Tips From My Mom: The Christmas Experience on Less

When I was growing up, my mom managed to make the holidays the most magical time  of the year.  We always decorated the Christmas tree as a family.  "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" charmed us on family movie night, and cookie decorating was another holiday tradition.  Christmas dinner was always special (our holiday staples were green bean casserole and turkey).  Christmas Eve gifts never failed to please, and Santa's gifts were always over-the-top.  I knew that Christmas was the most wonderful family gathering of the year; but what I didn't know -- that we were terribly poor -- never managed to crush my mom's drive to maintain the holiday spirit.

You see, my mother told me recently that she managed to raise my brother, sister and me by herself on $300 per month and food stamps while she attended college.  That $300 had to stretch to cover a $275 mortgage (we lived in a very cheap, but cute and clean, little house) and any necessities not covered by food stamps.  Yes, it was a different time period, and $25 did stretch farther.  But hey, I'm not that old; $25 did not stretch as far as you would think.

Mom's Christmas Magic

So how did my mother manage the illusion of a rich holiday?  Mom bought gifts on deep discounts throughout the year and at garage sales.  My siblings and I were never the wiser until Mom fessed up a few years ago. 

My mother also made the most out of family moments.  Our Christmas tree decorations were never new, but as we decorated the tree as a family, Mom always remarked on the history of special ornaments.  Our cookie baking was never elaborate, but Mom always made sure each of us had a hand in baking and decorating, again focusing on sharing the moment together.  Frosty and Rudolph enthralled us during family movie night every year, but we had to wait for them to appear on our local channels, broadcasting into our living room via our bunny ears. 

Christmas dinner magically appeared on the table, and it was only after I was grown that I realized the turkey came from my mom's workplace and the fixings were actually simple and cheap.  Somehow, though, with our traditional red linen tablecloth, the china table setting reserved for Christmas, candles lit, and family gathered, our simple meal managed to be magical, delicious and special.

Making It Matter Without the Price Tag

My point here is not just that I was an innocent child, never questioning how poor we were, but that Christmas wonder is possible on so much less than most people, including myself, spend.  

When I learned of my mother's Christmas magic a few years ago, I took a long look at my own spending habits and decided to cut back.  This was welcome to both my husband's family and my own, and we enjoyed memorable moments rather than elaborate gift giving. 

My mother still goes overboard, buying presents on sale throughout the year, but we all realize now that Mom does not spend much and enjoys maintaining the magic of Christmas illusion enhanced by long-lasting family togetherness.

Photo: Solyanka

Anonymous's picture

MoneyCone wrote:

Mon, 11/29/2010 - 13:38 Comment #: 1

Your mom is a very smart woman! Not the gifts, but the togetherness that makes Christmas such a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous's picture

Money Reasons wrote:

Mon, 11/29/2010 - 22:44 Comment #: 2

Sounds like you had a great mom! Both wise and frugal!!!

Great story, thanks for sharing :)

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Wed, 12/01/2010 - 17:51 Comment #: 3

Thanks for the kudos, MoneyCone and Money Reasons! I find holidays much more pleasant without the stress of buying outlandishly expensive gifts -- my mother is definitely wise!

Anonymous's picture

Aloysa wrote:

Wed, 12/01/2010 - 23:30 Comment #: 4

It is very smart to buy gifts during the year so you don't go crazy with your money when December comes. I have to admit a lot of Christmases I would use my c/c to buy gifts. Not good... Christmas is a very special time for me. It is not about the gifts but about family.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 15:54 Comment #: 5

Aloysa, I fell into the credit card trap for Christmas (and other "emergencies"). No more -- I finally paid them off and want to keep it that way! I agree that Christmas should be more about family than gifts :-)

Anonymous's picture

Festival of Frugality wrote:

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 11:30 Comment #: 6

[...] presents Tips From My Mom: The Christmas Experience on Less posted at [...]

Anonymous's picture

Monroe on a Budget » MomVesting: The Christmas exp wrote:

Wed, 12/15/2010 - 01:24 Comment #: 7

[...] Christa has a piece worth reading about her resourceful mother at MomVesting with Tips from My Mom: The Christmas Experience on Less. [...]

Anonymous's picture

The Kids-and-Finances Guide for Parents | MomVesting wrote:

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 21:45 Comment #: 8

[...] to make special occasions truly memorable no matter what your budget [...]

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