Truly Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but some years we are so busy that we miss the most important parts of the season. It’s easy to let presents and decorations and travel and parties and making everything perfect crowd out the calm and joy that should come when we spend time with our families and contemplate the life of the Prince of Peace.
On top of the usual busy-ness, when finances are tight the holidays can become stressful, even dreaded. Instead of seeing a time to join with family and celebrate the birth of the Savior, you worry about how you will manage to make ends meet with all the extra costs brought on by Christmas.
It’s okay to scale back on Christmas. You definitely don’t want to add to your debt by going overboard on holiday expenses. As an added benefit, you might find that a simpler Christmas is more enjoyable and meaningful.
Here are 7 practical tips for having a simple, low-stress Christmas:
Limit and prioritize your activities.
One way to minimize the busy-ness of Christmas is to talk with family members about the one activity that is the most important to each of them. If they could each only choose one holiday activity what would it be? When planning out your December schedule, prioritize each person’s most important activity. You might choose to add in other activities, but they will be secondary.
Give of yourself instead of spending money on gifts.
Think creatively about how you can give thoughtful gifts through service without spending a lot of money. One of my favorites is to offer to scan old family photos (the ones gathering dust in your parents’ garage) and put them on a CD or USB drive for family members. What a treasure!
Do you remember making coupons for your mom for mother’s day that she could redeem for a hug, breakfast in bed, or a chore of her choice? You can still give those as grown-ups too! The important part is to make sure that you follow through. Don’t wait for the recipient to ask you. Keep reminding them.
Resist the social pressure to give gifts that are outside of your budget.
Don’t compare what you are giving to what someone else gives you. I know this is easier to say then do, as we naturally tend to compare ourselves to others. Remember the purpose of a gift is not to impress or to get praise. The purpose of a gift is to show love. Your gift does not need to be expensive or match any monetary standard to show love.
Give fewer gifts to your children.
Children can be easily overwhelmed by the hubbub of receiving. In fact, sometimes we do our children a real disservice by over-giving. I like the advice, “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.” We stick to that pretty well, though we usually give some family gifts as well, like a game or a special experience. Giving is fun and it’s easy to want to shower our children with gifts, but too much of a good thing stops being good.
Trim down your giving list.
Some years it is fun to include the postman, the plumber, and every teacher your kids have ever had when you’re giving treat plates or “neighbor gifts.” Other years you just need to simplify and be more selective.
If you’re feeling the need to simplify this year, whether out of time or budget, give yourself permission to cut your giving list down.
Give where it matters.
A couple of years ago, my husband told me that one of his co-workers announced that he and his wife decided that instead of spending the $200 they usually spend on making goody plates for all of their co-workers, friends, and neighbors, they planned to take that money and donate it straight to the food bank.
What a wonderful idea! Not only are you saving yourself all the time and stress of making and delivering treats (and let’s be honest, no one really needs more treats during the holidays), but you’re giving in a way that makes a bigger difference.
If you’re hosting, make it a potluck!
Many hands make light work. In many families (including mine) this is standard, but often the burden of the entire elaborate meal is left on one person’s shoulders. Don’t hesitate to ask others to contribute to the meal.
If you’re that person, don’t hesitate to ask others to contribute to the meal. They will feel happy to contribute and you will have more time to actually enjoy their company instead of slaving in the kitchen the whole time.
Those are just a few of the ways we’ve simplified Christmases. I would love to hear what you have done to simplify, whether it was motivated by time, energy, focus, or finances.
How About You?
- What do you do to simplify Christmas?
- How do you keep from getting too busy?
This post was originally published 9 Nov 2015, but has been updated to be included in the Frugal Festivities series.
Linda Adams says
This year our 22 year old daughter who is in college and working has decided to spend time with family members for gifts. She is having games parties with each. She decided with friends to do the same thing. I think this will be a memorable gift that we all remember for years.
What a beautiful idea! Thanks for sharing Linda!
We try to have our kids focus on writing lists of what they want to give their grandparents and siblings rather than what they want for themselves. We do a big family trip to the local thrift store and they get to pick out family gifts. I did that as a kid and it was always a fun game to try and keep your gifts hidden in the check out line!
I love the idea of focusing on giving lists instead of wish lists! And shopping at the thrift store is a great plan!
Irini S. says
Since early November decoration packaging boxes with fabrics or I do decoupage, into which you put various small pastries and offer to my friends
for family knit scarves or Caps
the Christmas table we eat three families together, 12 people
We make the main meal, the bride make a starters and another bride make the dessert and tart
so it is more relaxing for everyone
That’s nice that you split up the food so no one is stuck doing it all. That’s definitely more relaxing for everyone!
We keep Christmas dinner simple by letting everyone choose their favourite food. Since favourite foods tend to be simple foods, putting together Christmas dinner is low-key and stress-free. This year my two kids are asking for pizza, my husband always wants lasagne, and I always want a watermelon. We do eat it off the fine china (which is only used at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) but that’s my choice; the rest of the family wouldn’t care if we had paper plates, I just like using the china at Christmas. Besides, it’s always comical to see, you know, peanut butter sandwiches served on fine china.
AA, we love Festivus, but leave out the bit where you go around and tell everyone how they’ve disappointed you in the past year! (Actually we do that sometimes but it’s in jest – like, “You really let me down this year when you didn’t get that $1 million bonus at work!”)
What a fun tradition! I must say I’ve never had a watermelon at Christmas!! 🙂
Here are always so many fun community activities going on and it can be overwhelming to try and attend all of them, which I always want to do. This year we’ll scale back and spend more time at home with each other instead of looking outward.
It’s true– there is so much going on. I am one who doesn’t like to miss out on anything that is going on, but keeping things simple and scaling back bring much more peace for me.
Denise Stathatos says
Most tree lighting events are on television! I will try to watch one there.
Christmas is a low key event in our household. We give our kids cash, which they can pool with the money my Dad sends for them. In the past we’ve done Santa gifts but this year we’ll give them cash for that too. Then they can buy whatever they want. The stockings will have snack food items that we don’t regularly buy for the kids to have as usual. We draw a tree on butcher paper then command strip it to the wall. Then color and tape paper ornaments most years. This year though I’m going to try some felt trees and ornaments instead. We don’t do Christmas cards, we haven’t attended a Christmas party in 6 years. We always joke hat this will be the year that we celebrate Festivus from Seinfeld.
I see a big plus there with not having to vacuum up needles!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your traditions AA.
I have encouraged my newly married daughter to give family and friends a thoughtfully handwritten card. Cards are inexpensive and bring beautiful messages for the holidays. I feel that young adults need to start out not setting the bar of gift giving too high. When I was younger it was tremendous stress for me to figure out how to buy so many gifts. I have gradually reduced the amount of gifts I give over time. My younger children don’t get as much as my older children did when they were small. Of course I don’t love my younger children any less, I simply learned valuable lessons over time. I want them to enjoy the beautiful moments the holidays have to offer not so much commercial stuff. My favorite tradition is curling up and watching old Christmas movies.
I totally agree about setting the bar too high! I love that we make the conscious choice to keep gift-giving simple when our oldest was born. (that’s what I talk about here). Young adults and newlyweds aren’t supposed to buy gifts that rival what their parents can afford unless they have the means to do so. Handwritten cards are such a treasure!
My sister makes the best fudge and we give it to everyone. However, this year we have decided to cut that out. She is sooooo relieved! That is a wonderful gift, isn’t it?
That is nice that she’ll have a break! While it’s fun to give, a break is a wonderful gift to the giver!
We tone down our gifts to our kids. Each child gets 3 gifts from us (because that’s how many Jesus received) and one big gift (not necessarily costly) from Santa. This has really helped set realistic expectations.
Thanks Jody! Keeping the expectation consistent has really helped us too.