First and foremost, just like the Who's down in Whoville, we know that Christmas is not about the gifts unless you count THE GIFT given. It's easy to wax philosophical when you don't have kids. Kids would argue with the Who's down in Whoville. Christmas is about gifts,and Santa. You have to be honest with them about what you guys are facing. As honest as their age will allow. I grew up with Santa coming down the chimney to bring us gifts. I know there are some out there who don't do Santa. If Santa doesn't make a yearly stop at your house, telling the kids money is tight will be easier. We always knew there may be times when money would be tight and we never wanted Santa to "not come". We did do Santa at our house. However, because we never wanted Santa to be affected by a financial down turn, Santa brought 1 gift and the stocking.Everything else was ours. That way if they only got 1 gift it was from Santa and they would understand Mom and Dad were low on money. Not telling kids can actually make them worry more. Kids are very perceptive and they'll know something is up. Letting them in on this can actually help them because it will enable them to "Help"make the Holiday special.
So once you have the whole "telling the kids" thing out of the way; my first step is easy and fun.
1) Decorate for Christmas- You don't need to buy anything new. Use what you already have on hand, but make it festive. Play Christmas music and pull out all the stops. If you can't afford lights, no problem. Decorations are just as pretty without. Plus, no fire hazard or cords to worry about. String popcorn, Make construction paper garland, Bring in some evergreen from outside. Go on a pine cone hunt for cones to place in a basket. Don't have a Christmas Tree? Make a Christmas table to place what gifts there are. You can put your evergreen from outside here and put out a few ornaments. You can use other ornaments around the house if there isn't a tree.You can hang out the stockings over the table in a triangle shape on the wall. Place your festive containers of baked goods there as well; like a bowl of individually wrapped popcorn balls tied with a ribbon. These are just some thoughts. The idea is to create a festive atmosphere. Pintrest has great ideas for Christmas crafts from things you may already have on hand.
2) Found Money- Okay, you've probably run the numbers and just thought, "there's just no way!". There is, but you may need to think outside the box. You may not be able to get what your normal budget is, but you might be able to get a little, Think along these lines
a) Do you or your spouse contribute to a 401k at work? Maybe suspend the contributions for the next 2 months. These are extremes I know, but we're thinking outside the box. You'll be able to restart contributions after the Holidays.
b) Would your family rather have internet and cable for the next two months or gifts on Christmas morning? If the later, cancel for the next two months. Many times your cable/ internet provider will be sending you deals to entice you back by the beginning of the year. I understand it means no internet connection. This is Black Belt frugality.
c) There maybe family or friends that gift you with gift cards or money for Christmas. If this happens, use the money for gifts under the tree. The time for you to be able to spend on yourself (which is great) can come later. Family doesn't need to know your situation if You aren't keen on sharing, but they can know that If your family participates in a gift exchange, they will be homemade gifts.
d) Do you have a skill or something you can make to sell that may raise a little money? Can you watch kids for someone to run errands? Help someone decorate their home for Christmas, bake Christmas cookies for someone too busy to do it their self? Let people know your available. Print you out some signs advertising you availability to help include rates too. Just 8x10 printer paper, nothing extravagant. You can hang it on community bulletin boards at post offices, grocery stores, schools (if they allow, ask first), your church, etc.
e) If you haven't already changed your tax withholding now's the time. It will be reflected on the next check that does come in. Take those deductions!
f) Last on the list, and Dave Ramsey would have my hide, but some companies will let you skip a payment around the holiday only paying interest. It is a last resort and not one I recommend lightly. Really think this one through. If you can avoid using this step, do so.
g) If you haven't already, call around for better car insurance rates. A lot of people will just keep the same insurance for years and years, never shopping around. I was one of those people. In one call I save $700 over a year! Crazy!
What money you free up this way will be gold. You want to use it very carefully. What is the one "Wow" gift your kids would want? What do you need to make this Christmas happen?
3) Christmas food with what's on hand- So you probably can't stock up right now because of the financial hardship. You can, however, work in a couple of extra basic items for Christmas. The great thing is, if you already have flour, sugar, butter or margarine, you can make goodies for the holidays. Add a bottle of corn syrup to your grocery shopping list and you can add making candies for stockings(see my recipe page for Butter Toffee Crunch). Chips, cokes, cereal, boxed anything, and anything pre-made needs to go off your list. Plan on making more casseroles or soups so you can free up the money you would use to buy a lot of meats. Basics. you are looking for basics. This will save you considerably on your grocery list and allow extra for purchasing things for holiday baking or allow you extra money to go toward a few small gifts or stocking stuffers. You can make your own biscuits and cornbread for making stuffing. Make your own cream soup for casseroles (see my recipe page for the cream soup mix recipe).
Every Christmas we have a Christmas breakfast as opposed to a Christmas dinner. The menu usually consists of Cinnamon Rolls, Sausage balls, Sausage croissants, Gorilla Bread, coffee, Hot Chocolate, and OJ, We end up munching on this pretty much all day. I make the cinnamon rolls, sausage (see my recipe page), sausage balls, Gorilla bread, and hot chocolate from scratch. I use the dough from the cinnamon rolls to make the Gorilla bread as well. The only extra thing I usually have to buy is the OJ, Crecent rolls, and cream cheese for the Gorilla bread. All of which could be omitted in a tight situation. Here are some other recipes for you to try that don't take a lot of effort or expense:
Dinner Rolls ( This is what I use for Cinnamon Rolls, Gorilla Bread, and Raisin Bread)
4- 4 1/2 cups flour
1 pkg of yeast (or 1 TBS)
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, shortening or margarine
1 ts salt
In a small saucepan, add your milk, butter, sugar, and salt. Heat milk mixture just until the butter is just about melted. While that heats up, put 2 cups flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl and mix together. Once milk is hot (120 degrees) dump into the flour mixture and add the two eggs. Mix all together for about 100 strokes. Stir in as much remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Dump out onto a floured counter. Knead dough 10-12 minutes adding just enough flour to keep dough from being sticky as you work. Once dough starts to tear, it's time to stop kneading (or if the timer goes off). Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover, Let rise no more than 30 minutes. Punch down, shape into desired rolls. Place in the pan you will use. Cover and let rise until double.
Bake 350 degrees for 15-20 min or until golden on top. Or you can just put the whole thing in the bread machine; liquids first, sugar, salt, flour, yeast being last. Put on dough setting and go read a book. Then shape how you want weather it's dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, or Gorilla bread
Don't have yeast? Try this for cinnamon rolls
3 cups self rising flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup milk
In a mixing bowl place your flour and sugar (mix well)and cut in the butter until it make a crumbly mix. Add milk and fold in until well mixed. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead exactly 8 times ( that's basically just to shape it well into a ball). Roll out thin(about 1/2 inch) and rectangular. Spread with melted butter and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and sugar. Starting with the long side, roll up the dough and cut into "cinnamon rolls". Place in a baking pan and bake 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. Once out, you can milk 1 cup powdered sugar with 2 Tbs milk and 1/2 tsp vanill extract and pour over the top.
Just had an interesting idea in trying this for Gorilla bread too. Hmmm. Yea, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to eating healthy. Hey! It's the holidays!
1/3- 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 cups milk or 1 1/3 cups dry milk powder plus water to make 4 cups
1/2 ts vanilla
Mix your sugar, cocoa powder,and dash salt in a pan. Stir in the milk and continue stirring frequently while it warms to hot. A whisk works best for this, but if you don't have one, no big deal. Once hot, remove from heat and add the vanilla. Serve hot. If you have marshmallows, great. A small peppermint stick would be good too.
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup water
1 box (16 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 cup dry milk powder
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped nuts (if you have them)
In a small sauce pan heat together butter/margarine and water just to boiling, stirring to melt the butter/margarine. Sift together (whisk together) dry ingredients. Add the melted butter mixture. Stir til well blended. Stir in nuts if you have them. Turn into a buttered 8x8x2 inch pan. Chill several hours. Cut into squares.
You can make popcorn balls, peanut brittle, the fudge, toffee, etc for very little outlay of funds and these can go in stockings. If you have peppermint sticks, you can crush one or two (to taste) and stir in the fudge or sprinkle on top for a festive stocking stuffer.
4) Make gifts - This can be a difficult one if you don't really have a crafty side. I'm not gonna leave you hanging I swear! My next post will be a how to on making a hobby horse. I'm actually making one for my grandson for Christmas this year along with a Superman or Super hero cape. Neither of these will require a pattern. Do you have some scrap wood; ends of 2x4 or 2x2's? Cut these into different sizes and shapes. Sand them smooth and voila, Blocks to play with.
Brandy over at "The Prudent Homemaker" has a great series she does every November called "A gift a day" series. She has lots of easy to make ideas for all ages. Here is a link to her blog (which I read).
She also has a "Sewing tutorial" on her main website.
This lady provided Christmas for 5 kids during a time when income was non existent in her household. There are a lot of money saving ideas. Worth a look.
Pintrest is another great resource.
Here comes another recipe for Playdough!!!!
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup salt
4 tsp cream of tarter
2 cups water with food coloring adding in whatever color you want
2 T oil
Mix all ingredients together in a pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it forms a hard ball. I'll try to include more over the next few weeks.
Don't have fabric? I buy sheets (King size flat sheets in solid cottons or flannel) for fabric at thrift stores. If you can't afford that you can always sacrifice a sheet or two (done that before too). I mean how many sets does one person need! (smile). I will have another post soon containing some ways to save on sewing in general.
Don't have a Sewing machine? It is harder to do if that is the case, but not impossible. In a day of google we can pull up how to's on hand stitching and sew your items by hand.
There's no time to sew! My sister and I, many years ago, put up a sheet to block off an area of her house normally open to the rest of the family. We named it "Santa's Workshop" and all our creations were hidden from the crowd. We sewed in the evening. She sewed at night after I had gone to my home. To this day my niece says the sound of a sewing machine lulls her to sleep. It is comforting to her because she would go to sleep to the sound of my sister sewing for her family. Aren't good memories great?!
Speaking of Thrift stores! They, as well as Yard Sales can be resources for Christmas gifts. Books can be found there cheap that are in great condition. Other items can be found that may need a little TLC to be like new again. Great thing is in this age of Google there are a slew of "How To" videos or articles to help you take a thrift store find and revamp it to be like new. Little secret. I have never bought a brand new video game or DVD. Nope. I always purchased them from either Amazon or a thrift store. In fact when my kids were young, and we didn't have a lot of money for gaming systems, we bought a used system for all three kids together. It wasn't the latest and greatest, but the kids loved it. I found a Playmobile Castle with all the characters at a yard sale for $5 for the whole thing!
I realize this may not be the coolest Christmas, at least on paper, but it can still be a great Christmas. I hope some of these ideas can help. I will try to add to them over the next few weeks. The idea is to be able to still celebrate even in the midst of financial hardship.