When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? For me, unfortunately, the holidays remind me of rampant and uncontrolled consumerism, including Black Friday-induced injuries and spending overdrive. Since I quit my corporate job, money has been pretty tight, so I don’t want to buy my family a bunch of junk that will end up worn once before getting lost in the abyss of someone’s closet. So, this year, I’m voting to have a no spend Christmas, and here’s why.
Sure, no spend holidays help us save money. That’s a fact. But planning a no spend Christmas brings with it a variety of benefits BESIDES budget relief. It will challenge you to think longer and harder about the presents you give, you’ll put to use things that are just sitting around dormant in your house, and you’ll have the chance to spend more face-to-face time with your loved ones.
My family celebrates Christmas, so I’ll be focusing on that in this article. However, many of these principles extend to basically any holiday you and your family celebrate, including birthdays, anniversaries, and even weddings. To help spur your imagination, here are a few no spend Christmas ideas I’m planning to do with my family this year!
11 Simple No-Spend Christmas Tips
1. Decide if you’re going to make any exceptions ahead of time (and what they are going to cost)
Some expenses are inevitable: groceries and utilities being a couple of them. However, if you’re going to spend a little bit on the absolute necessities for the holiday season, set a budget and STICK TO IT. So, if you’re planning to buy some food to cook at home for Christmas, determine a cost per person and do not spend more than that budgeted amount. This way, you’re 100% in control of your spending and you know exactly how much you need to buy so nothing goes to waste.
2. Tell your family of your intentions in advance (and challenge them to do the same)
No spend might feel like a natural way to spend the holidays for some, but for others, it may be a bit of a culture shock. I know the first year that I did a scavenger hunt (instead of presents) for Christmas, my younger sister was thoroughly unimpressed at first. But now, it has become a bit of a norm in my family that no one is getting material presents (and if they do, they’ll be used).
To help ease any potential tensions that may arise, I highly recommend sending your family members a note letting them know about your no spend Christmas plans. Just a short and sweet group text or email will do the trick!
3. Refrain from buying decorations
Potential savings: $50-100+ (for decorations and cleanup)
Decorations might be festive for a few months, but they actually contribute literal mountains to single-use plastic and paper waste. In fact, Americans alone create 25 million tons of garbage during the holidays, 25% more than during any other time of the year.
Additionally, there were 170 house fires from burning Christmas trees in the United States in 2015. Forget it! Save the money and let the trees live in the forest where they belong.
Personally? I’d rather put my decoration/tree money into investments, donations to help clean up holiday waste from our parks and oceans, or simply to buy nicer food for a home-cooked Christmas meal.
4. Think about meaningful clothing items or electronics you can thoughtfully re-gift
Potential savings: $300+ (for presents)
Instead of hitting the malls on Black Friday or in December, raid your closet first to figure out if there’s anything you can give to your loved ones that they’d use or appreciate more than you do. These items could be clothing, bags, electronics, or books that you’ve already read but think they’d love. I gift books almost every year and this year, I’m also planning on giving away some electronics and clothing, too.
After a few years in my post-undergrad career, I’ve accrued a LOT of clothes and junk that I basically never use. One thing I’m planning on doing this year is giving away some of my old brand-name business clothes to my younger sister, who will be taking a corporate job in the spring. I know corporate clothing is expensive, and I’m not longer working in an office every day, so I felt like she could better use the clothes that are just sitting around collecting dust in my closet.
5. Wrap any presents in recycled materials
Potential savings: $25+ (for costs of wrapping materials, tape, etc.)
In the same vein as the decorations, Americans also spend a lot of money and time on wrapping presents. But why? Wrapping paper, bags, ribbons, etc. generally just get thrown away after being used once, which contributes to environmental damage and pollution.
I’m not a huge fan of giving gifts for Christmas, as I’d rather give experiences (which you can’t wrap). But if you are planning on regifting things (or have already bought presents for your family), consider using recycled materials to wrap them.
Instead of wrapping your presents in expensive, colorful wrapping paper, why not use the comics section of your already-read newspaper instead? Or pages from a fun magazine? Or a fun shoebox you’ve had sitting around in your closet taking up space.
6. Cook with ingredients you already have in the house
Potential savings: Depends
Just like you raided your closet in step 4, you can also raid your pantry to find food that hasn’t been used or that may expire soon. USE THESE FIRST before heading to the grocery store to get additional food. Non-perishables like flour, pasta, and canned goods are a great example of something you can use to make a wonderful Christmas or holiday dinner. Doing this will definitely help you stick to your goal of having a no spend Christmas.
7. Reach out to friends and family you haven’t talked to in a while
Potential savings: Priceless
One of the nicest FREE things you can do for Christmas is reaching out to old friends or faraway family members to catch up. I’ve found that this is often one of the most meaningful presents you can give to people, and the surprise and delight of talking to an old friend is a memorable feeling.
This year, I challenge you to make a list of 3-5 old friends or family members, dig up their phone numbers
from your Rolodex in your phone contacts and give them a ring. You could really turn around their day.
8. Choose a few fun movies or board games you can play
Potential savings: $50+ (for cost of movies in the theater)
Some of my favorite holiday memories are sitting around a table playing board games with my family and friends. It got heated, and competitive, and there was definitely some shouting and arguing involved, but it was all in good fun and I would never trade those times for the world.
If you’re looking for a way to stay in and spend quality family time together, light a fire (or put this on your TV), play some board games, and watch a movie together. You’ll spend nothing but have plenty of memories to show for it.
9. Get outdoors
Potential savings: Depends
Often in December, the weather is slushy, gray, and gross in Washington DC. However, if the weather is nice where you live, it could be a great excuse to get some fresh air with the whole family in a park, beach, mountain, lake, or whatever is close to your home. Even just going to the dog park and watching your pup(s) run around with other furry friends can be a magical holiday experience. Enjoying the outdoors is a perfect way to enjoy the holidays, spend 0 money, and hang out with the people (and furry fluffs) you love the most in your life.
10. Organize a fun experiential gift for the whole family
Potential savings: $100+ (from going out to eat or doing another family-wide activity out)
What’s more fun than getting a $50 hideous Christmas scarf that itches and you’ll never wear? Well…a lot of things. But one of my favorite things to give instead of presents is an organized experience. Murder mystery party? Scavenger hunt? Series of riddles? Whatever your family enjoys, the world is your oyster, and you can probably find some advice online about organizing a fun, no-cost, inclusive activity for your family on Christmas.
11. Spend some time volunteering at a local charity together
Potential savings: Priceless
The holidays are all about giving, which is how we actually got into this whole crazy consumerism thing in the first place. However, you don’t have to buy a bunch of stuff and spend a ton of money in order to maintain this tradition.
Instead, gather your family troops and head to a local Food Bank, homeless shelter, animal shelter, or other organization to volunteer your time, (wo)manpower, and love to people who need it the most this time of year. Giving back is arguably the best way to have a no spend Christmas while enjoying the holidays with family, creating lifelong bonds and keeping the true spirit of Christmas alive.
Did you enjoy this post? Ready for your no spend Christmas? Pin this post for later!