When I talk to my teens, I’m constantly surprised at the things they remember most.
Sure, they loved our trip to Disney. And they’ve received some big-ticket Christmas gifts that were pretty memorable.
But usually the things they remember the most are the little things. The things that didn’t cost a lot of money. That goes for Christmas and just life in general.
They love them because they’re our traditions. They feel like home. They’re comforting when we do them year after year.
And the best traditions don’t have to put you into debt!
A Memorable Christmas Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
If you’re getting hung up on all those Pinterest and Instagram Christmas celebrations, stop! Your kids don’t all that fancy (and expensive) stuff.
They need you paying attention to them.
So stop overspending on holiday activities that really aren’t any more memorable or fun than these affordable ones!
Cheap and Meaningful Advent Calendars
Sure, you can buy the cheap advent calendars with mediocre chocolate, but homemade advent calendars can also be affordable and a lot more fun!
Christmas Book Advent Calendar
This was one of our favorite traditions when my kids were little. I went to Half Price Books and found tons of cheap Christmas books (24 total: one for each day from Dec. 1-24).
Garage sales are also a good option if you know ahead of time.
Or you can even grab Christmas books you already have.
Wrap each book and put a number from 1-24 on each one.
Every night, let the kids open a book and read it together.
Food Donation ADvent Calendar
Another option is a food donation advent calendar. Each day, write down a certain food item that you can donate to a local food pantry.
In our city, we have little pantries (similar to the little free library boxes). This is where we like to donate our food.
I haven’t tried this one because the logistics were kind of wonky to me. But I think you could make it work by buying the items in advance and letting your kids “shop” your pantry for each day’s item.
Put them in a box or bag to set aside. Once a week or on Christmas Eve, go donate the food.
nightly (Or Weekly) Christmas Movies
If Hallmark Christmas movies are you’re jam, that’s great when the kiddos are in bed. But round up lots of Christmas movies that the whole family can watch for an easy bonding activity.
Write a list of Christmas movies you want to watch and cross them off as you go. Don’t forget the popcorn!
Homemade Garland Party
I’ve always wanted to make an old-fashioned popcorn garland. Maybe this is the year to try it!
If you don’t want to mess with garland, you can do the classic paper chain garland. Or any other type of homemade garland you want.
Neighbor Goodie Gift
Share a little love (and sugar) with your neighbors by baking goodies for them. Fully prepare and decorate them, or put together a Christmas cookie decorating kit with baked cookies, frosting and sprinkles.
Christmas Light Tour With Hot Chocolate
Something we do every year is load up into the car and drive around town to see Christmas lights. Hands down one of our favorites. Bonus points if there’s snow covering the lights!
Look for unique light options. In our metro area we have a few streets that are well known for their over-the-top Christmas light displays.
Last year we discovered a few houses in our city that have light shows coordinated to music. And they were programmed by teens. How cool is that? (I’m lucky to figure out how to use the remote we have connected to our outdoor lights. Forget about a coordinated light show!)
Another good option is a drive-through light display.
Virtual Christmas Parties
If you’re not getting together with friends and family in person this year, organize a virtual holiday party. Have everyone decorate cookies while video chatting with each other. Or plan holiday games and send out the directions ahead of time so everyone can gather the supplies they need. Then, have each family play the games while video chatting.
Donate to a Local Organization
Start your kids early on learning that the holidays aren’t just about their own wish list. Choose a different organization to support each holiday season. You can volunteer your time, donate money, donate things you want to get rid of anyway, or buy new items that the organization needs.
Toys for Tots or Local Giving Tree
Another favorite activity for our kids is picking out gifts for Toys for Tots and local giving trees. We started this young and we made sure our kids knew that some families don’t have a lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts. They love knowing that they’re helping making Christmas a little better for those families. Seeing requests for clothes instead of toys on giving tree ornaments really drives it home for them how lucky they are!
Random Acts of Kindess: Holiday Edition
Do random acts of kindness throughout the holiday season wherever you go. You could even turn this activity into an advent calendar.
Here are some ideas:
- Shovel snow for someone without getting caught
- Give holiday treats to the mail carrier, crossing guard, trash collectors or other people you see regularly
- Let someone go ahead of you in line at the store
- Leave candy canes in random places
- Write holiday messages on sticky notes and leave them in public places
When my kids were little, we made homemade ornaments every year from the grandparents. There are so many cute, easy, and affordable ideas out there. It’s also fun to look back at the ornaments over the years to see how the kids have changed.
Christmas Videos for Family
With all of the craziness (and germs!) of 2020, you might not be able to see everyone you normally would for the holidays. But you can still keep in touch and give them an update on you.
Record a family Christmas video to send to your relatives. It could be a recap of your year, funny stories, or your family singing Christmas carols.
Christmas Scavenger Hunt
Send your kids on a scavenger hunt throughout the house looking for clues. Have a fun activity or holiday treat waiting at the end.
Another favorite activity we always do is making gingerbread houses. Now, I love baking. But I just don’t have the time or patience to make them from scratch.
So we go the gingerbread house kit route. And in recent years, we’ve gone with a preassembled gingerbread house. Because quite frankly, getting hard-as-a-rock gingerbread house pieces to stick together with premade frosting in those DIY kids? Not something that puts me in the holiday spirit!
We like to buy some extra holiday candy to get even more creative with the designs.
Christmas Minute to Win It Games
Who doesn’t love minute to win it games? Pull together a bunch of Christmas themed games and plan a minute to win it night with your family.
Here are some game ideas:
- Inflatable reindeer ring toss
- Snow shovel: transfer white pompoms from one bowl to another using a disposable spoon held in your mouth
- Candy cane toss: attach garland between two chairs, toss candy canes from a set distance to see how many you can hook on the garland
- Jingle bell balance: hold a popsicle stick in your mouth and line up 5 to 8 jingle bells on the stick without any falling off
- Oven mitt unwrap: wrap random items in Christmas paper, see how many gifts each person can unwrap in 2 minute while waring oven mitts
We’ve never been much of a puzzle family. But with all of the time we’ve been spending at home this year, we’ve become one.
I’m planning to buy a large holiday puzzle that we can put together throughout the holiday season. If you start early enough (or you’re a puzzle ninja who needs no time to put one together), you can use some puzzle glue to hold it together and turn it into a holiday decoration.
Family Slumber Party Around the Tree
I’m a sucker for holiday lights and Christmas trees. So something we like to do every year is blow up the air mattress and sleep next to the tree. There’s something magical about falling asleep next to colorful Christmas lights!
Christmas Photo Contest
Challenge your family to get creative with a Christmas photo contest. Have everyone take a Christmas photo. You can come up with a theme and guidelines or leave it general. Vote on the best photo.
Christmas Bucket List
Make a list of all the things you want to do this holiday season with your family. It could be items from this list or your own ideas. Then start doing them! Cross off each item as you do it.
Celebrate Without Breaking the Bank
What are you waiting for? Start planning your frugal Christmas traditions today! Do you have any other affordable Christmas traditions your family loves?