Free and Low-Cost Ideas to Brighten Up the Holidays

A piggy bank wearing a Santa hat smiles amid shiny coins and against a backdrop of twinkling lights.
(Adobe Stock)

Ah, December. It's all decorations and celebrations and food -- and it is also the most expensive month of the year for most people.

Whether you celebrate a religious or cultural holiday or not, there's always something to spend money on in December. Gifts, mandatory work fun, parties (and clothes and babysitters and host gifts) can all add up.

But for many families, there's no extra room in the budget for holiday expenses. How are you going to give teacher gifts when you are already skimping on groceries? How are you going to pay for the babysitter for that unit holiday event when you can't even put gas in your car? It's hard, and you're not alone.

I wish I had a magic wand to fix your situation. But I don't. And I know that when you're stuck, well-meaning advice can come off wrong. So there's a chance that you're going to hate all my ideas. But maybe if you pick up one idea here, it can make things a little easier.

Free Is Good!

Social media-based "buy nothing" or "what do you need" groups are based in almost every neighborhood or installation. Find yours and join. Check it regularly, and maybe even do an "ask" post. You'd be amazed how much people want to help!

Shop your house before you consider buying anything. The younger the child, the easier it is to delight them. For a toddler, a box fort is an amazing gift, especially if you can decorate it -- or help them decorate it. Your child might love a collected basket of art and school supplies that are tucked around, or a dress-up kit of your old jewelry and clothes.

Consider participating in gift-sharing programs, such as Toys for Tots, or getting food from the food bank. These resources are there to help! Not sure where to look? Ask your installation chaplain or family service center to point you in the right direction.

Ambience Matters

If you already own holiday decorations, put them out. A single strand of Christmas lights or fairy lights, strategically placed and turned on every night, can set a festive stage. If you have candles and can use them safely with kids, go ahead and light them!

Turn the radio to a station playing holiday music, or use your online music source. There are even ways to stream a fake fireplace to your television!

Free or Almost Free Fun

Set up a movie night to watch a free, classic holiday movie. Check your library if you don't have access to cable or streaming services. Some even check out computers or DVD players!

Go for a walk and look at neighbors' Christmas lights or drive if you can afford the gas. Many installations and towns have tree-lighting events. Check your base for free holiday events.

Drag out all your arts and crafts supplies and do a holiday craft using whatever you have. Maybe it is making decorations or cards, or painting. There's no wrong way!

Have a family reading or game night, but with the lights on and music playing. Enjoy the time together.

The December holidays are a difficult time when you don't have enough money to do all the things you want to do. However, that doesn't mean that it can't be fun! I hope that these ideas help you think of ways to create a little holiday spirit in your life.

As a closing note: If you are struggling to meet your basic household needs, don't forget about your military relief societies. Depending on your situation, they may be able to offer interest-free loans or grants for food, shelter, transportation or other basic needs.

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