My heart really aches when I interact with society these days. Sometimes I feel like the world isn’t really talking to me – it is talking to people who have money. When I watch advertisements, news stories, or consumer reports, I tend to tune out. The news seems to be all about when the best time is to Christmas shop, whether this item should be purchased now or closer to Christmas, or about strategies to getting your Christmas shopping done early – to me, it sounds like a foreign language.
We’ve never really had a lot of money. It has always felt lean in our home, and we’ve always been on a budget. But I must admit, we’ve gone overboard for our kids’ Christmas in years past, and we’ve made gift-receiving a big part of the celebration of the season. Our stated limits have been one big present per kid (something that would truly thrill their hearts), and then other little presents as we see things that would make them smile.
But this year, we really don’t have money. We are behind in our mortgage and are struggling to balance keeping bills paid and keeping food on the table. My husband’s business is amazing and fruitful and satisfying, but as of now, isn’t profitable enough to generate a salary for us. For months. And months. We are so buried that it takes a lot of mental energy not to fret all of the time.
It is under those circumstances that we approach the Christmas holidays.
I’ve been forced to stretch myself to think outside the realm of normal when it comes to honoring the traditions and joy of Christmas without money. To me, the key is finding tangible ways to share the love that I feel…not by my money, not by the limited effort exerted from buying a present, nor by filling a gift card.
As I have racked my brain to come up with virtually free ways to make Christmas special for your family, I thought I’d share a few. I’ve implemented most of these ideas over the years, and have found them to be really fun and festive.
Making Presents: Almond bark covered pretzels, coupon books for services/time together, potato chips dipped in chocolate, taking your child’s art and cutting it to fit on blank notecards, etc., are all ways to be creative and frugal at the same time.
Making Service a Present: Serving food at a shelter, sponsoring a Compassion International child as a family, choosing a neighbor and being their “secret Santa” for the month (or even the year).
Check out the free section of Craigslist or take advantage of Freecycle: There are a lot of great items that have served their purpose at one family but are ready to begin a new life in another family.
Redecorate your kids’ rooms with simple changes: A new coat of paint, reorganizing a closet to make it a reading space, adding a new pillow or two can all really make a big difference and help the kids feel special and loved.
Buy a family gift instead of individual gifts: One suggestion is a subscription to Netflix/Blockbuster. For around $8/month you have access to a myriad of movies that you can instant stream into your home. Other family gifts could be a board game that everyone could play, a family membership to a health club, movie tickets, or a read aloud book.
Make gift giving an event/activity: Give everyone in your family a dollar and make a trip to a Dollar Store near you. Tell your family members that the goal is to buy the biggest or smallest, or most outrageous or most thoughtful gift that can be purchased for a dollar. When we did this, we made a night of it by making the goal to find a gift that represented the other person (either silly or serious), and then during the gift exchange time told the stories and explanations of why that gift was purchased.
Do a family activity together: Sing Christmas carols or go caroling, drive around the city to look at lights, snuggle in for an evening of Christmas movies, or have a board game night.
Talk with your kids: Letting everyone understand the “why” behind the minimalism gives them the tools to understand the choices being made. Preparing them way ahead of time can reduce the amount of disappointment or complaining, and allows them to join in the creativity of present giving.
I don’t want to be in this position, at Christmas or at any time. It isn’t comfortable or secure; however, I also know that being here is working great things in me: Creativity, compassion, understanding, humility, etc. Because of those benefits, I wouldn’t trade this season for the world. If you find yourselves in the same place, I pray that your needs are met and that you are provided for. If you aren’t in that position, I encourage you to find someone who is, and shower them with Christmas blessings. We all need each other.