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Broke and Busted? How to Celebrate the Holidays on a Tight Budget

From baking to crafting, here are some ways to have fun and spread holiday cheer without breaking the bank.

This 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 the book Creative Correspondence by Michael and Judy Jacobs.

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) Kathryn Manchip, a Sammamish, WA 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.” You can also get great deals from Walmart. 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) 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.” 

5) 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. 

6) Check out 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. Toss your kids in the car with some hot chocolate and holiday treats and tour nearby neighborhoods for the best holiday light shows.

7) 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. 

8) Check out your favorite movies, holiday books and music from the library and schedule some evenings to share childhood favorites such as It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street with your kids. 

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