This year’s holiday season can be special for you and your family regardless of your budget. Here are some fun tips for creating new holiday traditions while saving money.
1) Make your cards from recycled materials. Cards can be made from paper grocery bags, cereal boxes, used file folders and even last year’s holiday cards. Feature your family’s artwork and use recycled wrapping paper or paper from catalogs and magazines for backgrounds. A great resource for making cards from recycled materials is "Creative Correspondence" by Michael and Judy Jacobs, available at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon.com.
2) Have fun together and create a festive decoration by making a gingerbread house. You can bake the gingerbread yourself and use royal icing to construct the house and attach the candy. Another option is to use graham crackers and hot glue to make the house and frosting from a can to attach the decor. Great royal icing recipes and other gingerbread house tips are available on Cooks.com.
3) Save on your holiday treats. If you are going to be doing a lot of baking, buy your ingredients in bulk from places like Sam's Club.
You can also participate in a cookie exchange so you can sample different treats without having to bake them yourself.
And if you want to be adventurous and thrifty, try making a fondant as an icing – it works on both cakes and cookies. You can make your own at home for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought fondant. It tastes better, too, since it's mostly made out of melted marshmallows.
Try this recipe for fondant.
4) Make your own decorations and ornaments. My personal favorite ornaments are the ones my kids made. I even have some my brother made when he was a preschooler, as well as some puffy, Christmas-y smelling ones my mom made with us when we were growing up.
5) Give gifts of your time and skills. Make a gift certificate up for an afternoon of tech support for your friend who's about to toss his new computer out of the window, an evening of babysitting so friends with little kids can have a date night, or a day of housework or yard work for an elderly relative.
6) Check out the free and low-cost holiday activities in your area. Local productions of holiday favorites including "The Nutcracker" or "A Christmas Carol" can be just as magical as a big city production for a fraction of the ticket price. School and community bands and orchestras often offer free holiday music concerts.
New London Theatre is putting on a version of "A Christmas Carol," while Gwinnett Ballet Theatre is performing "The Nutcracker."
Toss your kids in the car with some hot chocolate and holiday treats and tour your town’s neighborhoods for the best holiday light shows.
7) Classic toys such as wagons, riding toys, puzzles, board games and wooden blocks make great holiday gifts and are often available at your local consignment and thrift stores for a fraction of what you would pay at a big-box store. Local thrift stores include Margins Thrift, Unique Treasures and Ally's Attic.
8) Skip the expensive Santa breakfast or holiday dinner out and spend time at your favorite service organization, like the Southeast Gwinnett Coop. Give back with your family by sorting donations or serving a meal.
9) Check out your favorite movies, holiday books and music from your local library and schedule some evenings to share childhood favorites such as "It’s a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street" with your kids.