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Christmas is expensive. The tradition of exchanging gifts with friends, family members, and acquaintances can put a real dent in your wallet and leave you feeling bitter, especially since most gifts tend to be given out of obligation rather than actual joy. This Christmas season, why not give your wallet a break?

Depending on whom you ask, frugality can be seen as a negative. The immediate assumption is that frugal implies poor, as if frugality were an insane decision that people would only make when no other options are available. I tend to see it from the opposite angle — being frugal is being responsible with your time and money.

Frugal doesn’t mean you have to give up aspects of Christmas. It just means looking for alternatives that can achieve similar results. If you want to save money this holiday season, here are some quick tips.

Set A Christmas Budget

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The word “budget” might make your soul cringe but there’s no need to fear. Trust me, you can set up a Christmas budget in just a few minutes and there won’t be any accounting involved. Long story short, it means setting a cap to how much you’re going to spend throughout December.

Impulse buys are one of the biggest culprits of “lost money,” especially when those impulse buys aren’t big money purchases. A Starbucks here and there might seem financially innocent, but throw in that candy pack from the convenience store, the gallon of ice cream, and all of those fast food runs — suddenly it adds up. Imagine how much worse it gets when you include music albums, video games, clothes, etc.

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Budgeting is all about being aware of your purchasing habits. You set aside a limit to how much you’re going to spend and you make sure that you don’t go over. That’s all. If you want to get more involved, you can plan how much you intend to spend on specific categories (e.g. $300 on gifts, $100 on fast food, $50 on movies, etc.) but the key is in the mindset of awareness.

You’re going to see a lot of cool gadgets and items during the Christmas season. The problem is exacerbated online. Just take a deep breath and avoid impulse shopping Buck The Trend: 5 Tips To Avoid Shopping Impulsively Online Buck The Trend: 5 Tips To Avoid Shopping Impulsively Online Are you an impulsive shopper? Do you throw away money on items you don’t really want or need? Here are some tips and tricks to help you regain control. Read More and you might be surprised by how much money you save.

Christmas Trees

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For most families, the Christmas tree is the central object of the holidays and skipping this aspect of Christmas would be like skipping Thanksgiving dinner. However, depending on where you buy your tree, you could end up spending a few hundred dollars. I don’t know about you but I could buy a lot of gifts with that kind of money.

If you’re the outdoorsy type who isn’t afraid to get physical, you could get into contact with a local farm or forest service and cut down your own tree. The pricing is area dependent but prices could be as low as $10. What a steal.

If you want a real tree but don’t have the energy or desire to cut your own, you can always purchase one from a local lot and save money by using coupons. Daily deal sites — like Groupon, LivingSocial, SlickDeals, etc. — are good places to look for those.

If you want a tree but don’t care if it’s real, why not settle for an artificial one? The upside is that it won’t smell (unless you like the natural smell of pine trees) and you won’t have a mess of needles at the end of the season. Plus, it’ll carry over year by year, saving you more money for each year you don’t have to replace it.

Homemade Treats and Decorations

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As someone who doesn’t use Pinterest all too often, even I can admire the users of Pinterest for their ingenuity when it comes to arts, crafts, and do-it-yourself projects. Around the holidays, you will find thousands of ideas for cheap yet awesome decoration ideas that you can make on your own – even if you aren’t good with that kind of stuff.

Not sure where to begin? Check out these holiday Pinterest boards Find The Perfect Holiday Gift For Anyone On These Pinterest Boards Find The Perfect Holiday Gift For Anyone On These Pinterest Boards There's no better place to find gift ideas than Pinterest. You don't even need to create an account. Just visit these boards and take as many ideas as you can find! Read More .

In addition to decorations, maybe you want to enjoy some Christmas treats. Food is one of the best ways to evoke the spirit of the holidays and Christmas is arguably the foodiest holiday of them all. How much money are you going to spend on cookies, cakes, pies, eggnog, chocolates, and candy canes?

You could save a lot of money by ditching the supermarket and making those foods yourself. Even if you aren’t so good at cooking and baking, think of this as an opportunity to get better and have some fun. Save money while learning new skills? Win-win, if you ask me.

Online Gifts and Digital Gifts

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Online shopping skyrockets around this time of year as people scramble to order all of their Christmas gifts. While sales might be plentiful, shipping is always a concern. If you can’t find a way to get free shipping, those extra costs really add up — especially if you’re ordering something heavy or delivering internationally.

That’s why I recommend online subscriptions as gifts Top 5 Online Subscriptions You Can Give As Gifts Top 5 Online Subscriptions You Can Give As Gifts With the ever increasing digitization of society, online subscriptions have become a valid form of gift-giving and they're often more fulfilling than a physical gift of same worth. Read More . Not only are they instantaneous and require no shipping fees, online subscriptions are extremely versatile as gifts. I’m not just talking about Amazon and Netflix (though those work great as gifts too). Did you know there’s an online service that ships new pet toys and treats to you monthly? Pretty cool stuff.

And there are plenty of other digital gift ideas 7+ Great Digital Gifts That Don't Need Shipping 7+ Great Digital Gifts That Don't Need Shipping Are you in a hurry to get all your gifts in time? A digital gift may be your only chance for the present to arrive on time. Choose from our creative list of ideas. Read More that don’t require shipping. They’re definitely worth a look.

Free Public Events

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Christmas time is family time. One great way to spend that time together is to leave the house and go to a public outing. The drawback is that most public events have admission prices — unless you know where to look.

December is a great month for plays. Most local schools and colleges with drama organizations will be putting on shows; some will be free, others will be a few dollars for a seat. Either way, it’s much cheaper than seeing Broadway, that’s for sure.

Similarly, a lot of organizations will have “family days” throughout the month. In my area, there are free days for ice skating, concerts, wine tastings, museum exhibits, Christmas light displays, and more. Do a bit of research and you may be able to find a bunch of cool events that your friends or family members will enjoy.

The temptation to spend is strong around this time but with a bit of knowledge and foresight, you can have a frugal Christmas that doesn’t sacrifice the spirit of the holiday. Indeed, there’s nothing joyous or cheerful about plunging oneself needlessly into debt!

What other tips and tricks do you use to keep your Christmas expenses down? We’d love to hear them. Share with us in the comments!

Image Credit: Dollar Boxes Via Shutterstock, Christmas Tree Via Shutterstock, Christmas Cookies Via Shutterstock, Gift Mouse Via Shutterstock, Christmas Show Via Shutterstock

  1. Saikat B
    December 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I always feel that once you constrain yourself with a "flexible" budget, you tend to be more creative with gift planning.

    • Joel L
      December 30, 2013 at 5:58 am

      Yeah. Every Christmas, I participate in a "white elephant" with a few close friends and the limit is always $5. It's hilarious how far creativity can go when you have constraints.

  2. kihara
    December 21, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Excellent advice to keep expenses down and still enjoy the holiday season. Very useful article!

  3. Mark Crummett
    December 20, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    It's about _giving_, not spending.

    • Joel L
      December 30, 2013 at 5:57 am

      I agree. The value of a gift is not determined by its price (except in the most literal sense). "It's the thought that counts" and such!

  4. Guy M
    December 20, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    This is why I miss Columbia House.
    You could get 10 CDs for a penny when you signed up.
    BOOM! 10 gifts taken care of. ;)

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