The Easy Way to Do Christmas on a Budget: What Can You Do Without?

Managing Money / Monday, November 14th, 2011

This post is part two in a series on Christmas on a Budget. You can see part one here.

A number of years ago, we sat down as a family and discussed what it was that we most wanted to do/see/buy/attend that Christmas season. The idea was to focus on the things that meant the most to us and not stress about the things that didn’t.

Both of the kids responded with “the Small Mall!”


At the Small Mall. Circa 2000.

The idea of the Small Mall was adorable: a place for kids to shop for Christmas gifts to give to others, without interference from parents.

It was actually a little shop set up in the concourse of a shopping mall. The parents helped the kids create a list of who to buy for and an amount to spend, and teenage “elves” took the kids through the Small Mall and helped them pick out gifts.

They were little trinkets mostly; it was kind of like a dollar store. But the kids got to choose them themselves and they were gift-wrapped on the spot so the adults were able to be surprised when they unwrapped them on Christmas.

That was fun for everybody.

But, the Small Mall was quite a ways from our home and the actual mall that it was in was pretty run down. Also, it had to be the last mall in Kansas City that allowed smoking.

It was not my favorite Christmas tradition.

But the kids didn’t notice any of that. They loved the Small Mall because they felt so independent and grown-up shopping on their own.

So we hit the Small Mall that year and for several years after. We also did some other things that we decided were important to us, like having a family cookie baking night, and seeing a production of A Christmas Carol.

But there were other things that we didn’t do that year, and that is the subject of this post.

What Can You Do Without This Christmas?

When you saw the title of this post you were probably a little bummed out. Do without? At Christmas?

But here’s the most important thing to know about choosing what to do without: this is so not about deprivation.

I can’t stress that enough.

And that’s especially important at the holidays, because who wants to feel deprived at such an exciting time of year?

Choosing what to do without is not about deprivation; it’s about getting rid of the things that mean less to you so you can afford and enjoy the things that mean more.

In fact, answering the question, “What can I do without this Christmas?” should enhance your holidays, not diminish them.

(Actually, asking yourself what you can do without is the first of three questions that can help you save money on anything, including Christmas. I’ve cleverly named this the “Three Questions Approach to Saving Money.”)

The Pain-Free Way to Deciding What to Skip at Christmastime

In part one of this series, I asked you to create a list of everything you spend money on at Christmas. Take that list (or take a minute to create it) and then evaluate each item by asking yourself:

  • Does this bring me or someone in my family joy?
  • Would I be sad to forego this item/experience, even for a year?
  • Would anyone in my family or friends notice if I skipped this?

If your answer to any of these questions is no, consider that item a good candidate for eliminating.

Everybody’s list will look different, and that’s the point. But if you’re having trouble getting started, here are a few items to consider:

  • Christmas Cards –I find that some years I’m really into designing and sending cards so I really embrace and enjoy it. Other years, not so much, so I let it go. No one seems to notice, or if they do they’re too polite to say so. But when I choose to do the cards, I really do them. And I enjoy it. If I didn’t, this item would be off my list permanently.
  • A Live Tree – I know, I know, these are shocking and horrible words to some of you. In fact, you’re probably unsubscribing from this blog right now. But on The Family CEO Facebook page I asked this question and more of us do artificial than real. (And one of us does no tree at all.) I find that I like the idea of getting a live tree more than I do the reality of wrestling it home and getting it to stand upright. If that describes you, skip the annual expense of a live tree and invest in an artificial instead.
  • Travel – We’re lucky: both sets of our parents live in our city. But I have friends who aren’t so lucky. More than a few of them have chosen to nix the holiday travel. They skip the stress and expense and focus on creating their own traditions. Then they visit their families at other times of the year when plane fares are cheaper and life is slower.
  • Expensive Decor – A number of years ago I decided that I really wasn’t a collector after all, so I sold all of the pieces of my collectible Christmas village on eBay. (Department 56, Christmas in the City if any of your collectors are wondering.) Not only did that decision help finance our Christmas that year and save me money on future purchases, but it greatly simplified my life by giving me less to put out when decorating and less to take down and store afterwards.

Now Christmas cards, a live tree, travel to your hometown, and a collectible Christmas village may be the very things that make your holiday world go round. So please don’t think that I’m suggesting you skip them.

But look at your list. Really look at it.

Is there something there that is stealing your money, time, and energy and not providing much in return? If so, try letting it go and saving your valuable resources for the things that do.   

So what did we cut out in the years we did the Small Mall? I have no idea. Isn’t that great?

What are your important holiday traditions and what have you let go? And feel free to let me have it about the artificial tree thing. I know it’s coming!

8 Replies to “The Easy Way to Do Christmas on a Budget: What Can You Do Without?”

  1. What a wonderful post! We also have a really nice “fake” tree… With the lights already on it! lol! We gave up “traveling” for Christmas… we have the largest, & youngest kids in our family, so I decided to host a BIG Christmas dinner at our house every year… It’s crazy busy, but I love being able to stay home & have my kids having the day to lounge around & enjoy the magic of Christmas at home! Finally!

  2. Christmas at home is really something special when you’re a mom, I think. And I think I’m going to invest in a prelit artificial tree like yours this year. Our (unlit) tree is about 20 years old so I think it’s time for a new one and putting on the lights is a pain.

    Now I have to ask, Carla..when you say you have the largest kids, do you mean the kids are actually large or that you have the greatest number of kids? Somehow I think you mean the second. :)

  3. We bought an artificial tree a couple years ago after Christmas for $35, It’s huge and gorgeous. I think they have come a long way and look very tree like. It works out great for us too because we love having our tree up right after Thanksgiving.

    We live far from family so we don’t usually travel but I too love having Christmas at my home. I don’t think I will travel ever again. Well until my children grow up and move out, but I still have some time.

    1. Good point about having your tree up longer, Niki. And who knows? Maybe your kids will still come to your house when they’re grown.

  4. Thank you so much for permission to not put up a tree at all! My husband could care less and the thought of it makes me feel tired! I would rather go all out on decorating.

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