Christmas On The Cheap: How We Saved Money This Christmas

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I love the holidays as much as any basic white girl: watching Love Actually, driving around to look at Christmas lights, aspirational Pinning of winter crafts, I’ll carol all day. But…there’s a lot of pressure. Pressure to make endearing memories with the latest presents documented with flattering photos at every event and family function. Our time, sanity, and wallet feel the strain. The financial struggle is real in December. These are some ways we lessened the sting of the biggest Christmas money traps of decorations, gifts, and food.

photo 1512388719646 24a8668a43ec
These are free cuz they’re from outside


four pictures of interior Christmas decorating
The Ish Mom House Dollar Tree/inherited Christmas collection

I love decorating and have to remind myself to collect pieces I love over time. Every year I pick up one or two decorations that I love instead of buying a bunch of mediocre ones at once. We also:

  • Try hard not to impulse buy. I use Pinterest to study what would look good in the architectural style of our home so I’m not sauntering into Michael’s blind and full of bravado. Armed with specific ideas,  holiday kitsch won’t get a chance to sit on my kitchen counter screaming “pineapples were really popular in 2018!” for the next fifteen years.
  • Use craft store apps. The apps have coupons for non sale items, up to 40% off. And something about downloading the app, using the coupon, and then deleting the app makes me feel like I’m really giving it to the man, techie style. All Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible up in here.
  • Never buy bigger seasonal decorations full-price. Shop after Christmas sales, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday for deals. Better yet, we try to buy the bulk of your decor at garage sales, thrift stores, Craiglist, Facebook Marketplace, used on Amazon. I’m literally only going to see it six weeks of the year.
  • Scan estate sales: the entire contents of the house are up for purchase. Check out the garage and see if there’s any boxes of Christmas decorations (maybe you’ll get lucky and find decor for all seasons). It might be a little dated, but vintage Christmas is hot.
  • Ask for decorations for Christmas.
  • Frame pretty Christmas cards in cheap frames.
  • Embrace hand-me-downs. I scored most of my Christmas decorations from my mom. You could even ask friends in family if they have any extra after they decorate. Pocket a small figurine on your way out if they say no.

Fave YouTube Dollar Tree Craft Tutorials:

  1. *The Pixie Dust Housewife does some amazing things with Dollar Tree picture frames
  2. *Clutterbug is refreshingly honest about how cheap and lazy her decorating is, and it looks great
  3. *Do It On A Dime: so earnest and sweet, so cheap


Christmas tree with presents beneath
The boys don’t know their presents are thrift store and dollar tree

This is the area that sucks me in, where impulsiveness and emotion can take over. Statistics tell me I’m not alone: according to the 2018 Gallup polls the average American spent approximately $885 this Christmas. That’s a lot of money and I think I can lower it. In the Ish House, we shut that down with a plan. We:

  • Are open about our budget and set expectations. Josh starts looking at the finances around October to fine-tune; examining what expenses will be coming up, are we successfully following our monthly budgets, if there’s any household debt, etc. With this information Josh comes up with a dollar amount to spend on presents.
  • Use a separate bank account and/or spread sheet for Christmas money. Something we should do is withdraw the money, keep it in an envelope, and have a “Cash Christmas.” That’s a lack of rashness I haven’t been able to commit to.
  • Plan, plan, plan. The plan guards against irrationality. Josh and I will go through all the toys and get rid of unused, repeat, and broken toys. We’ll make a list of developmental milestones coming before the next birthdays and buy toys corresponding to those upcoming skills.
clear bin of toys
So. Many. Toys. To. Organize.
  • List every person who will be getting a gift, from family to Big A’s occupational therapist, and how much we are able to spend on them.
  • Buy gifts on the cheap. We bought 98% of the boys’ Christmas at thrift and dollar stores. They’ll grow out of and/or break it anyway. Retail store sales are deceptive (trust me as a former worker): the prices are often hiked up two weeks before; during the “sale” the price is simply changed back to the original. Etsy has lots of unique handmade gifts for under $20. Dollar Tree has great opportunities to build custom gift baskets. Never forget the appeal of the homemade items like baked goods!
  • Make those low-cost gifts look like a splurge with presentation: the key to making simple things look fancy. Wrap it up, add a ribbon. Dollar Tree gift bags. Roll it in glitter. Little touches go a long way.
baby smiling in front of Christmas tree
Happy Holidays from Little A!

Fave YouTube Dollar Tree Gift Guides

  1. I like the baskets Bargain Bethany put together in this video
  2. Clutterbug again, she’s great
  3. Myka Stauffer’s companion video was good too


We have a special breakfast Christmas morning and snack on appetizers throughout the evening, having the main dinner at grandma’s. That certainly helps us with the cost of food, but the internet had some suggestions for those that are hosting this year:

  • AGAIN WITH THE PLAN YEAH OK INTERNET WE GET IT. Plan the menu weeks in advance so you can creep the sales ads like it’s your ex’s profile. Watch for any pricing patterns and buy what you need when it hits its’ lowest price point.
  • Sides can be so cheap. Potatoes, gravy, rice, green beans, corn, stuffing. It’s a smorgasbord of frugality.
  • “Convenience food,” like pre-cut veggies, are substantially more expensive. Just saying. Your time may be worth it, though. Something to think about.
  • Booze costs add up. Ask guests to BYOB.
  • You can shop groceries and pantry staples online at Amazon, Thrive Market, etc. Shopping from home is a great way to avoid the siren song of Oreo end-caps.
  • Worrisome crockery? Check out Dollar Tree for surprisingly acceptable glass ware. There are plate sets, mugs, vases, mason jars, chargers, bowls-many just as good as the dishes at box stores for a dollar.

Some (Surprisingly!) Vegan Holiday Recipe Videos:

  1. Peppermint Patty cookies by the Edgy Veg
  2. Liv’s Eggnog Cinnamon Rolls
  3. Party Snacks from Cheap Lazy Vegan

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Festivus To The Rest Of Us. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I hope you have a relaxing and fun holiday. If you’ll be home a lot, I hope your kids aren’t dicks. If you have to work, I am so sorry that you’re dealing with the public at this juncture of the year.

Josh is getting two weeks off this Christmas, so I’m going to hang with the fam. I’ll be back with a new post January 4th. Drop some pics of your Christmas decorating, baking, presents, whatever, below in the comments, I wanna see them. Share this article so you won’t forget these ideas!

Click here for a last minute, cheap, toddler approved craft.











Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.
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