When you’re short on funds, but your friends, family, and especially kids, still need Christmas gifts, you have to get creative if you’re asking how to afford Christmas.
We all know that Christmas isn’t just about gifts, but it seems that the number one question I’m asked from August through December is “Will you adopt my family for Christmas?”. I have to budget to afford Christmas for our girls. I’ve rarely received child support (yay, deadbeats!), and our income is well below the “poverty” guidelines, though it is plenty for our family. We work really hard to pay our bills and save money for everything, including holidays.
How to Afford Christmas When You Can’t Afford Christmas
Affording Christmas when you can’t really afford Christmas is about planning. Don’t wait until the last minute or you’ll end up frantic. If you DID wait til the last minute, we’ll talk about that, too.
How to Afford Christmas: Change Your Mindset About Christmas
What is Christmas really about to your family? Most likely, it’s about spending time together. You can do this without spending a dime. Exchanging gifts is fun but it doesn’t have to be an over the top kind of thing, you know?
You’ve also gotta be inventive when you’re broke. Hell, even when you aren’t broke, being inventive is a good thing. Think outside the box! How can you MAKE their Christmas amazing? It can be an experience you give them, it doesn’t have to be unwrapping gifts.
LAST MINUTE Christmas Ideas
If you only have a few weeks until Christmas, or even a week, I recommend going with handmade gifts from recycled things such as toilet paper rolls and newspaper. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out! If you search Pinterest for “recycled crafts” or “upcycled crafts”, you’ll get a gazillion ideas thrown your way.
Even if you aren’t crafty, you can buy $20 worth of baking ingredients and make salt dough handprints for the grandparents, and cookies for Santa. You can put a book together with scrap paper.
Honestly the key to having an awesome Christmas when you’re down and out is: ditch the pity party and get to work! Keep reading for TONS of ideas.
I’ve been unemployed since June (layoffs at my office), so I am cutting back this year I already let my daughter know not to expect much. I have been taking advantage of online sales (and using coupon codes for free shipping or free site to store pick up). So far I bought her 2 board games she has been wanting and some clothes. That is probably all I’m going to buy, I am making a “coupon” book for her with things in it like “one extra hour on ipad” “slumber party night (she can invite 2 friends over I’ll make pizza and popcorn and let them watch movies, do makeovers and what ever else, within reason, 13 year olds do)”, “day off from chores (she can choose one day that I will do her chores for her)”. – Dawn
I couldn’t afford to give my husband a gift one year, so I made an origami box and filled it with hearts and love notes. He loved it! – David
I don’t have any money really, single with 3 kids. But i have been selling stuff we don’t need. Stuff the baby has outgrown, clothes we don’t use, etc i am going through my kids books soon, we have 4 bookcases full and my bookcase is slowly breaking. – Carissa
Prior to opening our own business, we were very materialistic. Well, we learned real quick how to be frugal, and pay what bills we could. When we were flat broke with a failing business, we never asked but our friends volunteered and gave our girls a few great Christmas. After closing the business and having a job for a year, my husband and I gave the girls a stupid crazy Christmas. I think we were more excited after 3 years of broken misery we could do it ourselves again. That same year, I also sponsored 2 of my friend’s families so they could have a Christmas. Now my husband works a great paying job, but we have slimmed Christmas Gifts down. We have a blanket tradition, so the girls get that. Otherwise, we use the need-wear-want-read system. After we get 1 or 2 gifts from each category, I share the list with my parents. They are old enough now (7 and almost 15) to understand quality over quantity. So we teach that. They still have their gifts from last year, and they took care of them all year. The kids will tell you they do not get as much, but what they get, they love more than a bunch of stuff that will break. – Stacy
Coupons, clearance, give multiple inexpensive items instead of 1 expensive item. I bought an “unboxed” fragrance on fragrancenet.com and it was a few bucks cheaper and comes in a plain package instead of the brand box. I bought 2 books “like new” on Amazon instead of new and those were each a few dollars less. Space out purchases, like 2 per week for however long you need. I could go on and on! – Courtney
I start early and stretch out the gifts. Never buy everything at once! We know Christmas comes the same day every year. So each month I alternate buying a Target and Walmart $25 gift card and use when I need something for Xmas! I use coupons and Target cartwheel saves me a ton of money!!! – Barbara
I thrift and buy used on buy sale trade sights. I also sell things I don’t need anymore like clothes or old toys. – Ashley
Lots of homemade items! I also look for lots of free holiday things to DO, rather than buy. – Marissa
Quit eating out and buying stuff we don’t really need. Amazing how much comes up available when you do this! – Ashley H
Paycheck to paycheck is our middle name. We get by just fine but I could never afford to go out and start Christmas shopping in December. Therefore, I start in April! I hit clearance sales, cut coupons, do surveys, Ibotta, I’m signed up to do surveys with Amazon prime in which I earn gifts cards, I’ve even done focus groups. Shopping little by little over a span of months is what I find most useful – Nicole
homemade gifts, including baked goods, maybe use a credit card to pay for some things, if needed. you can also just do things for people, take someone grocery shopping, give a massage or other service you can provide. the local community center here, where we get food from, also has special things for the holidays, like extra food & gifts for the children. i always also start shopping in advance, throughout the year, clearance, special deals, use coupons, etc., so i dont have to spend so much at once, and also b/c i find things that someone will like. – Gracie
Black Friday is a necessity. I pare down the list to find what my kids really, really want, and a couple of small-dollar extras. We go to extra free community events around the area to make sure they still get lots of Christmas experiences. We take our own photos when seeing Santa at the mall (or if you live near a Bass Pro Shop, they have huge free family Christmas events and free photos!). Homemade gifts– usually cookies because we love baking- for family. – Wendy
Sales!! Thrift store and homemade gifts! My kids have known Christmas with more gifts that they can use but have also know Christmas where mommy can only get a couple small things for each of them….. they have enjoyed each and everyone of them!! It not what they get that matters and they understand that! – Monica
I have made extra money in previous years by mystery shopping. And rewards programs are amazing- sign up for any free ones you can. Apps like Ibotta and Shopkick give you money back on things you already buy; saving up all year and cashing out in December gives you a nice little bonus. – Wendy
Themed Basket Ideas
The basket ideas listed below were submitted by Slap Dash Minions (more than 100 responded – thank you!), and most can be put together for $20 or less. If you’re really strapped for cash, get a basket from the Dollar Tree. Fill it with shredded up newspaper, and then add things that you can find either at Dollar Tree or another dollar store, or make your own. Dollar Tree also has the cellophane basket wraps for $1 but you can use colored Saran Wrap (even the cheap brand) and tie off with some ribbon to save even more cash.
The links in the lists take you to DIY posts or to Amazon so you can see the products if they are not DIY. They will open in a new window.
— $5 movies
— toppings for popcorn like white cheddar etc
DIY Spa Basket
(Put stuff in a Pyrex dish or a cake pan)
— measuring cups
— pot holders
— cook book (make one!)
— cake mix
— cupcake liners
— Pot Holders
— Cooking Spoons
— Measuring Cups
— Cook book (make one!)
— crayons, markers, and/or colored pencils
— sketch book or coloring books
— construction paper and scissors
— clay or play-dough (make your own)
Crochet or Knitting Basket
— Patterns (free printable ones online – make a binder full of them!)
— Crochet hook or knitting needles
— Needle & thread
— buttons, snaps, etc
— cross stitch hoop
— embroidery floss
Date Night Basket
Date Night Basket 2
— Big pot for spaghetti
— pasta noodles
— jar of gourmet pasta sauce
— bottle of wine
— romantic movie
Girls Night In Basket
— wine glasses
— chick flick DVD
— game (like Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, etc)
New Baby Basket
— wash cloths
— baby shampoo
— baby lotion
— detergent (Dreft)
— baby book
— Glue gun & glue sticks
— Felt, yarn, or other craft supplies
— Beads, wire, etc
— Tulle, ribbon
— crafting book (or make a binder with printable ideas from Pinterest!)
Teen Girls Basket 1
— iTunes gift card
— band posters
— journal and fancy pens
Teen Girls Basket 2
— their favorite shampoo/conditioner
— razors, shaving gel, deodorant
— hair accessories (hair tyes, brush, etc)
— lotion, perfume
Teen Boys Basket
— iTunes gift card
— head phones
New Years Party Basket
— noise makers
— wine or sparkling grape juice
— sundae toppings: chocolate, caramel, strawberry, etc
— ice cream scoop
— cute bowls
Snuggle Up With a Book Basket
— books or gift card to Barnes & Noble
— relaxing tea
— soft blanket
— reading light
Bath & Body Basket
— shower gel
— fancy soaps
House & Home Basket
— Small laundry basket
— laundry detergent (make your own laundry detergent)
— dryer sheets
— paper towels or wash cloths
— dish soap, cleaning supplies
— recipe cards for dough and sauce (or a cook book – make your own!)
— pizza stone or cookie sheet
— pizza cutter
— pot holder
— pizza shaped plates
— popcorn popper basket
— coconut oil
— popcorn salt, seasonings, etc
— chocolate to drizzle on top
— foot soak (make your own!)
— nail clippers
— aloe socks ($3 at Walmart)
— nail polish ($1 at Dollar Tree or use coupons to get for less)
— scrapbooking paper
— sticker letters
— stickers to match scrapbook paper
— mini album
Fitness Basket 1
— workout DVDs (walk away the pounds are my fav for beginners)
— 2 pound dumb bells (Try a store like Five Below for these)
— sweat towel
— protein bars
— fitness/health magazine subscription
Fitness Basket 2
— yoga DVDs (as low as $5 each at Walmart)
— yoga mat
— socks with grips on the bottom
— sweat towel
— yoga block
Leave Me Alone Basket
— ear plugs
— bubble bath
— head phones
— iTunes gift card
— sheet music scrapbook paper
— some type of music book (depends on instrument)
— soothing tea
— rice pack (make your own!)
— epsom salts
— mini photo album
— trinkets that have sentimental value
— hand-written journal/notes
Cartoon Character Basket
— blanket, pillow, shirt, or something with cartoon character on it
— DVD of cartoons
— Lego crayons (make your own Lego crayons)
— Legos (just buy a small set and build them into buildings or characters)
— Lego mat
— printables with ideas on building Lego buildings, characters, etc
— Lego book (depending on budget)
(Put in a hand-painted flower pot)
— mini gardening tools
— printed info on growing certain plants/flowers/vegetables
— use old crayons to make new ones
— coloring books (Dollar Tree)
— plastic container so crayons don’t get lost
— printed connect-the-dots or other fun print-outs to color
— lint roller
— pet shampoo
Duct Tape Basket
— rolls of duct tape (tons of patterns available!)
— print outs of duct tape craft ideas (See my duct tape crafts)
Do you have any other basket ideas? Leave them in the comments so we can help everyone figure out how to afford Christmas this year!
Also, be sure to PIN THIS POST and share with your friends! I want these posts to help as many people as possible. I know what it’s like to not be able to afford bills, much less holidays.
Around the holidays, it’s difficult to get help because so many are asking for it. It’s better if you can collect things year-round instead, but if all else fails you can post a “searching for” or “wanted” ad on your local Freecycle.
Some crazy horror stories have been on the news about Craigslist, so I don’t want you hitting up some random creeper and heading to their house for a free TV.
Call around to local churches, food banks, and other social services and ask about Christmas help. It’s best to do this in October, so there are still funds available.
Shop with a Cop
When I was a kid, I was chosen to do “Shop With a Cop” – they gave us a $100 budget and had a police officer take us around Walmart or KMart . See if you have a similar program in your area.
There are literally thousands of coupon blogs, so I’m not going to try and list them all. I have my favorites, and you can easily find favorites of your own by using Google and Facebook.
Sign up for Swagbucks. Earn points and trade them in for gifts.
If you enter giveaways year round, you could win enough gifts to cover Christmas for free!!
The regular Goodwill can get expensive, but the Goodwill Outlets are super cheap. If you live in St. Louis, there’s one on Market Street. Pay less than $1 a pound for books, clothes, glassware, etc. Get big ticket items like couches for less than $5. Phoenix has one, too – most big cities do.
Projects from the Goodwill Outlet:
Duct Tape Suitcases – Total cost: less than $5 each
Duct Tape Boots – Total cost: less than $3 each pair
Play Kitchen – Total cost: less than $15
Tie Dye Jeans – Total cost: less than $5
Bra Purses – Total cost: less than $2
See also: 40 Duct Tape Craft Tutorials
Wrapping Gifts When You’re Broke
There are many ways to wrap gifts that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Collect newspapers and save them for a few months and you’ll have MORE than enough to wrap everyone’s gifts. You can buy tape at the Dollar Tree, and even use scraps of twine to make bows.
You can also make origami bows to put on top with a little dot of tape or glue.
Use white or brown craft paper and stamp or draw designs on.
Obviously, the easiest way to afford Christmas is to make more money. If you’ve got a few weeks – or better yet, a few months – sign up for my free Pinterest training and other courses to earn plenty of money in the meantime. Even if you’re reading this post on Christmas Eve, if you don’t want to be in this same situation next year, now is the time to make a change.