Christmas on a Zero Budget


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I know what you are thinking, “Is it really possible to pull of Christmas on a zero budget?” Yes, you can–if you are willing to put in some hard work and be very creative. You also have to be willing to keep Christmas simple.

Christmas On A Zero Budget 10 ways to afford gifts & food for Christmas Day when you have no money to spend

12 Christmases ago I pulled off Christmas for almost nothing. Our family had taken a big move that summer and it resulted in several expenses. Plus, my husband was starting off a new job as a Registered Nurse for the first time and therefore was earning an entry level wage. We had some medical bills come up and after praying over it I knew God wanted me to pay them with what little I had saved for Christmas. There I was mid-November with not a nickel saved for Christmas.

Yet, come Christmas day, each of our 3 children had a gift from us, a gift from Santa, and a stocking. My husband got a small gift from me and he gave me a few pieces of a Dollar Tree Christmas Village I had been eying. We had a very simple Christmas meal. The highlight of the day was the beautiful Christmas tree we got just in time for the big day for free.

How did I do it? I got very creative and thought outside the box, and at the very last minute my husband got called in for an afternoon of  overtime work and that pay check arrived the day before Christmas. It helped pay for a few items I had not yet gotten, which is why I said I pulled it off for almost nothing.

If you don’t have the hope of overtime filling in the gaps for you, you can still pull of a great Christmas on a zero budget, especially since 12 years later you have more possibilities available to you than I did, thanks to the growing internet.

10 Ways To Celebrate Christmas On A Zero Budget

1.  Go through your home from top to bottom

Christmas for zero requires you doing some inventory. What do you have that you no longer use that can be sold? Could you sell those jeans you no longer fit in for enough money to fill the kids’ stockings? What items do you have around the home that could become gifts? Could that tablecloth you never use become doll clothes?

Go from room to room looking through every nook and cranny, taking stock of everything you already own and try to see it with new, creative eyes.

2.  Find a local Facebook Buy and Sell Group

In most areas November is a little late to have a yard sale, but nowadays you can have a yard sale any day you want with a Facebook Buy and Sell group. You can sell items big and small in these groups.

3. Start Working Point Reward Programs That Have Low Payout Minimums

Now is not the time to spend hours on surveys for a company that doesn’t pay out until you reach $30. Instead work at programs like Swagbucks where gift cards in general start at 500 SwagBucks for a $5 card. Visit my Christmas SwagBucks plans for 24 ways to earn SwagBucks.

A new-to-me program I recently discovered is InstaGC. The pay out is set at a minimum 0f 100 points for a $1 gift card. InstaGC has several ways to earn and when I played around on the site I was able to hit 50 points in less than 30 minutes.

Another program with low cash outs is PrizeRebel where you can grab a $2 Amazon gift card code for just 200 points and you will receive it in around 24 hours. There are several ways to earn with PrizeRebel including some very quick and simple point earning actions.

If you have a magazine lover in your family join Recycle Bank and do their environmentally-friendly themed point earning tasks. Magazines subscriptions start at 160 points.There are some activities that come out worth 150 points so it won’t take long to earn enough for a magazine subscription for a loved one. There is a wide variety of magazines–including those for fitness lovers, home decor lovers, celebrity news lovers, and more.

If you want to surprise a book lover young or old with a new book, then join Tyndale Rewards and follow the instructions in my article on Tyndale rewards to earn enough points on your first day as a member to purchase a book. Books do take a few weeks to be delivered; plan accordingly.

4. Trade Books, Clothing, & Toys For Store Credit

Books I no longer needed was something I found on my inventory walkthrough those 12 Christmases ago. I took them to a local secondhand bookstore and got credit that I used to pick out like new board books for my toddler to put in his stocking. You could also try children’s consignment stores that pay cash up front (they often give you more if you will take store credit), and usually they have like new toys you could give as gifts to your youngsters.

5. Hold An “Eat What You Got” Week

For one week skip the grocery store and get really creative making meals out of food already in your cupboards and use the savings to buy gifts. I used mine to buy the ingredients needed for Christmas baking and Christmas dinner that tight financial year.

6. Wait Until The Last Minute For Amazing Deals

That Christmas 12 years ago was the first time I have waited to finish my shopping until Christmas Eve. When I knew we had no money saved for Christmas, I had made a list and had prioritized it and was doing well at getting  the most important items. The two things I was missing though were a tree and Santa gifts.

We were making do with a 2 foot artificial tree I found in the attic. It had been left by the previous owner of our home and was  very Charlie Brown like but it worked. I was racking my brain for free Santa gift materials around our home when my husband got the afternoon hours of overtime and we figured out that money would arrive Christmas Eve.

With the money in our account early that morning I sent my husband out with a list and told him, “Santa gifts first and if there’s money leftover buy a tree.” He got the gifts and thought we had enough leftover for a small, real tree. When he got to the tree seller’s place the guy was shocked we didn’t have a tree yet and pointed out that he had already gotten his ready for trash pick-up, but he allowed my husband to pick one out for free.

You can imagine my face when he came home with a huge tree and if I remember right he spent the money we saved on some 50% off tree decorations to decorate it.

7. Sign Up For Samples As Soon As You Can

Right around Thanksgiving it seems like companies go crazy with free sample sign-ups. Money Saving Mom is my favorite place to find out about them. The site has a weekly round up list of them, but I prefer checking the site daily for new ones. Free samples can make great stocking stuffers or gift basket fillers.

Follow Victoria @Snail Pace Transformations’s board Thrifty Christmas Tips on Pinterest.

8. Search Pinterest For Ideas


If Pinterest had been available the year I created Christmas out of next to nothing, my brain would have hurt less. Use the Pinterest search bar to enter whatever materials you seem to have in surplus and watch amazing remake and repurpose ideas come up.

9. Watch Out For Coupons That Lead To Free Items

My coupon tips resource page with a list of printable coupon sites and coupon apps.  For probably the last 5 years now I have been buying my children chocolate for their stocking for pennies by using the Hallmark $5 Off a $5 Purchase coupons that are available to print online and also found in free magazines I enjoy. CVS and Walgreens Black Friday sales are also a great place to get free items by stacking deals with coupons.

10. Give handmade Coupons

If you want to include friends in your giving, but all 9 ideas above leave you too short to make it to them, here is an idea: give out handmade coupons. Give babysitting to the couple you know never gets out. Give a coupon of “I will help you plant your flower garden this spring,” to the brown thumb friend who needs someone to be there to guide them in purchasing the right plants and getting them in the ground in place they will grow. Give your hubby a few coupons too, for back rubs and…(be creative 🙂 ).

A Christmas day filled with simple gifts and good food can be created even if you have zero saved right now and little hopes of an overtime check coming your way. It only takes out of the box thinking and a can do attitude.

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  1. While your list can seem overwhelming, I know if I put one strategy in place a week or a month at a time, it really works.

    • YES even doing just a few steps will make a difference. I wanted to make a complete list though, of all the ways I can think of so that people can pick and choose what would work for them. I also wanted to make sure I gave enough ways for the person who really does have nothing saved and sees no stream of money magically appearing before Christmas to have HOPE, I want them to see they could still provide gifts for their Children with a bit of work and creative thinking.

  2. I love using Swagbucks and Bing (to cash in for SBs) to earn Amazon cards for Christmas gifts. I even took a bunch of change to Coinstar and got an Amazon gift card. If you do a gift card, there isn’t a fee.

    I love the idea of samples for stocking stuffers! So great!

    (Visiting from the Frugal Friday link up.)

    • Change is another excellent tip, most households often have more change around their house than they think, by the time they check vehicles, laundry area, dresser tops, and of course the cracks of the couch.

  3. Great ideas! Thanks for posting early, so many ideas and selling stuff can take time but could be well worth the effort.

    • Yes, selling stuff does take a bit of effort and time but not much as it use to. With Facebook buy and sell groups it is possible to list, sell and get your money all in one afternoon. I know because I have done it. Depends on what you have to sell though, other times it does take much longer. The earlier you start the better.

      • Those same buy/sell/swap groups are also a great place to pick up gifts at great prices. Our local page has stuff that is new with tags all the time for a small fraction of the original prices. I always find there is a lot in the way of kid stuff right before the holidays as a lot of parents buy too much or accidentally end up with double of gifts.

  4. These are some great ideas. I am a big fan of making gifts, and have done that many years when my budget was tight. Homemade chocolates or caramels in cute little boxes, homemade canned soups or applesauce– these gifts people usually really go crazy for anyway!

  5. I remember those days when my kids were little. I have 4
    That year my husband was laid off. We had no money for Christmas
    Since he was home I took a job during holidays they hire temporary
    Holiday employees. That helped with food bills but nothing extra for Christmas
    But did shopping Christmas Eve found lots of stuff marked down. Also as I was driving home late that night the Tree Lots had thrown out their left over on the curb so I grabbed one. I had left over decorations and we used homemade ones and strung popcorn
    But one thing that I will never forget was the kindness of my coworkers that nominated my family for their Santa Gift giving family. It was the best Christmas because it meant so much more than ever. And food was plentiful the next day. I loved those buy $20.00 get a free turkey.
    God has always provided in his own mysterious ways.

    • Awesome story of provision and yes God does provide in mysterious ways.

    • That is so awesome. I remember, back in the day, when I was a lot younger my Mom would give us kids $5 to spend on each of us. There were 4 of us, so we would get about $20 to pick out gifts. Then we would get two gifts from my parents and a candy/stocking stuffers. Christmas Meal after Church was always planned ahead. I was very lucky to have been able to grow up in that type of atmosphere because I have realized that not having much means so much more. I pray for Everyone a Very Happy Holiday Season.

      • We do something similar with our kids, the amount has grown a bit as they have aged. We started out with the Dollar Tree and now to Target, and the pool their money together so my middle son and daughter by for my oldest son etc… It is a fun outing. And yes the memories of being together are so much more important than any gifts.

  6. Mybonus points is another way to get gift cards. You read emails, sign up for things, and get points for shopping.

  7. Mary wilwerding says:

    Going to read through this

  8. Also talk with the school counselor for assistance. They often know of organizations that help families during the holidays. Two years ago we received a ham dinner and gifts for our then 7 year old. Without their help, Bing and Swagbucks and, Christmas never would have happened that year. Also, years ago I put a tree on layaway to help keep that expense down for future holidays.

  9. I buy all of my wrapping paper after Christmas when it’s at least 75% off. I pay $.25/roll at the dollar store. Last year I got a new 7′ artificial tree for less than $10.

  10. These are great tips and as MSM said inspiring! I really appreciate it. I hope you and your have a wonderful holiday season!

  11. This is a super list!

  12. Years ago, I wrote a similar post with the same title. It’s something we’ve done and continue to do.

    Here is what we are doing/have done this year:

    Swagbucks allowed me to purchase some gifts from Amazon.
    I sold items at a garage sale and on a Facebook garage sale site to have money to go garage sale shopping. I bought several items for my children this way, including books, clothes, jewelry, and puzzles.
    I also used that money to buy 3 items from Target’s dollar section.
    I used Zulily referral credit to order 2 gifts.
    I am making gifts using items I already have on hand. This is something I always do each year. In November, I try to make at least 1 gift a day for my children. You can see this year’s gifts and the two years’ gifts before here:

  13. Lea Stormhammer says:

    We too bought an artificial tree after Christmas on clearance and pack the ornaments and lights away each year; the expense of a tree is alraedy taken care of – and one less then to worry about. We also have special stockings we reuse year to year as well as our other decorations. We typically buy or make one decoration to add to the decorating each year – purchasing after the holiday to keep costs down if necessary. Our children each get one tree ornament a year in their stockings – usually something to do with what they learned/did new/grew into this past year. It’s a great way to have plenty of decorations for very little money out of pocket!

    Something else to think about: We as a society have gotten so wrapped up in having a huge Christmas with all the “to dos” and the “trimmings” we forget what the holiday is really about. Some good (not fancy) food and worship to celebrate Christ’s birth and/or fellowship with friends (depending on your religious affiliation) is all we really need. There are a ton of free things to do during the holidays – music concerts, outdoor activities (lighted hiking, skiing, sktaing, etc), get-togethers with friends, free days at museums/parks/historic locations that can take the place of presents if need be too. It’s nice to have gifts, a fancy tree, new clothes and fancy food but in the end, we really forget they’re actually extras!

    Great post, Victoria! Thanks for sharing such good ideas for adding those nice extras to our holiday.

    • I love the idea of a ornament each year that represents something they did or learned that year. And yes you are right often the more we get caught up in the “stuff” the less time we take to reflect on the real reason of the season Christ.

  14. At Credit Advisors Foundation, we are constantly looking for ways to help clients spend less (esp holidays) . I am very ” arts & crafts” so I love your suggestions. Last year, in an attempt to PRACTICE WHAT I PREACH, I scrounged around for things to make. I created baskets filled with homemade salsa, jam, bread, pesto ( thank you Pinterest), playing cards, dice, and homemade cards. I didn’t feel guilty about spending too much & it felt good to “create” something. I plan to do that again this year. I better get started it’s almost Thanksgiving. Wow. time flies.

  15. I also recommend checking out freecycle if you have a local group. See what people post to give away or ask for things that you might be in search of. Also try bartering on craigslist.

    • Great tips! I didn’t think of these as we live in a smaller area but for those that live in a larger area freecycle can be amazing. I have seen what people have gotten from freecycle on other blogs before, from bikes to crafting supplies to clothes all for free. And I didn’t know you could barter on Craigslist.

  16. This won’t help the right before Christmas but for future years, shop yard sales. I have found many like new (and even new in box) items for very little money. Kids don’t care if something is new unless they’ve been taught that new is better. Most of these sales in my area are in the spring and summer but if I think an item might work for someone, I buy it figuring if it doesn’t, I can always donate it to our thrift store or bless someone else with it.

    • Yes! Great tip. I don’t do this as much as I use to but when my children were toddlers and preschoolers I often did this. Especially with toys that were sets, like Lego, or Duplo, Playmobile and such. My kids loved it because often this way I could afford to give them more pieces than I could new.

  17. We had a Christmas with a $30 budget to cover a household of three and 4 in-laws. In-laws got a plate of cookies or something nice from a thrift store. Our son got a book and card game. Hubby found me a beautiful petestal cake plate at an auction and I got him something he needed…can’t remember what now. I didn’t feel robbed of a merry time.

  18. I have just started selling items on facebook through B/S/T groups in my area. I have been going through all of the items that we have in our house that we just do not use or need. Old baby clothes, old toys, books, etc. I have made over $241 so far! I have also found some fantastic deals for gifts that cost a fraction of what I would buy it for in the store. Plus people in my area have amazing items that make some really neat gifts!

    I have also found some items that we can donate to those who are in need and have less than we do. It has been an amazing and fun experience thus far. I highly encourage the Buy/Sell/Trade groups on facebook.

  19. Wonderful ideas and tips! I really enjoyed reading it! I think that having an extremely frugal Christmas has so much more ‘soul’, as you have to be more creative and to really make an effort for people.

  20. I remember a woman at a church group telling us about her best Christmas.
    They picked up free bicycles the autumn before out of the towns heavy trash pick up knowing they could not afford new. Between all the broken bikes they managed to sand, paint, and repair to make them new for her 3 children. The kids loved them and years later still talked about the year of the bikes.

  21. Another helpful idea for gifts for friends and family who you may not see until the week after Christmas, CVS, Walgreens and Riteaid all put their stuff on clearance the week after Christmas and you can pick up GOOD deals. In addition, after Christmas, all the tissue paper is on clearance for pennies and guess what colors they are discounting? (Red, green, and white) Guess what the next 2 holidays after Christmas are? Valentines and St. Patrick’s day! You can use those colors ALL year in birthday and other holiday bags. I buy all my tissue paper for the year during the week after Christmas. Especially WHITE! 🙂

    • Yes, I love buying tissue paper after Christmas for gift bags and stuff. Great tips!

    • This reminds me of a Christmas when our son was about 14 and we had about $100 for the three of us. We decided to do Christmas Eve at church and a traditional Christmas Day dinner as usual. The day after Christmas we went to the mall together to each pick out and purchase our own present. We had the best two days ever.

  22. Every year I tell my kids the same thing- I want them to write me a letter for Christmas (they all still live at home). Every year I get the same reaction- blank stares. So, this year, with my zero budget, I am going to write them each a letter, put it in a decorated envelope and add their favorite candy. It may not make for spectacular Christmas morning photos, but years from now, that will be the gift they remember.

  23. This is a great list! I’m always looking for ways to save money. You gave me new ideas. One of my goals for 2015 is to have a $0 Christmas. Your tips will certainly help.

  24. WOW! You are an inspiration! This year my husband and I have almost nothing to spend for Christmas because we are saving for IVF. I’m not going to lie, it’s stressful to think about not being able to gift and decorate the way we’re used to, but your story has given me hope! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Your welcome.

      • A year old but this post just popped up in my feed from another site. Another suggestion I have is to host a party for a party plan direct sales company. It does take time and effort but the rewards can be outstanding. It is important to work with the right consultant. Make sure she/he knows you are in it only for the FREE stuff, you don’t want to put any of your own $$ into purchases. You can even avoid having to pay for the snacks if you hold the event at a local restaurant where everyone orders their own or at a park and ask for a dish/snack to share and you provide drinks and utensils. I am a consultant for a fantastic party plan company and my July hostesses can earn a $250 shopping spree (she chooses what she wants) and over $400 in additional Hostess Exclusive products (She has choice of products from a limited list). I am all about the free stuff and personally hostess at least 3 parties a year for other companies and I never pay for anything. I tell the consultant up front that I am in it for the FREE and ask her to not sales pitch me. It has worked out great and everyone has always loved their gifts.

  25. I get grief from friends and family cause I buy a lot of thing after xmas and gifts as well I have son and his wife 2 grandsons and a daughter her boyfriend and I also have 3 nephew living with us and a niece my husband and in order to make sure I am not pulling hair out in December I buy all the gifts I keep my ears open to what they want or need and I make it or wait till it is on a very good sale I do make a lot of my gifts for the kids. got a tree at walmart a 7 foot tree for 9.94 and made most of the decoration and I also get a turkey from my point from qf and when the veggies are on sale I buy them and freeze them . So that is my story MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!

  26. Nicely written article, from the heart. Love your reader’s comments too… Gives me hope… Thank you so much. And I luv Swagbucks! lol…

    • Swagbucks rocks…doesn’t it. Such a simple way to earn gift cards and it really is up to you how much effort you want to put into it. For years all I did was make it my search engine and I still earned $5 to $10 a month in gift cards just by doing just that one thing. Last time I counted it up there are 20 different ways to earn SB points through Swagbucks so really what you earn is up to you.

  27. Victoria, I couldn’t be happier when I visit your blog. I wait for your emails every week because I know it will be filled with great tips on being more frugal and also enjoying and soaking in the small things in life that will soon pass by. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking blog and all of your encouragement! Please keep it coming!

    • Thanks for your kind words they mean so much to me. I should tell you that this Friday I will be including the links to the PDF’s for the Christmas on a Budget mini eBook and Printable pack to those that are already subscribers will get it as well.

  28. Jennifer W says:

    I came across a link to your blog on pintrest. Thank you so much for posting, my husband lost his job a week ago and we honestly didnt know how we would be able to do Christmas at all for our 1 year old. It brought tears to my eyes as I barely make enough for bills, food, and daycare. Thank you Thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  29. I have a tin can Christmas. When our kids were small and I save up food tins and bought them at garage sales. After washing them out and drying them. I decided that whatever would fit in them the kids would get. Our daughter is in her 30’s now and when she was small I took a big old popcorn tin and made hand knit barbie doll clothes and just stuffed it full. Our older daughter got scarf and finger-less mitts, guess you get the idea. only need tape to hold the lid down around the rim. made chocolate chip cookies for my husband. We may not had a lot of money back in the day but we became very creative. We receive a coupon book from the kids for the chores they would be willing to do. a wonderful Christmas. Blessings.

    • Thanks for leaving this tip. Very environmentally friendly as well as inexpensive as you wouldn’t be throwing out wrapping paper year after year. I might just look of Popcorn tins for my three next yard sale season and try this.

      • I might also add having a party, whether it be in home or Facebook, for a local direct sales consultant. By doing this, you can earn a lot of FREE products to give as gifts to your family and friends. And at the same time you are helping that local family put food on their table and pay their bills. I am a Perfectly Posh consultant and give out samples of my products that make great stocking stuffers or when paired with a few $1 items from the local dollar store, make great teacher, mail person, babysitter, or other special people gifts!

  30. I have been “guilty” of “over giving.” (Especially with the grands). I have a room full of fabric. Next Christmas, our 4 granddaughters will get a twin size rag quilt in a Big Lots laundry basket. Monogrammed personally & age appropriate fabric prints. I got beautiful solid colored sheets @ thrift shop for $2.00 each. The project will be a “stash buster.” Hub helps with the cutting.

    • That is an awesome gift! My mother in law made each of our children a quilt when they moved from their crib to a “big” bed and even though they are now all 13 years and up they still have those quilts and wouldn’t give them up for the world-even though they are very tattered now and are made of prints that are no longer age appropriate.

  31. Great post! We have 5 kids, and one income. Christmas is a hard time for our family (financially). Here are some of the things we do each year to help cover Christmas. Each month I make meager deposits into my Christmas Club account. Our credit union allows us to have a Christmas Club account with zero fees and it draws interest. This year I was able to save $240. I buy brand new items from GoodWill throughout the year and I hide them in my closet until Christmas. These are toys that my kids love. We have taught our kids that Christmas isn’t about receiving new gifts. In fact our kids insists that we help others, even though we have very little.

    We also have traditions that make our Christmas more fun. Hot chocolate bar and Christmas videos on Christmas Eve. I buy videos from thrift stores throughout the year for less then a dollar. The hot cocoa stuff cost less then $10. We have cookie making day, everyone gets involved. We have a big meal, because I use tons of coupons and I get creative with the meal. We might not always have a ham but we are happy!
    I have also noticed that even though we can’t provide them with much, grandparents still spoil them with an over abundance of wrapped goodies.

  32. Great ideas. what I do is take a lot of my unopened purchases or gifts from previous years and try to get a store credit. Walmart, ToysRUs, Winners…they’re all pretty good providing credits.

  33. I would also add Facebook freebie pages and shutterfly freebie offers

    • Yes, although I didn’t mention them here they are in the mini eBook for subscribers. With the shutterfly freebie offers though you do need to have the money available for shipping. Although it generally is less than $6 or $8 depending on what is being offered as the freebie.

  34. Great ideas, Victoria! I wouldn’t have thought of finding a facebook buy/sell group, but I may have to go find one now! I like your last idea too, sometimes giving something personal like that is more meaningful than an expensive gift!
    Thanks for the inspiration1

  35. When I first moved out on my own I made all but a few of my Christmas ornaments. I went to Church one morning and noticed that the evergreens at the college across the street had lost lots of cones. I wished I had a bag, but I didn’t and went in to the service. When I left to go home, as luck would have it a garbage bag blew down the street right at me. I caught it and filled it with pine cones. I glued tinsle garland and a hanging ribbon on them and either painted or put glue and glitter on the ends. I still have a few of these but, alas, they don’t last forever and I have largely replaced them with ornaments bought on clearance after Christmas.


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