12 Ways to Have a No-Spend Holiday Season

By Kentin Waits on 17 November 2014 1 comment

Do you ever feel like the holidays are getting out of control? Like that portly fellow in the red suit and beard is actually budget-busting bully? Maybe it's time for a midwinter revolution: the No-Spend Holiday. (See also: 6 Festive, Frugal Ways to Spruce Up Your Place for the Holidays)

Here are 12 ideas to make your holiday less about spending money on things and more about spending time with people.

1. Get Crafty

Holidays are the perfect excuse for even the most macho among us to string popcorn, geek out making custom Christmas cards, or delight in the finer points of gingerbread house construction. Instead of worrying about the "stuff" of the holidays, lose yourself in the joy of making things to exchange as gifts or keep as mementos. Involve the wee ones too with easy holiday craft ideas for kids.

2. Make a "Me Menu"

Instead of a long holiday wish list, encourage each family member to create a favorite dinner menu. From appetizers to drinks and dessert, each person chooses their favorite meal and the rest of the family pitches in to pull it off exactly as planned. Rotate turns and tasks until everyone has enjoyed their gastronomic gift.

3. Play Outside

Baby, it's cold outside — but all that snow creates a veritable playground for the young at heart. Bundle up and have a good-natured snowball fight, window shop, or just flop down and make a snow angel. And what's even better than spending an hour outside? Coming inside and warming up with a hot toddy or a cup of hot chocolate.

4. …Or Inside

Not in the mood for outdoor adventure? Stay inside and play old-fashioned board games, charades, or Bingo. With the right amount of planning and PR, even simple activities can feel like major events.

5. Sculpt in Snow

Sure, the snowman is a classic, but get inventive this year. Build a snow dinosaur, a snow monster, a snow mermaid, or a snow castle. Get the whole family involved and see how you can make it bigger, more realistic, and more attention-grabbing for passersby.

6. Pick Classic Flicks

The list of classic holiday movies gets longer every year: Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, and The Nightmare Before Christmas are just three off the top of my head. Stream them or borrow a few from your local library and devote an evening to silencing the smartphones, popping popcorn, and enjoying downtime together.

7. Unplug

And while we're on the topic of smartphones, maybe it's time to create a new tradition — The Unplugged Christmas. If every event is interrupted with buzzing and flashing and your holiday dinner table resembles a futuristic game of Simon Says, carve out a few electronics-free moments for adults and kids (over dinner, while opening gifts, for the first and last hour of each day, etc). It'll help everyone live in the moment and be less distracted by media and messages.

8. Volunteer

It really is better to give than to receive. Contribute your time and talents to a local charity this year and in return, enjoy a few unexpected benefits, including a deeper awareness of all you have to be thankful for.

9. Get Thrifty

If a no-spend holiday just isn't realistic, how about a low-spend holiday? Instead of buying new, explore local second-hand shops and give great thrifty gifts!

10. Donate Your Time

Gifts don't have to be material. This year, offer to help someone with a task, a chore, or a goal. Maybe your mother-in-law would love to visit her childhood home but can't make the drive solo. Offer your chauffeur get specific about the when and the how. Shovel the sidewalk for an elderly neighbor, or surprise a young niece or nephew with an impromptu sledding adventure.

11. Revel in Your Achievements and Dreams

There's something entirely appropriate about taking time during the holidays to review our achievements and goals. Take turns with friends or family and remind each other of all your individual and collective triumphs. Promotions, good grades, saving, volunteering, learning a new skill, and decluttering all count. What do you want to do next year? What are the steps to achieving your goals and how can everyone help?

12. Make Something Together

Holidays take a lot of preparation, so why not make them a family affair? Explore budget holiday decorating ideas, prepare for guests by sprucing that spare bedroom, or break out the saw and sander and build a giant Jenga game. Working together is a great way to teach new skills, build a sense of pride, and replace getting stuff with doing stuff.

Remember, the goal isn't to cut all the money out of our holidays, but to shift our focus. It's easy to get caught up the consumerism and materialism, but challenging to change course and reconnect with simpler ideas about giving, receiving, and sharing. This holiday, push back on the tide of baubles and bangles and see if there isn't just a little more joy, a lot more time, and a lot less stress.

Are you planning a no-spend or low-spend holiday this year? What ideas do you have to make it a success?

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Kayla @ Everything Finance

Great tips! I've already spent on my gifts for friends and family, but for the most part I'm going for a no-spend holiday season otherwise. Thanks for sharing!!