This year’s holiday season can be special for you and your family regardless of your budget. Here are some fun tips for creating new holiday traditions while saving money.
1) Make your cards from recycled materials. Cards can be made from paper grocery bags, cereal boxes, used file folders and even last year’s holiday cards. Feature your family’s artwork and use recycled wrapping paper or paper from catalogs and magazines for backgrounds. A great resource for making cards from recycled materials is "Creative Correspondence" by Michael and Judy Jacobs, available at Amazon.com.
2) Have fun together and create a festive decoration by making a gingerbread house. You can bake the gingerbread yourself and use royal icing to construct the house and attach the candy. Another option is to use graham crackers and hot glue to make the house and frosting from a can to attach the decor. Great royal icing recipes and other gingerbread house tips are available on Cooks.com.
3) Save on your holiday treats. Kathryn Manchip, a Sammamish, Wash., mom and hobby baker shares these tips. “If you are going to be doing a lot of baking, buy your ingredients in bulk from places like Costco." Manchip also recommends participating in a cookie exchange so you can sample different treats without having to bake them yourself. "And if you want to be adventurous and thrifty, try making a fondant as an icing – it works on both cakes and cookies. You can make your own at home for a fraction of the cost of the store-bought fondant. It tastes better, too, since it's mostly made out of melted marshmallows.” Manchip recommends this recipe for fondant.
4) Cut your own Christmas tree. There are plenty of local Christmas tree farms here in nearby towns like Milford, Goffstown and Litchfield. Thornton, CO’s Jennifer Miller, author of Where the Best Books Are!, a blog with reviews and recommendations of books for kids, says cutting your own tree saves money and creates a great holiday memory for your kids.
5) Make your own decorations and ornaments. Seattle artist, author and instructor Carla Sonheim says, “My favorite Christmas decoration is a drawing of Santa Claus done by my son Christer when he was 9 years old. I also have made 'holiday card/ornaments' with my own drawings or my kids' drawings. I'll scan the image into the computer and then print it out on sturdy card stock or other heavy paper. Then I'll cut around the image and punch a hole in the top and thread with yarn. On the back I write my holiday greeting and then send it out as a holiday card, which doubles as a paper ornament. I also have made ornaments from photographs of my kids at various ages.”
6) Give gifts of your time and skills. Make a gift certificate up for an afternoon of tech support for your friend who's about to toss his new computer out of the window, an evening of babysitting so friends with little kids can have a date night, or a day of housework or yard work for an elderly relative.
7) Check out the free and low-cost holiday activities in your area. Local productions of holiday favorites including "The Nutcracker" or "A Christmas Carol" can be just as magical as a big city production for a fraction of the ticket price. School and community bands and orchestras often offer free holiday music concerts. The Bedford Dance Center holds its production of The Nutcracker Ballet on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Bedford High School Theater. Northern Ballet Theatre will reprise its traditional version of the Nutcracker at the Keefe Auditorium in Nashua, Dec. 15and 16 at 2 p.m. and Nashua Symphony Orchestra & Chorus will perform a pops-style family event from 7:30-9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15.
And you can always toss your kids in the car with some hot chocolate and holiday treats and tour your town’s neighborhoods for the best holiday light shows. This map was created in 2007 and last updated in 2010, so we aren't certain that every house on here still puts up their displays, but it's a good place to start in looking for lights around town. The route is 19 miles long and takes about 55 minutes to drive and get a good observation in of all the splendor.
8) Classic toys such as wagons, riding toys, puzzles, board games and wooden blocks make great holiday gifts and are often available at your local consignment and thrift stores for a fraction of what you would pay at a big-box store.
9) Skip the expensive holiday dinner out and spend time at your favorite service organization such as the Humane Society for Greater Nashua or New Horizons Food Pantry in Manchester. Give back with your family by sorting donations or serving a meal.
10) Check out your favorite movies, holiday books and music from the Merrimack Public Library and schedule some evenings to share childhood favorites such as "It’s a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street" with your kids.