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50 Frugal Family Holiday Traditions to Start This Year

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Are you looking for some fun (and low-cost) holiday traditions you can start this year?

I love the holiday season. As soon as the clock winds down on Halloween, I’m ready to break out the decorations and start watching Christmas movies.

It’s my favorite time of year because I know we’re about to indulge in some of my favorite Christmas traditions. There are things I started doing with my kids when they were much younger that have just stuck year after year.

Having holiday traditions you can lean into as a family is great for so many reasons. You’re making memories and spending time together, which is always a plus if you’re a busy mom like me.

And the great thing is that there are so many Christmas traditions you can try that are fun and super cheap.

Don’t get me wrong, we do splurge on some things during the holidays. In years past, I’ve taken them to see “The Nutcracker”, a musical version of “A Christmas Story” and to a huge outdoor light show at a farm a few hours away.

But really, the holidays shouldn’t be about spending money. So I try to come up with ideas for holiday traditions that are more about memories than anything else.

And if you feel the same way about it, then you will definitely want to read this post. I’ve rounded up 50 of the best Christmas traditions you can start this year, many of which are free or low-cost.

Many of these are things we do now or have done in the past; the rest are things I’d love to try. But I guarantee you’ll find a few holiday traditions here that can make your time together as a family more enjoyable (and memorable!)

frugal holiday traditions

50 Holiday Traditions That Are Frugal (and Fun)

1. Host a holiday movie marathon

Did I mention I LOVE Christmas movies? Schedule one night a week (or every night!) to get together as a family and watch your favorite holiday flicks. (This one is my personal favorite!)

2. Try some easy (and delicious!) holiday recipes

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making all the foods we don’t normally eat the rest of the year. If you don’t have any traditional holiday foods yet, get together as a family and choose a few recipes to try.

3. Perform a random act of kindness for the 12 days of Christmas

A little kindness can go a long way. Doing some good deeds as a family can help kids get in the habit of being in the holiday spirit all year-long.

4. Attend your local Christmas parade or tree lighting

This is one of the holiday traditions that’s on our to-do list every year. We go to our town’s tree lighting on Friday, followed by the Christmas parade on Saturday morning. It’s fun, festive and best of all, free!

5. Make homemade cinnamon ornaments

Our past Christmas traditions included making salt dough ornaments but those things can be tricky if your dough isn’t just right. These cinnamon ornaments, on the other hand, are easy to make and they smell great!

6. Play Christmas bingo

I love bingo any time but it’s extra fun when it has a holiday spin! This printable is free to download and can keep kids busy for hours.

7. Start a Christmas countdown

This is something my kids loved to do when they were little. If you have smaller kids, you could add making paper chains or a Christmas countdown clock to your list of holiday traditions.

8. Set up a hot chocolate bar

Who doesn’t love hot cocoa? It’s cheap and easy to make, which are both things I appreciate. This is one of those holiday traditions you can carry on through the winter when you need a warm-up on cold nights.

9. Choose one special ornament to add to your tree for each family member

This is one of the Christmas traditions we still follow, even now that my kids are tweens. We pick ornaments that reflect things that reflect their personalities.

It’s fun to look back each year and see how their interests have evolved as they’ve gotten older. (For example, this year my son chose a dirtbike for his ornament while my daughter opted for making her favorite anime characters out of craft foam.)

10. Have regular Christmas read-alouds

I still read aloud to my kids and while we’ve shifted from picture books to novels, it’s a family tradition I won’t give up any time soon. Starting in December each year, we read a holiday-themed book. This year, our pick is this one by Charles Dickens.)

11. Make your own eco-friendly gift wrap

I’m all about using less paper so this is one of the Christmas traditions that’s on my “to try” list for this year. If you don’t feel crafty enough to make your own wrap from fabric, you could also try upcycling old newspapers or paper bags.

12. Try the “3-gift challenge” to save money

If your kids are anything like my kids, they probably have more stuff than they know what to do with. Starting a 3-gift or 4-gift rule can cut down on the “stuff” and it’s one of the best holiday traditions for saving money.

13. Roast marshmallows in the backyard under the stars

It really doesn’t feel like the holidays for my kids until they’ve burned a bunch of marshmallows to a crisp. Grab some graham crackers and chocolate and you’ve got the perfect recipe for s’mores–and a little family togetherness.

14. Host an indoor snowball fight

We live at the beach so a white Christmas is pretty much impossible for us. But we can (and do) still pretend by having indoor snowball fights over the holidays.

15. Make a DIY Christmas angel ornament

We love making Christmas ornaments at my house. This DIY Christmas angel ornament is a good one to try if you want to create a memory ornament for lost loved ones.

16. Create felt photo ornaments for everyone in the family

Photo ornaments don’t cost a lot of money to make and it’s almost like creating a holiday time capsule. Each year, you can pull your ornaments out from the year before to see just how much your kids have grown.

17. Make DIY Christmas stockings

We hang Christmas stockings but buying them new every year can get expensive, quick. Making your stockings is a low-cost way to keep this holiday tradition alive.

18. Build a gingerbread house

This is one of the funniest holiday traditions at my house. Every year I buy a gingerbread kit for my kids and my daughter’s best friend to work on together. These things always end up in a collapsed heap of broken gingerbread and icing but it’s hilarious watching them try to put them together.

19. Or try a candy cabin instead

This idea was too cute for me not to include it. While it isn’t one of our Christmas traditions, it’s tempting to see if we could do better building houses out of Kit-Kat bars instead of gingerbread.

20. Cruise your neighborhood and enjoy the free holiday light show

If you don’t want to pay to go somewhere to see holiday lights, check out what’s on display in your neighborhood or the one next door. It won’t cost you anything besides your time and gas but the memories can be priceless.

21. Make a family Advent calendar

We celebrate Advent at our house and every year, we do something different. This DIY version is great for saving money and working on a family project together.

22. Hit the dollar store to do some low-cost shopping as a family

Planning a special shopping trip is a good way to have some quality time and you don’t have to spend a lot. Give each of your kids a $5 budget and spend an hour at the dollar store picking out gifts to exchange.

23. Make ornaments out of old Christmas cards

I’m not the sending Christmas cards type but I always get them. I hate to throw them away so repurposing them into Christmas ornaments is just plain genius!

24. Head back to the Dollar Tree to get goodies to fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

Our church does this every year and we always get in on the fun. The best time to do this is in November when they have a national collection week but it’s not too late to get your box packed and mailed out in December.

25. Play Secret Santa to save on gifts

Secret Santa is something we did when I was a kid and it’s still a fun holiday tradition. Everybody takes turns drawing names and then gets a small amount of money to spend on a gift. Or better yet, you could encourage everyone to draw names and make gifts instead!

 

christmas traditions

26. Organize a candy cane hunt

Scavenger hunts are fun any time of year if you ask me. But you can add a holiday twist by creating a candy cane hunt around the house.

27. Mix up some winter slime

My son is obsessed with slime, he could make this stuff all day if I’d let him. I always try to find seasonal recipes that tie in whatever holiday is going on and winter slime is perfect for Christmas and into spring.

28. Play holiday charades

I like playing charades with my kids but I guess I’m terrible at it because they can never figure out what I’m trying to act out. If you’re better at acting than I am, you could try a round of holiday charades using your favorite Christmas movies, books or songs.

29. Try some holiday-themed STEM activities

Anything science-related is a hit with my kids and if yours are the same way, you’ll want to try these holiday STEM activities for sure.

30. Make your own holiday cards with washi tape

Washi tape is pretty to look at and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Grab a few rolls, some card stock and a few holiday stickers and let your kids go at it with making their own holiday cards.

31. Whip up some magical reindeer food

We normally leave out carrots for the reindeer but I’m thinking this year, we’ll add making reindeer food into our holiday traditions routine.

32. Write a letter to a solider for Operation Gratitude

Your kids might write letters to Santa but you could put a new spin on it by writing to a soldier. A little holiday cheer can go a long way for a soldier who’s far from home during the Christmas season.

33. Make gingerbread pancakes for Christmas morning

Normally I make a breakfast casserole for Christmas morning, but I’m thinking it’s a good year to try these gingerbread pancakes. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll whip up a regular batch and make them Christmas-y with some green food coloring.

34. Track Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve

This is a Christmas tradition we’ve done ever since my kids were teeny. I’m a little dubious on whether they still believe in Santa but we still check the Norad tracker each year on Christmas Eve.

35. Buy some matching holiday pajamas for the whole family

I always give my kids pajamas on Christmas Eve and these matching ones are great for the entire family. You can get together in your PJs and snap a family holiday photo around the Christmas tree.

36. Visit a thrift store to find some ugly holiday sweaters, then have an ugliest sweater contest

Ugly Christmas sweaters are one of my favorite things ever. The other day I begged my daughter to let me buy her one that had cats in Santa hats all over it but she bah humbug-ed me and said no.

If your kids aren’t as Grinch-y as mine, round them up and head to the thrift store. Get the ugliest Christmas sweaters you can find, then have a fashion show/contest to see which one is the worst.

37. Check to see if your local aquarium or museum sponsors a free Festival of Trees event

We like going to the aquarium most any time but it’s especially nice at the holidays. Both our local aquariums and one of the museums has a Festival of Trees each year. You can walk through and check out all the beautifully decorated trees, plus getting a little learning in on the side.

38. Make a meal and deliver it to a neighbor in need

Chances are, you have at least one neighbor who’s spending the holidays alone. Making them a nice meal or some holiday baked goods and hand-delivering them is a good way to check in and let them know they’re not forgotten. If you want to go a step further, you could invite them to share in your family’s holiday dinner.

39. Have Santa send your kids a personalized video message

Video messages from Santa weren’t a thing when I was a kid so this is one of the holiday traditions I came to once I had kids of my own. I love doing this every year just to see the look on my son’s face when he’s worried about whether he’s on the naughty or nice list. (And of course, it’s always nice.)

40. Create a family newsletter to send to relatives who live far away

When your family is spread out everywhere, it can be hard to stay up to date on what’s happening with everyone. Sending out a family newsletter is a nice way to keep in touch and let them know you’re thinking of them over the holidays.

41. Donate a gift or two to a local Giving Tree

Our local family services agency sponsors a Giving Tree each year. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a tree that has tags with a person’s age, gender and one item that’s on their Christmas wish list.

Our tree is set up in Walmart so at least once a year, we make sure to grab a few tags and pick up some gifts.

42. Schedule a once-a-week holiday family game night

I love playing board games with my kids, even though I always lose without fail. Holiday-themed games are a great way to mix up your regular family game night.

43. Attend a candlelight service on Christmas Eve

If you’ve never been to a candlelight service on Christmas, it’s something special. At our church, they sing carols by candlelight and say a special prayer at the end of the service. It’s very calming and a nice reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

44. Declutter the house and donate gently used items to families in need

If the holiday season means a pile of gifts coming into your home, why not declutter and get rid of some of the things you don’t need? And instead of tossing them out, you can donate items that are still in good shape to another family that could use them.

45. Have a contest to see who can find the Christmas pickle

Okay, so I had never heard of the Christmas pickle until I got married but I assure you, this is a real thing. It’s one of those holiday traditions that no one really knows exactly how it got started but once you get into it, you’ll wonder how you ever did Christmas without it.

46. Pop open some Christmas crackers

Christmas crackers look like so much fun and you don’t have to live in the UK to enjoy them. You can take turns popping them on Christmas Eve but remember, wearing the hat isn’t optional!

47. Make New Year’s resolutions as a family

Setting New Year’s resolutions or goals is a great way to reflect on the year gone by. Spend some time on New Year’s Eve mapping out what you hope to achieve as a family in the coming year.

48. Donate food, bedding and other needed items to your local animal shelter

Every year we donate food, chew toys and other pet-related items to our animal shelter. Since two of our three pets are rescues, it’s our way of giving back to organizations that foster fur babies until they can find homes.

49. Create a holiday playlist and sing along to your favorite Christmas carols

I don’t know about you but I start playing Christmas music on November 1. If your family has some favorite holiday tunes, create a playlist for the road and have your own version of carpool karaoke.

50. Put together a holiday puzzle as a family

I’m including this last holiday tradition idea because my mom is a puzzle nut. They are literally all over her house. Puzzles can be fun to do as a family on Christmas Eve or any time during the holiday season when you’d rather have a cozy night at home.

holiday traditions

Which Holiday Traditions Will You Try?

There are so many great Christmas traditions you can start as a family and they don’t have to cost a lot of money. I hope I’ve given you some ideas here to add to your holiday traditions list for this year and years to come!

Do you have a favorite holiday activity that your family enjoys every year? Head to the comments and tell me about it!

And of course, I’d love for you to pin and share this post!

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Hi there, I'm Rebecca, homeschooling single mom of two. I built a six-figure freelance writing business from home and now I teach busy moms how to save money, make money and master their time! Follow me on Pinterest and Twitter and don't forget to check out the Resource Library--it's packed with tons of free tools to help make the busy mom life easier!

Comments

  1. First, we share the same favorite Christmas movie. My family watches a different movie the entire week leading up the Christmas day. It’s such a fun family activity. I look forward to trying the cinnamon ornaments. We’ve never done that before, but my kiddo is very creative! Thanks for all the ideas. Happy Holidays!

    • We love Christmas movies at our house, though my kids aren’t quite as passionate about A Christmas Story as I am. The cinnamon ornaments are such a neat idea, I thought–salt dough just never works for us, plus it doesn’t smell as good as cinnamon. 🙂

  2. I love all of these ideas. What’s fantastic about them is that they focus on family, memories and togetherness, not things. These are the types of things that will be remembered. I used to make a habit of asking my kids each Christmas to tell me what they got the previous Christmas…and no one ever remembered. Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Margaret! I agree, it’s better to make the holidays about experiences and not things. Stuff is just stuff at the end of the day but family and memories are forever.

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