16 Budget-Friendly Holiday Traditions

By Sarah Lyons

‘Tis the season for shopping, baking, cooking special meals, holiday decorating, and celebrating with friends and family. The holidays are an exciting time for many, but all that fun can stretch the pocketbook. No matter your budget, families can enjoy meaningful traditions that won’t break the bank. Here are fun budget-friendly holiday traditions for families.

Holiday Movies for Families

It’s a Wonderful Life

Polar Express

Miracle on 34th Street

The Christmas Story


Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Home Alone & Home Alone 2

A Christmas Carol

It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure


Frosty the Snowman

Nutcracker: The Motion Picture

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Muppet Christmas Carol


Make holiday cookies. Bake and decorate special cookies for friends and family, and set aside a few dozen to deliver with the kids to local firefighters or police officers. (Find festive holiday recipes here.)

Have a holiday movie marathon. Watch your favorite holiday movies as a family while enjoying popcorn, hot cocoa and candy canes. (See sidebar for a list of suggested movies.)

Craft tree ornaments. Gather the family to make a new ornament each year. When the kids move out they will have a box full of decorations for their own tree. Easy ideas could be salt dough ornaments or filling a plastic ball with photos, ticket stubs, or glitter and adding the date.

Countdown to Christmas. Create a homemade advent calendar with construction or scrapbook paper.

Listen to holiday tunes. Play Christmas music every morning while getting ready for school/work.

Take a neighborhood lights tour. Load up the family car and tour Christmas lights in the area.

Provide a meal. Check the needs of a local food pantry and help them stock up on holiday dinner items.

Don family pajamas. Pick out matching pajamas for the whole family to wear on Christmas morning (and take an annual photo!). For low-cost options, use plain colored t-shirts and matching flannel pants.

Bless others. Let the kids pick out a new toy to donate to a local organization that provides gifts to children in need. Consider donating old toys to charity before new gifts arrive.

Go on a sleigh ride. A sleigh ride is a great way to get in the holiday cheer. Don’t forget the hot cocoa.

Organize a coat drive. Start by going through your closet to gather jackets and warm clothing you don’t wear anymore. Ask neighbors to do the same. Collect new socks, hats and gloves. Donate items to a local charity that benefits the homeless population.

Go caroling. Gather friends and family to go caroling in your neighborhood or at a local nursing home.

Plan a holiday hunt. Fill plastic eggs with candy or hide candy canes around the house and let the children look for them.

Read holiday books. Collect Christmas and other holiday books, wrap them in festive paper, and have the kids open and read one each day leading up to Christmas. Consider adding one new book to your collection each year.

Have a Christmas tree campout. After trimming the tree, get out the sleeping bags and “campout” next to it for the night.

Eat Christmas breakfast. Have a special breakfast Christmas morning. A breakfast casserole that can be prepared night before lets you enjoy the morning with family.