9 Thrifty and Thankful Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

For some reason, the holidays remain the preeminent season where we reflect on just how much more crap we have than others. Oddly enough, this usually spurs us on to buy even more junk for each other, but we also feel compelled to be generous with folks in emotional, physical, or financial need. Whether it be a guy working a construction site down the street or an orphan in Africa, the holidays can be an extraordinary time to love on people who are on your mind.

The good news is this generosity doesn’t have to cost much money! Simple, generous gifts of service and small goodies go a long way to helping people remember that someone cares for them.

1. Deliver or Purchase  Christmas Baskets

Most churches and community programs have some sort of Christmas basket collection and delivery service. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s yearly estimate on an average feast, collected by 112 volunteer shoppers from 34 states, the total comes to about $43. Considering that the average household plans on spending over $400 in gifts this year, 10% of that is a drop in the bucket. If you legitimately can’t afford to buy an entire feast, volunteer to deliver baskets for a local organization, and take your family with you to help. Families are amazingly grateful and tearful when gifted with a whole dinner. Allow your children to participate in the service and make a life-long memory.

2. Decorate Christmas Cookies

As a kid, every year I could bank on decorating Christmas cookies with Grandma. This was a scheduled, special time she spent with each of the grandkids to chat about life while making bells, angels, and reindeer.  Our creations evolved over the years into themes and eventually we made whole tins for gifts. We continue that tradition today in Grandma’s honor. Sugar cookies are dirt cheap, as is frosting. Make five dozen from scratch for under $7 using thick ziplock for piping bags and borrowed cookie cutters. Pick a fantastic sugar cookie recipe, like one from All Recipes, as thinner dough doesn’t retain it’s shape when cooked.

3. Home Improvement Service

Who on your street needs some extra help with cleaning, lifting, or organizing something? Maybe an elderly neighbor or a single mom who needs an extra body in the house? If you haven’t yet, get to know the people who live around you and offer an extra set of hands. Think about what you’re good at–babysitting, carpentry, painting–and offer your help as an expression of goodwill.

4. Neighborhood Coffee-on-the-Go

Head to your local coffee hotspot and buy three or four 12-cup sized coffee containers (travelers). Starbucks sells a giant box of coffee with creamer, sugar, stir sticks, cups, and lids for around $12-15. Stand at the entrance or exit to your community and hand out Coffee-on-the-Go to folks heading off to work. Make sure you have a brightly colored sign clearly stating that you aren’t fundraising and that the coffee is for neighborhood residents.

5. Donate Food Purchased with Coupons

Most of us have a food budget (at least we should). Shave off $50 from your December food budget and use it to purchase as much food for your local pantry as possible. Enlist the whole family to track down coupons and match them with sales to get the best bang for your buck. Take care to buy non-perishables and frequently requested items like diapers, soups, rice, canned meats, and cereal.

6. Reverse Advent

We all love the Advent calendar, with tiny doors or flaps hiding a tiny gift or edible each day in December. To put a new spin on this tradition, have everyone in the family write five or six favors or homemade coupons they plan on doing for the whole family, like “One Free Vacuuming” or “One Free Christmas Lights Drive”. Each day someone in the family serves and the coupons are a surprise to everyone. Make sure those writing the coupons intend to fulfill their promises!

7. Clear Clutter for Donation

Before rolling in new toys and gadgets on Christmas morning, get rid of the stuff that occupies space and does nothing except clutter. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t used it in two years, you won’t. Getting rid of clutter will eliminate about 40% of housework and reduce time spent hunting things down. After rounding up the stuff put the large items on Craigslist and send the small things to Salvation Army or Goodwill. Donate all sale proceeds to a local food bank or charitable organization.

8. Host a Neighborhood Christmas Movie Night

For the cost of a box of popcorn (roughly $5) and a Christmas movie, which you probably own anyway, have the neighborhood kids over for a pajama movie evening. Not sure which movie to pick? Here’s our top picks:

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life
  2. Elf
  3. A Christmas Story
  4. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  5. Home Alone
  6. Miracle on 34th Street
  7. Polar Express
  8. A Christmas Carol
  9. Miracle on 34th Street
  10. Nightmare Before Christmas

9. Hot Chocolate To Go

You think it’s a pain to bundle up from the door to your heated car? All the folks who work outside get really, really cold throughout the day. Make a big batch of hot chocolate, buy some styrofoam cups and drive across the city handing out cups of kind sweetness.


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