How to have a magical Christmas with no money. Fun and frugal Christmas ideas to make sure you enjoy the holiday season, even if you’re broke.
The Christmas season is one the most emotionally-charged times of the year.
Advertising, movies, and even our social media feeds can make us feel like everyone is having a perfectly magical time every December.
The overlying message is that you need to have a big bank account to enjoy the season.
But here’s the message I want you to hear…
…Even if money is tight (or nonexistent), Christmas is for you, too.
The spirit of Christmas can’t be purchased.
It’s available to anyone willing to make a conscious effort to enjoy the season.
In other words? We make our own magic.
I want to share some ways to do Christmas with no money, so that everyone can celebrate.
Whether you’re determined to have a debt free Christmas on a budget, or literally have no money, these free and frugal Christmas ideas are for you!
How can I survive Christmas with no money?
Let’s start with the basic mental framework you’ll need for staying positive when you’re broke at Christmastime.
Your attitude sets the tone
Shift your mindset away from being bummed about not having money to spend on Christmas, and toward being determined to find fun ways to enjoy the season for free.
Remember that this isn’t permanent
Just because money is tight this year doesn’t mean it will always be!
Think ahead to some changes you can make to ensure you have a bigger holiday budget next year.
Talk to your family about it
Have an open conversation with the people in your household to set expectations.
Explain that this year you need to reserve money for other things, so you’re going to find ways to celebrate that don’t cost anything.
Get them involved in brainstorming ideas. They may come up with even more imaginative ones than you’d ever think of!
Remember that the memories you’ll create will last a whole lot longer than any present under the tree.
Give yourself permission to skip obligations
With everything going on this year, there’s the possibility of fewer social gatherings, gift exchanges, and office parties.
Take that as a blessing in disguise, and allow yourself to skip any tradition you can’t afford.
Here are a few ideas of obligations you can feel free to skip:
- Sending Christmas cards
- Filling stockings
- Buying new decorations
- Giving gifts
- Buying store bought treats
- Having professional photos with Santa
Allow yourself to simply say “I can’t make it this year” to any activities that will make you feel uncomfortable.
No other explanation needed!
Unsubscribe from store sales emails, don’t look at sales flyers or catalogs, and stay off social media close to Christmas.
You don’t need the temptation or reminders to spend money, and it will only distract you from the fun you’re having.
How can I make Christmas fun without money?
There are actually a ton of fun holiday activities that don’t cost a thing!
Try sprinkling in a few new ones this year. You may find that you love them so much that they become new traditions for life.
Fun and frugal Christmas traditions:
- Have a ‘campout’ in the living room by the tree
- Have a movie night, or a movie marathon. There are a lot of free holiday movies on tv, or borrow a dvd from the library.
- Decorate sugar cookies
- Decorate a gingerbread house. (You don’t need to buy an expensive kit. Graham crackers and frosting work just as well. You can probably even buy everything at Dollar Tree.)
- Have the kids decorate their bedroom doors in a festive way
- Color Christmas pages. Here’s a free Christmas coloring book you can print off at home.
- Do a holiday puzzle
- Have a Christmas scavenger hunt
- Go caroling in your neighborhood
- Have a game night
- Go to a local Christmas concert at the high school or a church
- Attend a holiday parade in your city
- Read Christmas books. You can check out a bunch from your local library for free.
- Create a holiday playlist and listen to Christmas music. (I use the free Pandora Christmas station!)
Make these new traditions a festive challenge. You could do a new holiday activity every day for all 25 days in December, or for the 12 days of Christmas.
Your family will remember these fun activities much longer than they’ll remember the gifts they received.
What if you can’t afford Christmas gifts?
Giving and receiving Christmas gifts has somehow become the focus of the season.
But if you don’t have any money for presents, there are still ways to celebrate.
You could decide not to exchange gifts at all. Let the people in your life know that you won’t be exchanging presents this year, to avoid awkward moments.
(You don’t even need to explain why.)
If that feels too uncomfortable, there are presents you can give that don’t cost anything.
Look around the house
Most of us have items we’ve received or bought and have never used.
Look around to see what you can re-gift, reuse, or repurpose into a present. Some random items can be combined into a gift basket.
You do NOT have to be crafty to give a DIY gift. Homemade presents are so much more memorable than something store-bought, so consider making some gifts this year.
Some ideas for low or no-cost DIY gifts:
- Homemade ornaments – Here are 25 easy DIY ornaments.
- Baked goods or snack mixes
- Jar of homemade pasta sauce, salsa, or jam
- Framed photo or photo album – Use a photo you already have, or have one printed for pennies at Walgreens or CVS. Pick up a frame or small album at Dollar Tree, if you don’t have one at home you can use.
- Homemade recipe book with your family’s best recipes
- ‘Coupons’ for services or quality time together – Offer to cook dinner, babysit, clean or organize their home, garden, give a massage or manicure, a week without chores (great for kids!), or whatever you’d think they’d like.
- Make homemade bath salts or body scrub – You may already have all of the ingredients!
Draw names for a low-cost gift exchange
If you do have a little money to spend, suggest your family draw names instead of giving to everyone.
You could also agree to only give gifts to the children.
How to decorate on a tight budget
If you’re trying to celebrate Christmas with no money this year, you can still have some festive holiday decorations.
Cheap Christmas Decoration Ideas:
- Gather evergreen branches and pinecones to make a garland or place them around the house to decorate. Christmas tree lots often have loose branches that you can have for free.
- Use construction paper to make a garland.
- String up popcorn
- Make paper snowflakes
- Ask family members if they have decor they no longer want. (Or post on Facebook that you’re collecting holiday decor – you don’t have to say why!)
- Put free decorative Christmas printables in frames around your house
- Make a rustic garland out of pinecones and yarn or twine.
- Wrap empty boxes as decor
- Light candles
- Make salt dough ornaments
- Rethink the traditional Christmas tree. Make one out of lights, branches, or paper right on the wall, or decorate a houseplant.
- Put pretty twigs or branches you find outside on a tray or in a clear vase.
- Make your home smell like Christmas with a simmer pot or cloves and oranges.
If you do have a little money to spend, check out thrift stores, yard sales, or the Dollar Tree for inexpensive decor.
How to Make Christmas Dinner on a Budget
Get creative with your holiday meal. It doesn’t have to be the traditional whole turkey, ham, or prime rib with 10 side dishes.
Your family’s favorite spaghetti and meatball, meatloaf, or homemade pizza recipe is just as fun and delicious!
Make the meal special with any fancy dishes, glasses, or tablecloths you already have, can borrow, or pick up at a thrift store.
And dining by candlelight always feels special!
Note: If you don’t have enough money for food, please visit a local food bank in your area. They’re often open to everyone, no questions asked.
Trying to host or entertain on a tight budget?
Here are some inexpensive hosting ideas:
- Game night
- Movie night
- Cookie exchange
- Make a big batch of chili (or soup) and hot cocoa
- Have a potluck
- Host brunch instead of dinner
And never feel the need to have a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange at your party.
Find ways to Give back
Even though you don’t have money to give, there are still many ways you can volunteer or give back to your community.
Nothing takes the focus off your own misery like helping someone else!
Here are some no-cost ways to give back during the holiday season:
- Help at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or soup kitchen
- Donate jackets that don’t fit to a coat drive
- Call or spend time with someone you know who’s lonely
- Host a canned food drive
- Take care of animals at a local shelter
- Perform random acts of kindness for people you encounter
Having an attitude of gratitude can be the difference between happiness and frustration.
And you just may be surprised what opportunities come your way when you have an open, giving heart.
Make extra money
You’d be amazed how quickly you can earn an extra few hundred bucks when you really put your mind to it.
If having no money for Christmas is really bumming you out, consider finding a way to earn a little extra toward it.
Here are just a few ways you can earn extra money for Christmas:
- Sell things – Most of us have items lying around the house we don’t use. List them on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist and see if you get any takers.
- Have a yard sale
- Pet sit or dog walk
- Clean houses
- Offer to decorate or wrap gifts for people in your neighborhood
- Get a seasonal retail job
- Work for Shipt, Uber, or DoorDash
Feeling any better about being broke on Christmas?
I hope you can see how many possibilities there are for having a magical and meaningful holiday, even without money.
The spirit of Christmas is in the eye of the beholder, and you set the tone for the people around you, so try to keep a positive mindset.
Who knows, this might even be an opportunity in disguise to be more creative and intentional from now on.
Wishing you a safe and happy holiday!