Sunday Score: Christmas Magic On A Budget

If you've been reading here for any length of time, you'll know that I'm a single mom, and that my daughters make up the entirety of my world. Nothing I do is done without them in mind - and all I want in the world is to know at the end of my life that I was as good a mother as I knew how to be, that I gave them my all, and that I left them with memories they would want to pass on.

A large portion of my day-to-day existence revolves around trying to rock the task of being both parents to the best of my ability - not only being the mother my kids need and deserve, but also struggling to stand in for the father figure they no longer have.

The thing is, being alone poses a laundry list of challenges, both as a woman and as a parent - but since I'll be tackling how I feel about single life during my BLOGuary marathon (I'll be blogging every day except Sundays in January!) next month, let's focus on the biggest, most stressful challenge of single mom life at the moment.

Christmas on a budget. Making Christmas happen on a budget. Like, a really tight budget. Like, really really close to a zero budget.

How the hell do you make Christmas magical on a zero (or frighteningly close to zero) budget?

Well, here's how I'm doing it.

The first and most major way to create Christmas magic on a low-to-no budget is to change your focus. Don't think as much about packages and presents, and instead, think about memory making. Your loved ones most likely won't remember what you bought them this year nearly as well as they'll remember that this was the year of memories and experiences.

This year my kids saw their dad less and less, and while they had lots of moments where they were angry or sad or insert-strong-emotion-here - especially as they faced their first Thanksgiving without their dad and will now be looking toward their first Christmas without him - they also had a lot of moments where they were able to put aside their troubles and enjoy themselves. And not to toot my own horn here or anything, but a good portion of them being able to cope as well as they are has been because I spent more time focusing on getting them out of the house and finding things we could do together. More importantly from a financial aspect, I've been more actively looking for things we can go do without spending a fortune.

This has actually had a two-sided benefit, too; not only are my kids having fun and looking forward to all the fun things we go out and do together, they're also learning that life doesn't have to be expensive and fun isn't always about throwing money around. We've had lots of discussions about how life cycles through times of want and times of plenty - and we've talked a lot about how important it is to live your life regardless of which extreme you might be living in. So even though these last few months have been very challenging financially and I'm juggling a ton of stuff I'm not sure I can keep juggling much longer, the kids and I have been having fun attending lots of local Christmas festivals and free events I've found for us (mostly on Facebook), making new memories to ease the pain of old ones now turned bittersweet.

Another way I've been carefully working more magic into a smaller budget goes back to something I first introduced last year - our four-gift limit. Of course, Santa brings what Santa brings, but thanks to my carefully working in new strategies for Christmas magic on a budget before the final split between the kids's dad and I, the four gift limit allows my kids to think more carefully about what they really want, allows me to spend my limited money more wisely on gifts I know will be appreciated, and helps keep my kids thankful for what they do have. The bonus of having implemented this last year is that even though I could see where things were headed, the girls hadn't yet noticed all the changes in our family dynamic. Thus, the four-gift limit is not attached to the parental split - and because they didn't connect the timing, my kids don't see the four-gift limit as a symbol of lack in our world, only as a symbol of care and appreciation for simplicity:

  • Something You Want - usually a toy set of some kind for the youngest, and hair accessories, jewelry, or makeup for the oldest.
  • Something You Need - this is almost always socks, underwear, camis/bras, or some combination of these.
  • Something You Wear - since clothes are usually covered at this point (unless there are other clothing items needed like jeans or whatever), I try to get fun with this. Last year, Joey's "something to wear" was an activity tracker - she ended up with a Misfit Flash - while I loved how affordable the Flash is, my daughter loved how easy and intuitive it was to use. We both want to upgrade at some point to the Misfit Shinebecause there are so many more color options! Eden's "something to wear" was a red pair of volume-limiting headphones from OnAndOff and she loved them so hard they eventually gave up on her. She'll be getting new ones this Christmas, which will thrill her because she has missed hers!
  • Something You Read - for this one, I actually like to do Amazon Gift Cardsfor the kids because then I can alter how much I'm giving to cooperate with how much I have, and the girls really love getting online with me and choosing their own books. It's a double gift; they get the giftcard, but they also get an established time that's just me and them (one at a time, so it's extra personal), where we get on Amazon and browse books right up until we're out of cash.
This worked perfectly for us last year, and I can't wait to see what my kids think of their gifts this year!

I've also had fun bringing in new little traditions for us to build on as a family - we've made ugly Christmas sweater cookies together, built marshmallow snowmen, watched Christmas movie marathons, hunted local Christmas light displays, and spent time just jamming to good Christmas music. The kids will be starting their Christmas break from school soon too, and I think we'll probably be spending the time cozied up together, cooking up fun crafts and DIY gifts for our neighbors and friends. There will likely be puzzles, coloring, and lots of board game time involved as well. And who knows, maybe we'll even have the time and/or money to implement one or two of these great ideas, too.

So tell me, how do you create Christmas magic on a budget?

If you liked this post, take a second to drop a comment below and tell me about your favorite Christmas magic strategies! I'm always looking for new ideas I can implement to keep things exciting for the girls and I, and it's always fun to see what other families are doing differently. I'd love for you to share this post so we can get a lot of great ideas in the comments too, especially if you know a particularly genius Christmas magician. But before you go, take a second to subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar - it's a great way to make sure you never miss a post!

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