Creating Christmas Memories without Breaking the Bank

Creating Christmas Memories without Breaking the Bank - picture of piggy bank surrounded by purple ornaments

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As much as I love the holiday season, it has become even more special now that I have kids.  But even though we want to make the holidays special for our girls, we still want to meet all of our long-term financial goals too. Here are few things we do to create memories without breaking the bank.

Christmas Eve Traditions

Every year our family has a tradition of going to look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. We put on our pajamas and coats, grab some homemade hot chocolate, and jump in the car. Greg then drives us all around town to look at the pretty Christmas lights and decorations people have put on display. One of the businesses in our town also has a huge Christmas display that you can drive through.  My kids absolutely loved it last year so we plan on making the drive at least a few times this year.

Decorating the Tree

Greg and I both have Christmas ornaments that are more than 30-years old and ornaments from when our kids were babies as well.  I love digging them out and helping the kids decorate the tree.  Our garage sale Christmas tree and mismatched ornaments never look that great, but we do have fun getting the tree ready for Santa.

I don’t do a lot of decorating around the house for Christmas other than putting up a tree.  I’ve just never gotten into the holiday décor thing, but I always think it looks nice when other people do.  My daughter seriously wants us to put up some Christmas lights like all of the neighbors, but I hate the thought of wasting so much electricity.  Is that sad or what?

Creating a 2014 Scrapbook

My awesome vacation scrapbook...
My awesome vacation scrapbook…

Since we love to travel, we go on lots of trips together.  We want our girls to have lots of memories and experiences while they are still young, but we also just like to spend the quality time with them away from the stresses of regular life. Exposing them to many different locations and cultures through travel is how we choose to use some of our money, but of course we supplement our spending with credit card rewards.

Regardless, we have a huge collection of photos from our trips. Some we print out, but most we do not. Sitting down to do some scrapbooking with the girls would be a great wintertime activity since we can’t spend too much time outside in the cold.  I usually like to put together some sort of collection of our travels and activities for each year, including things like birthdays, special events, and fun days we had.

I also recently put together a scrapbook of our recent trip to Europe with It was incredibly easy to do and I didn’t have to mess with glue or stickers or get a ton of photos developed. does all of the heavy lifting for you – you just have to upload your pictures and place them where you want them.  I highly recommend it if you don’t have the will or desire to pay for overpriced scrapbooking stickers or use double-sided tape.

The Christmas tree is up!
The Christmas tree is up!

Baking Some Christmas Memories

Having the girls help with some holiday baking is fun, messy, and great for making memories.. They love to help out in the kitchen and baking cookies is a fun way to make some memories. They helped me make homemade pumpkin pie this year when we harvested our pumpkins and had a blast helping pour the ingredients into the blender.  I hope to make some holiday cookies with them this year…and I also hope that I can keep my own grubby paws out of them!

Saving money is important, but we want to make memories too.  After all, these are things they’ll look back on when they are adults someday, and we want them to remember the fun things we did as a family. Memories of gifts you receive as a child will fade over time, but memories truly can last forever.

How do you create Christmas memories without breaking the bank? Do you have any holiday traditions?

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  1. Those all sound like wonderful (and frugal!) ways to make memories. Our little one is too young to really “get” Christmas this year, but starting next year we plan on doing many of these same things. Especially driving around to look at Christnas lights! That’s something we did when I was a kid, and I still think it’s really fun 🙂

  2. Awww, give your daughter a few strands of lights to put up, but make her help put them up! I’ve always loved Christmas lights, so I had to put them up and take them down at my parents’ house as a kid and I’ve always been the one to do them at our house since we got married. A few strands of lights really doesn’t use that much electricity to run for a few hours in the evening on a timer. =)

    We do one new ornament for each of us that somehow ties in with an experience from the year, so putting up Christmas ornaments is like a trip down memory lane.

    1. No to the outdoor Christmas lights- I hate them! Maybe to a big blowup yard Santa or something one day =)

      1. How can you hate outdoor lights? Our kids love coming home and seeing them on. Put them up when it’s warm and it’s easy.

  3. These remind me a lot of my childhood holiday memories!

    As a child I would spend two weeks of my Christmas vacation with my aunt and uncle. This was always a wonderful time for me. One of my strongest memories of this time of year was going caroling to various homes of older people and those far less fortunate than I. During the day we would drop off food baskets for those same groups of people. I was too young to understand what it meant not to have enough to eat and the idea of not getting presents or giving them was beyond my comprehension. Such is the innocents of youth.

    I’ve always had a naturally occurring altruistic nature, but I often wonder how much those early experiences shaped my sensitivities to the plight of others.

    I don’t have children Holly so I hope you will indulge me for a moment. Discuss with your kids the reality that others want get gifts this year or enjoy home baked goodies. Ask them how they would want to help others. Maybe it won’t be giving out food baskets or caroling. Maybe they want to write letters to service men or women overseas, or maybe even to those kids who have parents deployed. Maybe it’s visiting a children’s hospital and bringing a gift or sharing the greatest gift of all for any of us; their time. Maybe it’s just baking something to give to a neighbor. I would be most interested to hear what they come up with.

    Cultivating a spirit of giving to those who have less than us is a tradition worth developing in both young and old at any time of the year.

    Happy Holidays!!
    The Stoic

  4. I love Christmas time! We decked out the Frugalwoods halls this weekend and it’s so festive up in here. I’m with you on not spending much to have a great time–we use the same decorations (and fake tree) every year and don’t buy too many gifts. We don’t put lights up on the outside of our house either–I agree with you, it uses way too much electricity!

    1. My neighbors have enough Christmas lights for everyone. I can see several houses lit up from my front door. That’s my excuse =)

    1. I don’t do it anymore- no time! The MyPublisher stuff is all online so it only takes a few minutes. I made our vacation scrapbook in less than 30 minutes.

  5. My wife loves to decorate the Christmas tree. She has ornaments from all the important times in our lives. This includes family events, weddings, travel etc. When we look at the Christmas tree it’s one big reminder of the wonderful life we have 🙂

  6. Now that you are far northsiders… are you going to check out the display over at Reynolds Farm Equipment? It is right where I69 and SR37 split off into Fishers. It is quite the spectacle and completely free!

    Since our little guy is just now 2.5 this is the first year he really gets it. He decorated most of the Christmas tree himself. It 100% looks like a 2 year old did it but it is awesome!

    1. They love the Farm Equipment light display! That’s the one I was talking about in this post. It’s 5 minutes from my house.

  7. I love putting up the Christmas tree….all the ornaments on our tree are ones that either the kids made, OR that we purchased with some special meaning. Each year we buy ONE ornament that has some special significance of that year. It’s fun to put up the ornaments and recall the meaning of each one!

    1. I agree! We have ornaments that mean a lot to us and I love digging them out and putting them up!

  8. We are still finding our footing in this area, but we have a nice collection of children’s Christmas themed books (some religious, some not) and we like to read one if those each day (or so). We also got a magnetic advent calendar this year and my preschooler loves it. Her birthday is in December do each day we hang the ornament and countdown to the two big days.

  9. It’s amazing the mileage kids can get out of Christmas lights! Something we started last year was taking the kids to the $5 store and helping each kid get a present for their siblings. It was so fun watching them get excited about giving.

  10. We do a lot of these things in our family and much of it costs little to nothing which is great. We usually put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving, but with family staying with us this year that’s having to be put off until this weekend which is driving the kids batty. 🙂

    1. Haha! We just put ours up Sunday so don’t feel bad.

  11. We love looking at all the Christmas lights. What is it about them??
    And those photo books are way easier than scrapbooking, since it takes about 17 hours to do one page and a few trips to hobby lobby for specialized stickers. I made my daughter her own photo book last year for Christmas and she loves it. I’ve had to tape it up because she looks at it so much. Kids love pictures of themselves!

    1. Yes, I agree about photo books. Scrapbooking is fun but a pain. I made my wedding album and probably spent $100 on those stupid stickers!

  12. The thing I miss most about our son no longer being home is our Christmas eve cookie baking. All three of us participated and some very non-Christmasy cookie cutters were used….unless you know of the Christmas Rabbit! Fun times and great memories.

    1. Awww….that’s why I want to cherish these memories. They won’t be young forever!

  13. My daughter would love a scrapbook of our trips. That is a great gift idea. I never have time to print out pictures, but the ones I have put in albums, she will spend hours looking at. We also drive around to look at lights and we’ll go to the small town Christmas parade this weekend. It’s really easy to make kids happy this time of year.

    1. You should try you load it all online and they ship it to your door.

  14. We also drive around and look at Christmas lights and the plan is to bake bake bake, but we’ll see how much we actually do!
    Give the girls some Christmas lights! They are only on a few hours a day! 🙂

  15. I have so many memories of decorating Christmas sugar cookies. My mom usually did the baking, though I do remember using the cookies cutters on occasion. Mostly I remember sitting around our dining room table with my siblings and numerous bowls of colored frosting and sprinkles everywhere. We always made a ton and shared them with family and neighbors. We were never allowed to lick our fingers no matter how much frosting we had on them. I think sugar cookies were fairly frugal, and there were three of us for labor!

  16. I was just talking about this with a friend and we both realized that a lot of our favorite Christmas traditions were really frugal – going to see lights on houses, making sugar cookies, making sausage balls for breakfast. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to make lasting memories!

  17. We go to church with my family every Christmas Eve, and actually I’ve been going every year since I can remember. I like being able to focus on the true reason that we have Christmas in the first place. In recent years I’ve enjoyed spending some time with my wife. We are both so busy that it’s nice to actually RELAX around the holidays.

  18. There’s this farm outside of town that is crazy decked out with lights and displays. It’s just amazing. There is so much that you feel like you just could never see it all. I don’t know how they make such an enormous amount of things look so beautiful. I also love that we aren’t paying that light bill! 🙂

  19. I love decorating the tree with the girls. It’s truly a trip down memory lane. Many of the ornaments have meaning behind them as they were either gifts or ornaments we picked up during our travels. I also buy the girls an ornament every year (which they will take when they leave home) so the girls love hanging them up and we talk about why we chose the particular ornament we did. Family traditions are so important any time of the year, but they seem to take on special meaning at Christmas.

  20. DC1 just had a homework assignment on family traditions… we had a really hard time thinking about Christmas ones because we haven’t gotten down to a strict pattern. Like, usually we buy a live rosemary bush/tree to decorate and them plant it after Christmas, but not on the years we’re spending Christmas with the in-laws. My parents are almost always last minute about their travel plans, so that part isn’t predictable, and so on.

    I’m not even sure what we’re going to do about present opening when we’re not at home on Christmas since it’s silly to take presents several states away just to open them and bring them back. (Not that some of the stuff the in-laws send would even fit in our car!)

    This will be the second year we put up a felt tree instead of the rosemary tree (the last time being the last time we spent Christmas with my in-laws).

    1. We packed gifts and brought them to Minnesota once when my daughter was a baby. Her gifts were small, but I definitely don’t want to do that again.
      This year, we’re going to Minnesota for Christmas next weekend- it’s early, but the date worked for everyone. We are flying so I seriously hope the in=laws don’t gift anything too big =/

  21. I love putting up a Christmas tree and a Christmas lights but my daughter was more excited than me! 🙂 We also have big Santa and nativity scene.

  22. I loved driving around to see the lights when I was growing up. I think it’s something we’ll be doing with our Little Miss this year.

    I’d also like to do a Gingerbread house hosue this year with her!

  23. When I was younger our family didn’t have a lot of money so presents were somewhat minimal and on Christmas Eve we would make hot chocolate and then drive around the area to look at all the Christmas lights people would put up. Costs were very low and it was still fun

  24. We love watching Christmas movies together (which we have owned for years, so that is cheap). Plus we typically make sugar cookies the weekend before Christmas so that we can leave them for Santa. They are so cheap to make and it usually consumes an entire day, but it allows for lots of great family time for us.

  25. There’s a house in my hometown that is famous for going ALL OUT on the Christmas lights every year. It’s becoming tradition for us to drive by and just look at what the homeowners come up with each year!

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