Five Frugal Ways to Celebrate Without Being Scrooge

The holidays can be costly. That’s no secret. But there are plenty of ways to save on celebrating without turning into Mr. Scrooge himself.

Here are our five favorite frugal ways to enjoy the most wonderful time of year.

Deck the halls with gifts.

Are you doing some gift giving this holiday season? Good. Me too. Why not use those gifts as decor? Each year, we give our neighbors poinsettias and popcorn. Until we find time to dash next door to wish them well, I scatter the poinsettias around our house. (We don’t have pets and our son isn’t interested in them — the ornaments on the Christmas tree aren’t so lucky.) Not only does it add some Christmas joy to our decor, it also reminds me to keep them alive. Unlike that one year I lined them up by the window in the basement and then promptly forgot to water them for about a week. They looked more like something being dried for a spice rack than a gift worthy of giving by the time I was done forgetting about them.

If plants aren’t your thing, get to gift wrapping sooner rather than later and put them under your tree, by your doorway, or anywhere else you want a pop of color. The cheerful paper is sure to be a fun reminder of this holly jolly time of year. Plus, anything that inspires me to get a head start on one of the easiest parts of Christmas to procrastinate is a huge win.

Celebrate on a timer.

Christmas lights are costly. How do I know? We display a lot of them.

A lot, A LOT of them.

Like Christmas Vacation a lot of them.

Like one year, I plugged in the toaster while they were running and it blew a fuse a lot of them.

While nothing can be done to dampen my husband’s love of lights, we do have them all set on timers. Santa is going to see you while you’re sleeping with or without your Christmas lights on, so turn them off when you turn in for the night.

Party with a plan.

How many ugly sweater parties are too many? We may never know. With holidays parties at every turn, it’s wonderful to make merry and bright, but remember that you don’t have to attend all of them.

RELATED POST: 5 Ways I’m Saving Over The Holidays (While Still Buying What I Want)

If you feel pressure to attend a company party for work, it doesn’t have to be costly. I understand in some galaxies far, far away from mine, there are companies who pay for their employees to celebrate. Sound familiar? Me neither. After a few years of formal, sit-down dinners that cost $50-$100 a plate, I did what any smart teacher would do. I whined to the social committee. The little drummer boy and I decided to bang the drum loudly for a cocktail hour instead. And you know what? It worked.

Of course, there are other ways to party on a budget. Host a potluck. Suggest a gingerbread house decorating competition. Hold an eggnog tasting. (Actually, don’t. Eggnog is gross.) Whip up a spread of appetizers and invite friends over to binge on Hallmark Channel movies. With a little planning, parties don’t have to break the budget. 

DIY…or don’t.

There are times when it makes a whole lot of sense to do-it-yourself. And then there are times when it just doesn’t. Even if you are the craftiest creator this side of HGTV, creating things can be costly.

If you are going to bake a gingerbread village from scratch or design your own outdoor decor, who am I to tell you not to? But before you begin, price it out. If your recipe calls for sweet nectar from a fresh coconut that you cut down with a machete yourself, maybe take a pass. But if you happen to have some or all of the necessary supplies, go on with your bad Pinterest self.

Get outside.

Yes, it’s cold. As much as Midwesterners talk a good game in the winter months (“Oh, you think this is cold? It’s not cold until the fluid in your eyeballs freezes.”), it truly is the most wonderful time of year to retreat indoors. But outdoors shouldn’t be avoided at all costs. In fact, some of the most fun and frugal holiday happenings take place outside.

There are snowball fights to have, snow angels to make, Christmas lights to look at, and carols to be sung (unless your singing sounds like mine, which is to say it sounds like something akin to a sweet woodland creature being run over by a reindeer). If you’re really hard-pressed for inspiration, search your town or city online for ideas. I promise you there are plenty of free activities to enjoy in the wintery wonderland.

So Tell Me…What are your favorite ways to spread good cheer and save?

Originally posted December 2017, updated December 2019


  1. I love getting outside with friends/family and walking the streets (residential or commercial) that go all out on lights. We don’t have any lights other than our Christmas tree and aren’t visible from the road, so no real point to it for now. But I love getting out and getting others out to enjoy the sight and “Christmas feel” 🙂

  2. Christmas Carols with friends and family and a good flaming rum punch. Lot’s of fun, very inexpensive. Just be prepared for some of the visitors to stay over if the punch is too good. 😉

  3. I like walking around parts of town where decorations are up. Festive without having to store all of those things on my own. Then you can stop for a hot cocoa or eggnog, which is delicious to me.

  4. It’s difficult to get me outside this time of year when it’s cold out, but I love classic movies inside where it’s warm. Films like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are bound to be on the schedule this time of year. And for something different, my local movie theater has weekly holiday movies at noon on Saturdays for the relative bargain price of $5/ticket (plus a special deal on refreshments). My wife and I went to see Elf on the big screen this past Saturday, which neither of us had seen before. It was a festive bit of fun we both enjoyed.

    • Our neighborhood even does trolley rides to take in all the lights that ends with a vote for best display and prizes. It’s not technically free (we have an optional membership fee of $30 a year/house), but it’s still a really good deal!

  5. You will learn to take advantage of local free events for the kids. It’s easy enough to find them on Facebook. The kids got a zoo membership for their birthday. A couple of weeks ago they put on a really nice breakfast with Santa – free for members. There was fruit, donuts, juice, coloring pages, animals to pet, temporary tattoos, and the big guy himself with a chocolate reindeer for all the kids. Perfect frugal family fun! 🎄

  6. I can’t imagine what a “sweet woodland creature being run over by a reindeer” sounds like. So now I got hear you sing one day. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Penny.

  7. We go for hikes in the mountains with our athletic minded kids and their significant others when we can. It’s free and a great group activity. Plus it reminds us that even though we think we are pretty studly in our sixties we don’t compare to twenty and thirty something youngsters when it comes to speed and agility.

  8. We have been going to neighborhoods the last couple of Christmases where they display holiday lights throughout a whole block or two. Many people disperse there and walk around to enjoy the holiday lights. Even some of the residents in these neighborhoods have a hot cocoa stand outside their home and offer them for free to the onlookers. So it’s a cool holiday feel when walking around there and we all love it. We’re planning to this every year in the foreseeable future with our boys.

  9. One big activity my family does over the holidays is having a DIY photoshoot session where I am the photographer! It’s great fun getting everyone dressed up and being creative with the photoshoot every year, without spending additional money.

  10. Lisa

    We love our LED Christmas lights- not very expensive and use very little electricity so we can leave them on all night guilt free

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