How my family rocks our no-cash holiday season

Guest post by Angel Cross
cash-free christmas
Cute lil Santas from Etsy Seller GFTWoodcraft

The holidays are coming up and I’m fretting about them. Not that I haven’t been preparing since summer, but this will be my first holiday with a child old enough to know it’s a holiday. The oldest will be two-and-a-half in December. She’s very verbal and will hopefully love the season. The youngest turns one in January, so presents will largely be transitional items she is needing.

Now, as a frugal woman and very smart aunt, I know the danger in all of this financially. I’m a creative woman, but there are only 24 hours in a day in which to do everything and craft. Creativity gives way to convenience, or so it seems. My inner hippie conflicts with my desire to give them better than I had. They have and get lots of creative toys, but there’s nothing wrong with plastic crap that’s educational too. It’s a fine line.

I do a lot of things that revolve around saving money and stocking up for the girls. Those principles can be used to prepare for holidays, birthdays, and any special occasion you know about in advance. I have one closet that I’ve dedicated to frugal storage, including holidays. I have one standing freezer for food storage (from which I have to parcel out a little corner for things to freeze for the holidays)

So what are my methods for a no-cash holiday? Well, here goes:

  • Plan ahead. If you get it early, you’ll avoid any rush and spread out spending.
  • Barter for things you need like toys, frozen turkeys, holiday decor, etc.
  • Watch the free section of Craigslist. Many people give holiday items away throughout the year. Right after a holiday, people will give away decor for that holiday, so pick it up and save it until next year!
  • Make gifts. Homemade gifts don’t have to be useless or cheap if you know what you’re doing or use some creativity.
  • Plan ahead words for non-perishable food and things you can freeze, too. I freeze stock, dried fruits, meats, and veggies throughout the year that can be used in a holiday meal. Canned goods you know you’ll use can be picked up while that product is buy-one, get-one at the grocery store during the year.
  • Make a “seasonal” section of your pantry to store the cake mixes, extra sugar, flour, canned goods, disposable plates/cups/forks that you collect.
  • Adopt freegan policies and hang out with those who do. Reuse what you can and don’t buy what you can get for free.
  • Remember that you have two things to spend: time and money. Decide the ratio and stick with it. Most people would rather spend money buying than time making or finding.

I’ve been told that it’s hard for people to do all this practically when they don’t know how. In this interest, I’ll list the things I have saved for the holidays and where I got them.

Craigslist finds

I found all decor, Yule decor, some toys, three turkeys, wrapping paper, a Father Christmas pie plate, storage boxes, ornaments, tree skirt, tree topper, window clings, and garland on the site. This includes Craigslist free ads that offer yardsale leftovers, moving leftovers, a bunch-of-free-stuff-in-my-yard-if-you-come-right-now, and individual ads. Craigslist free section also got us a few bits of winter clothing for the girls. The biggest thing we got was 200lbs of free apples and 30lbs of free grapes. All we had to do is pick them. We processed the apples into apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling, and organic fruit roll-ups. All those apples filled a shelf in our big standing freezer to the brim with gallons of pie filling, sauce, and apple butter and a few ziploc bags of fruit roll-ups. The rest of the apple butter and sauce that didn’t fit in the freezer, we gave away to friends. The grapes made plenty of grape juice for the girls, which we froze in half-gallon bottles.

Totally racked up on holiday cards, gifts, gift tags, and miscellaneous nursery decor! Basically, you earn points to bid on free items. I only bid on ads with free shipping. I earned points by giving away handmade items on the site.

Barter groups

I scored farm fresh produce and dried cherries that I packed in the freezer as well as a few gifts. From the barters, I also received paper plates, foam cups, plastic silverware, cake and cookie mixes, jello items, and other seasonal non-perishable food items. Finally, we got a ton of winter clothes for the girls including jammies, coats, and normal clothes… all in great condition.

Legal urban foraging

Dumpster diving gave me a few miscellaneous items as well including winter clothes for one or two housemates (including several high-end coats), craft and jewelry supplies, housewares, gift bags, and office supplies.

Sample Sites

Throughout the year I stock up on stocking stuffers like shampoo/conditioner samples, perfume samples, energy bars, a metal water bottle, candy, spa products, and more. Free sample sites also list samples that give you free photo prints, holiday cards, and great things to use as gifts. One site recently offered a free photo calendar that I loaded up with kiddie pictures. I just paid shipping and handling and it’s going to be a great gift.

I hope this gives a better idea of how spending your time can replace spending your money. A few things still get bought, but the bulk of our special occasions involve putting lots of effort, thought, and love into the event rather than dumping money for convenient fun. I’m not trying to insult those who buy what they want — everyone makes luxury purchases. I would like to help those who cannot spend that money or don’t want to be anymore wasteful than they have to be.

Comments on How my family rocks our no-cash holiday season

  1. is not the correct website. After I did some some googlie-searching, I think this is supposed to be

    Thanks for the tips! I just scored an awesome gently-used doll bunk bed for my girls from Craigslist.

  2. What about Freecycle? You have to be quick on the draw, but I like to get stuff there, and reuse it or refurb it for gifting later. For example, I picked up some random squares of plastic shower curtains (clean) and use them for wet bags for baby shower gifts.

    I also watch ads for bulk good stores and stock up on staples when the getting’s good.

    • Freecycle is pretty awesome, especially if you change something like a clothing style, a hobby, or a hair color. Someone else might be starting the same thing you’re giving up – when I stopped dying my hair black the unused dye went to another girl in my city. We sorted out all the video games my husband doesn’t play anymore and a single mom jumped on the chance to get the whole pile for her son’s birthday. When I decided I wanted a bread-maker I put out a call and got an almost-new one within a few days.

  3. One thing we are really focusing on in our house this year is giving experiences. Our daughter will be 5 in April and has caught the Gimme-gimmees just in time for Christmas. We are limiting the gifts we buy to one from Mommy and Daddy and one from Santa, knowing full well she will be getting plenty of other //things// from the rest of the family. What’s different is that we have filled her Advent calendar with slips of paper with descriptions of activities on them; things like “Tonight you will take a talk with M&D and look at all the pretty lights” and “Christmas time is a great time to remember other people – today we’re making cookies for the neighbors.” We also plan to stuff her stocking with similar sentiments written up as pretty gift certificates for things like “Take Daddy to the Discovery Museum” and “Go out to eat: you pick the restaurant”. These will be a mix of free and paid for events, but having them as gift certificates allows us to spread the spending out after the holiday in the same way that proper planning let’s you spread it out before.

  4. I love the Advent calender with fun activities. We have done plenty of free things too. Example: tomorrow is my niece’s holiday perforamnce, so tomorrow that is our event. The first day it was Put out Christmas tree and have hot chocolate. Little things like that brighten up my son’s day without having to do much extra!

  5. I have to say that quality beats quantity for Christmas presents. My mum was (now retired) a specialist teacher for hearing impaired kids and was as such super concerned with education. Also as a thrifty former hippy, she enjoyed buying cheap as well ;-). One Christmas, she said ‘feck it’ and bought a fairy expensive Fisher Price house. She was all ashamed of herself for her flagrance. Until, we played with it on a daily basis for about 6 years, and when we were done, she used it for her work as a teacher for about another 20. Because it was such good quality, and it was obviously designed really well (it had a chimney that the wee men could slide down for Pete’s sake!!) it lasted the distance, both from a child’s perspective and from a quality perspective. She always said that it was worth spending the money on it because it was actually the best value toy she ever got us. So I think for eco and purse friendly Christmas’, quality is really important – the days of ‘disposable’ purchasing are gone, thank heavens and I think that spending wisely on less items but better quality items is the way to go.

    I know that this is about spending less cash, and that Advent calendar and voucher idea is SUPERB – gorgeous (they say that experiences are worth more than things in terms of our happiness). But I thought the Christmas tale of the Fisher Price house might be a useful contribution to the discussion 😉

  6. I’m really loving this post and the comments. I have a lot of children in my life and I enjoy giving them gifts but previously have found it very expensive,but this year was different! I got 4 of the kids (aged between 4 and 8) a $8 design your own plate kit from the book club that arrives weekly at my work. I bought them in August and it has saved me a lot of worry and money.
    The Craigslist idea is great, I wish we had something like that in Australia, we have ‘the quokka’ which is online and also in newspaper form and that has a free section but it can definitely be hit and miss ( especially in WA) but I will be bookmarking this post for future use for sure!

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