How to Do Christmas When You’re Completely Broke

Do you remember what you got for Christmas last year? What about the year before? Do your kids remember? No, I don’t remember either.

But I bet you remember what you did for Christmas. Long after the presents are forgotten, the memories of how you spent your time together live on.

One of my fondest memories of Christmas is cherry pip spitting. Sitting on the front porch in the late afternoon breeze, we would see who could spit the cherry pips the furthest.

I know, all class.

I think I remember this so fondly because we were most definitely not allowed to spit stuff any other time. And it was one of the only times I saw my parents do anything just a little bit naughty.

What are your fondest memories of Christmas?

This time of the year is usually all about buying stuff. It’s stressful for everyone, but if you’re broke, it’s especially stressful. How do you give your family the Christmas they want when it’s hard enough just paying the bills?

By reinventing Christmas so that it’s less about what you get and more about what you do.

How to have an awesome Christmas on Next to Nothing

1. It’s all about attitude

It can be so hard to have a positive, upbeat attitude when we’re struggling and stressed crazy by money issues. There are just times when the last thing we want to do is put on our happy face.

But this one’s a game changer.

Our attitude towards Christmas will make or break it.

Kids are emotional antennas. They will pick up on the vibe you’re putting out and magnify it tenfold. If you’re excited and treat Christmas day as special, your children will always have cherished memories of Christmas.
Decorate the house for Christmas. This seems trivial, but it’s super important for getting into the Christmas spirit.

You don’t have to spend money on decorations. DIY as a family using natural and recycled items and the fun of Christmas will last all month.

And while you’re in the DIY spirit, encourage each other to have a handmade Christmas and make each other’s gifts.

Making the most of Christmas (or any situation) when you don’t have a lot of money requires your creativity and resourcefulness.

2. Change the Focus

Christmas gifts have been built up as this big thing for weeks (or months thanks to retail). What do you want for Christmas, we ask. What’s Santa going to bring you? If you’re not good, Santa won’t bring you anything.

The focus is always on stuff.

Then finally opening the Christmas presents on the big day is a bit of an anti-climax. All the paper is torn and the kids are saying what now?

(And most parents are saying: it’s 4:30 in the morning, go and play with your new toys and let us sleep, that’s what now.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re broke or not, Christmas time is just so much better if the focus is on something other than getting stuff.

If you’re religious, this is an easy one. The day is sacred for reasons other than Santa and presents.

If you’re not, create your own special family traditions to celebrate on Christmas day.

My five-year-old son asked us if we can do something fun on Christmas day. Like have a picnic breakfast on the beach or play a family board game together.

And this is a great idea. Let the kids look forward to what they’re going to do not just what they are going to get.

How can you spend special time with your family on Christmas day? You could attend a charity breakfast, or have a special breakfast at home. You could go to the beach or the park. Play a board game or charades or some backyard cricket together. Watch a movie, do some craft, sing carols, bake cookies, cook a special meal together.

Or just spit cherry pips at each other, as we did.

The point is to spend some quality time together over the Christmas period. In this hectic world, we all need more presence for Christmas.

Money, or the lack of it, doesn’t need to interfere with how much your family enjoys each other on Christmas day. Spend the day doing fun stuff together.

3. Set Expectations

If you’re broke at Christmas, be upfront about it.

This is not so essential for young kids, especially if you’ve got the first two steps covered. But for older children and extended family members, you need to be upfront about your circumstances and let them know what to expect.

Some family members might not be happy. There’s always one, isn’t there?

But they can’t change reality, no matter how put out they might feel.

One reason people get all funny about gifts is that we interpret gifts as a material representation of what other’s think of us. In other words, if someone gives us a gift we think is cheap, we might conclude that person doesn’t value us.

So let your family members know up front that you value and love them, but you don’t have money for extravagant gifts.

4. Get Creative and Resourceful

Here’s a beautiful story from the Leave Nothing Unsaid blog: a family had little money for Christmas. So the parents wrote each child a letter, telling them what was special about each. The letters were read out and a small gift was given that symbolised the child’s most beautiful attributes. Check out the article to find out what each child received.

The kids might not get what they really want this year. But with a little creativity, they can still have some special surprises at Christmas. Here are some ideas for gift giving when money is tight:

  • Giving second-hand gifts
  • Frugal stocking stuffers
  • Frugal handmade gifts
  • Non-stuff gift ideas

5. Saving on the Christmas feast

Not going all out for the Christmas meal isn’t just about saving money, it’s about saving sanity.

Last year, my mum gave me a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and this month’s edition is open right here next to me on some on some super-fantastic Christmas tablescape overflowing with fancy handmade foods.

And I’m stressed and overwhelmed just reading it!

We’re going to have watermelon and breakfast muffins at the beach. We all enjoy the day that way.

It’s nice to have a special meal (and table decorating adds to the festive feeling), but it doesn’t have to be super expensive.

6. Charities that can help

There’s broke, and then there’s broke. If you’re totally broke, there’s out there so that your family can have a joy-filled Christmas.
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Research commissioned by the Salvation Army found that almost 3 million people in Australia know at least five families who will experience poverty at Christmas. 3.7 million people are worried about how they will pay for Christmas.

If you or someone you know is facing poverty at Christmas (or any other time) remember, you don’t have to do this alone. There are charities that help over Christmas. Here are just a few:

  • Smith Family
  • Salvation Army
  • Wesley Mission
  • Foodbank
  • Uniting Care
  • Anglicare
  • Vinnies

If you’re not struggling this Christmas, consider donating to one or more of these charities to help make someone else’s Christmas a little brighter.

Christmas doesn’t have to be all about money and spending and stuff. Like anything, it’s what you make of it. Shifting the focus from getting stuff to spending quality time with family or friends takes the stress out of Christmas and adds back the magic.