We are so fortunate to have Amy Beardsley* from Early Morning Money guest posting on the blog today. Amy is an incredible writer, a guru of personal finance and I believe each of us can find a bit of inspiration in the creative and affordable Christmas traditions she shares below…

Christmas is almost here! A time for celebrating with our families and friends, for giving and receiving, and for parading around in your tackiest Christmas sweater (think flashing lights, tinsel and holiday puns all in one garment). However, if you’re like most American families, it’s also a time for overspending. Did you know the average US shopper spends over $900 during the festive season? And shoppers with children often spend even more than that! Between spending money on Chia pets and new socks to wrap and put under the tree and standing in line for hours to pay for an overpriced picture of your kids with Santa, the costs can really add up. If you’re struggling to make ends meet this year for Christmas, you’re not alone. But even while your gift list keeps growing, creating family memories doesn’t have to break the bank. There are so many fun, frugal Christmas traditions for families!

Here are my top nine favorite ways to create magical Christmas memories without breaking the bank.

1. Homemade Treats

There aren’t many scents that rekindle Christmas memories quite like the smell of freshly baked cookies or homemade jams. Spending time in the kitchen with your kids, mixing together the special ingredients to make pecan pie or a batch of your favorite holiday cookies, is a great way to create family memories together. If your helpers are young, keep an eye on those eggs so they don’t roll off the counter. And watch for little (and big) fingers that like to sneak spoonfuls of cookie dough here and there, too! As an added bonus, you can arrange your tasty treats on a decorative tray and give them away as Christmas gifts to your neighbors (making it an opportunity to double your savings)!

2. Let it Snow

If you live in a colder climate, chances are you’ve got plenty of snow outside. That slushy white stuff has a tendency to pile up and make a trip to the grocery store feel like an Arctic expedition! But it looks so pretty glistening in the trees. And with it comes the perfect opportunity to reconnect with your inner child and spend an afternoon playing in the snow! So bundle up and take your kids sledding. Or work together to roll up balls of snow and build a snowman. And if your kids are a little older, you can create an arsenal of snowballs and instigate a family snowball fight.

3. Sleep Under the Lights

There’s nothing quite as magical at Christmas time than the glow of lights from the tree. The soft light creates a warm, inviting (and colorful) ambiance to celebrate the season. And your kids will cherish the memories of a family sleepover around the tree well into their adult years! From shared secrets to spilling the entire bowl of popcorn in your blankets, sleepovers can be spontaneous. Gather your sleeping bags together a few days before Christmas and spend the night playing “Go Fish” and “Would You Rather” and singing songs about Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman together beneath the Christmas tree.

4. Gingerbread House Decorating Contest

Every year, my family and I spend an evening drinking hot cocoa and decorating a gingerbread house. This tradition started when our daughter was very young and continues on, even though she’s much older now. The best part is you don’t have to spend your hard-earned cash on one of those fancy gingerbread house kits at the store! (Which then frees up extra funds to splurge on buying a Snuggie for everyone on your gift list!) This activity is as simple as piecing together graham crackers with frosting (and plenty of sprinkles, gummies, starlight mints, M&Ms, and tiny candy canes) to build your own creations.

5. Reminisce About Your Favorite Memories

The beauty and wonder of this time of year makes us think about our families and all the special moments we’ve celebrated throughout the years. Talking about our favorite memories brings such joy and warmth into our lives! And it’s a great opportunity to share memories from your childhood with your own kids. Like that year you helped grandma make peanut brittle and the mixture boiled over, covering the stove and the kitchen floor. (What a mess!) And don’t forget about waking up early to be the first one to find the Christmas pickle and eating candy from your stocking for breakfast on Christmas morning. Reminiscing about the good ol’ days will bring a smile to your heart. And it’ll probably give your kids a good laugh, too.

6. Create a Family Newsletter

This year, instead of Christmas cards, spend some time making a family newsletter to mail to your loved ones. Assign each person in your family a special role – maybe Susie can take the family photo while Johnny licks the envelopes. If your kids are older, they can each write a “column” to share their sporting and academic achievements, funny stories and personal accomplishments over the past year. If you have younger ones, you’ll need to do most of the writing, but they can always help with adding stamps and address labels. Be sure to include a few pictures too! Get a pic of Fido wearing a Santa hat, you covered in flour from all the extra baking, or your kids in matching Christmas outfits. What better way to share your lives with special family members and friends who live far away?

7. Make Fitness a Family Affair

Fitness and health are often put on the back burner during the Christmas season. There are always holiday treats laying around and we can find ourselves lounging on the couch with our pants unbuttoned after eating too many slices of pie. (Not that I’m speaking from experience.) Show your kids how fun fitness can be by taking a walk together down a snow-covered path, playing a game of Wii bowling, or signing up for a “Turkey Trot” or a “St. Nick Run” in honor of the jolly old guy for Christmas. And, even if you’re not a runner yourself, you can always sign up to volunteer at one. (You’ll probably get a free t-shirt out of the deal, too – And we love free stuff!)

8. Old Fashioned Christmas Garland

A homemade Christmas garland is a simple craft children will love making. Kids love letting their creativity loose! (And crafts with food are always fun because…snacks). It’ll likely bring you back to your childhood, too (see tip #5). You can easily introduce this old-fashioned Christmas tradition to your kids, since you probably already have everything you need at home to make this happen. Gather together some string, yarn, or thread, and string together popcorn, candy, beads, or flowers to make a beautiful garland to add to your seasonal home décor. You can string it up around the hearth, wrap it around your tree (maybe not such a good idea if you have pets at home), or use it to decorate your windows.

9. A Night at the Movies

We love movies at our house, and with the Christmas season comes hundreds of different movie choices. For comedy lovers, try Earnest Saves Christmas, Bad Santa, Home Alone, or The Santa Clause. And don’t forget our favorite animated films like A Charlie Brown Christmas (my personal favorite), The Polar Express, Shrek the Halls, and Beauty and the Beast’s Enchanted Christmas. Whether it’s old classics like Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story, or a new favorite, you can find something the whole family will enjoy. So get into your pajamas, make some popcorn, and break out your Snuggie to create a lasting family tradition, year after year.

It’s so easy to overspend during the holiday season. When you can get everything on sale – from electronics and toys to cranberry sauce and tissues – it’s hard to say no. Even though most of us start out with our Christmas budget firmly in hand, our frugal-fanatic alter ego tries to buy everything to take advantage of the great deals! But as you start the countdown to Christmas this year, I invite you to slow down and enjoy a simpler holiday. Focus on spending time – not money – on your family this season. Because making a mess with your kids in the kitchen, decorating with homemade garland, and having a family sleepover beneath the Christmas tree is what Christmas is all about. And it’ll give your children a chance to create lasting memories to share with their own kids someday.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?


*Amy Beardsley is a freelance writer and founder of Early Morning Money, a site dedicated to helping others make more, save more, and build the life of their dreams. She and her husband paid off more than $30,000 in debt and were able to save and buy their dream-home through finding new ways to increase their income and save more money by living on a budget. Amy loves personal finance and productivity hacks, Netflix, and everything chocolate.