Merry Pandemic Holidays! How We’re Celebrating, How Readers are Celebrating

Taking my own Christmas photos: NAILED IT

Merry Pandemic Holidays!!!! We’re ready to celebrate how much we love our families by…. not seeing them!!! This holiday season will be different, but no less merry and jolly. Primarily I will achieve this by making as many desserts as I’d make if we were hosting 15 people. Since there are four of us x 1 pandemic x no childcare for 9 months, I feel the math is going to work out well.

Also, going to put this up front: some content in this post will not be suitable for kiddos who believe in The Magic. Just in case anyone is reading over your shoulder….

Since this is a year like no other–and one we will hopefully not repeat in our lifetimes–I asked the readers of Frugalwoods to wrap us in festive tidings with tales of how they’re celebrating in 2020. We’ll talk gifts, we’ll talk traditions, we’ll talk food.

My favorite thing to say every year is that frugality does not equal Grinch-ness. I’m perhaps too far to the other side in terms of decorations and fa la la’s. Some might find my decor tacky or over the top, but I find it positively Who-villian.

There are ways–SO MANY WAYS–to be festive and bright without spending much money. We’ve got Christmas all conflated with consumerism, but it does not have to be so. The preeminent way I save money is by..

Giving Frugal Gifts

The gifts aren’t frugal; the way I buy them is.

Kids Receive Second-Hand Gifts

Merry and bright!

Parents are the architects of their children’s expectations. You, the parent, set the tone. You, the parent, have the power and responsibility to design a holiday that’s in line with your beliefs, budget, and preferences. Other kids are getting an XYZ? That’s not something we do in our family.

My children get a very merry second-hand Christmas and they love it. Also, what do they know? They’re 5 and almost-3! I scour yard sales every summer for toys, books, games, clothes and shoes that my kids are going to need/want in the coming year. I say “summer” because yard sales only happen then owing to our tremendous amounts of winter snow here in Vermont.

Last night Mr. FW and I went down to my lair (also known as the basement) where I’ve squirreled away a year’s worth of toys, games, and books for our kids. We decided which child would receive what, which presents are from Mom & Dad, which go in their stockings and which gifts are from Santa. I am FULLY aware this used-gift approach probably has a shelf life and at some point, my kids will be older and want specific things for the holidays, which I will probably have to buy new. But until that time? Save all the monies!!!!!!!!

Last Christmas: reused gift bags

Tonight I plan to head back to my lair with a warm cider and whisky to wrap the gifts in WRAPPING PAPER I FOUND FOR FREE by the side of the road. Beautiful, Christmassy paper. I was going to re-use gift bags (my move for all previous holidays), but then I found this free paper and was like, hey! Bonus: It’s recyclable!

Here’s the rough rundown of what my kids will receive, all of which is used and was either bought at a garage sale or came to us via hand-me-down:

Toy tool kit, play kitchen pots & pans, stuffed animals, puzzles, books, Madeline dolls (Littlewoods is obsessed with “Mahawine” and my friend R. actually found the dolls for her in a free pile at a yard sale!), toy tractor, Magnatiles, and some other stuff I forgot.

Their grandparents also very sweetly sent gifts, which are already under the tree and the subject of much discussion between Kidwoods and Littlewoods since Kidwoods can read enough to know who each gift is for, but Littlewoods won’t listen to her… fun times!

I also portioned out some of my yard sale scores for each of their birthdays. If you go the used route, always a good idea to roughly portion things out for each holiday and birthday in advance so you don’t run out mid-year. I save new, tags-on items found at yard sales to gift at other kids’ birthday parties (not that we’ve been to any this year, but I loved this approach last year).

Limit Your Gift List

Kidwoods is NOT having it

Not everyone you know needs (or wants) to receive a gift from you. It is OK to limit your list to those closest to you.

  • My dearest local friends get homemade food (provided I remember to make it, and, to be honest, it’s not looking good this year since it’s already the 22nd… whoops. New Year New You cookies anyone?).
  • Back when my children had teachers, the teachers got cash and a hand-written note.
  • My husband and I decided ten years ago not to give gifts to each other and to instead go on a mini-getaway or out to a nice dinner together. This was feasible back when we’d visit family and they’d watch the kids for us. This year, we bought special craft beer to share (see last month’s expense post for the details).
  • For our families, we limit giving to our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews:
    • For the kids, I ask their parents what they want and then buy one thing each child has specifically requested. I am NOT going to get creative about what my 14-year-old nephew wants, for example, and he is grateful for that.
    • All of the adults get wine. I can write this because they’ve already received their festive boxes of wine because I was so worried it wouldn’t deliver in time that they ended up getting it like three weeks ago. No problem! Also, I know it was the right gift because none of them–not one of those jokers–waited to open it until Christmas. Nothing makes me happier than giving people something I know they’ll enjoy. Plus, they all text me photos of them drinking the wine, which is really cute and only a little weird after the third glass.

Simplify Gift Giving

MANY thanks to my friend M. who took this outdoor pic of us this fall

In the past, I did a combination of things for our families for the holidays:

  1. Asked what they all wanted and then scampered around trying to figure out what a “blue, soft, but not too long scarf” was?
  2. Shipped them foods we make here on the homestead (maple syrup, tomato sauce, currant cordial, pickles, etc).

Both of these approaches took me FOREVER and were frustrating because I don’t like to shop and I never know what to get people. I’m not an intuitive gifter and buying gifts stresses me out because I don’t want people to think I don’t love them. I just really, really suck at gift giving. My husband is even worse (no offense, sweetheart, you know it’s true).

Then when we went the homemade food route, we ended up spending over $200 on shipping for all of our supposedly frugal homemade gifts. Plus some of the jars broke in transit. After that fiasco, I decided we were done. I had to find an easier way.

In all my spare time, I started researching online food, wine, and spirit delivery companies. I started with those gift-basket companies that do wines, cheeses, chocolates, etc, but even the cheapest options were like $80 and only had one bottle of wine (what’s the point?!?!?).

BREAKING NEWS: Royal family copies Frugalwoods Christmas card photo. DID NOT chop and stack their background wood. JUST SAYIN.

Then I considered buying wine myself and shipping it, but that took me right back to the shipping fiasco. Plus I’d have to actually go into a store and the post office, which I try to avoid even in non-pandemic times.

Next I investigated wine membership clubs and vineyards, but the wines were like $100 a bottle, which I understand probably means they’re very good/high brow, but my family and I have much, much, MUCH lower standards when it comes to wine (and most things, actually…. ).

Finally, I found it. A place that sells normal person wine for normal person prices, which to be clear, is $10 a bottle. It’s called wine.com. How it took me so long to find the store that is LITERALLY the name of what I wanted to buy remains a mystery. But now that I’ve found it? It’s my girl. Me and wine.com are going to start a revolution of me never having to wonder what to buy anyone ever again. This whole thing started when I wanted to send my dad something for his June birthday. It worked so well and was so cheap that I ended up sending it to my mom, sister, brother, and in-laws for their birthdays too. AND THEN FOR CHRISTMAS!

Here’s what I like about wine.com:

  • NOBODY MOVE

    Cheap but nice options in the $7 -$10/bottle range, which means I can send everyone at least three or four bottles.

  • My free shipping “StewardShip” Club annual membership. I initially didn’t pay for this because I hate to pay for things, I do not like to join clubs, and I thought it sounded like a scam. Then I actually read the terms and realized it’s an incredibly good deal. I paid $49 one time to get FREE shipping on all my orders for the entire calendar year. Since I’ve sent at least ten boxes of wine this year, the $49 was well worth it. P.S. you could then ship wine to yourself (not that I would ever do that… )
  • You can save your past orders and delivery addresses. This is useful because I now know which styles of wine everyone in my family prefers and can reference what I sent them last time to make sure I send different bottles each time.
  • It lets you select the state you want the wine delivered to and then only displays wines that can be delivered to that state. Super helpful since I’m shipping to three different states.
  • The wine arrives when it says it will and, so far, not a single bottle’s been broken.
  • They also sell spirits, though I haven’t ventured into that world yet. Maybe in 2021…

All this to say, if you fret over gift giving and hate to pay for shipping and never know what to give people, consider finding something–probably a food or drink–that will make your life a wee bit less stressful. And if your family likes wine? Wine.com, baby. Hint: if anyone’s wondering what to get ME for Christmas…. (the wine.com links are affiliate links).

Holiday Cards!!!

Everyone else we know receives a holiday card–just what they’ve always wanted: a square piece of paper with pictures of someone else’s kids on it. As long-time readers know, I have a patented method for making adorable cards on the cheap:

  1. 2020 holiday card

    I take the photos myself OR I have a friend take them. Many thanks to my dear friend M. who came over this fall to snap outdoor family photos of us. We’ve decided to make this an annual tradition and will take photos of each other’s families every fall. I am proud to share that my own photography is featured on my friend R’s Christmas card this year.

  2. I use business postcards through VistaPrint. I use a generic background and then pop in my phots. I like VistaPrint because it’s dirt cheap and they let you fully customize the card. No one will ever know that my Christmas card originally said “CLEARANCE SALE,” although actually that would be totes appropriate.
    • Go to “Marketing Materials” and then select “Postcards” from the drop-down menu
  3. Postcards are inherently cheaper because:
    • You don’t have to buy envelopes
    • Postcard stamps are cheaper than regular stamps

I spent $59.21 for 150 full-color on both sides postcards this year and I will do it again next year. As a matter of fact, I re-use the same template on VistaPrint every single year and just pop in new photos… It’s not like our names or address are going to change anytime soon. This saves me time, which I can then spend telling you how much time and money I’ve saved. Virtuous cycle. I’ve already mailed these out, so I’m not bursting anyone’s surprise bubble by sharing it here. I know, I know, you all just sit around wondering what my card’s going to look like every year. Me too.

Quick note on our Christmas card outfits: I bought my dress at a garage sale for $1, Littlewoods’ plaid dress is from a garage sale, her other dress was a hand-me-down and the jean jacket was a gift from my mother-in-law. Both of Kidwoods’ dresses were hand-me-downs from an incredibly generous Frugalwoods reader who mailed me a box of GORGEOUS hand-me-downs. THANK YOU, frugal family!!!!

Philanthropy Takes Many Forms

The holidays would not be complete without me scrambling to make our philanthropic donations from our donor advised fund by December 31st while simultaneously updating the Uber Frugal Month Challenge (sign-up now, starts January 1, 2021!!!) while drinking Malbec straight from the box. The new year happens on the same date every year and you’d think I would, oh I don’t know, DO SOME OF THIS IN ADVANCE. Nah. That’d totally ruin my year-end panic vibe.

Other side of the holiday card

Since 2020 sucked and many folks lost jobs, or have reduced incomes, or fear a job-loss in the future, I want to point out that there are many different ways to give back and not all of them are monetary. If making donations to charities isn’t in your budget this year, that’s ok. It’s important to take care of yourself and your family and to be honest about what’s within your financial capabilities. If you can’t donate money, or if you can but want to do other stuff too, consider good old-fashioned volunteering, which I assure you is alive and well despite the pandemic.

If you, like me, aren’t able to do in-person volunteering this year, find out what you can do from home. Many small, local non-profits are hard hit by this recession and need assistance with things like:

  • Online marketing, updating their website, creating a social media presence, designing postcards to mail (did this for my church; LOVED it, and yes, I used business postcards through VistaPrint), and all things internet. If you have capacity and skill in this area, offer it up.
  • Stuffing, stamping, and labeling envelopes. FINALLY, a job at my skill level. I did this recently and it was really relaxing. Just me and a stack of papers, making it rain. I was given a sample envelope that showed me where to fold the letter, which way to put it in the envelope and where to put the label. I DID NOT MESS UP!
  • Really just about anything. Larger nonprofits usually have a professional staff to take care of this stuff, but smaller, hyper-local organizations do not. They’re heavily reliant on volunteers and you might form a long-lasting bond with a local organization that’s helping your community.
  • Adopt-a-family programs. There seem to be more of these this year than in past years and I’m glad we could help out with buying gifts for kiddos. LONG conversation with Kidwoods about why the gifts were not for her, but it opened up a wonderful opportunity to discuss giving back and how fortunate we are.

Food!

Oh good lord, I just wrote a novel, you want me to write about food too? Nah. Let’s turn to the readers (FINALLY).

How Frugalwoods Readers Are Celebrating Pandemic Holidayz 2020

Zoom It!

Christmas 2019

Allison wrote, “I typically host a large white elephant party, my annual Christmas open house. This year, I’m doing it virtually for my local friends and neighbors. My husband and I baked an assortment of treats, and we will be delivering a cookie tin and a mason jar of pre-mixed cocktail, and we will pick up the white elephant gifts. Then we will play over Zoom! Another tradition is, we get together with one other couple every year for cookie decorating. I bought us each a set of pre-baked cookies and icing so we can do it over Zoom together without having to do the baking and prep.
On Christmas itself, it’ll be just the two of us. I bought a half ham and will freeze the leftovers!”

Rachel said, “Since we can’t go do our usual visiting grandparents on Christmas Day this year, we decided to have a stay in our pajamas day and eat all of our favorite things. It’s not a final list, but so far we have cinnamon rolls and donuts for breakfast, shrimp for afternoon snack and ham for dinner and chocolate bread pudding for dessert. We will probably FaceTime family throughout the day.”

Tricia wrote, “We’re doing stockings only (with a little spill over) for our adult kids and for my husband and I. Taking walks around the neighborhood to enjoy Christmas lights. Watching Christmas movies, listening to Christmas records. Sending Christmas cards. Having a Christmas Tea via Zoom with sisters and cousin this week. We will not be gathering with family so it’ll be just be the 2 of us. Focusing on the positive of it likely being the one time we’ll have an intimate Christmas just the two of us (like newlyweds). We’ll still make a nice dinner as we did for our 2 person Thanksgiving, which turned out to be a lovely day. Yes, we’ll miss everyone and our hearts will ache, but doing what we can so we will have everyone when we gather again for future holidays. We’ll video chat with our kids on Christmas. Oh, and I’m finally treating myself to a nice bathrobe for Christmas morning!”

Quiet, Simple, Peaceful

Hannah’s tree

Hannah shared, “It will be just our family of three. We plan to eat ham and mac and cheese and watch a Christmas movie. After a long and difficult year I’m actually looking forward to a quiet Christmas at home.”

K H wrote, “For the first time in my 51 year life we are basically doing nothing. We are going to exchange books, thrifted, like you do. I consulted my daughter and we are going to make tamales and have a lot of snacks and probably have a Harry Potter marathon though we start yelling at the TV an awful lot after #5 so maybe Lord of the Rings/Hobbit instead.”

Candace said, “It’ll be a smaller group at Christmas dinner so the menu will be little cut down/simplified. One of the favorite traditions of my husband and I is Christmas stockings – little gifts and goodies – but that really requires a lot of in person shopping, multiple stores so we’ve agreed to skip it this year. Since we’re both at home all day and amazon packages all look the same until you open them, we’re skipping any attempt at secrecy and ordering our own gifts. But they must all be wrapped and not played with until Christmas day. We can’t go totally rogue:).”

Holly shared, “We will be celebrating with our immediate household members only this year (2 adults and our 2 children). On Christmas Eve our tradition is to make cut out sugar cookies for Santa – everyone loves decorating them! This year we will very likely have a snowy Christmas so after a fancy breakfast (quiche, cinnamon rolls, fruit, sausages & bacon), we will slowly open gifts and then likely do some sledding! We anticipate a lot of time at home this winter so we are surprising our kids with a playroom makeover better suited to older kids now that they’ve outgrown the little kid stuff: they are getting a game room with air hockey & ping pong table, TV, magnetic dart board, etc. Things to keep them busy at home!”

Pam shared, “22 years as a military family and now 7 years retired 1,400 miles away prepared us for a covid Christmas so it won’t be much different. This will be the last Christmas eve with just us and our boys so I’m actually very happy to be home. The oldest is closing on his first house a few days after Christmas and we’re pretty sure it’s coming with a ring, which will be exciting but this mama has one last Xmas. So he’s getting housewares. His brother stops at Goodwill almost daily bringing me things to wrap we “got” him for Christmas. The rest of our family is far away so this year it’s gift cards or cash. It’s what they needed most this year.”

Kim said, “There will be no big family get togethers. My adult children will be getting meat to fill their freezers. My 3 grandkids will be getting toys and clothes from me to open Christmas morning at their own houses. We skipped Thanksgiving too. Sigh. Next year.”

With Careful Quarantine

Christmas 2018

Rachel said, “We are doing gifts and dropping off for local folks who cannot quarantine. We are spacing out in person visits all through December and January so that we quarantine in between each one for people who can quarantine. We got a real tree at home this year and are trying to do more decorating inside. We will do video calls with everyone on Christmas. Trying to build new traditions – probably a special Christmas breakfast of monkey bread and then a smaller Christmas dinner with just the three of us.”

Amanda wrote, “My whole family has started quarantine so that we can be together. Which will be wonderful since this will be the first holiday season without my grandmother. For gifts we’re giving mostly consumable items (thanks to the economy size snacks at Sam’s Club). My son is getting crafty items and a larger (thrifted) little people set. Being home more I don’t mind the larger toys if he gets loads of play out of them.”

Christmas 2015

Mari shared, “We are isolating for 2 weeks so that my parents in law can come and see us. We’re a 2 nationality household, where I would celebrate on the 24th, and him on the 25th, so we do a 2 day affair. Usually we’d have more than a dozen people over on Christmas eve, but that is not happening this year, we’ll video chat with my mother, aunt and 101 year old grandmother. Christmas day will be the usual with turkey and trimmings ( stuffing, sprouts with chestnuts, potatoes roast in goose fat, roast parsnip, carrot and celeriac, cranberry sauce and gravy). We have made room in the freezer for leftovers, which we do every year.

Since we are 4 adults I always make sure there is several things for everyone to open on Christmas morning, we always collect up things we need in the autumn to give it for Christmas, so the gifts are all useful. We’ll do another video call with the in law side since we cant see them in person. I am missing my Christmas traditions terribly – for 15 years a family has come to decorate our tree with us, and a friend and her daughter has baked gingerbread with us every year since she was born, and that couldn’t happen this year. I love Christmas and the pandemic has made me realise how many of the traditions and special moments I love are all about the people you experience them with.”

Focus On The Food!!!

Danielle said, “My family is hosting my parents at our house. My husband and I don’t like traditions so we have tried to switch things up with the food. Last time Indian Food Christmas didn’t go over too well so this year we are having Big American BBQ Christmas. All the best backyard BBQ foods with an attempted gourmet twist. Ribs, baked beans, slaw, potato salad, deviled eggs, hot dogs, fried pickles, and cornbread.”

Cindy and her baby by the tree!

Amber wrote, “We’re celebrating with our immediate family. We have 4 boys and they’re each receiving 4 gifts, plus we’ll all have stockings. (Our stockings usually include candy canes, pistachios, oranges, and tons of homemade goodies, such as maple candy and fudge). We’re having a traditional meal on Christmas Day with ham, potatoes, other sides and sweet treats. On Christmas Eve, we always have a Yule log cake and roasted chestnuts with wassail! Merry Christmas frugal friends!”

Victoria shared, “I have made pomegranate mulled gin from a magazine recipe and used gin gifted to us by a neighbour. I will share it with my family on Christmas Eve – fingers crossed it tastes good!”

Barbara said, “First Christmas without my folks so I’m going to channel their visions of a Merry Christmas. Fill my Instant Pot with a pot roast (from the local butcher) cooked over vegetables (from the local farmers), streamed broccoli, homemade cranberry sauce (locally grown) followed with chocolate chia pudding for dessert (gluten, sugar and dairy free). Then on the couch with My Good Man to watch A Christmas Carol and snack on chestnuts. We always give calendars for Christmas but a little pricey to mail this year! Will find a way to frugalize next year! Then time to Zoom into family in other states! Merry Christmas and May peace and blessings be in your path this coming year!”

Susan’s gingerbread village!

Lorra said, “It was an Amazon Prime Christmas more so than ever this year. Luckily with only 2 older kids not very over the top, and they sent me an Amazon wish list so shopping was done quickly online without any impulse in-store buying. Since travel is delayed and I prefer experiences to physical items, I am fine with not receiving anything until we are able to go somewhere. As for our Christmas dinner plans, we will purchase a small Honeybaked ham, and I will make traditional sides such as the requisite green bean and sweet potato casserole, rolls, cranberry sauce, some quicky stuffing and daughter is requesting macaroni and cheese. Dessert will be the assortment of Christmas cookies we’ll make that week along with a homemade pumpkin pie. We will have our dinner on Christmas Eve since my adult son is visiting overnight and leaving early Christmas Day. Christmas Day breakfast is always cinnamon rolls and bacon. We’ll pick on leftovers all day and watch A Christmas Story on repeat in our pajamas.”

Julie shared, “I will be delivering overnight cinnamon roll dough to my children and grandchildren’s homes so they can make our usual tradition at their homes Christmas morning. We will eat something we normally don’t have at Christmas because it will just be the 2 of us due to Covid. It’s the first time in their lives that my children won’t celebrate with me, 40+years.”

Mariah said, “I’m gifting my spouse (and me as a beneficiary) a smoker. I got it free and for the cost of a $25 replacement element hubby gets a new hobby and yummy smoked meats. How’s that for frugal x-mas? This is really just a part of a hobby/ lifestyle reusing, fixing things up and occasionally flipping for $.”

Getting Crafty

Susan’s amazing gingerbread village!

Susan wrote, “We spent time together building a gingerbread themed winter wonderland from scraps of cardboard, paper, and lots of hot glue! The little decor bits came from a thrifted grab bag I picked up months ago. We are giving holiday zoom tours to family.”

Jess shared, “We live in a large city and there is a group of people who have created a map for holiday light displays. Each weekend we choose an area and view the lights with hot chocolate and a treat. We also delivered small Christmas trees with handmade decorations to our family members to create a connection during social distancing mandate in our state.”

Keep It In The Pod

Melissa shared, “We are celebrating with our “covid family” (aka our “bubble or pod”). There are four families total so each took a holiday between Thanksgiving to New Years. In my house we are making Christmas dinner so I decided to make my family’s traditional Christmas meal of homemade ravioli, sauce, meatball, and braciola. Another pod member is making bread, others are bringing apps, and the last is making dessert. Our pod-mate who took Christmas Eve is making her traditional family food with her daughter as well. New Year’s Eve we are having a party at another pod-mate’s house that will be an “ugly dress party”. All the ladies in the group (and one or two of the gentlemen) sourced ugly used dresses from thrift shops. We’re all dressing up and ringing in the new year. For gifts we’re staying rather small this year. I ordered some gifts off Etsy to go right to my parents and sister/ niece & nephews. I knit/ cooked/ brewed gifts for the remainders of my friends and pod mates. My step-daughter is getting my American girl doll from when I was little. It’s a different holiday in that we aren’t seeing family, but rather seeing the people that we see multiple times a week. The kids have done well with the pod we formed early on, and it’s been a lifesaver for the adults as well. We all miss our families of course but having our local family is wonderful.”

Take It Outdoors

Katie’s 16′ table

Katie wrote, “We will be celebrating outside – at the 16ft table my husband made in preparation for Our Covid thanksgiving celebration. The guests will be smaller in number than usual and we will be serving a full dinner with s’mores by the fireside, hot cocoa with schnapps and some peanut butter bourbon to sip on to keep everyone warm. We have made lemon cello, orange cello and vanilla extract for gifts as well as had some pictures of our newborn printed up for the grandparents and will be taking my brother on an online Airbnb experience to learn about Gin and how to make 3 different cocktails. While we would prefer to be inside and perhaps warmer and greater in number, we are also excited to try something new, something safer and love that we are still able to see those we love this holiday season!”

Morgan is having an, “Outdoor, socially distanced Christmas for us (thank goodness for Florida weather!). My mom is even putting up a second Christmas tree outside. Personally, I’m doing a lot of homemade and consumable gifts this year and will be dropping off treats to people who we haven’t been able to see much this year due to Covid. Since so much is different, the menu will remain the same: roast, pasta, garlic mashed potatoes creamed spinach, garlic knots, and a lot of pies.

Merrill said, “We are watching the weather to see if it might be possible to shiver together outside for a short Christmas celebration. In Iowa, this time of year isn’t really a great time to sit outside, so we will see how that works out. We usually get a larger shared present for our two young boys and then one smaller individual present. This tends to keep the fighting over toys down a bit less! This year the presents were ordered just to make it easier.”

Erin shared, “We live in AZ where the weather is still nice. My husband and I will visit my parents on their patio more than 6 feet apart, open stockings and eat appetizers.”

With Photos!

Sarah’s adorable baby!

Sarah said, “We are making a big point to send holiday cards and having so much fun as a family doing our own photoshoots!! Especially important this year since we aren’t getting together with everyone and most family/friends have yet to meet our 2 month old.”

Roxane wrote, “We are sending a “virtual Christmas card” this year. My husband, 1 year old daughter and I will dress up and film a short video in front of our Christmas tree saying Merry Christmas to our closest family and friends and will send it (though email) on Christmas Eve. With the pandemic, many of our loved ones have not been able to see our daughter and we thought this might be a nice way for them to see her.”

Limit the Gifts, Amp the Cheer

Meredith said, “Last year we did just a few gifts. The kids loved it. This year is even more limited with gifts. I did get them personalized mugs and chocolate bombs. It will just be us in jammies all day. Going to watch ‘Soul.'”

Meredith’s family

Cindy said, “We keep the tree lights on 24/7, did our best to take a holiday photo with our baby, take regular walks around the neighborhood to look at lights, and went to a drive-thru light show at a nearby regional park ($8/car). For gifts, I dug up some 20-year memories to send to friends with framed pictures of our kids. Most folks are getting framed family photos and a baked good that holds a memory between us. My stepson is getting a bike and a million books. My daughter is getting a set of tiny Eric Carle books and a bead maze. Because what 80s kid doesn’t get their own kid a bead maze for Christmas?!”

Beth shared, “All my nieces and nephews are receiving board games or family games to help curb the boredom of a winter almost fully at home. Virtual school is challenging for them, so some mental stimulation that is also fun is definitely needed right now.”

Paije is giving, “My American girl doll from when I was a girl to my daughter. A toy my daughter never used for my son. A new desk for each, saved up for a year – we’ll never need another as each will grow with them and a wall mounted. Two new books – bought second hand – for each. And hand me downs they’ll be excited about but haven’t seen.”

Krista said, “With all the time they’re spending indoors, my kids asked for a guitar and a drum set (with all the time I’M spending indoors, I may come to regret this). Both were purchased secondhand on marketplace.”

How are you making things merry and bright this year?

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40 Responses

  1. Julie says:

    Wrapping paper isn’t recyclable where I live (greater Boston) so double check to make sure it is where you live. Things have changed a lot this year due to costs so they are more strict.

  2. Christine Keefe says:

    Have you discovered the joys of discounted gift cards for buying said gifts yet? I’ve been using raise.com although I’m going to look into other sites too. The trick is to wait until they offer extra % off and then maximize to whatever the best discount is with that percentage. Pretty sure the signup discount was 10% up to $20 for the first purchase so I bought gift cards for a place where I was about to place an order anyways and then added in some lowes cards (“just in case” because yeah…lowes gets a lot of our $$) to maximize my use of the extra 10%.

    Combine this with a rebate site (ebates or whatever it’s called now gives 1% back on raise), buying a coupon off of Ebay when you can’t find a decent one online for free and you have nicely discounted purchase to wine.com or harryanddavid or lowes or wherever. If companies are related and you can therefore use a gift card at multiple stores, sometimes you can increase your discount by looking at the cards from the related brands (I did this with Harryanddavid/1-800-flowers on raise). It pays to stock up on places that you know you’ll shop or buy gifts at whenever there is a good extra % off deal. Sorry to write a book! I’ve just found this to be an extra-frugal gift giving mechanism this year 😉

    P.S. – I found a big box of that expensive school fundraiser wrapping paper sticking up out of a trash can years ago. I’m still using it! best find ever lol.

    • Katherine says:

      Building on your comment about raise.com, the days after Christmas are the best times for gift card shopping. People who got cards they won’t use flood the site with offers. I’ve gotten a few cards for as much as 20% off.

  3. Stefanie says:

    Yay holiday traditions! This year we have switched entirely to prank gifts for the celebration with my parents (who refuse to socially distance and quarantine…sigh). I wrote my Mom a parody of the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, and photo-shopped my beloved spouse a picture of himself with his favorite pro fisherman. Spouse and I do stocking stuffers only for each other (under ware, candy, scratch offs) I figure none of my friends and family actually want an actual paper picture of my cats anymore than I want one of their kids, so I skip Christmas/Holiday Cards entirely. (I love seeing pics of the kids, but lets be real, those cards all go in the trash and waste natural resources. Text me a holiday pic/greeting/e-card instead PLEASE!) Also, I’m not promising that NO ONE will get a text of my cats….it could happen…lol. Happy Holidays Frugalwoods Nation!

  4. Linda says:

    Beautiful fall family photo!! Happy Holiday, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And best wishes for a return to “the before times” for all of us.

  5. Merrie says:

    I always reuse gift bags. My 5 kids grew up knowing the gift bags from Santa looked just like the gift bags that they got from grandparents the year before hahaha. Everyone in my family is getting DIY local wine/cheese/diy pancake mix breakfast baskets complete with maple syrup and bottles of homemade vanilla extract. And firm instructions to bring all the bottles back for refills.
    It’s supposed to be 60 degrees the day we celebrate so we will be outside around the firepits that I bought to be used as new raised beds next spring. So we will be celebrating by making s’mores and biochar at the same time hahaha.

  6. Leslie says:

    You are definitely giving the duchess a run for her money in your picture! (And your logs are stacked better, I’d say.)
    Delightful Christmas post. Have a merry one!

  7. Sally T says:

    That is a bit much for kids, but I guess if you want to splurge like that, they are only small once.

  8. Donna says:

    I give my four granddaughters, who live about 20 minutes away, new PJ’s every Christmas Eve, which they can open and wear that night. Then, wear as long as they wish on Christmas morning. I always grab the gift bags, take them home and reuse them again the following year – until they fall apart. Why spend money on the wrappings???

  9. JD says:

    We are celebrating with one grown daughter and her family. Our other daughter is staying home, because she and her husband don’t want to get four over-excited children aged six and under into a car to travel an hour on Christmas morning. We celebrated with them at their house this past weekend.
    Our Christmas will be close to normal though. We’ll have a safe Christmas Eve service at church with masked and distancing via reservations and lunch the next day with the child who is coming. I did shop more online this year.

  10. Sonja Greenough says:

    Thank you for focusing on the important parts of this holiday season: family, health, and gratitude. Happy holidays!

  11. Cheryl says:

    I have baked ALL the cookies — and banana breads – which have been gifted out already. For Christmas dinner – we normally go out for Chinese, followed by Open house Holiday desserts. cocktails and Christmas Bingo at a friends house.
    I am going to same friends house, but there will be only 6 of us and we will have social distance Chinese takeout dinner from a local place. No open house this year.

  12. Christopher Johnson says:

    As someone who lives with roommates, I’ve become more of a Grinch the last few years. With the exception of Netflix Christmas movies and one or two Poinsettias (flor de nochebuena), I’ve decided to save up my Christmas spirit and cheer for when I have my own place; perhaps I’ll be able to decorate for Christmas 2022!

  13. Dianne says:

    Merry Christmas and a Happy & New Year to you and family! Loved seeing FrugalHound in the photo. We did not do gifts for our adult chilren (28-34). We bought toys with the money and donated. Next year, we will ask them what charity they would like us to donate in their name. We have bought toysfor the needy since they were kids. I understand the “Kidswoods” talk. LOL We have 2 birthdays in December, as well ( 27 & 29).

  14. Cindy says:

    Of all of these, Rachel’s is my favorite. It sounds like a dream day: pajama! donuts! shrimp! ham! Also, I love that a friend found you Madeline dolls! Littlewoods is going to love them. I can just picture her face lighting up on Christmas morning. Lastly, I am WITH YOU about not liking to shop and being a terrible gift giver. Christmas stresses me out hardcore for this reason.

  15. K says:

    Awwwww….. Frugalhound! 🙂 🙁 Hubby and I discussed over and over whether to drive the 16 hours to be with my elderly parents, but in the end… it’s just not worth the risk. We’re at home and likely pose little risk to them, BUT neither of us can stomach the idea that we get them sick. And so we’ll wait… it’ll just be us and our dogs. We’ll have a nice meal and go for a hike in the mountains which isn’t such a bad alternative!

  16. J says:

    Growing up, I thought everybody saved the clothes boxes and gift bags to use for the next Christmas. We always had a box that contained those stored with our decorations, and I always thought it just made logical sense not to buy those each year. My Mom went so far as to keep the bows and just tape them to the gifts the next year. That way you had more money for the actual gifts, and it was just far less wasteful. I didn’t realize that wasn’t always common until I spent several years working in retail. I never understood why people would spend $20-$100 on shirt boxes that were just going to be wrapped with wrapping paper and gift bags that are so easy just to fold back up.

  17. Kay says:

    Merry Christmas 🎄 & Happy New Year 🎊 to you & your beautiful family! Mrs. Frugalwoods. I just wanted to share a little secret with you!! My husband was invited to join an amazing group of folks who buy and support… up and coming wine makers from around the world…the websites name is. nakedwines.com
    We are the “Angels” who are changing the lives of indie winemakers around the world. The wines are absolutely delicious. They offer a variety of Red.. White… Rose…. Champagne 🍾.. .. and sometimes you will receive ..one free bottle of wine ..from one of naked wines…indie winemakers …in every case for you to try. And when you pass on your wonderful find.. to family and friends… you will receive a $40.00 credit on your next case!! That’s every time you sign up family or friends…..And if you know lots of wine connoisseurs …they will receive a $40.00 credit.
    I always enjoy reading your blog!! We walk the path of everything frugal. We have for 26 years. (even before we met in the jungle and married) We just love garage sales and estate sales ..buying used cars, etc. And we do little things for each other throughout the year. We never give gifts. We take mini trips and enjoy dining outside on our patio here on our little barrier island 🌴 in north Florida. Like you and your sweet family…we grow our herbs & veggies. And when we do dine out …we go to funky little local restaurants in our tiny community. So this Christmas or next or what ever the occasion…Be an Angel 😇 …and please help support up and coming wine makers… and order from naked wines. You’ll love their notes (emails) once your order is placed.
    Merry Merry Christmas 🎄

  18. Allison says:

    Just chiming in to say that I grew up legitimately poor, and when I was very young, many of our gifts came from yard sales and thrift stores. I remember fondly opening a box with EVERY SINGLE Strawberry Shortcake doll, definitely a yard sale find. You’d better believe I was thrilled and didn’t care one whit that they were used. Yes, I wanted new, shiny, name-brand things (I only had one “real” Barbie and a few generic ones), but I wasn’t actually deprived. My brother and I had SO many toys. We had well over 100 stuffed animals in our joint collection, because when we’d go garage saling on Saturday mornings (single mother realness), my mom would give us each $1 to spend as we liked.

    And thanks for your tip about looking for new-with-tags stuff. Now I make a habit of scanning for new, still-in-packaging at thrift stores, to tuck away for the kids in my life.

  19. Sharyn Whiting says:

    Merry Christmas to all the Frugalwoods readers. Here in Australia it will be warm to very hot for Christmas so we are having ham, prawns and a variety of salads for Christmas lunch. Dessert is trifle and pavlova. This year it will be only my husband and myself because my sons and their families won’t be travelling because of COVID restrictions but we will Facebook them through the day. We are also having a neighbour who will be on his own. Usually I try to give experiences to my family like family passes to zoos or theme parks or paying for swimming lessons with stockings for the grandkids. With COVID this year they are getting gift cards for books or favourite clothing labels for the adults but still stockings for the grandkids.Keep safe everyone.

  20. Marie-Josée says:

    Loved viewing your photos and those of your readership. The girls are adorable and I love this year’s X-mas family portrait. My husband and I usually rent a cottage during Christmas and invite our grown children and some friends to join us and get away from the city, but due to the pandemic we are staying home. I have prepared some traditional French Canadian food (meat pies and a tourtière du Lac-St-Jean) and we will be enjoying this over the holidays. Our son lives alone in another city and will be visiting us over Christmas. Our daughter will visit one day with her two children. We will be connecting virtually with family and friends on Christmas Day and over the holidays and resting and enjoying this quiet time off. My thoughts go out to all of those people who will be spending the Holidays alone, without any options to do things out of the house. Happy Holidays and may the New Year bring good experiences!

  21. Melissa says:

    Ice lanterns! Normally I start making and handing them out after Thanksgiving whenever we get together with friends (we live in the north; the lanterns stay frozen all season–and then don’t take up any storage room the rest of the year!). This year there was not much getting together, so my husband and I loaded some lanterns up in the car and drank hot chocolate while we delivered them to a dozen friends’ porches in time for solstice. I also made enough to light a little snowshoe path through our woods. And a neighbor friend organized an ice lantern-lit solstice walk on a nearby trail, so I contributed a few to that effort as well.

    One thing I’ve noticed about covid times in general for me is that social interaction has shifted away from eating and drinking together and toward more physical activities. We’ll meet up with a few friends for ice skating, xc skiing and a bonfire in the next few days. We have big plans to go ice fishing on NYE 🙂 We live far away from our families so are used to mailing gifts and connecting online. We’re going to play Christmas bingo (found some themed bingo cards that each household can print) and play beanboozled, a jelly bean tasting game, over zoom with the nieces and nephews.

    • Regina says:

      I’ve never heard of making ice laterns, that sounds fascinating. I’m going to googke it to see the process. We live in Michigan where we might possibly be able to do it for few months.

  22. Ajay says:

    I have recently discovered the art of Furoshiki (Japanese method of wrapping gifts in cloth). I have purchased tea towels that are Christmas themed or have pretty patterns, I’m sure you could find some in garage sales or in dollar stores also, to wrap presents this year. It’s an environmentally friendly option that also doubles as an extra gift.

    • Sandra, Italy says:

      We also decided to start wrapping our gifts in fabric this year 😊 Will be checking out the Original Japanese art, thank you Ajay. Mrs F, my best wishes to all of you from Italy and Thank You for gifting me with laughs all year round!

    • Regina says:

      Been wrapping gifts in towes for years, though this year combined with bag to hold homemade jam & bread wrapped in towel. Had to leave most bags on doors/in mailboxes because of social distancing.

  23. Angela says:

    Lovely post. It makes me very humble and grateful to live in New Zealand where Christmas will be normal for most people. Thinking of those of you who will be separated from loved ones at this time.

  24. September says:

    Cheese boards galore! We have a tradition called Cheeseboard Tuesday, which is all about elevating a regular weekday afternoon in a really simple way. Typically, we have an amazing, beautiful cheese platter on holidays that a local cheese shop builds for us. Clearly, we are a cheese family. This year there will only be 4 -6 people at our house (as opposed to our usual 20+) so I’m going to have an endless supply of individual cheese plates over the next three days. And we are watching ALL of the Christmas movies. We started with Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut and we’ll probably end with Bad Santa. Much commentary throughout!

  25. Kate says:

    Our Christmas spending is higher than ever this year….but garage sale season was a bust. Plus, after a disappointing Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, I’m ready for some CHEER! And we got to roll all our unused travel budget into Christmas, so we didn’t technically over spend.

  26. Kerri says:

    Loved the photos through the years! I have encouraged my family for the last several years to give me used or consumable gifts, and if I ever have kids the stockpile garage sale route is one I am excited to take. My mom’s favorite present from me last year was a down vest that I found at the thrift shop, and my partner got me piece of music recording equipment off Craigslist. (shameless personal plug… hope allowed! the website link is the 2020 Christmas song I just recorded using that piece of equipment!)
    We are doing Zoom Christmas like many with a few mailed gifts. I got my bro & his fiance a gift card to a local sushi place near them for delicious take out, which seemed like a good “experiences, not things!” gift for this year!

  27. Susan Finton says:

    I carefully looked at your family picture in front of the woodpile (nice shot) and then continued casually scrolling down. When I saw the second photo in front of the woodpile, I thought, “Wow! Mr Frugalwoods shaved his beard and looks just like Prince William.” .

  28. Cara says:

    We’ve never gone “home’ for Christmas since moving overseas about 20 years ago (as many of you know Christmas is a lot to take on the road, or in the air, especially with kids). Often a package. (or two. or three) would be late in arriving to us. So we decided to add a new meaning to the idea of “Little Christmas” (6th January) and saved the latecomers to open that day. The kids really enjoyed this and it does add that feeling of Christmas excitement to opening those gifts. Also, I think it made the aunts or grannies in question feel a bit better when gift wasn’t there on the day.

  29. Regina says:

    First time ever planned on going on vacation to visit family in Florida (looking forward to warm weather instead of freezing cold & snow) & covid postphoned. No vacations this year, hopefully in 2021.
    Found good online sales (poshmark) for previously owned new items, getting new traveling bags at 50+% off. Was really looking forward to going to outlet to get new bags 50-70% off. Looking forward to using them for years to come.
    Was able to donate & sell some things in later summer/early fall to help with expenses & downsizing.
    Used most of last years Christmas cards (did not get to BOGO FREE box sale before Thanksgiving). We reuse bags year after year after year until fall apart, but as youngest is in miidle school don’t need many. Was not able to donate gift wrap/bags because of covid. But was able to donate new winter boots/coats/hats & mittens that our son grew right past (so much for buying on clearance ahead of time).
    Adleast someone else will benefit & hopefully needed.
    We have been bleesed & lucky that my husband job not affected by covid, though seasonal slowdown is normal. Grateful for health, even though many do not understand/appreciate precautions because of covid.

  30. Isa says:

    Our province was in lockdown so we did a virtual diner+gift exchange with my mother. My family-in-law not being under lockdown on Christmas, we were able to spend it with them. Lots of good food, lots of gifts!

  31. Kristi O'Donnell says:

    It was just the two of us for Christmas. I recently had surgery and since my family does not take Covid serious, we didn’t want to risk my immune levels even an outside dinner. It was perfect, just a lot of pain. My husband is British and we decided to have a traditional Sunday pork roast at lunch like they do in England. We ordered our pork from the butcher and made sides. My friend gifted us a Christmas pudding and we had that for dessert and dinner. We of course watched A Christmas Story (only twice since my husband just doesn’t get the obsession) and Love Actually (usually I go to a girl’s party every year to watch this movie). I put on my new overalls (thank you Frugalwoods for the recommendation on the Dickies….so comfy) and my Sloth Christmas sweater and relaxed while drugged up.
    My family is a gift card family. I sent them all gift cards, except my SIL (a book). I am participating in the Niece Project where I put money to an account instead of buying presents and take them wherever they want to go in the world when they are 16/17. I did break down to buy them a book each, because I am a proponent on books for children. I crocheted a blanket for my friend. I gave a gift card for Texas State Parks to another friend. And every friend gets either wipes or hand sanitizer or both with each gift. I sent a package to my friends in Germany with something from Etsy and Houston Astros masks, plus hand sanitizer from a local distillery. I got a gift card to a really cool restaurant for one of my friends and she gave us a bunch of English goodies (Christmas pudding although we don’t have the heart to tell her that it’s not our favorite and this is the third one). My friends and family sent gifts via amazon and I just shoved them under the tree. My husband and I gave each other wipes, sanitizer, M&Ms, and iphone chargers for the stockings. We did give each other other gifts with sentimental or practical stuff. I got a new dehydrator and I’ve been using it a lot.

    I was very happy to have the time with just my husband and I. Anyways Merry Christmas and happy new year to all!

  32. Daniel says:

    My partner and I opted not to give gifts to each other this year–usually, our “gift” to each other is renting a car to see our respective families for the holidays. In lieu of traveling to see family, we opened gifts and spent virtual time with our parents and siblings over Zoom. We obviously wish so many things about this year were different, but the circumstances definitely provided an opportunity to simplify and only focus on the traditions that bring us lots of joy this time of year rather than spending lots of time (and money) on what we “should” do.

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