1. Decorate with what is meaningful to you
When you think about the real meaning behind Christmas decorations, they are used to add a festive touch according to your tastes and based on what the holiday means for you. Whether you believe in the religious roots of Christmas, or just like the magic of the whole season, pick your decorations to express that, without feeling pressure for more. You can’t compete with Martha Stewart or the big shopping malls, but you can choose what is displayed at your home. Below are some easy ways:
(i) Pick children’s favorite ornaments or toys to add to the tree or hang in their rooms
(ii) Make simple handmade tree trimmings
(iii) Choose a string of lights
If your budget Christmas has minimal or no allowance for decorations, choose a string of lights only. They will instantly make any room look Christmas-y
(iv) Use Fresh greenery you find while walking out in nature or garden
2. Set the right atmosphere
Christmas is one of the most atmospheric times, when memories are recalled, scents encourage thoughts, and there’s a feeling in the air that makes everything seems possible. To make sure you will have a beautiful celebration at home, set the right atmosphere, by including warm and festive smells, cozy corners and of course the right tunes. You can do these:
(i) Play a CD or YouTube videos
(ii) Take out cozy blankets
(iii) Put a few spices and fruit simmering on the stove
3. Plan family activities ahead
Include board games or classic group activities during and/or after the Christmas meal, to have something to look forward to and shift the focus from the food or the gifts. No one remembers how many side dishes they had last year, but memories from funny times and inside jokes created over board games are more likely to stay forever. Start brainstorming ideas beforehand and ask for everyone’s opinion on what they’d like to do. This also teaches your kids that family time needs planning too, same as presents and food. If you’re not really fond of games, looking at family photo albums would be lovely and fun too.
4. Cook together as a family
What you are serving on your table doesn’t matter if everyone is grumpy and disappointed or rushing to get to a party afterwards. A happy meal is made of happy sharing. To encourage more interaction and fun in your family, try to involve everyone with the food preparations. Even toddlers can help wash vegetables or cut cheese. Having everyone work as a team will ensure a fun time; just remember to ignore the mess and be more open to things not being done your way. In the end, all of you will appreciate the labor of love sitting on the table and might even linger a bit more sitting around and talking to each other, instead of heading for the phone or TV.
5. Stretch the joy in the whole season
Being on a budget sometimes means less things to look forward to, compared to old times. This can lead to a moody feeling. To avoid this, spread out the little things on different days leading to Christmas and leave some for after. There’s no reason why you can’t watch a movie every single day of December instead of doing a marathon night or why you can’t have a festive brunch on other days besides Christmas morning. You can also write everything on a calendar or put it on your advent, so each member of the family can look forward to some fun. Focusing on a couple of activities you enjoy most will create meaningful memories for your children.
Gatherings and social interaction
6. Create your own traditions
Traveling to celebrate with family and friends equals great holidays, but sometimes the high cost of flights, the bad weather and the full houses you visit aren’t worth it. If you are used to visiting your big families every year, stay at home this Christmas for a change. You might even like this more, but you have to try it. Prepare your children, if they have been looking forward to meeting their cousins all year long, by telling them you will be on a different adventure this year. Mention things like discovering your town, visiting different festive events and celebrating your own magical way at home. If you think about it, you’ve been leaving home every year, to be part of big loud tables, when you don’t always have the opportunity to spend productive time with those you care about most, or avoid relatives you don’t get along with. When you celebrate with a big crowd, you are often following others’ traditions and way of doing Christmas. Why not sit down and think how you really want to spend this holiday? Write a few thoughts and ask everyone in the family for one thing they’d like to do. Limit it to one thing or you’ll create unwanted stress. Be sure to balance quiet time with some fun and eventually create your own version of Christmas. If you like it, next year you can start inviting people over to your house, or go back to traveling if you realize that’s what your ideal Christmas looks like.
7. Show people your way of doing Christmas
Don’t sit there stressing about what others might think of you, especially if it’s the first time you’re doing a budget Christmas. Instead, make the first move and let them know about your decision to celebrate differently this year and tell them what to expect. You might even make them want to adopt your way or join you for some of the new activities. By letting people know your intentions, you will have fewer of them judge you or express disappointment later. Learning to say no to anything that doesn’t align with your intentions is one of the most common pieces of advice that experts give for having a stress-free holiday season.
8. Use all you have in your pantry
Doing a budget Christmas is a great opportunity to take out every food item from your fridge and cupboards. Make a rule of buying no food unless you have used everything you already have at home. Plan your meals around them and incorporate some in the festive meal too. You might come up with interesting combinations and new flavors.
9. Serve finger food
If you are having guests over, serve meatless dishes and a lot of appetizer-style ones. Small bites and finger food are child-friendly, too. Anything that can be served cold or at room temperature will cut your time.
10. Put a theme on it
To add interest to a simple celebration with minimal spending, put a theme on it and pay attention to adding a couple of details. Everything will look more exciting if it’s part of the “Christmas at the English pub” or “Beach-cottage Christmas”. Pasta, pie, sparkling water with lemon, or wine with sliced apples will never look more fancy than on your thematic gathering. A Subtle Revelry magazine founder and book author Victoria Hudgins is a big advocate of making everyday food festive with a few details added. Here are a few ideas to get inspired.
11. Same food, different way
You can totally cook your usual dishes for Christmas, with a slight variation in presentation. If you normally cut your roasted veggies in big chunks, cube them or slice them diagonally this time. You won’t believe what a difference such small trick makes. Make sure there are two or more colors in there for visual interest. On the same note, slice the meat thinly if you normally serve it whole.
12. Teach children the joy of giving
A sudden Christmas without presents for a child used to getting 10 wrapped packages under the tree will be disappointing and dramatic. Instead of making drastic changes, slowly introduce new traditions to your children, while dropping old ones you don’t want to continue. Assign one person for each child and help them make or buy a gift for them. It can be a relative, a senior, or a struggling neighbor, but it is more real and encouraging when the child knows that person. The joy in their eyes when unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree might be less with fewer gifts. However, your children will get to know a deeper and longer-lasting joy, that of giving and sharing, which often wins over the joy of getting. The younger they are when you introduce this tradition, the easier it will be for you to establish more meaningful and non-materialistic Christmas celebrations. Joy Cho has been doing this with her three-year-old daughter since she was born.
13. Re-gifting done right
If you haven’t already, start to embrace re-gifting right now. Even experts give it a thumbs up, as long as it’s done right. Ditch the guilt and the social embarrassment fear by following these simple tips:
- Make sure you know who gave the item to you
- Don’t re-gift it to someone related to the person who gave it to you
- The item should be new and functioning
- The person who will get it will love it and use it
14. Spend your time instead of money
Don’t spend a dime on wrapping paper or gift tags, fancy bottled beverages or anything you can make yourself easily. If you really want to commit to spending less this year, consider every coin you can save and be ready to spend a little more time making things. Also, follow the rule of one present per person only. You’d be surprised, but studies have led to the conclusion that a second gift actually lowers the value of the whole experience. It’s actually called the “Presenter’s Paradox”.
Where to start
15. Make a bouncy budget
As with every other aspect of your life, there’s no reason not to make a budget for Christmas. To avoid feeling like a Scrooge about it, bounce your categories. Pay attention to each of them and choose where you want to spend more and where you wouldn’t mind cutting back. For example, after the initial equal division between all categories, feel free to bounce some money from the food category to the gifts one, if you don’t want your kids to get disappointed, while you enjoy making food from scratch. Alter whatever works for you and bounce everything according to your needs, so everyone is content even on a budget.
16. Be honest about it
If the whole Christmas-celebration thing still looks intimidating to you, follow none of the above tips. Simply be honest with yourself and go through the reasons you need to do a budget Christmas this year. Be it financial problems or just the need to establish a more simplified and meaningful life, tell everyone in your family why you are doing it and you can all speed up the process of getting where you want to be together. Experts like Leo Batuta always advice to dig through the reality of your current life, in order to be able to achieve the changes you want. Get started with these five questions.
If you manage to establish healthy habits, try to continue them after Christmas too. Especially with kids, consistency is the key to sticking with new behaviors.
Go on and enjoy Christmas your own way! Don’t stress too much about pleasing everyone or getting the best gifts. Only you know what is best for your family right now. After all, every single study agrees that it’s the experiences that make us happy on the long run, rather than material objects. Focus on spending time with those who matter for you, rather than anxiously waiting for a January full of debt to come.