budget

Christmas Traditions You Can Cut, Keep, or Totally Rethink

6 Minute Read

We look forward to certain family traditions each year, like baking Granny’s gingerbread cookies, watching Elf with the kids, or wrapping Christmas presents late at night. But sometimes all those fun traditions at once can get overwhelming.

That’s why we’re giving you permission to choose what you want to do this year. Ignore the pressure to people-please, and instead pick traditions that don’t stress you out.

After all, it’s your time with family and friends. And it’s going to be awesome as long as you’re with the people you love—no matter how you celebrate. The key to deciding what stays and what goes is by figuring out if you want to do it, if you can afford it, and if you actually have time for it.

Here are eight holiday traditions to get you started:

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1. Annual Christmas Bash

Some people love hosting Christmas parties. Cooking for 50? No problem! But if you’d rather not spend several weeks planning and prepping for your annual Christmas open house, then don’t. Forget the cheese ball, eggnog and sugar cookies and just get together with a few close pals at a local restaurant. Split the check and enjoy a simple, stress-free evening with your nearest and dearest.

If you love throwing parties but hate the cost, invite less people, make it a potluck, or ask someone else to co-host and share the responsibility. It’s your party—do what you want!

2. Competitive Lights Display?

Don’t let your Christmas-crazy neighbors guilt you into a light display worthy of Rockefeller Center. If your family enjoys looking at lights, pack a thermos of hot chocolate and drive around town to admire the best of the over-the-top yards. It’s free, and you don’t have to freeze to death. You’ll be parent of the year!

If you prefer decking out your house with lights but don’t have the time, start early and stop when your energy does. Or just hang them in the bushes and around tree trunks in your yard. You won’t need the ladder or the staple gun. Make sure you’re decorating your house because you enjoy it, not because you’re trying to match the neighborhood. Your time and money matter more than how many cars drive by.

3. Elf on the Shelf

This one is a hot-button issue. So we won’t get into the pros and cons. We’ll just say this: If you’re pro-Elf, make it easier on yourself by not getting too elaborate. Sparkles doesn’t need to build a Lego amusement park in the middle of the night. Nor does it need to leave a treat for the kiddos every morning. Keep it simple and keep it fun. And if you’re over Buddy, just tell your kids it went back to the North Pole this year—for good. They’ll be fine, we promise.

4. The Shopping Frenzy

We like a deal as much as the next person, but if you’re shopping "for sport," take a time-out. Why not start the tradition of not waking up at 3 a.m. on Black Friday to battle thousands of equally sleep-deprived shopping warriors just to get the best "deal"? Times have changed. You can get those same deals online. Shop from the comfort of your couch while sipping hot apple cider and watching White Christmas. Buying stuff should be fun! But don’t let the pressure to spend destroy your budget.

Take control of your money by creating a Christmas-specific money plan and a detailed gift list. Then stop shopping when your list is complete! If you have extra energy to burn, try a family game of flag football or Monopoly. It’s much less dangerous than the mall (well, maybe).

5. Family Portrait Christmas Cards

Professional Christmas cards are a sweet tradition, but they aren’t a must. It’s okay if you didn’t have time or money to schedule a photographer, buy matching red-and-white outfits, and order hundreds of glossy prints this year. Cards are a meaningful gesture, but don’t make them more difficult or expensive than they have to be. You can still have a great tradition by limiting your card list and having the kids help you craft some sweet letters with stickers and glitter—how fun is that? And, its more personalized!

Or cut back on stress and use photos you took earlier in the year as your designated Christmas photo. You can print a simple 4x6 from your summer vacation and stick a "Merry Christmas" sticker on it. Done and done. Keep your eyes peeled for websites like Shutterfly who routinely offer 10–15 free Christmas photo cards (you just pay the shipping costs).

6. Price-Inflated Plane Tickets

Instead of heading home for the holidays, why not visit your family in January or February when the prices have come down? You could even start a new tradition, like meeting your folks in a fun city within driving distance of your two towns. Imagine a calm, post-holiday vacation for half the price and half the crowd. Now that’s a peaceful gift.

Or if you’re looking forward to being with your parents and siblings over Christmas but need to save money, grab your tickets and skip the bulky presents. You’ll limit baggage fees and the stress of making sure your stuff doesn’t get crushed. Make it easy with gift cards or going up a day early and having a shopping day with a family member you rarely get to see.

7. A (Sort of) Freshly Cut Tree

Christmas trees are a must in most households, but if you dread the drama of picking the perfect, overpriced specimen from your local Boy Scouts, try something else. As in use the garage-sale special from your attic. (You know it’s in there.) Or buy one at your local craft store with a coupon. A tree is just a base anyway. It’s how you decorate it and who you decorate it with that counts.

8. Swanky Gift Wrap

For some, it’s fun to see how Pinterest-worthy they can wrap their presents. But it can take some pretty pennies to buy all those handcrafted bows, spray-painted twigs, and gilded paper bags that will just be trashed on Christmas morning.

Why not cover your presents in the Sunday comics or butcher paper instead? Then have your kids decorate the paper with stickers, stamps and crayon creations. Trim it with some bulk twine and you’re done!

Things to Keep in Mind

As you budget for the holidays, don’t break the bank in the name of habit. Decide which traditions are important to you and see how they fit into your overall budget.

If anyone asks why you’re not doing something this year, simply explain you want to spend more time with them and less time trying to keep up with the Joneses. We have a feeling they’ll understand and love you more for it.

If you need an easy way to budget for the holidays, check out our free budget tool EveryDollar.

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