Sometimes our budget is stretched beyond its limits. I’ve been there plenty of times. Although I do my best to give my kids a decent holiday, there may not always be money left over for the adults on my list. What do I do in this case? Following are a few of the no-cost holiday ideas I’ve used over the years. They’re always such a big hit I often wonder why I go back to my traditional holiday routines, but old habits die hard.
1. Coupons or IOUs
Buy a small stocking or jewelry gift box from the dollar store and fill it with IOUs.
For instance, some notes to my boyfriend may be a promise to wash his car, clean his bathrooms (they need it, trust me!), do his laundry for a week, bake a batch of cookies, make him a special dinner, or give him a nice back rub. You can throw in some naughty IOUs too; our partner always appreciates those! ;-)
With my friends I may offer to watch their pets or water plants when they go on vacation, bring over some chicken noodle soup and a crossword puzzle book when they’re sick, bake a casserole one night so they don’t have to cook, or babysit when they want to go out one night.
For an elderly neighbor I offered to run some errands, walk her dog, and remove some unneeded programs and check for viruses on her computer.
*A word of warning here: Don’t offer more than you can give. A couple of really nice IOUs will be well-received and quickly used, but won’t wear you out in the process as you try to fulfill them all.
2. Send electronic cards
The cost of stamps goes up every year and if you’ve got ten or twenty people on your list that can add up! Not to mention the cost of the cards themselves. Sending e-cards may seem rather lazy or tacky, but when you’re broke it’s the only way to wish your loved ones a Merry Christmas without going broker! I love the free e-cards on www.Hallmark.com
Be sure to personalize each e-card instead of sending out a mass email. People appreciate a personal note from you letting them know how much you care, and perhaps sharing a warm or funny memory you have of them. Last year I reminded my one daughter how much we all laughed when we went sledding and she toppled over, slid down the hill, and lost her pants on the way!
3. Write an ebook
No, you don’t have to be Stephen King or Hemmingway. Anyone can make a nice ebook with little effort and just a few hours’ time. You can create an ebook of favorite recipes, quotes, a collection of helpful articles, or whatever else that special someone may be in to. Use free photos from sites such as www.FreeRangeStock.com then turn it into a PDF file quickly and easily at www.FreePDFConverter.com It’s not necessary to turn it into a PDF file, but it looks more professional that way. I made an ebook of favorite family recipes for my oldest daughter last year and she loved it.
4. Create a collage
Find some favorite photos you have duplicates of and glue them to a piece of poster board. This no-cost gift may sound a bit cheesy, but everyone loves to see photos of people they care about or pictures that have special memories. I did a collage for my mom one year with photos of all her grandkids and added a funny saying or memory we all shared. I wrote them on small slips of construction paper and glued those below some of the photos. It hung on a wall in her bedroom where she could see it everyday.
5. Offer your services
This one kind of falls in the same area as the IOU suggestion, except you’d offer someone a finished project based on your area of expertise. If you’re a mechanic, you can offer to perform an oil change. Are you really good at math or history? Offer to tutor someone who’s still in school. I wrote free articles for friends’ websites. My son-in-law took professional photos for a friend of his. Think about something you’re good at and offer your services free-of-charge.
6. What about the Christmas tree?
When you’re flat broke, buying an expensive tree that will just die within a week is about the last thing on your list. However, it’s part of the holiday tradition. When you have absolutely no money for a tree here are a few ideas.
Go to a Christmas tree lot and ask if you can have some of the branches they’ve cut off. Tie some branches together with string or twine and make a wreath or bough then decorate with whatever ornaments you have around. No, this isn’t a Christmas tree, but it’s still festive nonetheless!
Another idea is to decorate a tree or bush that you might have growing in your front or back yard. My oleander tree looked very festive on year!
A large plant could stand in for a Christmas tree if you have one in your home. I’ve never been that lucky since I tend to kill anything potted.
7. Homemade gifts
Okay, I said these were no-cost ideas and this is kind of stretching it, but if you have craft or baking supplies around the house use them to your advantage. Everyone loves handmade goodies, whether it’s a crocheted scarf or a batch of sugar cookies. Whenever I’m broke I go into a crafting mode and start thinking up things I can make for the people on my list. The more people you have to make gifts for, the sooner you need to start or you’ll quickly become stressed out. Afghans are NEVER on my list!
8. Start new holiday traditions
Instead of mourning over a lack of money, use your imagination and come up with some new and fun traditions you can share with your family. Sing holiday carols together, string popcorn and hang it on the tree (if you have one this year), make Christmas Eve the night you play board games together, or drive around and look at the decorated houses then come home and have cocoa. Making special memories are what last in our loved ones minds, while expensive gifts are quickly forgotten. I can’t remember what I got for Christmas last year, but I do remember how we tried our hand at making vegan tamales! My girls and I had a great time preparing them and they came out pretty good.
Who says Christmas has to be expensive? All it takes is a little ingenuity and you can probably come up with a dozen more no-cost holiday ideas. In the process, you’re creating memories that will last a lifetime.