Budgeting for the holidays can be tough for a low-income family. While we all know what we should be doing to save money for holiday costs, sometimes there just isn’t enough money to go around. So what do you do then? When money is tight, budgeting for Holiday spending means thinking creatively and doing without a few things to build up a bit of savings for holiday expenses.
Back in the days when I was a single mom with a very low income, budgeting was a way of life. Here’s just a sampling of some budgeting tips I used during the holiday season to free up some Christmas cash:
1. Squeeze your budget til it bleeds. To save cash for gifts and other warm winter needs, I made a point of changing my shopping habits during the fall. Away went the occasional newspaper, the $1 burger, diet pops and other non essentials for a savings of about $5-8 a week. This doesn’t seem like much, but can add up significantly over a few months. Squeezing your budget until it bleeds is one way to free up money for holiday spending.
2. Make your own decor & ornaments. Instead of store bought decor, the kids and I made our own Christmas decorations from recyclables and things found in nature. The few things we did buy came from the dollar store, such as crafting ribbon and jingle bells. Watching costs here also freed up money for the holidays.
3. Find a cheap tree. Even when money is tight, your family should have a tree for Christmas. $2 will buy you a permit to cut a tree in your local National Forest. If this isn’t an option, Christmas tree lots usually give away their unsold trees starting 2-3 days before Christmas.
4. Buying Christmas dinner piecemeal. One easy budgeting trick is to watch the sales and buy one Christmas dinner food item every week until there’s enough for Christmas dinner. Spreading the cost of a holiday dinner over 6-8 weeks is easier on a budget than dropping $25 all at once. Another option? Sign up for the free Christmas dinner boxes offered by local charities such as Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul. The money you don’t have to spend on a holiday meal can be used for other holiday costs.
5. Tap into free Holiday events offered around the city. With a low income, there’s usually no money in the budget for pricey Holiday activities. What is budget friendly is tapping into the free or low cost Holiday events that your city may offer. Some of our favorite budget friendly events included
* Christmas story readings and holiday movies at the library
* Watching live performances downtown
* Attending a city tree lighting ceremony and community sing along
* Finding a hill somewhere for an afternoon of sledding
* Watching a movie on 50 cent Tuesdays
* Church sponsored events or special Holiday masses
6. Make as many gifts as possible, and spend your money on essentials instead. This may come as a surprise, but kids really don’t care if they don’t get store bought presents for Christmas. Some of the homemade gifts my kids enjoyed receiving over the years included easy to make homemade goodies, wooden building blocks, handwritten storybooks, stuffed animals, crocheted beanies, and hand painted castles & forts made from old appliance boxes. The money saved here can go towards really important gift items such as warm coats.
If you simply must have store-bought toys for the kids and your budget just won’t permit it, sign up for the Toys For Tots program in your community ~ the Marines do an incredible job making sure that every child receives at least one toy for Christmas. For low income families, Toys for Toys is a great solution for stretching a tightly squeezed holiday budget; you can sign up at Toysfortots.org.
Other holiday budget tips for low income families by C. Jeanne Heida:
The Ultimate Penny Pinchers Guide to Christmas Shopping.
How to Have a No Cost Christmas
Almost Free; Cheap One Dollar Christmas Gifts for Kids