budget

12 Christmas Traditions to Cut, Keep, or Totally Rethink

11 Minute Read

We look forward to certain Christmas traditions each year, like baking Granny’s gingerbread cookies, watching Elf with the kids, or wrapping Christmas presents late at night while sipping eggnog. But sometimes cramming in all the fun holiday traditions at once can get overwhelming. And pretty soon, they aren’t even fun anymore.

This year, ignore the pressure to people please, and, instead, go for the Christmas tradition ideas that don’t stress you out. The key to deciding what stays and what goes is figuring out if you want to do it, if it’s in the budget, and if you actually have time for it.

Here are 12 Christmas traditions to rethink this year.

1. Annual Christmas Bash

You may love hosting Christmas parties. Cooking for 50? No problem! It’s those folk’s favorite holiday tradition! 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, homemade hot cider and sugar cookies, and just get together with those pals at a local restaurant. Split the check and enjoy a simple, stress-free evening with your nearest and dearest.

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  • Alternative idea: If you do love throwing parties but hate the cost, invite less people or ask someone to co-host and share the responsibility. It’s your party, so do what you want!

2. Competitive Lights Display

Make the yuletide bright with Christmas lights until your heart is content. But just remember all those lights come with a hefty price tag at the end of the month when the electric bill hits. And guess what? Santa can still find your house even if it’s not decked out with gigantic, colorful bulbs from top to bottom.

And if you’re decorating your house, it should be because you actually enjoy that Christmas tradition, not because your over-the-top neighbors guilted you into a light display worthy of Rockefeller Center. Your time and money matter more than how many people drive by to ooh and aah at your light display.

  • Alternative idea: If you just must make your front yard look like a glittering gingerbread house, then at the absolute least, put your display on a timer. Your decor doesn’t need to light up the neighborhood until the sun comes up. Be strategic with how you decorate, and your electric bill will thank you.
    And if your family enjoys looking at lights, you could pack a thermos of hot chocolate and drive around town to admire the best of the lit up yards. This is free, and you won’t freeze to death. You’ll be the parent of the year!

3. Elf on the Shelf

This is a hot-button issue that can divide people faster than the "When do you start listening to Christmas music?" debate. So we won’t get into the pros and cons of the Elf. We’ll just say this: If you’re a diehard Elf on the Shelf fanatic, you can find ways to keep that holiday tradition going without running yourself ragged. And if you’re truly over this freakin’ Elf on the Shelf business, just tell your kids it went back to the North Pole this year—for good. They’ll be fine. We promise.

  • Alternative idea: If you’re pro-Elf, make it easier on yourself. The good ole Elf doesn’t need to build a Lego amusement park in the middle of the night and he doesn’t have to leave a gourmet treat for the kiddos every morning either. Keep it simple and keep it fun. Be creative without stressing yourself out about it.

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. We’ve got a great Christmas tradition idea for you: How about 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"?

  • Alternative idea: Times have changed. You can get those same too good to be true deals online. Shop from the comfort of your couch while eating leftover pie and watching White Christmas. Buying Christmas gifts should be fun! But just remember—don’t let the pressure to spend destroy your budget.

5. Christmas Cards

Sending fancy holiday cards with professional photography is a sweet Christmas tradition, but those cards 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 need to be. You can still enjoy this tradition by limiting your card list and having the kids help you craft some beautiful letters with stickers and glitter. How fun is that? And it’s personalized!

  • Alternative idea: You can also just use photos you took earlier in the year as your designated family Christmas photo. Print a simple 4x6 from your summer vacation and plop a "Merry Christmas" sticker on it. Done and done. Keep your eyes peeled for websites like Shutterfly who offer 10–15 free Christmas photo cards. (You just pay the shipping costs.)

6. Price-Inflated Plane Tickets

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, but why not visit your family in January or February when prices are cheaper? You could even start a new holiday tradition, like meeting your folks in a fun city that’s perhaps within driving distance of your two towns. Imagine a calm, post-holiday vacation that costs half the price with half the crowd! Now that’s a peaceful gift.

  • Alternative idea: If you’re looking forward to being with your parents and siblings on Christmas day but need to save some dough, grab your tickets but skip the bulky presents. You’ll limit the outrageous baggage fees and avoid the stress of making sure your stuff doesn’t get crushed to smithereens. Make it easy by giving gift cards, shopping when you arrive, or shipping online purchases straight to your family members’ front doorsteps.

7. A Freshly Cut Tree

Christmas trees are a must in most households, but if you dread the drama of picking the perfect, overpriced gem from your local Boy Scouts, try something else. What we mean is, use the garage-sale special buried in the back of your attic. (You know it’s in there.) Or buy a tree at your local craft store with a coupon. What really matters is how you decorate it and who you decorate it with.

  • Alternative idea: If you really want to get a "real tree" there are a few budget-friendly options to look into. Check around your area for a local forest that welcomes those who want to chop down their own Christmas tree. Or, just wait until it gets closer to Christmas Day before you buy your tree. That price will keep dropping as we near the big day.

8. Gift Wrapping Service

If it’s complimentary at the store, go for it. But do you really need to pay someone to wrap all your gifts? This isn’t the North Pole, after all. And watch out. Even if you DIY, the costs can still add up!

For some people, it’s fun to see how Pinterest-worthy they can wrap their gifts. But it can take some pretty pennies to buy all those handcrafted bows, spray-painted twigs, and fancied-up fabric that will only get trashed on Christmas morning. You’ll save a ton of money just buying a roll of wrapping paper and a bag of bows from the local dollar store.

  • Alternative idea: You can still be creative without spending gobs of money. Why not cover your presents in the Sunday comics or colored butcher paper instead? Then have your kids decorate the paper with stickers, stamps and crayon creations. Trim it with some ribbon or twine, and you’re done! But if you really want to try something unconventional this year, how about chip bag wrapping paper? We’re serious. All you have to do is turn an (empty) bag of chips inside out, wash it, and then use the shiny, silver foil to wrap your gifts!

9. New Christmas Outfits

You’ve seen them on your Instagram feed. Remember the advertisement of the cute kids with matching Christmas pajamas circled around the fireplace? They looked so happy and well-behaved, didn’t they? And cozy. That’s it. You decided then and there your family needs matching Christmas jammies. And what about at church? You picture everybody walking into the candlelight Christmas Eve service in their brand-new Christmas threads. We get it. It’s easy to think you "need" new outfits every Christmas. You can’t possibly wear that dress or tie someone saw you wear two years ago. Or can you? Oh yes. Yes, you can.

  • Alternative idea: Pass along the Christmas hand-me-down outfits for the kids, pull an old faithful outfit from the closet and spruce it up with new accessories. You and your family can still celebrate Christmas without decking yourselves out in a new wardrobe. Outfits really add up quick!

10. Overnight Shipping

Is waiting until the last minute your favorite Christmas tradition? There’s just something about that frenzy feeling in the air while franticly eating all the Christmas sugar cookies. Listen, you don’t need overnight shipping because you’re planning ahead this year. Right? Don’t wait until December 22 to order your Christmas presents. If you order a few weeks earlier, you might even be able to score free shipping and have your gifts arrive in plenty of time for Christmas.

  • Alternative idea: Look, if something falls off your radar and you don’t realize it until it’s almost too late, either take the loss or go to the store to pick something up. Does getting out with the crazed holiday shoppers stink? Yeah, it does. But it’s better than coughing up an extra $25. Plan ahead (like right now!) so you don’t have to worry about any of that stress.

11. Holiday Party Extras

Ugly Christmas sweaters, Secret Santa and white elephant gifts—oh my! Sometimes it feels like people are just trying to get you to overspend in December. And if you do try to bow out of a planned festivity, you catch side eye from someone. But listen, you can get your jingle bell rock on while still being frugal. It’s possible and you don’t need a Christmas miracle to pull it off either.

  • Alternative idea: Participate if you want to, but be sure to set a budget for your spending and stick to it. That might mean you check out a thrift store to hunt for the tackiest Christmas sweater you can find. Or grab the most random item around the house for your office white elephant gift—like that "Mom Life" trucker hat collecting dust in your closet.

12. Overblown Holiday Feasts

What is Christmas without all the fixings? It’s a Scrooge-filled holiday—that’s what. So we’re not saying you need to ditch having a family dinner or baking your favorite pie. But think about cutting back on the outrageous blowout feast in little ways here and there. After all, you don’t have to prepare the Who pudding, the Who hash and the roast beast. (Grinch references, anyone?)

  • Alternative idea: If you’re preparing the Christmas dinner this year, agree to fix the main course of turkey, ham, duck or whatever your tradition may be, and ask your guests to bring the side dishes. That way, you’re not stuck with the bill for that lavish feast and everyone feels the satisfaction of having helped with the prep work.

Rethink Your Christmas Traditions Without Becoming a Scrooge

We’re not trying to burst your Christmas tradition snow globe over here. Just remember: Christmas is all about spending time with others and blessing them—not spending money just because every Christmas commercial told you to.

If anyone asks why you’re not doing something as lavishly this year, just tell them you want to spend more time truly savoring the Christmas season and less time trying to keep up with the Joneses. Christmas isn’t a race or a competition, so slow down and enjoy it.

And no matter what, don’t get so caught up in the season that you bust your budget. If you’re looking for some budget-friendly buys, grab something from our online store or use our new, fancy gift finder to look for some incredibly awesome and meaningful gifts for the people in your life!

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