together as a family.  I just learned of this idea a few weeks ago and can’t wait to start it with my kids this year.  Buy books cheaply off Paperback Swap or Amazon (and use Swagbucks to make it even cheaper).

4. Have fun with food.  There are so many ways you can make little changes to the food you’re already serving your family and make it fun and festive.  If you’re going to serve pancakes Christmas morning, why not pour them with winter themes like snowmen and snowflakes?  Or, why not make and decorate sugar cookies?  You could even have a cookie decorating contest among the kids in the family.

5. Watch a holiday movie together.  For years my mom and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life until we grew tired of it.  My uncle still loves to watch A Christmas Story with his now adult children.  It’s a tradition they’ve shared for at least the past 25 years.

6. Create holiday ornaments together.  Again, use Pinterest to find simple easy crafts you can make at home with things around the house.  Each year that you put up your holiday tree, you’ll remember making the simple ornaments with your kids when they were little.  Our Christmas tree is full of homemade ornaments, and I like them so much better than the ones you can buy at the store.

7. Drive around and look at Christmas decorations.  Pack the kids in the car and drive around look at Christmas decorations.  While some people tastefully decorate in simple stringed lights, others’ decorations are over the top with the amount of decorations and lights that they use.  Chances are everyone will enjoy seeing the displays.

8. Visit the elderly.  Those living in nursing homes often don’t get visits from relatives because their families might live far away.  Take the time to visit a nursing home and bring some holiday cookies you’ve made.  The residents will appreciate your company, especially if you bring your children.

9. Sing carols together.  Our neighbors used to sing carols together the last 10 days before Christmas.  Because we lived downstairs from them, we also got to hear the show in our apartment.  The wife would play the piano, and the entire family would sing songs from simple winter ones to religious tunes.  This is a great way to get in the holiday spirit without spending money.

You don’t have to time travel back to 1950 to have a simpler holiday season.  You can choose this year to say no to the big corporations that want your money and instead choose to simplify the holiday season and create some wonderful memories.  These frugal ideas can get you started AND help you keep your wallet healthy and full throughout the holiday season.

How about you all? What is your favorite frugal holiday tradition to do with family and friends?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of


  1. Great advice. Christmas holiday season has become so central to the concepts of spending money and buying gifts. There’s really so much more to the holidays, like spending time with your loved ones and the happiness that comes from that love, rather than from materialism. The 3 gift rule is very fair and ensures you don’t go overboard with gifts for the kids.

    I love making my own cards and presents. They are always personalized and made with a lot of love!
    Ronnie @ All the Frugal Ladies recently posted…5 Tips for a Budget-Friendly ThanksgivingMy Profile

  2. Great suggstions! My family always drives around and looks at Christmas lights during the holiday season. It is a great frugal way to enjoy the holiday spirit
    Blair@LifeDollarsandSense recently posted…Make Free Holiday Travel a RealityMy Profile

  3. I love these suggestions! Especially the 24 holiday books that the kids unwrap slowly. Educational and fun! I don’t really have many family traditions. I just got married and don’t have kids yet so things got mixed up a bit this year.
    Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen recently posted…Persistence Pays Off in SpadesMy Profile

  4. Thanks for the suggestions! My family is big on the Christmas traditions and we want to focus more on that than the gift-giving aspect of Christmas. My husband and I like watching Christmas movies together and make Christmas decorations for our home. Last year was our first Christmas with a little one and we slept under the Christmas tree on Christmas eve- it was lovely.

    When our little is older, I’d like to incorporate advent calendars with a focus of helping others into our traditions.
    Emily @ Urban Departures recently posted…Moneyball: How Much Does It Cost to Play Sports?My Profile

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