We decided last year to take a minimalistic approach to Christmas, all in the efforts to make Christmas more of an enjoyable season and less of a financial burden for us. It was probably our best Christmas ever in that sense! It was a tough call we had to make to stay within our means, and it didn’t come easily. We had many tough conversations in our house wondering if there was any other way, but we believe it was the right decision for us. I’m really glad we did it, even though it meant that we weren’t able to give gifts to everyone on our list.
Our family and friends were very understanding of our situation and our desire to stay within our budget. Many also let us know that they felt the same way about the burdens of Christmas. Since we prioritized giving gifts to our children and the children in our families, we weren’t able to give well-thought out gifts to the other adults in our lives that are important to us. However, they still desired to give gifts to us… This has been the hardest part. It’s hard to receive a gift well and not feel guilty at the same time for not being able to reciprocate by having a gift for them also. We have some pretty awesome people in our lives that bless us in so many ways… I’d be lying if I said that it doesn’t hurt my heart to not be able to give them a well-thought-out gift. We have just had to somewhat get over this though and realize that we couldn’t spoil someone else’s joy of giving just because we aren’t able to right now. Whenever it fits into our budget, you better believe that we will be purchasing nice gifts for them again. We can’t wait for that day. But for now… this is where we are, and this is what we do.
*This post contains affiliate links. I will earn a small commission if you make purchases through these links, at no extra cost to you, but I thank you for helping to support my family in that way.
Here is how we navigate Our Minimal Christmas:
We set a Christmas Budget.
To be honest, I had every intention of setting up a Christmas Sinking Fund so that we had actual money to pull from for this… but alas, that didn’t happen. Sometimes plans just don’t work out like we hope, and that’s okay. It’s a part of life sometimes. So basically, we just do the best we can and cash flow our Christmas to make it work for us, and it does help when we find great deals and start early so that it’s spread out over several months instead of just two. The Christmas Budget we set is more of a means of helping us keep track and keep it to a minimum. Going into debt for Christmas is simply not an option for us.
Here’s our Minimal Christmas Budget for 2018:
$50+/- per member in our family (We will have 4 children by Christmas, plus the two of us, so this equals $300.)
$50+/- for other children in our immediate family, collectively (We used to spend $30/each on them, but then I realized that we were spending almost as much for them as we were our own children so it may have been a bit excessive. We can still find them great gifts that stay within our set budget.)
$50 +/- for stocking stuffers for our family (This is one of my favorite traditions, but those things can add up quickly.)
$100 +/- for all the extras (This includes gift wrap, decorations, supplies for handmade gifts, gifts needed for gift swaps, ingredients for holiday meals, traditions, etc.)
Our minimal Christmas Budget for this year is $500. I realize this number may seem extravagantly low to some, but for others it may also seem ridiculously high. We are all in different economic and financial seasons, and that’s okay. I would actually love to have a bit more to spend on Christmas so that we could give gifts to more people that we love. Heck, I would even love to be able to pay for another family’s entire Christmas someday! But for now, this is where we are, and we are making the decision to live within our means… even at Christmastime. If you’re unsure where to begin with setting a Christmas Budget, I recommend this series from Jordan at FunCheaporFree.com. She also offers some great tips in this video where she shows exactly what they bought for each of their kids last year.
We decorate minimally and use what we have.
There was a time when I used to have a themed tree where I would buy new ornaments and decor every year, but then I realized that I’d rather spend that money on gifts for my children or things they would enjoy instead. So now we decorate our tree with rolls of burlap that were given to us and the handmade ornaments and crafts from the kids instead. It’s definitely nothing fancy, but I still love it so much! We do enjoy still picking out a special ornament or two each year when we see ones that we really like. I really love how different ornaments are made unique and can tell a story on a Christmas tree. And as you can see from my picture, my tree usually gets “undecorated” by my children on a daily basis anyway. I usually keep a box or basket near the tree to collect the ornaments, and I re-decorate it several times throughout the season. Memories, right?
We make Christmas Wish Lists.
We ask our kids what they would like for Christmas, and I make a Christmas list in my planner or in the notes section of my phone. We don’t have a TV service with commercial advertisements so my kids do not really know what’s out there, unless they see it in a store. This one comes in handy for us though. We have always let our kids look at the toy section, and they are always quick to tell us what they like. Sometimes, I’ll snap a pic of the item with its price so I can remember it for later. One thing that’s great about this, is that I also always have a list handy for family members who ask what to get them for Christmas. We decide which of the gifts will be special gifts that we can purchase for them to give them on Christmas morning and which ones we can delegate to other family members to purchase for them.
We research, watch for sales, and keep our eye out for good deals.
I subscribe to MoneySavingMom.com as well as a few others, and I always check my email for special deals of things I might be looking for, and I buy things when they go on sale. I’ve been checking these daily for months so that I’ve been able to purchase several gifts early when I found things on a great sale.
We let our kids do their own Christmas shopping for each other, us, and other family members they’d like to give gifts to.
To do this, we take them to the Dollar Tree. We help them, of course, but we let them choose gifts to give to everyone on their list, which takes a few different trips so they can buy for extended family and also for each other without them knowing. Then, we let them wrap these gifts up to give away at our Christmas gatherings and on Christmas morning. Even though it’s a super, inexpensive idea – I love that it lets them focus on the aspect of giving instead of receiving. They get really excited to pick out, wrap, and then give their gifts. This also gives us more presents under our tree to unwrap. Most of the smaller boxes in the picture above are their Dollar Tree gifts wrapped up.
We celebrate Advent.
Contrary to popular belief, Advent is not actually about opening a little present or piece of candy every day until Christmas. 😉 Advent is the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event… hello, Jesus?? Yes, the actual reason for the season. I loved the Advent Bible study from Kari Denker at Stone Soup for Five that focuses on the Old Testament Prophecies and how they are fulfilled in the New Testament. It even has a coloring book and “Countdown” page for your children to color so they can do it alongside you. This past year, I also printed a set of Advent Countdown cards where we listened to a different Christmas song everyday that helped our family to focus on the real meaning of Christmas.
We give handmade “happies”.
Last year I embroidered hand towels. I used fabric and thread that I already had on hand. Of course, I also already had an embroidery machine too so this helped. I purchased hand towels for about $30 total and made many of them. Yes, it required a great deal of time on my part, but time is a resource that’s easier for me to find than money.
We get creative with how we wrap gifts.
Since there aren’t quite as many gifts to wrap, I don’t need to purchase much for this. Last year, I used Christmas-colored fabric, clear treat bags, and ribbon I already had on hand to wrap the hand towel happy gifts. I think they turned out great!
I don’t always do this, but I’ll also let you in on another secret for my gift wrapping… I love to buy a simple roll of brown paper. The brown paper can be used year-round for birthdays as well as Christmas gifts. My other secret is to buy gift bags from Dollar Tree. I’ve always been able to find simple, brown paper neutral gift bags there 3/$1.00 or 2/$1.00, depending on the size you choose, and they work perfectly! You can easily dress up the brown paper wrapped gifts and bags with colored tissue paper, colored ribbons, or other art supplies you have on hand.
We focus on Christmas traditions.
Some of our favorite Christmas traditions include making Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve, finishing our Advent countdown on Christmas morning, opening our stockings, and then taking turns opening presents to make it last longer. We also have a special Christmas morning breakfast… something easy that I can make ahead and put in the oven while we open presents.
Stockings were one of my favorite things I remember from Christmases growing up so I tend to go a little overboard here collecting things throughout the year. The kids usually get things that they “need” in their stockings like new toothbrushes and bath soaps as well as some fun items I’ve found for them too. I love to include things like snacks and special treats that we don’t have on a regular basis…. like a box of fruit snacks that I’ll open and disperse among their stockings or fun candies that we’ll add to our candy box later to give as treats and rewards. This past year, I even bought a box of Froot Loops with marshmallows and wrapped it up like a regular present, and they were thrilled!
Would you like to see what each of our kids are getting for Christmas this year?!
I’ll share with you… only if you promise not to tell them. Can you help me keep it a surprise for them please? 😉
Linkin (Age 4)
The Paw Patrol Ultimate Rescuer is Linkin’s big gift that he requested. I saw it at Wal-Mart for around $55, but then I found it on Target.com for $44. I’m sure this one will still be on sale or at least go on sale again before Christmas as it’s a popular, newer item. He also requested the Guess Who game that he played with Daddy on one of their father/son outings to the ice cream shop in town.
Lawson (Age 6)
Lawson asked for a remote control airplane or drone this year, and I found this one at Sam’s Club for $30. (I wasn’t able to find an online link for you guys anywhere there. This style must’ve been a last-in-stock item. But I did see them in store again when I was there last week.) He also asked for the Checkers game.
Layten Bradleigh (Age 2)
We decided to get Layten a kitchen because she’s always very interested in what I’m cooking and making in the kitchen. She also brings me foods she’s made for me all the time from the playroom and the kitchen-type toys she has now. It was important to me that I find one that would look nice and not “like a toy” because I want it to go in out kitchen/dining area so she can cook alongside me. This was a more affordable option ($79.99 from IKEA), and since the boys will probably play with it too, I justified spending a little extra on it. (I was way under budget on her birthday gift in October, and I also spent less on Lawson’s gifts so it rounds out to be about the same.)
I knew that we would probably assemble this one on Christmas Eve after they go to bed and set it out for her to find, but since she’s still so little, she’ll probably love unwrapping presents as well so I didn’t want her to miss out on that experience either. Luckily, I’ve saved some of the well-made kitchen toys we’ve had in previous years from the boys, and they’ve been in storage. She’s never seen them, so we’ll wrap those up for her to open and use with her new kitchen. I call that winning, and we didn’t pay a thing for them this year!
Baby #4 (Due just before Christmas)
Since we are literally going to have a newborn this Christmas… and one that’s probably going to just sleep right through our Christmas celebration…. we’re getting this baby something practical. I found a really good deal on a product I’ve been eyeing for a while. We’ve had a baby play gym with all three of my littles… a little mat that they can lay on with some dangly things over them for them to look at and focus on. It’s probably one of my favorite baby items, but unfortunately we don’t still have the one my other kids used anymore. I fell in love with this one when another mom on Instagram shared it. It’s so neat, yall! It was designed by child development experts and has Montessori, wooden, and organic accessories that all detach for greater learning experience. It’s meant to be used for the entire first year and even comes with a play cover that makes it kind of like a tent for more imaginative play. I’m sure my older kids will love it too!
**I contacted the LovEveryBaby company, and they’ve agreed to give my readers $10 off the purchase of this play mat or their play kits which are also really neat and would make fantastic Christmas gifts for the babies in your life. I will earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you, so I’d like to thank you for doing that!
Sometimes we will give a gift to all of the kids together, to share, but not always. We have no real rules here. Last year we did give them a chalkboard/dry erase easel from Ikea ($14.99), and that was a great (and inexpensive!) big gift for them.
Our family has been really into games lately, and I happened to find this Scrabble Junior game while I was in Dirt Cheap one day so I grabbed it for the kids to open together. I love that it has different levels. I can use it with Layten for letter-recognition, Linkin can match the letters on the printed side, and Lawson can begin to spell his own words with it so…Three different ways to play! I also bought a set of magnetic building blocks and a set of Play-doh tubs for them a few months ago when great deals were posted! I love taking advantage of deals like this throughout the year so it makes the burden of Christmas spending a little lighter.
So here’s an estimate of what we ended up spending on actual kids’ gifts this year…
$44 Paw Patrol Ultimate Rescue (after sales & discounts)
$10 Guess Who Game
$30 Video Camera Drone
$8 Checkers Game
$10 Scrabble Junior Game (purchased from Dirt Cheap)
$80 Ikea Kitchen
$16 Play-doh Set (after sales & discounts)
$40 Magnetic Building Set (after sales & discounts)
$70 Baby Play Gym (after sales & discounts)
So yes, I spent a little more on the younger two and with the family gifts, so I ended up spending a little more than I thought I would. When I did my Christmas Budget planning, I had forgotten that I had already purchased and put away the two family gifts of Play-doh and Magnetic Set, so those were technically paid for a long time ago, but I wanted to include them in our total cost, of course.
However, I’m not upset by this technically “going over budget” at all. We didn’t go into debt to do it, and It’s all already paid for. We spent about $300 to provide Christmas for 4 children, and I don’t look at that as a bad number.
Just remember not to compare your Christmas to others. Every family is different, has different financial situations, different methods of saving up and affording Christmas, and different values. If you need help setting up an appropriate Christmas Budget for your family, here’s the post I recommend from Jordan Page at Fun Cheap or Free.
Our kids are going to have a great Christmas this year. Especially remembering our past Christmases and how they open one gift and want to immediately play with it… then they usually don’t even care about the others, and we have to remind them that they have more to open. I think Christmas is definitely more fun for us as parents than it is for them anyway. 😉