6 Fun and Frugal Christmas Traditions to Start This Year

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Christmas is just around the corner, what kind of Christmas traditions do you celebrate? If you're looking for a new one, check out my list for ideas.

Whether you like it or not, the Christmas season is in full swing with only a little over a week until the big day. We love celebrating different Christmas traditions in our house, especially those that are not giving in to the usual over commercialization of the Holiday. We’re always looking for different frugal Christmas traditions to enjoy, so I thought I’d share a list of some of our favorites…though they might not all be necessarily frugal. 😉

Go Looking at Christmas Lights


This has become one of our more favorite Christmas traditions in the Frugal Rules home as our little ones have gotten a little older, especially the night after Thanksgiving. There are numerous neighborhoods in Omaha that spare no expense and hire out their Christmas lighting. We can easily spend two or three hours out looking at the lights, which the kiddos absolutely love. We bring them some hot chocolate and homemade Christmas cookies and it makes for a fun evening.

Watching Movies


This is probably one of my favorite Christmas traditions we celebrate. Who can ever get enough Elf or Christmas Vacation come the Holiday season? I could say you could be frugal and get the movie at the library or rent it through Amazon or Redbox, but let’s get real, we watch them every year, so we’ve bought them at Best Buy so we can enjoy them at any time we want. Of course now, we get to compete with Charlie Brown and Polar Express when the kids are involved.

Decorate Your Christmas Tree


Decorating your tree to celebrate the Holidays…real original I know. But, it’s one of our newest Christmas traditions in our house now that the kids are old enough to be involved in helping us decorate the tree. We make an evening of it by having a special dinner that we’ve made together, listen to Christmas music (ok, this is Mrs. Frugal Rules’ part as listening to Christmas music makes me want to drive a railroad spike through my ears) and then go on to decorating the tree.

Give Back


It’s important to remember when you’re looking for new Christmas traditions, that it’s just as important (if not more so) to give as it is to receive. Knowing that, there are many opportunities to give back during the Holiday season and often very frugally. There are various ways you can give back, such as:

  • Volunteering at a local soup kitchen
  • Buying a gift to take to a local shelter
  • Donating gently used winter clothes
  • Purchasing a meal at a local shelter (the ones in Omaha send out asks for help with this and it can usually be done for only several dollars a meal)
  • Go caroling at a local nursing/retirement home

Really, that’s just a sampling of the things you can do to give of your time or resources during the Holiday season. My tip is to include the kids and you’ll likely see it becomes one of their favorite Christmas traditions as well.

Make Your Own Christmas Ornaments


Ok, so I am not particularly the most crafty person I know. In fact, I get no real enjoyment out of it but it can be a great way to celebrate the Holidays by making your own Christmas ornaments. Mrs. Frugal Rules started this last year with our oldest little ones and they love it and you can make it as simple as paper snowflakes or go all out – it’s up to you. If Christmas ornaments aren’t your thing then you can always go with the faithful standby of a gingerbread house – they even have kits at Costco which makes it so easy that even someone like me can do it.

Christmas is just around the corner, what kind of Christmas traditions do you celebrate? If you're looking for a new one, check out my list for ideas.

Create Your Own Christmas Traditions


If my list wasn’t enough to get your creative juices flowing, there are a wide variety of things you can find to start Christmas traditions of your own. If you live in a bigger city, there is likely a large number of offerings that you can go to that range from free to being quite spendy. In Omaha alone, we have events offered from places like the botanical gardens to the zoo, not to mention other organizations around the city. Just check online or get a paper and you’re likely to find something that you can start as a Christmas tradition fairly quickly.


What is one of your favorite Christmas traditions? What’s your favorite Christmas movie?



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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Great list! There are plenty of ways to enjoy the holidays without spending much money!

  • MMD says:

    Every year going to look at the Christmas lights gets more and more appealing to me. Probably because as an adult now that I know how much work goes into setting them up, I can appreciate each house’s work more thoroughly! πŸ™‚

  • We decorate our Christmas tree as a family, and then watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Then, and ONLY then is it the official Christmas season at our house. It’s a tradition that we all look forward to!

    • John says:

      Sounds like a lot of fun Travis. We can’t yet expose our kids to that movie…for fear that they’d repeat one of Cousin Eddie’s lines. πŸ˜‰

  • Watching movies is probably my favorite tradition. There’s so many to chose from and I love to just stop and be entertained for a few hours. Life is so busy that sometimes it takes a movie to slow us down and take a breath and just enjoy ourselves. Great post, John,and very timely!

  • We took the kids out to see Christmas lights and they couldn’t care less. They were like, “why are we doing this???”
    Oh well, we’ll have to try that again next year =)

    • John says:

      Lol, that’s awesome Holly! Our six year old enjoys it a lot. I think our middle one enjoys it because he knows that he’ll likely be getting a treat and I think our youngest could give a flip.

    • Mrs. 1500 says:

      My mother loves to go around and look at lights on Christmas Eve night. As teenagers, my sister and I got bored with it and started criticizing the lights that weren’t straight, or the house that had some blinking and others not blinking. After a couple of years of this, my mother starting getting in on the critique too, and now it is a favorite thing again, trying to top the other people in the car with witty comments. Probably why I get coal every year in the stocking…

      • John says:

        That sounds awesome Mrs. 1500! That’s something I could totally see myself doing, though I fear Mrs. Frugal Rules would tell me where to stick my comments. πŸ˜‰

  • Michelle says:

    These are all great things to do! I always love relaxing, making some awesome food and watching holiday movies πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      Thanks Michelle. Isn’t that what half of the Holidays are about? πŸ™‚ I guess that’s part of the reason why we see ads for gym memberships all over the place in a few weeks. πŸ™‚

  • We just watched my fave movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” last night. Love it! One of our other fave holiday traditions? Our annual baking day(s). Yummy fudge, peanut butter kiss cookies, spritz cookies, sugar cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, pretzel rods dipped in white chocolate – YUM!

  • In my area there is a town that goes all out with their Christmas decorations. You pay a small fee – I think it is $5 and drive through the main strip which takes about 30 minutes when you are cruising along at 5mph. The coolest part though is that they send out their own radio signal for the event and that station plays Christmas music for you to listen to while driving through.

  • We’ve been working on making some of our own ornaments, which has been a lot of fun. It’s amazing how far a little construction paper will go! My wife also made some dough and had our son create his footprint in it and we’re giving them out as “mistle-toe” to family members. They’ll get real presents too, but we thought that would be fun.

  • These are great examples of the free or cheap ways to have fun during the holidays! Thanks for sharing, I’m already planning on making some ornaments at home πŸ™‚

  • These are all great ideas. I like to buy gifts for the Toys for Tots campaign. I like going to the store and buying the right gift. Makes me feel good too so its a win-win.

  • Mackenzie says:

    Great traditions, John! This is the first year that my daughter “helped” decorate the Christmas tree πŸ™‚

  • Great tips! The list you provided are really worth practicing. This is like a Do-It-Yourself Christmas! You will really save a lot (financially) doing everything on the list.

  • Believe it or not, I actually made a decent craft this year. I am about as crafty as my dog, but it turned out well. Maybe this is a new tradition? We also love looking for Christmas lights. There are lots of wannabe Clark Griswolds out there.

  • Great list, we do a lot of these, and they are some of my favourite Christmas memories. I’d also suggest skating and tobogganing since it’s a free activity and fun for the whole family!

  • I don’t have a favorite Christmas movie…guess I should watch a bunch and find one! If I had kids, Christmas would definitely be less about gifts and more about spending time together. Volunteering, cooking or crafts and playing board games sound like a fun Christmas to me! πŸ™‚

  • My wife tried to make some Christmas ornaments this year. It was a big fail, but at least she tried. We are trying to think of a tradition that we can start with our son, but haven’t pinned it down yet.

    • John says:

      Trying is half the fun, though I can relate to the fail. πŸ™‚

      • Mrs. 1500 says:

        When my sister and I were about 2, my mother had my dad split walnuts carefully down the middle, scoop out the nut meat and glue them back together with a piece of yarn for the hanger. Then my sister and I painted them (this was back in the early 70s, so the colors were lurid) and put glitter on them. These are my mother’s favorite ornaments of all time. Walnuts are easy to split using an x-acto knife or similar. Almost any age can paint them. I have also seen them painted red with white or black seed beads for ‘seeds’ then a green top to make strawberries. Not sure how that relates to Christmas, but they look pretty.

  • Watching movies is my favorite. This is something my husband and I enjoy together.

  • I’m a huge fan of giving back! So many of those things are so very affordable and definitely constitute family traditions that are easy to do, year after year.

  • Great list, John! You know I’m a big proponent of family traditions. Polar Express is definitely our favorite holiday movie. We took the Polar Express ride, which probably cemented it forever as the best holiday movie in the girls’ minds. πŸ™‚ My favorite holiday tradition is decorating gingerbread houses since I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. I get such a kick seeing my Mom and my girls and their cousins making them together now. I hope it’s something we always do.

    • John says:

      Thanks Shannon! I think going on a ride like that would cement it in our little one’s minds as well. Our daughter just started doing gingerbread houses with my wife last year and thinking it’ll become a standby as well. πŸ™‚

  • Michelle says:

    This year, we are doing the full gingerbread house decorating with my nieces and nephews. We also go to the Christmas market downtown one day.

  • Joshua says:

    You know, any Christmas tradition I have is new. However, my fiance and I have been driving up the mountain to see snow for the last couple of years…I think we’re carving out our own tradition!

  • Decorating the tree was one of my favorite traditions growing up. I don’t have any now that I’m grown. I guess when I have kids, I’ll have to start some traditions with them.

  • anna says:

    I’m a big fan of looking at lights, as well (though we missed this year’s boat parade at Mission Bay). I’m with you on this list, and I definitely want to give more back this and in future Christmases ahead. Merry Christmas, John! πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      I’ve heard of the Mission Bay thing, but we never made it to when I lived there. It’ll be a definite though for the next Christmas we spend in San Diego. To you as well Anna. πŸ™‚

  • We have started a number of big Christmas traditions over the years…

    Going to see lights..
    Reading the Night Before Christmas …
    Having a massive breakfast on Christmas morning each year…

    It all helps build memories for the kiddies..

    • John says:

      Those are all awesome ones to start and do each year Jefferson. You’re right on, it all helps build those memories for the kiddos – which is one of the main goals.

  • lIZ says:

    My parents used to take us on car rides to look at christmas lights. We had a lot of fun driving around. On special nights we would swing by McDonalds to get an ice cream cone too : ) Great post!

    • John says:

      That sounds like something our kids would enjoy. Though, I fear it would just become one big ice cream fight in the back seat with our kiddos. πŸ™‚

  • Wonderful traditions John!!

    My fav is watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas with freinds while sipping egg-nog. A more recent tradition, within the last few years, is to visit my son and his girlfriend on Christmas morning to eat a hearty breakfast and start the day off warmly.

    Thanks again John for a great list and my best to all.


  • All great tips. Over here, it’s seeing the lights (community display), putting up the tree, listening to Christmas music, baking treats, and watching movies. All low cost and fun to do together as a family.

  • Micro says:

    I think going to check out Christmas lights is an awesome idea. You get to check out all the cool light designs and see some really interesting houses. The best part is you don’t have to worry about taking down any of those lights because they aren’t yours πŸ™‚

  • E.M. says:

    When I still lived with my parents, I really looked forward to decorating the tree and the house. For some reason, my parents didn’t exactly share my enthusiasm (especially as they got older!), and I would have to bug them every day after Thanksgiving to get the tree down from the attic. I absolutely loved seeing the finished product of our creativity. I also made some of my own ornaments a few years ago, though they didn’t turn out very pretty. My other favorite is just dinner + family gift exchange at my grandma’s house on Christmas Eve.

  • Awesome list! Too many people think they need to spend money during the holidays, and then they just talk about how it’s supposed to be about spending time with friends and family. Great way to spend time and create memories without busting open that wallet!

  • My favorite Christmas movies are Elf and The Grinch. LOVE them!

    Last year, I got a pile of Christmas books at a library booksale, for $1 each, so that’s been our frugal way to get into the spirit. We also go to a local museum that decorates christmas trees with children’s book themes — not a free excursion, but I have a “buy one get one free” coiupon for the tickets, so that helps.

  • My wife and I don’t typically put up any Christmas decorations, but we do like going to see the lights and decorations other people have put up. We also really love movies, so we’ve been watching through a bunch of old classics — Home Alone 2 is probably on the agenda soon.

  • Great list of fun activites! I love that there are so many different ways families can get into the holiday spirit without spending an arm and a leg. Money just can’t buy everything πŸ™‚

  • My wife and I took our 3 kids to look at Christmas lights last weekend. It is a fun tradition we look forward to every year. Another one we started recently is taking them to the $ store and giving them each $10 and they can use it to buy a gift for everyone on their Christmas list. It is awesome and hilarious to watch and has resulted in some BIG laughs come Christmas morning. The cool thing about it is that nothing in the store is off-limits or too expensive. One of the few times in their young lives where they are not told “No, put it back, it’s too expensive.”

    • John says:

      That’s awesome Kyle! I can only imagine how much fun that could turn into depending on what each kid picks out – not to mention the fact that they can get whatever they see.

  • Dear Debt says:

    I love just relaxing, cooking and watching movies. I have also created a tradition where my bf and I go to a bar with friends in the evening on Xmas eve or Xmas day. It’s amazing how many bars are actually open!

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