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Christmas on a Shoestring

Christmas on a Shoestring

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of The Single Life, a monthly column written specifically for singles.

Let’s face it, the holidays can be expensive. Pricey Christmas concert and event tickets, the latest Christmas movies, not to mention gift-giving . . . they all take money, sometimes sleigh-loads of it.

In these tough economic times it behooves us to be creative with our cash. Fortunately, it is possible to celebrate the season without breaking the bank. Below are a few suggestions for holiday gifts and activities that can help keep your season and your wallet merry. This is just a starter list, so if you come up with other genius ideas (and I’m sure you will!) do please share them in the comments section below. 

Low- (or No-) Cost Gifts

They say it’s the thought that counts; sometimes a little thought will lead you to the best gift ideas—and many of them cost little or nothing. Here are five ideas to get you started:

Shop: If you’re long on time and short on cash—but have a friend or family member with the opposite problem—offer to act as their personal shopper. For busy people, especially those who hate to shop in the first place, having you take their place in a crowded store would be appreciated far beyond any gift you could wrap. But speaking of wrapping . . .

Wrap: Do you have mad gift-wrapping skills? The wrap-challenged among your acquaintances may well appreciate the gift of your expertise when you offer to wrap their packages for them. You’ll enjoy operating in your creative gift, they’ll enjoy not having to fuss with tape and ribbon, and their gift recipients will enjoy opening a beautifully-wrapped gift for a change. If wrapping’s not your thing, you could always . . .

Babysit: Do you know someone with young children? Betcha their parents would love some adult time. They may want to go shopping without kiddies in tow, attend an office Christmas party, enjoy a date night, or just take an uninterrupted nap. The parents in my circle say keeping their kids occupied for a few hours would be one of the best presents ever. FYI, this is also a great gift for people who are caretakers for elderly parents or special needs family members. But if that doesn’t work for you, you could always go with a classic gift category and . . .

Cook: Do any of your friends or family eat? (Yes, that IS a trick question!) Everyone eats something, sometime, which is one reason food is always a popular gift. It can be presented a number of ways, including . . .

  • The ever-popular baked goods, candies, and other homemade treats, wrapped in plastic or tucked in a Christmas tin. It’s popular for a reason—who doesn’t love a yummy Christmas treat?
  •  How about a dinner kit for someone to enjoy now or later? I have a killer lasagna recipe that’s inexpensive to make, easy to freeze, and universally popular. Add a salad and a loaf of bread and poof! Dinner accomplished.
  • In lieu of gifts, have somebody (or everybody) over for a meal. I recently did this for a group of friends who all have December birthdays. We ate, laughed, talked, and enjoyed sharing an evening together. While we’re on the subject of parties . . .

Help: Do you know someone who is throwing a party, dinner, etc., and is perhaps a tad on the frazzled side? They could probably use a sous chef, flower arranger, decorator, dishwasher, etc. In other words, they could use some help to pull off their big event. Even those who aren’t in party mode may need help with something that falls in your area of expertise, whether it’s home repair or reorganizing the kitchen.   

Bonus:As I was pondering this article a friend shared her budget-friendly gift idea. She takes glass jars with lids, dumps in a handful of cranberries, fills the jar about three-quarters full of water, adds a floating candle (available at craft stores), screws on the lid, ties on a raffia bow and voila! A holiday candle. (Remove lid before lighting.) This would make a fantastic hostess gift at a fraction of the cost of fresh flowers.

Fun and Frugal Festivities

Gifts aren’t the only budget-busters; holiday events can come with a hefty ticket fee. That doesn’t mean you have to be a Grinch and stay home alone. There are plenty of activities to do by yourself or with friends. For example . . .

Go look at Christmas lights. One freezing night some years ago a bunch of us helped my friend Sharon remove the top from her Jeep. We piled in, pulled up blankets, picked up hot drinks at a drive-through, and shivered around town laughing, singing Christmas carols, and waving at bemused drivers in their nice, warm cars. It was so cold, but so much fun.

Go to a Christmas program or service at a church you don’t regularly attend. Shake it up a little! Contemporary worshipers may enjoy visiting a liturgical service and vice versa. Sometimes it’s good to think out of our worship box and see how other people celebrate Christ’s birthday.

Go read a holiday book—like A Christmas Carol, Socks for Christmas, or any of the many fine holiday tales. Extra points if you read it out loud, even if it’s just to yourself. (Although I’d advise that you not read out loud to yourself in public.) Then read the Christmas story from Luke 2. Slowly. Imagine yourself in the stable, in the fields with the shepherds, in Herod’s palace. It’ll give those familiar words a new resonance.

Go volunteer. Collect toys, coats, or canned goods, deliver Christmas baskets to needy families, serve food to the homeless, whatever you can find to do that will help fill a need. Sometimes giving to others is the best gift you can give yourself.

Go watch a movie. I know theaters are expensive, but ‘tis the season when holiday movies are on television practically 24/7. Have friends over for cookies and Christmas movies or just park yourself on the sofa and sing along with Bing Crosby. You’ll be dreaming of a White Christmas in no time.

Go find a bell-ringer and take them a hot (or depending on the weather, cold) drink. They have a boring, often uncomfortable job and are often ignored by passers-by. A kind word and a beverage can go a long way toward brightening their day and yours.

That’s not really all, but I’m out of space so I’ll turn it over to you. What’s your best tip for celebrating on a budget?


Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at

Visit’s Christmas Facebook page here.