Today’s post is for the woman who loves to give, but is in a season where she has nothing to give. No extra wiggle room in the budget. No gift closet. Nada. Speaking from experience, Christmas can be special, momentous, and full of gift giving with a little bit of hard work and a lot of prayer. I’m not naive enough to believe that whatever has worked for me and my family in the past is sure to work for you and yours. No way, sister. What I do offer is a little bit of hope & wisdom to inspire some creativity and joy in your home in these next few months.
When I faced our first (yes, there have been consecutive!) bottom-of-the-barrel Christmas, I had a heavy heart. God has always laid it heavy on me to give to others- I just LOVE it. He also has given me a conservative spender as a hubby who helps me pull back on the reins- I LOVE him too. 🙂 When it comes to giving at Christmas, I want to buy everyone I love everything they love. I have learned that this simply isn’t necessary nor attainable. There must be boundaries (which my husband taught me), but giving is important and should be enjoyable (which I have taught my husband). So that first, tough Christmas, when we didn’t even have money to assign to a Christmas budget, I was down. How can I give to the people I love and appreciate when it is hard enough to put food on the table and winter gear on our bodies?
Thankfully, as I’ve alluded to before, the Lord had already worked on my heart to help me realize that I was fully content in Him. I, myself, do not feel the pull of “stuff” the way that I used to. I didn’t have a desire to fill up our home and the homes of my loved ones with more “stuff” either. I have an understanding that we truly don’t need excess, BUT, I love to GIVE! Usually, that means giving stuff!
With all of the confusion and tension in my heart about giving with no money, I just had to lay my burden down. I had to cast my anxiety onto the Lord (which I have to do quite regularly) through prayer. That is where I call you to start as well. Christmas is 3ish months away. Let us pray and have a right heart before God before we start to spend our pennies and end up coming to God (and our husbands) in repentance and regret later.
Bring your praise to God about what you know about Him to be true, especially in light of the Christmas season. “God, You are the Provider, Wonderful Counselor, the ultimate Gift Giver, and You know the desires of my heart.”
Confess to Him your shortcomings when it comes to treasures on earth. “I am distracted by the beautiful, glittery things and can be impulsive when I see them. I don’t always seek your wisdom before making a purchase. I don’t always consider the eternal benefit of an object or gift, but rather make decisions based on emotions and the approval of others.”
Thank him for what He has done and what He promises that He will do. “Thank you for giving me the ability to bless others. Thank you for the desire to give. Thank you for the example of gift giving when you sent your Son, Jesus, for the remission of my sin. He is a gift that I do not deserve – a free gift. Thank you for providing for my daily needs time and again.”
Ask Him for wisdom, guidance, and provision. “Lord, guide me and my family as we sift through the traditions, emotions, and expectations of the holidays. Help us to hold every decision up to Your word, honoring You in all we do. Make us content in all circumstances and remove distraction or temptation. Give us wisdom with our finances and provide for our needs and desires. Help us to see your blessing.”
Now doesn’t that feel a little better already? 🙂
With a right heart before God, Christmas feels exciting again.
Time to get out the pen and paper and get to the logistics of making Christmas happen (and watch God take care of the rest!)
A few ideas on how to make Christmas happen when you don’t have any money:
- Start by jotting down a few things that mean the most to you during the Christmas season – material or not. Then go back through and underline the things you simply can’t live without doing or buying. This helps you visualize all that goes into making Christmas special, but also helps you see what you can or cannot budge on this year.
- Sample list: going out to eat on Christmas Eve, caroling, gifts under the tree, stockings on Christmas morning, lots of baked goodies, driving around to look at Christmas lights, new jammies on Christmas Eve, sending out Christmas cards…
- Next, make a list of anything and everything that will be added to your current budget in the next few months. By doing this now, you can map out how you can stretch these purchases out and watch for sales. It also puts you in a prepared position instead of a surprised position when these purchases come up. Here are a few things to consider (your list may be much shorter or longer than this depending on how you celebrate):
- Holiday Decor
- Baking Supplies
- Extra products for hosting: toilet paper, fresh towels, hand soap, etc.
- Christmas outfits
- Christmas cards & postage
- Gift wrap, tags, tissue, boxes, bows, and bags
- Food: trick-or-treaters, Thanksgiving, Christmas cookie exchange, Christmas dinner, potlucks, fundraiser dinners, etc.
- Travel expenses to relatives’ homes
- Cold weather outdoor gear and clothing
- Gifts: family, friends, teachers, etc….
- Go through the list in Step #2 and brainstorms ideas on how to make each category free or cheap. (Ignore the gift category for now.) Here are some ideas I’ve used in the past:
- Holiday decor: Use what you have. Collect branches, pine cones, acorns, etc. from your own yard to put together Fall/ Winter centerpieces and wreaths. Dig through red & green scrap paper or fabric to make ornaments or other decor. Just use Pinterest people…it’s free. Lights on your pre-lit tree dead? Just add stringed lights – ask neighbors, friends, or relatives if you can borrow some extra lights for the year. They may just give them to you so that they don’t have to store them any longer!
- Baking supplies: Decide how important this part of the holidays is to you. I really like making unique goodies, but for the last few years, I have been perfectly content to stick with one or two simple goodies that I can make with my common staples. This means I don’t have to stray from my regular budget except for maybe an extra pound of butter and some sprinkles. Remember, this is the BEST time of year to buy the seasonal baking supplies so a few extra supplies shouldn’t break the bank.
- Household products: Look for deals now. Just this week, Target, Shopko, and Walgreens have household products on sale + promotions + coupons. Tomorrow I shall buy 2 packs of toilet paper for $2 a pack (originally $6 a pack). So I will get double the amount of toilet paper to fit in my regular budget – thus having extra for the holidays at no extra cost.
- Christmas outfits: One year, I just put my little girl in black tights instead of white tights to go with her gray dress she already had and added a red piece of ribbon from my crafting supplies…done. Who cares about the boys, right? 😉
- Christmas cards and postage: This is a category that you certainly can go without. Now, with Facebook, people see your family posted all over the place and it isn’t such a novelty to receive an updated photo. It is, however, so fun to receive paper mail in this digital world. If you start now, you can sign-up to receive e-mails from photo printing companies and start collecting promo codes for free cards. I just ordered 10 free cards last night + the cost of shipping. If anyone learns how to get discounted postal stamps…share the knowledge! Ha ha. Postage is definitely a line item in the December budget if we want to mail cards because there is just no way around it.
- Gift wrap: Snag a few extra brown paper bags from the grocery store and let the kids decorate the paper before using it as gift wrap. Check out Pinterest for some super cute ideas.
- Food: Watch those sale flyers and coupons NOW. Offer to bring what fits in your budget. Have everything already in your pantry/ freezer to make mashed potatoes and pie? Make that. Don’t offer to bring homemade cranberries and stuffing if you have to go out and buy a ton of ingredients- let someone else do that this year.
- Travel expenses: Don’t plan to travel around a meal, unless you can pack a meal for your family. Save all of your grocery store gas coupons from now until your trip (since regular gas purchases should already be in the budget) and fill up using the discounts before heading out – that transaction alone will feel like Christmas! Be honest with your family if you just can’t afford the trip this year. Maybe they can make arrangements.
- Cold weather gear/ clothing: Don’t skimp on this, but be smart. If you didn’t already buy for the year during last year’s clearance sales, or pick them up at garage sales this summer, then it’s time to check with relatives about borrowing/ or paying them for second-hand. Check out Once Upon A Child (soon, they sell out fast!) or monitor those sales.
- Gifts. Gifts. Gifts. Oh, how I love giving gifts! This process should be fun and not painful. Keep in mind what a gift is- free to the person receiving it, chosen by the giver out of love to the receiver, non-obligatory. Sometimes we get hung up on wanting to give the person what he or she has on his or her Christmas list. It is fun to give what we know will be received well and appreciated, but we forget the joy that comes with simply giving. If the person receiving the gift is ungrateful for a gift given out of love and selflessness, then that is a problem he/she must wrestle with as an individual. (PARENTS: You have the power to shape your children’s hearts to receive gifts graciously- Christmas is a great time to practice!) So how can you give gifts without breaking the bank? First, we must make ANOTHER list. A list of all possible individuals that you would like to bless with a gift (big or small) this Christmas. Here are some categories to consider:
- Teachers: Sunday School and children’s classroom teachers
- Cousin and/or school gift exchanges
- Immediate family
- Extended family
- Neighbors/ Community members
- Pastor/ Youth Pastor/ Children’s Minister
- Childcare Provider
- Boss/ Co-workers
- Now, go through the list in Step #4 and creatively assign individual gift ideas.
- Usually I think of one type of gift that I can make in bulk and assign one of those gifts to many. For example, in the past I have baked quick breads (banana, apple, pumpkin chip, etc.). I had most of the ingredients in my staple supply already so I only had to purchase foil pans (which I found in a “buy 2, get 3 free” sale in November) and gift wrap supplies (which I got creative with). I assigned many of the people on my list a loaf of bread and just added unique things for certain individuals- such as a gift card to my son’s teacher and an ornament to a friend. Consider the possibilities: salsa, jam, drink mixes, cookies, white bread….yum.
- Collect small gifts for gift baskets or add-ons by watching deals and promos early. Since I get e-mails from a number of retailers (shutterfly.com being one of them), I receive a lot of “free” promotions in my inbox. Shutterfly is my favorite because I can often get personalized notepads, magnets, art prints, or coffee mugs for just the cost of shipping. Sometimes I don’t even pay shipping due to other promotions through Pampers or other brands that partner with Shutterfly and send me separate promotions. In addition to online promotions, you can often find nearly-free coupon deals in your local stores on gourmet candy, Glade seasonal candles, or body/spa products which are perfectly fun and appropriate gifts for babysitters and small gift exchanges.
- Get creative and make gifts, just like you did as a kid. Dig through supplies you have, you may be surprised what a few scraps can lead to! Pay attention to the cost of buying additional supplies needed to make the gift. Sometimes the cost of supplies can be surprising!
- Stock up on rebate cash through ibotta and Checkout 51. There are other one’s out there, but these two are my favorite. 🙂 I recently learned that you can also upload your receipt on the Coupons.com app too and money will be directly placed into your PayPal account. There are 10 weeks until Christmas …if you redeem $2 a week on 3 separate rebate apps (on purchases you normally buy within your current budget) you could have $60 to buy some last minute gifts from Amazon! (P.S. Do me a favor and use my referral code if you start to use ibotta due to this post. If you do, you get an extra $10 for redeeming your first rebate and I receive $5 for referring you. My code is: rhapgos. Thanks! 🙂 )
- Re-evaluate Christmas gift-giving for your nearest crew (your spouse and kids). What is most important for those within your own home as you consider Christmas gifts?
- Does everyone receive one BIG gift?
- Does everyone give to every family member?
- Do you encourage making gifts for others?
- Is Christmas when everyone receives a new wardrobe?
- Is this the only time your children receive new toys?
- After thinking through those things…here is a challenge. A challenge to consider why your Christmas has become that way. Family tradition? New tradition? Based off of a Christmas bonus? The point in thinking through these things is to help you draw a conclusion about what really matters to you, your husband, and your kids. When faced with a tight budget (whether from job loss, illness, family size increase, life change, etc.) sometimes traditions need to shift and tough choices need to be made but Christmas memories and new traditions are sure to be formed.
- In the end, you will spend money for Christmas. So where does that money come from? What has worked for us in the past, is to take a good look at our monthly budget and see if there were sacrifices we could make. Usually, the only thing we could adjust was our grocery/spending money category. So, we still bought all of the groceries we needed, but I planned meals that were more frugal such as a LOT of soup (made with little to no inexpensive meat), I made simpler breakfasts & lunches, and challenged myself to use up all of the food we already had (almost like you do when you are about to move). That way, we had extra money for a few gifts or baking supplies. Remember, although December is a month of giving, there is also some receiving happening. You may have several potlucks, parties, or invites for meals that you won’t have to plan which also lessens the load.
You can follow this list perfectly and cross your fingers that all goes well…OR you can start with prayer, humbling yourself before God, and approach Christmas with a right heart and positive attitude. (Preaching to myself here!!)
Remember the power that your attitude has over your children. Kids are looking for reassurance from adults and are easily swayed by the trusted adults around them. I can guarantee your little ones will feel lacking this Christmas if mom and dad apologize that there isn’t more under the tree. Just think what an attitude of joy and thanksgiving can lead to!
God bless you and your family as you approach the holidays and delight in the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
*Comment below if you have any other tips and ideas on how to make Christmas affordable. Thanks!