How to Have a Minimalist and Frugal Christmas

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Christmas is not thought of as frugal or minimalist, but it can be done. Here's how to have a frugal Christmas that won't cut down on the enjoyment level.

Thanksgiving is upon us and that can only mean one thing: turkey. family. pumpkin pie. Black Friday shopping! Let the excessive spending and over-indulging begin!

Obviously I’m kidding, because if you read Frugal Rules, then you probably know by now that Black Friday doesn’t actually help you save money by getting awesome deals; it only makes you spend more.

As a new minimalist, Christmas can be a frustrating time for me. I’m far from a Grinch, but I don’t want to receive a bunch of presents that I wouldn’t normally buy for myself, and I hate to think about giving someone a gift that they don’t really want. It’s ironic to me that someone who wants to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, such as time with loved ones and sharing good food rather than on extravagant gift-giving, can come across as a Grinch, but this is what Christmas has come to today.

Fortunately, Christmas doesn’t have to be a source of stress for those who embrace frugal living and minimalism. Contrary to popular belief, you can still give great gifts and have a minimalist and frugal holiday season at the same time. Here’s how to have a minimalist Christmas this year.

Give Consumables


Giving consumables is the ultimate minimalist practice because it leaves the recipient nothing that will clutter up their house. A consumable gift is going to be used and thoroughly enjoyed. Give a nice bottle of wine, a homemade batch of cookies, or some gourmet chocolates.

I may not ever wear that sweater you gifted me, but give me a bottle of wine or some sweets, and it is likely to be gone within the week. I’ll definitely enjoy it and appreciate that I won’t have to dust it.

Give a Service


Another great gift to give is a service that your recipient would enjoy, such as a gift certificate for a massage, pedicure or for a day of free house cleaning. You can also gift services of your own, such as offering to detail someone’s car, landscape a yard, cook a gourmet meal or whatever it is that you are good at doing. You can be guaranteed that it will be appreciated by the recipient.

Gift Your Time


If you have little or no money to spend this year on gifts, but still want to give something to those relatives who have everything they could ever want, such as grandparents, simply give them your time. Pay them a surprise visit and catch up. Cook a meal together and talk the entire time. They just want your time, so give it to them while you still can. Your presence is valuable to them.

You can also give your time to others by offering to babysit for new parents so that they can go on a date night. It costs you nothing, and it’s worth a lot to the parents because time alone is precious and hiring a babysitter can be pricey. (I know from experience!)

Gift New Experiences


Last year, I got the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received. My sister and her husband knew I was leaning towards a minimalist lifestyle, so they gifted our whole family an annual pass to the local aquarium. With multiple visits this year, we have gotten maximum value out of that annual membership, and I’ll be sad when it runs up at the end of this year. I will always remember that gift because it helped us create so many (free) memories with our daughter, thanks to their thoughtfulness.

Even if purchasing an annual pass for someone isn’t in your budget, you can still give someone an experience as a gift. You can purchase single tickets to a zoo, a concert, a sporting event, a movie theater, a Disney park or another local event to give to a loved one. One year I gifted my mom a ticket to an Elton John concert that I attended with her, and the concert itself and the exciting time spent with my mother is not something I’m going to forget anytime soon.

Christmas is not thought of as frugal or minimalist, but it can be done. Here's how to have a frugal Christmas that won't cut down on the enjoyment level.

It’s Okay to Buy Used


It’s time to get over the stigma of giving gifts that are used, because the secondhand market is a great place to find just about anything on your list. Secondhand books, electronics, and toys in great condition are available everywhere, and supporting the secondhand market is not only a frugal practice, but a minimalist one as well. The more we shop for secondhand products, the more money we save, and the more demand we create for used products at affordable prices.

Christmas doesn’t have to be about trampling people in line on Black Friday so that you can get your kid that last fill-in-the-blank-here toy. Don’t be that person. Be the person who creates good memories for your children and gives thoughtful, appreciated gifts, and actually enjoy your holiday season this year.


How do you keep your gift budget under control at Christmas? Do you appreciate receiving gift certificates as gifts? What was your most memorable gift in the past few years?


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Robin McDaniel

Robin is a freelance writer who chronicles her financial missteps and victories on her blog


  • Catherine says:

    I’m totally woth you. I love the act of gifts during the season but if you’re going to give me a tiny handheld blender intended to mix hot chocolate (something I rarely drink), save your money,id rather nothing. The only saving grace is that I have received gifts that were totally useless to me but i donated them to a fundraising auction for something. The season has way too much “stuff”and i haye feeling like im drowing in it. I like simple useful gifts that are practical. Though my husband hates that I’ve asled for a (kind of fancy) mop and new sweater for Christmas it’s honestly what I want!

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      A hot chocolate mixer! Ha. That has me laughing.

      I asked for practical gifts this year, too. Well, that and a massage. We’ll see how that works out. 😉

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I like the idea of giving experiences, but I feel like it’s difficult in practice. Everyone is so busy that giving up a weekend evening to babysit someone’s kids isn’t easy to actually do. But one way we are trying to be minimalist this Christmas is limiting the number of people we give gifts too. With my family EVERYONE used to give gifts, but we are limiting it more so to just a few people.

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      I think the fact that it’s not easy is part of the point. If you really have no money to spend this year, clearing out your schedule for a single evening to do some babysitting for some parents who will really appreciate it is an amazing gift. Clearing our your schedule for something like that is harder to do than opening your wallet to buy a thing.

      But if you really didn’t have the time, and you had some money to spend, you could still go with buying a ticket to something, too, which is still giving the gift of an experience, without the hassle of clearing out your schedule. 🙂

  • kay ~ the barefoot minimalist says:

    Man, that aquarium gift was awesome! I love going to those. Fish are some of my favorite people! 🙂 All great ideas! Love the secondhand idea. A bunch of years ago when we were still gifting, I found a large ceramic figure of one of my mom’s favorite Rugrats at the Salvation Army. The only problem was, she spent months afterwards asking me where I got it so she could get more. Yeah, that was awkward. I just kept telling her it was my little secret so that no one else would know the store and I could keep getting cool stuff there. Yeah, I know, but seriously, she wouldn’t have understood. OH, and it was only $1 ! What a score! 😀

    • Robin McDaniel says:

      I think I would’ve been so proud of finding a gift that someone loved that much for so cheap, that I would’ve had to fess up where I got it!

  • Josh says:

    The gift of service is more valuable than most people realize. I have realized it is more valued than “stuff” as I have gotten older.

  • Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor says:

    I really enjoy giving and receiving thoughtful used gifts, or experiences, in part because this reduces environmental impact and waste. And of course it’s great that it’s way less expensive.

  • Peggy says:

    I gifted babysitting for my daughter. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a good gift. But since she replied immediately with a date and time. We all had a good laugh! And I didn’t even have to wrap it, double money savings!!

  • Lauren says:

    I’m asking for practical things this year… knives (the set I have I bought for $10 a couple years ago on Black Friday and to be honest suck), 2 shirts (a black one and white one), and some underwear (because mine are falling apart). My mom does not understand minimalism whatsoever and wants to make sure I get “enough” stuff for Christmas. I wish other people understood the lifestyle choice more!

    • John Schmoll says:

      I’m with you. I love practical gifts, especially when it’s something I use very often. Thankfully we have most of our parents down to only getting each kid a couple of gifts and the rest going to their respective 529 accounts.

  • Linda says:

    I have asked my family to not get me anything for Christmas. I told them to spend their money on the grandchildren instead.
    I asked for a pedicure for my birthday.
    I just don’t want clutter. It took me a long time to donate unwanted gifts that were taking up space in my little house. I would hate to inflict unwanted clutter on someone else.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Love the mindset Linda! My wife and I don’t exchange gifts, rather take that budgeted money and put it in our vacation fund. We follow a similar philosophy for our kids. They get so much other stuff from the grandparents that we put most of what we budget for them in their 529 accounts.

  • Beth McGill says:

    We also have been trying a more minimal lifestyle I’m fortunate to have a 14yr old daughter that loves to thrift shop. I’ve asked for a new mattress topper and tennis shoes this year. We’ve discussed only buying gifts that are needed to keep on track with our goals. Also my infant granddaughter will be receiving a case of diapers.

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