Year-End Holiday Celebrations for Less

Whether you're hosting this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, or not, there are several small touches you can create that are both affordable and beautiful. My family has come up with a few ways to cook, decorate, and gift for far less. Here are our favorites!

Thanksgiving Hosting

Since my husband and I don't have children yet, we are usually the ones visiting our families for Thanksgiving. We haven't had to host a Thanksgiving dinner yet and be responsible for the whole dinner, thankfully. However, I know that many people have family visitors during this holiday.

Pot luck

If you're the lucky one stuck with making Thanksgiving dinner for more than just your immediate family, then suggesting a pot-luck for the side dishes may be beneficial on your pocketbook. For instance, you might decide that you'll bake the turkey, since that usually takes the longest to cook. Assign one adult from each visiting family to bring the side dishes, such as sweet potatoes or yams, a green-bean casserole, an apple or pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce or applesauce. Understandably, if relatives are visiting from afar and can't cook, they have the option of purchasing a side dish from the grocery store deli or a neighborhood deli. Be sure you tell them ahead of time where to order from. If each adult brought one side dish to compliment your turkey, then your cooking will be minimized and your cost reduced.

Another expense at Thanksgiving is the centerpiece for a beautifully-dressed table. One alternative to purchasing expensive, store-bought center pieces is creating your own center piece. Here are two low-cost options.


Candles make any table glow with elegance — large, small, tall, or short. If you use tea lights, which are usually sold in large quantity bags, you can use many of them on a large serving plate or wood chopping block to make a simple center piece. You can also dress up the candles with dried flowers or silk flowers at the base or with pine cones. Another option is floating candles in a fish bowls.

Fruit and flower bowls

If candles aren't your thing, (or your dad is a retired fireman and has a thing about fire in general) you can use a large bowl filled with fresh fruit and flowers to dress up any table. If you mix the sizes of bowls and the kinds of fruit, it gives the table a more bohemian decor.

Christmas or Hanukkah Happiness

For the past few years, my husband and I have gotten out of visiting our families for Christmas. One reason we have ducked out of this holiday is that his family celebrates over-consumption at this time of year, and it makes us both sick to our stomachs. Years ago, there was discussion within his family to reduce the amount of gifts purchased, but it never materialized and instead grew more out of control. We've tried a few tactics, but it just hasn't worked in our favor. Below are a few ideas for a simplistic gift-giving holiday season that we try to implement each year.

1. Reduce the amount of gifts.

Some large families I know select a name out of a hat and only purchase a gift for that one person. This reduces the pressure of having to purchase gifts for everyone and is a more economical option.

2. Purchase only one gift per family unit.

Instead of purchasing each individual within a family a gift, buy one item that family can share. Last year, my husband and I purchased Omaha Steaks for each family unit. They were appreciated and enjoyed by the entire family. Other ideas include gift certificates to the theatre, which our mother-in-law has purchased for us in the past, or theme parks for families with children.

3. Only purchase gifts for the children.

In our case, since we don't have children, this never has worked out quite as well as we hoped. However, we have, in the past, only purchased gifts for our nieces and nephew instead of their parents. This reduced our cost and the time spent shopping.

4. Make gifts.

Gift jars

For friends and colleagues, I try and make gift baskets, with an assortment of chocolates, cookies, and coffees, or special gift jars. One year, a colleague of mine gave me a homemade cider recipe in a mason jar (a saving tip: you can use empty spaghetti sauce jars, they are often mason jars). It was a great gift idea and inexpensive. The ingredients were as follows:

  • 1½ cups of Tang
  • ¾ cup iced tea mix
  • 1½ cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Tipnut has more gift jar ideas.

Cards and gift tags

My husband and I try to add a personal touch to the gifts we give, especially if we ship the gifts instead of attending the holiday festivities. Some things we have included are homemade gift tags with our picture on it, or pictures of our cats wearing Santa hats. This year, we intend to make our own gift cards, and not the photo gift cards so many others mail out. I learned of a great art project, through an art teacher at school, that only involves using a black, felt-tip pen, some imagination, and a little bit of time. Drawing an upside down capital 'U' in the center of the page, you can create a Santa or elf-type figure with an immense beard. Here are the steps:

  1. Draw an upside down capital 'U' in the center of white construction paper.
  2. Draw eyes, eyebrows, and a nose in the center of the 'U' for the face.
  3. Beginning directly under the nose, draw any kind of line you like and repeat it six times, keeping the lines close together and extending it out to the edges of the paper. Continue filling up the 'beard' with many types of lines (squiggly, zigzag, curly, wavy, etc.). Each block of lines repeats six times. Fill in the white space inside the beard with small diagonal, horizontal, or vertical lines.
  4. Draw a Santa hat or elf ears on top, or on the side, of the 'U' shaped face.
  5. Once you've drawn your figure, you can Xerox copy it onto however many cards you need.

I hope that these arts and craft ideas and gift ideas will reduce your holiday cost and the time spent shopping for gifts. I know that this year, we again intend to simplify our gift giving and remain under budget.

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Want to save money on christmas? We’ve got cheap and frugal ideas for meals, decorations and presents. Try DIY gifts for kids, shared dinner dishes, and craft decorations for your tree! Check out our easy ideas to save your pennies this holiday season | #frugaltips #cheapchristmas #DIY #budgetdinner

This is a guest post by Little House. Links to more articles by Little House:

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Financial Samurai's picture

Nice recipe. We should indeed try and find ways to keep things on the DL this holiday.


Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture

Thanks for the comment on the recipe. The Tipnut site has some great ones if you're interested!-
Little House