A Merry Christmas Without Cash

by Gary Foreman

A Merry Christmas Without Cash photo

Is it possible a Christmas without cash could provide an even happier holiday season? Take these steps to remove the emphasis on gifts and put it on loved ones.

It’s estimated that nearly 200 million U.S. consumers shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday. (source: National Retail Federation)

However, for some families who are really struggling, there will be very little money available for holiday spending.

But, a Christmas without cash doesn’t have to mean that the holidays will be ruined for your family. In fact, it may give you an opportunity to have an even happier holiday season.

Begin by focusing on what you have, not on what you don’t have.

It’s true that you might not have much money, but perhaps your home is full of love. Just by thinking about what you have, you’ll lift your spirits. (See Being Thankful for Having Less.)

Take some time to enjoy the season every day.

Get a copy of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol or other holiday book and read a bit each night, even if you don’t have children in your home. Books have a wonderful way of mentally transporting us to a different time and place.

Be honest with your family.

There’s no shame in being short of money. Surviving tough times requires that all family members help. And, they can’t help if you don’t let them know the circumstances (obviously, you want to keep your conversation age appropriate).

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Make gifts for others.

Especially if you’re unemployed, this is an opportunity to substitute your time for cash. And, it gives you a chance to make something unique specifically for the recipient. (See Inexpensive Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas for the Tight Budget.)

Let your kids help you.

By involving them in the baking, decorating, etc., you’ll keep the children from focusing solely on what they hope to get.

It’s also a good time to share your own holiday memories with them and build new ones.

Help those less fortunate.

Deliver socks to a homeless shelter. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Even if you’re really up against it, it’s mentally healthy to know that you are not alone. In fact, you might find hope in serving others.

Have some seasonal fun.

Take the time to make a snowman or snow angel. Have a snowball fight. Walk around your neighborhood looking at the displays.

Shared smiles make better memories than expensive gifts. (See 10 Truly Free Christmas Activities.)

Give future gifts.

Even children from poor families generally will have something to play with on Christmas morning, so it’s not critical they get everything on Christmas Day.

A coupon from you to give that special toy in February will allow you to take advantage of price drops (especially on electronics). It will also give you time to save some money to pay for it.

Consider giving heirloom gifts.

If your children are old enough, you might consider using this year to pass along that keepsake jewelry from Grandma or other family keepsakes.

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If circumstances have put your family in debt, we can help you create a plan for conquering it. One that is personalized to your family's budget and lifestyle.

Use old-fashioned decorations.

Generations before us had festive holiday homes even when they didn’t have money. Think paper chains, strung popcorn, pinecones and evergreen branches.

Substitute for that special gift.

Ask yourself why does my child want that particular gift. There may be a better, less expensive way to accomplish what your child wants.

If you absolutely must have a specific toy or electronics item, look for ways to get it cheaper.

Check stores for open box or return units. Surf the manufacturer’s website for refurbished units.

Don’t charge Christmas.

If you’re struggling financially, you shouldn’t make it harder to survive January. Remember that it’s very easy to charge yourself into a corner.

You’ll notice a common thread among these ideas. Take the emphasis off of gifts and put it on the people that we love.

As I understand it, the original goal of buying gifts was to bring happiness. This could be a marvelous opportunity to rediscover that happiness doesn’t always start with a dollar sign. And, that would be good in any economy.

Reviewed November 2021

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.

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