How to Scrimp Without Being a Scrooge


By Jessica Fisher

Presents? Big dinners? Holiday events? Bah Humbug!
In an economy such as ours, it can be tempting to be as miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge. Money’s tight, and the last thing we need is to spend a lot of money on stuff we don’t need or on things that will be broken by December 26th. But those familiar with the story of The Christmas Carol know that stinginess doesn’t pay, least of all at the holidays. Scrooge learned that to have an open heart as well as open hands would bless others as well as himself.
Piles of gold coins or a visit from three spirits aren’t necessary to have a festive celebration. A cheerful disposition and some wise ideas will help you make your family’s holiday merry and bright.
Here are some suggestions to get you thinking about how you can scrimp without being a Scrooge:
**Reason through the Season
Great Expectations – Help your kids have right expectations by letting them know, as age appropriate, that you’re working to be more responsible in your spending this season and might be doing less, or at least different, than years past. They don’t need all the details, but if they know not to expect a truckload of sugarplums, it might stave off some disappointment.
Less is More – Chances are good that your children don’t really need a lot of new toys or clothes. Find out what is most important to them. You may find out that they don’t really want a lot of trinkets and tricks. A few well-chosen gifts will be eagerly welcomed.
Give to Others – Taking the focus off oneself is always a great way to celebrate the season. Find ways that your family can serve others this December. Visit a nursing home or children’s hospital, give to your local food pantry, or volunteer at the nearby soup kitchen.
Experiences Trump Expensive – Focus on spending time instead of spending money this season. Watching holiday movies, baking cookies, and going to look at the lights don’t cost much money. Instead, they produce great family memories which are certainly more valuable than any toy StuffMart has in stock.
** Gifts
Buy Low - Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be nice. Consider shopping the clearance racks of your favorite stores or even crafting handmade gifts. Sometimes the most enjoyed gifts are the handmade and heartfelt. Group gifts make simple, but fun presents for the families in your life. A new DVD and some movie snacks are a fun, yet inexpensive treat.
Season Pass – Consider buying a membership to your local zoo or amusement park instead of many, smaller gifts. You will be able to have family outings many times throughout the year and get the biggest return on your investment. The memories you make along the way are a huge fringe benefit.
Have a Gift Exchange – Someone in the family may balk at the idea of drawing names, but if it’s what keeps you in the black, don’t fret it. Make it fun by turning it into a White Elephant Exchange or a Yankee Swap.
**Good (& Cheap) Eats
Potluck – Don’t feel like you have to foot the bill yourself when you invite friends and family over to celebrate. Open your home, light the fire, set out serving ware and plates and invite friends to contribute a dish.
Shop the Sales – Rather than create a menu and then go shopping, consult your grocery ads first and build your menu based on what’s on sale. Your dollars will go farther and the meal will be just as good.
Think outside the box – A holiday dinner doesn’t have to be a roast turkey and all the trimmings. Be creative and go with other themes that may be easier and less expensive. Consider a spaghetti feast, an international buffet, an appetizers-only menu, or a simple taco or potato bar.
**Money Matters
Plan ahead – It certainly helps the pocketbook if you’ve budgeted several months in advance and set aside funds for the extra spending that occurs at year’s end. But, even if you have just a few weeks, you can still spend wisely. Don’t throw caution to the wind. Instead, make a list of holiday expenses (gifts to give, extra groceries to buy, donations), determine a price limit and then stick to it.
Use real money – Avoid credit cards whenever possible. Otherwise you’ll find that the ghosts of Christmas Past may be named Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. If you pay cash, you’re less likely to overspend than if you use plastic. Don’t pay next July for what will be gone by this New Year’s Eve.
Save receipts - Pay attention to that “buyer’s remorse” you might feel when you buy Johnny those overpriced athletic shoes that he’ll outgrow by Spring. It may mean that it really isn’t the best buy for your family – or your money. Making a purchase doesn’t mean you can’t take it back. Save receipts and don’t hesitate to make returns – before or after the holidays.
The holidays don’t have to be expensive. With some clever thinking, you, too, can celebrate the season without having to sacrifice merrymaking or beautiful memories with your children.
May all your Christmases-Yet-to-Come be blessed ones!

Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother, and freelance writer, making her home in San Diego . The mother of six young children, she regularly writes about fun, frugality, and the pursuit of a clean house at


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