Christmas Already? The Tree, and Entertaining

For many families, the tree is a huge part of the Christmas tradition.  Buying it, decorating it, looking at the pretty lights – all these things contribute to the holiday excitement, and the holiday spending.  Here are some hints for keeping the costs down as you put up the tree:

  1. Do some pre-shopping before you go out to buy the tree.  Prices vary dramatically from vendor to vendor!  See if any local charity groups are selling trees; they are often very affordable and you’re also supporting a worthwhile cause.
  2. Buy smaller.  Trees look a lot smaller outside.  Once you get the tree home and put it in the stand, you often find that you’ll have to chop off a bit to make it fit and then scrunch your angel or star down.  This can be a huge problem if you have a large tree topper.  You can also stretch a smaller tree by placing it on a small table (like a nightstand) or sturdy wood crate covered with your tree skirt or other festive fabric.  This also keeps kittens out of ornaments, and lets the presents be seen instead of hiding under the boughs.  As a bonus, the smaller the tree, the fewer lights and ornaments you’ll need.  If the emptiness below bothers you, wrap a few large empty boxes to set the scene.
  3. See if there is a "cut your own" tree farm nearby.  They can be quite inexpensive, plus it is a fun family memory.
  4. I’ve heard that the price of trees goes down as you get closer to Christmas.  I don’t know if this is true, as we usually wait until near Christmas just so we won’t have a tree drying out in our house for weeks.  (Though they were probably all cut at the same time.)
  5. If you are placing your tree against a wall or in a corner, look for a tree with an unattractive side and ask for a discount.
  6. Consider buying an artificial tree.  They are certainly cost effective, especially if you get one after the holidays when they are on clearance.
  7. Warning:  Grinch Alert!!  If you are traveling and won’t be home on Christmas, skip the tree.  Do all the other decorations, though.
  8. Don’t try to buy a lifetime of ornaments in a year or two.  Our first Christmas, my husband and I filled in between our few ornaments with bows, and made a big bow topper.  Over the years, we’ve picked up ornaments as we travel, received them as gifts, and the kids have brought home lots!  We can barely fit them all on the tree now.  I can’t imagine if we’d run out and bought boxes of ornaments when we first married – it would have been very expensive and they’d be gathering dust as we use our more meaningful ornaments.
  9. Buy LED lights.  They are a little more expensive, but they use up to 1/5 the electricity of traditional lights and they last a lloonngg time.
  10. Teach your children to make paper snowflakes.  You can use already recycled paper, especially if it is colored.  (My kids bring home gobs of paper from school).  Challenge them to make smaller and smaller designs.  Then teach them how to sweep up all the little bits of paper!

Many people enjoy hosting holiday gatherings and they can be a lot of fun.  It’s not fun, however, if you then discover that you spent your rent money preparing a lavish feast for your entire family.  There have got to be some frugal ways to entertain.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Tried and true:  the potluck.  As people to bring a dish to share.
  2. Appetizers only.  Timed right, a selection of small appetizer, chips and dips can make for a fun and inexpensive party.
  3. Champagne and pizza.  There are numerous inexpensive champagnes available, plus frozen pizza baked up hot and bubbly from your oven.
  4. Soups or stews can stretch to feed a lot of people for a little bit of money.  Chili can be made with lots of beans and not so much meat. 
  5. Keep your eyes out for sale items.  Most of the big Christmas dinner type items go on great sales at some time during December.  This is probably not the time to be hoping for the Commissary to be your best bargain, as the chain grocery stores use the main parts of Christmas dinners as a loss leader to bring you into the store.
  6. As your friends and family to bring the side dishes if you are cooking a big dinner.
  7. Consider cost when planning your menu.  Turkey is much cheaper than prime rib.  If you love splurging on something special during the holidays, maybe you can splurge for just your immediate family and serve the inexpensive item at your big gathering.

This post has been hard for me, as I find it easy to overspend on food for entertaining.  I would love to hear your suggestions!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.