Hello all! I’m so excited today that Jenny invited me over to This Tiny Blue House to talk to all of you about one of my favorite things – celebrating frugal holidays with my three boys. A quick introduction: my name is Liz, and I write over at Chief Mom Officer about all things money (yours and your kids), work, and frugal family life.
As the mother of three boys of varying ages (14, 10, and 2), celebrating frugal holidays are something I’ve been doing for a long time now. We have some favorite traditions that the kids look forward to every year, and do some new things every once in a while. So today I’m going to share with you my favorite frugal ways to get into the holiday spirit.
There are a lot of expensive holiday activities you can do with your kids. I’ve seen mall Santa photo packages go for upwards of $50 (or more!), have friends that take their kids on the Polar Express train ride for over $150 for the family, and see people dropping $100 (or more) to go to a holiday light show in an amusement park. Those things are fun, don’t get me wrong, but here at CMO central we prefer more fun, creative, frugal activities.
So let me tell you all about the top five fun and frugal things my family does around Christmastime to celebrate the season without breaking the bank.
One of our favorite things to do around the holidays is to pick up some of those wooden paint-your-own crafts from the craft store (AC Moore, JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc.) and paint them. We now have quite an extensive collection of painted crafts from over the years, each one picked up for around a dollar. I’ll usually get one for myself too, and we’ll sit around on a weekend in December and paint them. They serve as not only fun decorations, but also as reminders of years gone by, when my older boys were smaller and couldn’t paint quite as well as they can now.
“Gingerbread” (Graham Cracker) Houses
Making real gingerbread houses is fun and delicious, but also tricky and time consuming. You have to find a template, cut it out from gingerbread, bake it and hope it doesn’t break, then assemble. I know they also sell gingerbread house kits, but those can be expensive-especially for three boys plus parents. So many years ago, we started our tradition of making “gingerbread” houses out of graham crackers, homemade royal icing, and a ton of candies. You can get whatever candies you want that are on sale, and usually one package of graham crackers is enough for all of us. Bonus – if one of the crackers breaks, you have an easy replacement!
Royal icing is also very easy and quick to make. You just need egg whites (2), powdered sugar (3 cups) and a little cream of tartar (1/4 teaspoon). Whisk it together on high speed until it’s nice, thick, and glossy – about five minutes. Then you can use it as-is, or add some food coloring to create colored icing for decorating!
Free (and Cheap) Holiday Lights Around Town
We always love hopping in the car to drive around town and check out the Christmas lights. There’s also a park nearby that has a ton of holiday animals set up, where you can drive around and look at everything for free. We have another park about 45 minutes away where you can spend $10 and drive around for almost an hour, looking at giant light displays. Visiting the holiday lights are always one of our favorite things to do.
So just bundle the kids up in the car (hot cocoa and yummy snacks optional), and check out the light displays around town!
I love decorating sugar cookies for all the holidays – Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Valentines day. We’ve collected a lot of different cookie cutters over the year from various sources like my parents, tag sales, and post-holiday sales at craft stores. You simply make a batch of sugar cookies, cut them out into whatever shapes you have around, bake, and decorate. For the decoration, we’ll usually just color a bunch of icing (powdered sugar mixed with vanilla and milk) and go to town, but sometimes we’ll have fun sprinkles to use too. Craft stores are one of my favorite fun sprinkle sources-not only can you usually get them on sale, but they almost always have some great coupons to use to pick up a fun pack of sprinkles for not a lot of money.
Creative Outdoor Decorations
This year I did something different outside our house. See, we usually only decorate for Christmas indoors, because outdoor decorations are expensive and difficult to put up. But this year I came up with the idea of creating large characters out of plywood, and wrapping up old diaper boxes in dollar store wrapping paper and ribbons, to create a fun, unique, creative Christmas display. You can learn more about the process I used in this post.
You could do the same kind of thing, even if you don’t want to create giant plywood Nintendo characters for your front lawn. You can wrap up empty boxes to create what looks like a giant tower of gifts – get the boxes from a grocery store if you don’t have little ones in diapers like I do. I’ve always found the dollar store to have a ton of fun, creative, inexpensive decorations. You can stop there and pick up a number of different things to make a fun display. Or do one of my favorite things and wait until after Christmas to pick up some large items for outdoors on significant discount. Store them away until the next Christmas season, and enjoy!
A Frugal, Fabulous, Fun Holiday
As I mentioned at the start, creating fun holiday memories for your kids can cost as much-or as little-as you want. My boys look forward to all the fun, free (and nearly free), family traditions every year. They’re already talking about how excited they are to make our “gingerbread” town, and we’ve been out to see some holiday lights. I also created those outdoor decorations that should last for years, and am planning to pick up some Christmas crafts soon.
What are you planning to do for this holiday season? I’d love to hear more about your fun, frugal, fabulous ideas!