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8 Christmas Traditions to Enjoy on a Tight Budget

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More Family

holding diy advent calendar basket with gifts wrapped in gold paper

It’s time to rein in the budget for the holidays.

We all want the best holiday memories for our family to pass down and enjoy from generation to generation, but some popular Christmas traditions can leave your wallet and budget feeling the winter blues. With these festive ideas, you’ll still feel the same holiday joy without the added cost!

1. Instead of hosting a big family dinner… throw a dessert party!

rolled raw cookie dough with christmas cutouts on table

Why not skip dinner and invite friends and family over for the best part of any meal—dessert! Everyone can bring their favorite treat and still get their fill of quality time for the holidays.

Hip Tip: If you’re not sure what to make, check out our best rolled sugar cookie dough recipe!

2. Instead of buying an Advent Calendar… create your own!

hand holding green bag for advent calendar

Advent calendars can get pricey, especially if you’re buying a new one every year. When you make your own and re-purpose it each holiday season, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth—and have fun in the process!

Hip Tip: Check out how you can make a DIY hanging treat bag Advent Calendar (as pictured above) and how you can turn trash into a resourceful DIY Advent Calendar. One year, we really stepped up our game and tried this reverse Advent Calendar to give back, too!

3. Instead of buying matching family pajamas… buy matching socks!

row of red and white matching socks with mom kid and dad

Pajamas can get pretty pricey, especially when you have a large family, so if buying some new flannels for everyone isn’t in the budget, consider these cozy Old Navy socks for the whole family:

4. Instead of gifts for the entire extended family… organize a gift exchange!

two reindeer gifts with christmas lights

Have everyone pull names from a hat or use a website like Elfster to create a gift exchange between all the family members. It’s fun, different, and exciting come time to exchange gifts. We even have some frugal ways to wrap your presents for the exchange. Best of all, everyone stays on budget and no one gets left out!

Hip Tip: Want to simplify gifts for your immediate family, too? This new way to buy and give gifts totally changed how our family does Christmas.

5. Instead of buying neighbor gifts… host a hot cocoa block party!

santa reindeer hot chocolate gift bags

Make cute bags of hot cocoa or throw some hot cocoa in the Crock-Pot and have each neighbor bring a fun topping. Either way, the kids will have a blast and all the parents will be glad there’s no gift obligation.

Hip Tip: Did you see Lina’s Grinch hot chocolate that you can make in the crockpot?! It’s a delicious and adorable treat that would be sure to please any festive crowd!

6. Instead of sending family Christmas cards… film a Christmas video!

shutterfly christmas cards

Sure, there are lots of frugal ways to order Christmas cards, but if you’re sending them to a large group of people, the postage alone can get pricey. Plus, a video is more fun for the family, unique to the viewers, and way more personal anyway!

7. Instead of making your own pumpkin pie… buy our favorite pre-made pie from the store!

woman holding two different pumpkin pies sams club and costco

It’s actually more affordable (and will save you time!) to pick up a pre-made pie at Costco or Sam’s Club rather than buying the ingredients and making it yourself, and the store-bought versions are just as delicious—trust us, we taste-tested them! Top it off with homemade whipped cream or transfer it to your own pie dish if you want to give it that fresh-from-the-oven feel.

8. Instead of buying gifts this year… make them!

drill going into drift wood

While not every holiday gift idea can be made at home, you can make beautiful decor with repurposed materials or simple photo and artwork prints. The time spent crafting a one-of-a-kind gift means so much more than a last-minute mall purchase.

With unique wrapping, you can turn inexpensive buys like candles, magazines, and even soaps into the most adorable gifts for teachers, neighbors, co-workers, gift exchanges… you name it!

kids sitting on couch in matching pajamas by Christmas tree

Remember, it’s about the time spent together, not the money.

There’s no reason you can’t flip the script on expensive traditions in favor of new memory-making experiences—they may even become the things you look forward to most each season!

Play this hilarious saran wrap game at your next holiday party!

Join The Discussion

Comments 42

  1. Bbbsarah24

    Love the cocoa party idea. We have a close neighborhood and a projector… hopefully we can get cocoa and a movie done!!! I do advent books (same books every year) a little pricey at first, but free/cheap once you have your books. I try to find a movie and/or activity to go with them. First day is elf on the shelf book with their elf and they do the letters to Santa. Gingerbread mouse book and we make a gingerbread house, etc…

  2. tipaye

    Amazing ideas…thank you!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re so welcome! Glad you enjoyed this list!

  3. Ashley

    This is great!
    The holidays are a busy time of year so we celebrate Friendsgiving. We wear Christmas sweaters (don’t worry it’s after thanksgiving!) and for the gift exchange everyone brings a $5 max gift that must come from either a thrift store or garage sale. Recycling and staying on a budget.
    The kids each get a Christmas book (from the dollar tree) so they have something to open while we do our exchange.

    • mcs137x

      I LOVE that it has to be something recycled. We often forget that things can be reused and we don’t need to keep buying crap and letting the rest go in our landfills. FYI I just discovered this group on Facebook called buy nothing (your city/area). Apparently they have these groups nationwide and essentially it’s neighbors passing along things they no longer need. It has been amazing for us to get rid of things we don’t need and seeing them go to a good home and vice versa! 😊

  4. Tammy

    Thanks..Just talking about making Christmas less stressful and not costing a fortune. It’s never been a holiday I’ve enjoyed for that reason.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re most welcome, Tammy! Happy these ideas are helpful! 💕

  5. Nikki

    I love all the ideas, with the exception of number 7. Coming from a family of 7 kids, and 16 grandkids, the time and money spent on baking pies is priceless. Maybe because we buy our baking staples in 25-50lb bags.. Haha Haha
    Anyway, good job on the post!

  6. Meg

    I sincerely disagree with the “making a video “instead of cards. In a life with everyone’s increasing attraction to the digital world, I find cards to be much more personal and refreshing rather than a video. Cards don’t have to be expensive. You can get beautiful Christmas cards in 12-14 pks at the dollar tree.

    • Jackie

      I agree with you, you can get some cheap cards or even send a picture and write something on the back BUT after stamps cards will end up costing an arm and a leg $$$. And because of that I really like the FREE shipping idea of the video cards!

    • rochellemcgee

      Yes, stamps are the killer on sending cards, but I LOVE getting them every year and I hate seeing the tradition die, so this is one “expensive” tradition that I just grit my teeth over each year.

  7. Lana

    Most of these expensive ideas are really new. I raised 5 kids of which the youngest is 28 and no one ever even dreamed of expensive things like matching pajamas or even cared. Our kids never had the expensive advent calendars or the elf. All our food was homemade because it is just better and we could not afford to have someone else do the cooking. We have never bought gifts for the neighbors. If time allows we send some homemade cookies or bread but no one expects it. It is okay to just let all of this go!

    • Michelle

      AGREE 100%! Most of the Pajamas, calendars and elf activities are for social media shows for the Jones’…the kids do not care that their pajamas matched and it will not be a memory that they treasure! They will treasure the love they felt at Christmas, the should be taught the reason for the season, etc. My favorite about Christmas is being able to spend time together as a family. I’ve also taught my girls to give (year round). So one Christmas activity we do is adopt a family. I invite family to buy this family’s every holiday need (even down to the Christmas tree and decorations, gas cards, gifts, household/toiletries, etc.). We then come together for a “wrapping party” so that everyone can feel and see what they are doing. We then load it all up and deliver to the family. Much more meaningful to me than stressing about moving an elf or making sure our PJ’s match!

      • Rama

        How wonderful! Thanks for sharing. How do you know which family to “adopt”? I would like to start this tradition with my family.

        • Lana

          A great place to find a family is by asking the counselor at a nearby school.

          • Angie

            I grew up in a family of 7 & it was just magical coming down the stairs to some unwrapped gifts under the tree and a homemade feast prepared by my mom. We do it the same way with our 2 kids and it’s just as special.

        • ME

          Our local Methodist Church runs a program (I participate even though I’m a member of different congregation). I’ve been doing it for the last few years and last year got my 20+ nieces involved – they had so much fun shopping for them & realized how lucky they really are. Our Pharmacy & Hair Salon also sponsor a Gift for Seniors tree which are another great way to give back.

    • Arlow

      THANK YOU! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • animity


  8. Samantha Anderson

    I do an advent calendar and just use index cards and have pictures of what that days gift or activity will be. Sometimes it’s to get ice cream after church or make cookies for the neighbors or a couple dollars to spend at their school store.

    • rochellemcgee

      We do this! I couldn’t bring myself to buy 3 x $30 advent calendars when my children were coming of age and we’re not fans of the cheap chocolate ones, so I bought a reusable wood advent calendar from Michaels years back and I write up little clues of the activities we will do all month long, like bake cookies, go light looking, get hot chocolate, donate a toy, paint a Dollar Store ornament, etc. We’re going to do all these things anyway because I want to (lol), so it keeps them guessing and anticipating, and it’s one less thing to buy.

      • Eve

        Trader Joe’s have advent calendars for $0.99! With Chocolate!

  9. Melanie

    We are definitely on a tight budget this year so we will be using some of these ideas. Thanks! ❤️

  10. Lisa

    I love all these ideas except the Christmas video instead of a card. Sending and getting snail mail cards is one of my favorite things about the holidays. Much more personal too.

    • Jannel Oravets

      I totally agree!

  11. Ashley

    I like the advent calendar idea. Most advent calendars I have seen include some items that would never be used. I would suggest a candy (or other type of sweet) advent calendar. I agree that my kids don’t need or care about matching pajamas.

  12. melissast

    We like to buy Christmas jammies in January (post-holiday clearance) for the following year. Saves a bundle – way cheaper than buying generic jammies 🙂

    • Candace

      That’s what I did this year. Got jammies for the hubby, two boys and the dog for under $30. They always get PJs in the Christmas Eve box anyway, and this was a good price.

  13. christymirth

    These are great ideas! Thank you!

  14. Jypsymama

    For everyone complaining, these are suggestions! Be thankful we have a fantastic website to have (or not) ideas to choose from! If you don’t like it, don’t use it! But please stop complaining about every.little.thing!
    H2S, thank you for your time and the list!!!!

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      You are so welcome! Thanks for stopping by, Jypsymama!

  15. Katherine Mills

    I have a reusable advent It is a christmas tree out of red fabric. That holds ornaments. The kids get to take turns putting the new ornament up. One year I tucked slips of paper with each ornament with one kids name on it. so they never new what night would be there turn. It was fun.

  16. Robin

    Thanks for the ideas! I will say though, if you think pumpkin pie bought in the store is just as good as homemade, you need a new recipe. 🙂 There are some things you just can’t put a price on and my family pumpkin pie recipe is one of those things.

    • Mallory

      You have not tried the Costco pumpkin pie then! It was just requested at a family dinner , it’s better then homemade, and I grew up on the good homemade pies from grandma,mom, aunts ect.

  17. Melissa Rice

    I am able to budget holiday gifts for friends and co-workers teachers and kids under $50 total. I buy non perishable gifts at 90% off, last year I got a lot of great Magnolia stuff from Target at 90% off such as luxury bath salts, coffee pots , mugs, ceramic salt pepper shaker, candles.
    For the kids I give them free books I got from Kellogg’s feeding reading.
    Halloween clearance candy for crossing guards (or Ferraro Rocher is always on sale in drug stores around Thanksgiving)!!
    I have been able to give way above my means by shopping wisely!

    • Melissa Rice

      Oh! Forgot to mention free 8×10 photos are also great gifts for close friends!!

  18. Brit

    This is a great list! Some suggestions… definitely send out snail mail cards to close family, the Grandparents or Great Grandparents that will really appreciate opening them. It’s fine to minimize the sending list, for sure and a video is a great idea. We like doing the free elf videos and emailing those to friends & family for a laugh. The pajamas you can score in Jan, as another poster stated and save tons. Try 5 and Below, also…for $10, you’ll have top and bottoms! I would also like to remind parents (inc the ones no longer together) that the holidays should not be a contest of who can spend the most money on the kid(s). Spend time with them… make some gingerbread playdoh (recipe found on Hip2Save blog), volunteer at a food bank, visit some senior citizens in the community, send a card (can be done online with various organizations) to a member of our military etc.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks SO much for taking the time to comment, Brit! Great tips and suggestions!

  19. Bargain Shopper

    Thanks hip2save for posting these ideas. I appreciate what I call the life posts. You’ve got me thinking about where I spend my Christmas budget and what other options could be to be able to keep money available for what I think are the most important things. Thank you so much for helping me save money. I shop with all the tips all year so my Christmas isn’t such a one time budget strain.

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re very welcome! ❤️

  20. Mary

    I know that this is either late OR VERY EARLY – HOWEVER, I can make a pumpkin pie for less than it would cost me at Sam’s OR Costco – UNLESS I can score a pie like I did around Christmas this past season/2019 – $1.98 at Sam’s! YESSSSS!!!!! Shoulda purchased two of them and froze one. They had JUST brought them out from the freezer a little before I went in to the club – Couldn’t believe it! Anyway, it WAS a good pie for the money! Regarding making one for less than their regular price – as long as I find my canned pumpkin and eggs at a reduced price – YES, I am able to make it for less than club bought – NOT inclusive of the energy required to bake it – I make a “crustless” pie – grease and flour the pan – which then allows the pie to make it’s own “crust” – not crispy – just an outer layer to help hold it together 🙂

    • Stacy F (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      $1.99 is a great price – that was a nice score! Honestly, my least favorite part about pies is the crust so your homemade pie sounds pretty good to me!

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