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Top 10 Tips to Celebrate the Holidays on a Shoe String Budget

For families who are facing tough times, the end of the year holidays may become a source of stress, guilt and worry. But getting creative during these tough times and coming up with alternative ways to celebrate to share time and give gifts (without breaking the bank) brings the joy of the holiday season back to the forefront.

To celebrate the holidays on a shoestring budget, put these top ten tips to the test:

1. Start with comfort foods created with a dose of love. I remember the smell of buttery blueberry muffins on Christmas morning that our neighbor provided. She put her heart into cooking, and you can do the same with a few shortcuts for time. Gift muffins, breads or cookies.

   a. Cinnamon bread or buns: Buy frozen bread dough and follow instructions for thawing. Before letting the bread rise, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough in roughly a rectangle shape. Sprinkle generously with sugar or sugar substitute, and cinnamon. If you like slivered pecans or almonds, add them at this stage of preparation. Slowly and evenly roll the dough from longest side to the longest side and shape the edges closed. Put into a loaf pan for rising before baking. If you want cinnamon rolls, then roll the dough as suggested very long and stretch a little more. Cut two-inch slices and place on a cookie tray for rising before baking.

   b. Gluten-free - For those of you on special diets, try Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix or the Gluten Free Brownie Mix by Bob’s Red Mill. I fix them in my household and find them delicious. Here is the link:

2. Remember the reason for the season. Take time to reflect on what the holidays mean to you and to your family. This can help to get your focus off of the commercialization and materialism of the holidays and back to the meaning behind them. Doing this can often help you to regain perspective and to approach your family holidays from a different (and more affordable) angle.

3. Use pictures to evoke memories. Dig out your older family holiday pictures. Disply them on corkboard or large poster board. Pictures can evoke emotions and a sense of belonging. Or make a scrapbook of holidays past and present. Talk about what was happening before and after each photo was taken. Write captions. Make this a fun, family event where every age has a say and smile!

4. Encourage an attitude of gratitude in your children. Foster an attitude of gratitude in your children by encouraging them to express thanks for what they do have and by giving back to others who have substantially less. Use pictures to express appreciation. Pictures often inspire people to express what they appreciate or admire about others. A picture of dad dressed as Santa Claus might make children laugh. It might also make them realize they appreciate his sense of humor. Encourage your family to share these types of feelings as you work on your scrapbook.

5. Put the focus on the family. Some of the best family memories are made during the holidays, so take advantage of the time together by doing low cost activities as a family. Playing board games, attending holiday services, going for walks, and watching a classic Christmas movie at home are all no cost ways to celebrate one of the greatest gifts of all.

6. List positive assets in the family holiday scrapbook. You can do this by asking all family members to list five positive things they feel about the family member in a photo. Have them write these attributes on the page where the picture appears or next to the displayed pihotos. Also have them include their name and the date. Small tributes such as these can go a long way towards building a positive family-image and appreciation for each other.

7. Get crafty and creative. Homemade gifts truly make wonderful gifts for family, friends and relatives. From simple ornaments made out of hardened sugar cookies, to packing the dry ingredients of your favorite cookie recipe in a glass gar, giving gifts that are expressions of yourself and your family are not only affordable but meaningful.

8. Give cost free gifts. For parents that usually purchase gifts for teachers, or adult family members and friends, giving no cost gifts can make a great (and often needed) alternative. Free nights of babysitting, a day of housework or gardening or a lesson in a hobby that you excel at can help to significantly slash your holiday budget.

9. Consider doing grabs. Consider suggesting a group grab or playing secret Santa with family to cut back on costs. Another variation of a gift sharing is that each woman contributes a gift for a woman, and the same for each man and child with a gift cap of ten or twenty dollars. The joy is to be creative, useful, indulgent and humorous. Then, each person picks a wrapped, secret gift within his or her grouping.

10. Consider adopting a charity. Some families skip gift giving all together and take on a charity each holiday season. Instead of purchasing gifts, consider donating money, gifts or time to charity in the names of friends and family.

Remember the three H's this holiday season and give them liberally: hugs, hot chocolate and humor.

Dr. Caron B. Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, a training and certification program for parent coaches. In addition to duties with the academy, Goode is the founding editor of the website, and the author of eleven books, the most recent of which is Help Kids Cope with Stress & Trauma, which includes several chapters on he use of storytelling strategies. For more information on The Academy for Coaching Parents International or to sign up for academy announcements, visit

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