20 Frugal Ways To Spend Quality Family Time This Holiday Season

Christmas is a time when it’s about being present with your family and not necessarily the presents, here are 20 ways to spend quality time together that don’t cost a lot of money.

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Victoria Cornell

The holidays are about spending time with family, celebrating the season, giving gifts, and indulging in delicious food and drink.  But all that spending on get-togethers, events, and merriment adds up. Here are some ideas that are big on family togetherness and low on cost.

20 Affordable Ways To Spend Quality Time With Your Family This Holiday Season

family holidays

The average American spends $1,000 during the holiday season, with 1 in 3 going into credit card debt. During a time when it’s about being present with your family and not necessarily the presents, here are 20 ways to spend quality time together that don’t cost a lot of money.

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1. Create Time Capsules

Choose a time this holiday season for everyone in your family to write out things they’re grateful for and goals they have for the following year.  You can also include a small item representing who you are this year. Put the notes and the item in a small box and keep them for next year.

“Creating a family time capsule is a great way to bond, share things you’re grateful for with one another, and plan goals you have for the following year with your family,” says Victoria from Motherhood Life Balance. “Keep your time capsules together in one bigger box or keep individual boxes for everyone to look back on each year.”

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RELATED: 7 Ways to Stay Out of Debt This Christmas

2. Family Picnics

If you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere warm during the holiday season, this is an excellent idea for you and your family.

“It’s the holiday season, so why not take your family out? If the weather is nice, why not have a family picnic by a lake? Picnics are a great way to get out of the house and bond with one another,” says Cindy from The Money Dreamer.

“A break is what we need when it’s the holiday. There are many things to do on a picnic like taking pictures, feeding the ducks, playing with your kids, reading a book, and napping. Just being outside and taking a breather can relieve all our worries.”

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RELATED: A Christmas Market: 10 of the Best to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

3. Evening Walks

family walk winter

Many families find this time of year perfect for starting or continuing traditions that can help people come together to enjoy the holiday season. “During the Christmas holidays, my family’s tradition is to take evening walks together during the Rauhnächte,” says Nora Breyer from Vivdily Christmas. “This custom and its meaning may have nothing to do with our strolls, but there is something magical about going for a walk together at night.”

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4. Holiday Markets and Events

holiday market

The season offers lots of markets, tree farms, and more. It’s a great time to get the family out and start some traditions.

Sarah Molenda from I Heart Frugal says, “Every year we like to pick one paid holiday event and a few free ones to attend. We love the zoo lights in our hometown, and we also love going to tree lighting together. We set up a special night to decorate the house, and we absolutely love baking and decorating cookies together.”

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5. Holiday Diys Together

holiday craft

Crafting and creating is an excellent way to spend some quality time together. Grab a craft and plan some time together to be creative.

“Creating these beautiful marble ornaments is a great way to spend time together as a family,” says Kate from Swanky Den. “Together, hopefully, everyone involved in making the marble ornaments would have a great time recalling memories from Christmases past.”

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6. Baking Cookies

holiday cookies

The smell of freshly baked goods coming from the kitchen is a smell that always reminds me of the holidays. This year might be when you start a baking tradition with your family.

“One of our favorite ways to spend time together as a family during the holidays is baking holiday cookies.  My sister and I get together each year with our children (we have seven kids between the two of us). We invite the children into the kitchen to roll out the dough and cut out holiday-shaped sugar cookies.  We handle the baking while the kids mix the icing colors.”

“Once the cookies are out of the oven, the real fun begins,” says Crystal from Simply Full of Delight. “The kids go wild decorating with red, green, white, and blue icing and an overabundance of sprinkles.

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7. Making Gingerbread Houses With a Twist

Have you ever created a gingerbread house that you don’t eat and you can keep for years to come?

“Creating gingerbread houses together is a lovely tradition that brings together families from youngest to oldest. I’ve found a way to treasure these houses for years to come by creating them with cinnamon and applesauce dough,” says Paula from Colorful Craft Corner.

“They look almost like real gingerbread, you can decorate them with candies and puffy paint as an icing replacement, and they have a lovely cinnamon scent that lasts for years. Make a house every year, and your children will have the loveliest Christmas village when they grow up.”

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8. Enjoying Special Meals Together

The chatter, the smells from the kitchen, and the kids are playing around the house. Family get-togethers and meals prepared together are often a tradition that is remembered for years to come.

“Growing up in an Italian American Family, Holidays and family gatherings always revolve around the food. We’d open a bottle of wine, pour a glass, then roll up our sleeves and help prepare the dinner. From preparing antipasto and olive tapenade to lasagna, turkey, and desserts,” says Paul from A Grill For All Seasons.

“The laughter, singing, and yelling at times, are always moments I will treasure. We would finish cooking. Set everything out, say a prayer over the meal, and then enjoy each other as we celebrated the Holiday and cherished the time together.

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9. Making Decorations for the Christmas Tree

Homemade Christmas decorations are something you can keep for years to come. It’s a great way to revisit the memory of making them year after year.

“Each year, our family sits down together to make decorations for our Christmas tree. The decorations vary slightly from year to year. Sometimes we paint cork or make salt dough decorations, and other times we create picture baubles. We make extras too, to gift to friends and family members,” says Claire from Craving Christmas.

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10. Exploring the Holiday Lights

There are usually some neighborhoods that go all out for the holidays. Take some time to drive or walk around the area to see them.

“A favorite holiday tradition is driving around to look at Christmas lights, says Suzanne from The Remote Mom. “A group of neighborhoods in our city that have an incredible light display that almost every neighbor participates in, it’s stunning and free!”

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11. Give to Others

Find a local charity helping others in need and create a tradition of supporting and gifting others.

“For the last eighteen years, my children and I have made inexpensive shoebox gifts together for Operation Christmas Child. We have loved doing this and knowing that the child recipient will be super happy to receive a box full of age-appropriate gifts,” says Michelle from Mummy from the Heart.

“It’s been a wonderful teaching moment for my children to understand how fortunate they are, and I was so privileged to travel with OCC to Belarus on a shoebox distribution trip. There, I got to see the joy on the children’s faces as they received and opened their gifts. For some, it was the only gift they got that Christmas.

Image Credit: Samaritan’s Purse. 

12. Enjoy the Outdoors

The Winter can be cold, but it still offers excellent winter activities like ice fishing, skating, snowshoeing and hiking.

“The holidays are the perfect time to slow down and head into nature with your family.  Try heading to a frozen pond or lake for some outdoor family skating this season.  Skating is an activity all generations of your family can enjoy,” says Jenn from Take them Outside.

“Littles can be pulled in sleds, and older family members can be made comfortable and warm with blankets and camping chairs to watch on the shore.”

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13. Make a Hersheys Chocolate Tree

There are a lot of family holiday craft ideas, but we especially love this one as the supplies are inexpensive and it can be used as a gift or home decor that everyone will love.

Annie from Everyday Gifter says, “Hershey’s Kisses Christmas trees are a fun holiday craft your family can make together. This project is very beginner-friendly and doesn’t require a ton of supplies. You can easily make these festive trees using a styrofoam cone, foil, Hershey’s Kisses, and a hot glue gun.”

Image Credit: The Unique Gifter. 

14. Family Photos

Matching PJs and cute holiday backdrops make an excellent time for family photos. These are a great tradition to start, so you can look back on these images for years to come. There’s no need for an expensive photography session with advanced cameras now on most cell phones.

“Every year, our family loves taking holiday photos for Christmas. We get all dressed up in matching Christmas PJs (including our dogs) and let the jolly festivities begin,” says Karissa from Mom After Baby.

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15. Advent Angels

Everyone in the family draws names from a hat. You are that person’s advent angel, which means you do nice things for them in the coming weeks.  On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, everyone reveals who they drew and gives them a gift.

“One of our favorite traditions is having each of our six kids pick one of their siblings’ names from a hat. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, they do extra nice things for that sibling, says Taryn from Joy Filled Eats. “Then, on Christmas Eve, we all put on holiday pajamas and gather around the tree with hot chocolate and cookies. They reveal who they had as their Advent Angel and give that person a gift.”

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16. Enjoy Board Games

Make it a tradition to play a family board game together around the holidays. It’s a great time to try out a new game someone might have gotten for the holidays or play ones you haven’t played all year.

“Over the holidays, my family spends time playing board games; it has become our family tradition. We always play a new board game after Christmas dinner. But we play our favorites throughout the holiday period, as it’s an excellent way for us to bond and to create memories away from screens, says Claire from Strapos Thrifty Life Hacks.

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17. Make Homemade Cards Together

Ditch the store-bought cards and make them for your friends, family, and acquaintances. Creating your holiday cards is a great way to spend quality time together.

“When the children were tiny, we stopped buying Christmas cards and started crafting them ourselves. Everybody gets involved, Christmas music plays, and mince pies in plentiful supply, Vikki from Family Travel with Ellie.  “Even now the children are older, they still really look forward to “CCC” – Christmas Card Crafting!

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18. Special Breakfast Pancakes

Turn breakfast into a fun holiday-themed meal with family. Have a look at these adorable Santa pancakes that you can make for a delightful family breakfast that’s also easy on your wallet.

“What better way to kick off Christmas morning than by sitting around the table together enjoying these yummy Santa pancakes. These are so easy to make even your kids can help, and they’ll have a blast decorating these pancakes into Santa faces,” says Annie from Savvy Honey.

“All you’ll need is pancakes from scratch or a mix, berries, bananas, marshmallows, and whipped cream. Whether your surprise your family in the morning with these pancakes or you make them together, this is a fun holiday tradition you can enjoy for years to come.”

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19. A Santa Gift Giving Game

There are many versions of the Santa Gift Giving game, but it’s a great way to save money on gifts and have a ton of fun. You can all add a budget cap to the gifts and play this fun gift-giving and stealing game.

“Each year, we like to incorporate the Santa game in our extended family celebrations. It is a fun way to exchange gifts without busting your wallet,” says Bridget from Sunshine and Rainy Days. “This makes it an excellent choice for extended families with young adults! If you’re ready for a lighthearted way to gift that brings lots of laughter and boisterous joy, check out the Santa Gift Exchange Game!

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20.  Free to You Holiday Events

If you have an annual pass to an amusement park, play place or science museum, check out what special events they are having during the holidays.

“My kids can never get enough of our regional learning center Liberty Science Center and beg to visit all the time. During the holiday season, they have special events, including an NYE “Countdown to Noon” event, that’s a fun way to celebrate, especially with younger kids. Since our annual pass includes unlimited admission it’s a free fun day out with the family at one of our kids’ favorite places,” says Monica from Planner at Heart.

Image Credit: Liberty Science Center. 

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