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How Do You Cope With Celebrations When You're Short Of Cash?

Updated on November 2, 2011

Not being one of the country's wealthier citizens, I have been obliged to find modest ways to celebrate the many holidays, celebrations, and birthdays that have filled my years. I thought some of the ways I found to celebrate, and make a little mean a lot, may be of help to others.


The first thing I always do is plan ahead. I have a simple notebook in which I keep a plan of all the months, including what birthdays and other events fall in each. I also have a small list of potential gifts that may be needed for things like unexpected guests, and upcoming births and marriages.

In order to deal with these events, you will need cash.

One way to plan for this need is to set aside a bit each month or payday. Use discretion here. Be realistic. If you decide on $75.00 and then can't pay your phone bill, your seventy five dollars will soon be gone. Include a realistic amount in your budget, and put it where you will not touch it, whether in the bank or in an old sock doesn't matter. This is your celebration money. Twelve times your monthly celebration money must cover all the year's celebrations, including gifts, food, and decorations.

In addition to setting the money aside, watch for bargains. Cruise by the sidewalk sales, and special isles of your department and grocery stores. Last week one of my favorite stores had piles of kitchen items just outside the front door. Bearing in mind some of the gifts I knew I would soon need, I took a look and soon found three items for a total of $15 - regular price for all $42. That was $15 out of my celebration money, and it was money well spent.

Consider food needs along with gift needs. Watch for sales on baking items, frozen foods, condiments, and treats. Always keep your budget in mind.

Even if it is a bit late to take full advantage of this plan for upcoming celebrations, you can at least make a start.


I have been through some lean years and some not-so-lean years, as did my parents before me. Sometimes I could afford nice gifts, and other years, not so much. If you cannot afford to buy a gift for someone or for anyone, do not do so. It is senseless to put yourself in debt just to buy gifts.

If you have given someone a gift in the past or feel you should give them one now, but cannot afford it, say so. No, not bluntly. Invite them for coffee, out or at your home. Sit them down and tell them that you are sorry, but times are tough right now, and you just cannot afford to buy gifts. You want them to know how much you value their friendship, and hope they will always be part of your life.

If you can only buy a few small gifts, let children come first. However, even children should be taught to understand that, while gifts are nice to receive, not everyone can afford them. Besides, gifts are soon forgotten. Love, friendship, and companionship last forever.


If you want to give meaningful gifts, listen to what people say, and remember. What color does he/she like? What kind of music? Who said they had never, ever, had a pair of hand knit socks? Who just broke their favorite vase? What kind of china does she have? What scent does she like? Who has sensitive skin? Who is allergic to perfume etc? What does he/she collect? Who wants to learn how to bake bread? Who is constantly exhausted from taking care of young children or an elderly relative? Who has trouble paying for home repairs? Who loves magazines?

The things that you do for people are remembered much longer than the material gifts you give. Of all the presents I gave my children, the ones they remember best are the little twelve page books I made for them every Christmas. Each month had a page and on the page was a coupon, a promise, to do something, go on a trip to the aquarium, make a batch of cookies, knit them a sweater, rent a movie, go camping etc. etc. When my children got older, they made similar books for me, most of which I still have, some coupons still unused.

If you are short of cash, or want to give a memorable gift, think. What can you teach? What can you make? What skills do you have, mechanical or otherwise? Do you have a green thumb? Do you know how to style hair, do nails, give massages? Are you strong enough to shovel snow, rake leaves, plant or dig a garden? Are you a good cook? Are you a neat painter? Can you refinish furniture? Do you have time to spare?

Many people feel that they have no special skills. Go on the internet or use your library. There are dozens of crafts that can be learned quite easily, such as how to make candles and soap, how to do batik, how to do simple carpentry and repairs, how to make ornaments, how to knit, how to embroider, make simple jewelry, build planters, make decorative concrete casts, and how to bake almost anything. Learn yourself, and make sure your children learn some skill or craft. It will stand them in good stead. Many people learn a skill or craft for their own enjoyment and turn it into a business.

Gift certificates make wonderful gifts, and keep the celebration going when the day is over. In a simple card, explain exactly what your gift is. Here are some ideas.

1. A set number of hours of child care or elder care, on a day or days specified by the recipient.

2. Snow shoveling or leaf raking, to be done whenever necessary. (This is a great gift for a teenager to give a grandparent or neighbor.)

3. Bread-making lessons to a specified skill level.

4. Dog walking, bathing, or training.(if you know how)

5. Home repairs.(be specific- supplies not included)

6. A series of outings for an elderly person. Most elderly people value your time and attention above all else.

7. The knitting of a sweater or other item.(recipient chooses pattern and provides yarn).

8. A promise to regularly walk or exercise, with someone who wants to lose weight or get into shape.

9. A thorough housecleaning on a date stipulated by the recipient.

10. Anything you can make. Gifts that you make with your own hands are truly unique. They are something that money cannot buy. Make finger puppets and sock puppets for children. Make socks for men, a coat for the family pet, or a set of embroidered pillow cases for a couple.

Suitable ideas for your friends and family will come to mind, if you just think a bit.

Some easy gifts to assemble include mixes for soups and cookies. The internet has dozens of recipes for assembling these unique and welcome gifts. Boxes of homemade candy, cookies, or Christmas cake, are always welcome. Your dollar store has a variety of attractive glass and plastic containers to make these gifts even more attractive.

Christmas bulbs, especially amaryllis and paper whites, planted early and ready to bloom, make attractive gifts. Paper whites, planted and cared for by children, make great gifts for grandparents and teachers.

Craft fairs are good places to look for gifts for the 'hard to please'. Attend on the last day of the fair and prepare to bargain.


Keep it simple. Balloons and homemade signs are sufficient for a birthday. For Christmas make your own wreath for the front door. You can pick some evergreen boughs and put them together with a wide red ribbon to make a unique wreath that will be seen nowhere else. If you have small children, help them to make paper ornaments for the house and tree. Children are thrilled and proud to see a tree decorated with their handiwork. It encourages children to be creative if you accept and admire their efforts.

A word about trees. You do not need a huge tree covered with hundreds of lights. A small modest one, even an artificial one, with one simple string of lights looks just as attractive. The Christmas tree I will always remember was the one we had near the end of World War Two. My father was overseas and because his paycheck was late, there was no money for a tree. My mother sent me to a vacant lot nearby to get a large bare branch. She propped this up in a pail and we decorated it with all the decorations we had, the six glass ones, the homemade ones, and our string of eight lights. This was the string of lights that decorated all the trees of my childhood and adolescence. Each light was a different color. I lay on the floor that Christmas admiring those lights, one of which was purple. Not the most Christmas-like color, but to me the most beautiful light in the world. That is the tree I will remember all my life.

Birthdays, holidays, Christmases, and other celebrations will come and go, with or without gifts, decorations, and feasts. Plan to enjoy, and remember, all the celebrations of your life.


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    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Texas

      I totally agree with you Mailxpress - if you care about someone, there is nothing more precious than time spent together - regards - B.

    • mailxpress profile image

      Michelle Cesare 

      6 years ago from New York

      Yes, a vote up. I like the invite for coffee and time spent together to catch up or it can even be a bottle of wine while shooting the breeze. Affordable and shows you care.

    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Thanks for reading and commenting - I have no great wish to ignore celebrations as they bring me great joy - they can certainly be pricey though if you are not careful - B.

    • Tenerife Islander profile image

      Steve Andrews 

      6 years ago from Tenerife

      I do my best to ignore them! Great hub and voted up!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Billips, What an educational, enjoyable, excellent summary of happy celebrations despite limited funds! In particular, you do a great job of highlighting homemade, in-kind and unexpected alternatives to pricey gifts. Additionally, I like the emphasis on knowing the person and matching the gift with the lifestyle and personality. It's especially helpful that you suggest such thoughtful alternatives as lawn-mowing and leaf-raking.

      Thank you for sharing,


    • poshcoffeeco profile image

      Steve Mitchell 

      6 years ago from Cambridgeshire

      I enjoyed reading your hints and tips and very to the point way of writing.You are correct. If you can't afford a gift for someone, don't go into debt to get it.I have been the same as you with lean years and not so lean years. I am in a lean spell at the moment so I will take heed of your advice.Thanks for that.

    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Hi exotic Hippie Queen - thanks for your comments - I love the idea of the little framed gifts - everyone likes the memories that pictures bring - B.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      All fantastic ideas! I am thinking about making little frames that you hang with ribbon onto Christmas trees for next year's stocking stuffers that have meaningful pictures in them from the past for my friends, such as a friend's deceased son, or a childhood photo of a friend that I might have to rekindle a great or cherished memory. I'm going go try that Zulily, too. Thanks!

    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Thanks for your kind comments Eiddwen - it really pleases me when people take the time to read my hubs, and then to comment - regards - B.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      A great hub which is going to benefit many.

      I vote up up and away here.

      Take care


    • mljdgulley354 profile image


      6 years ago

      Wonderful ideas. Some I already use. Thank you for following me

    • Enlydia Listener profile image

      Enlydia Listener 

      6 years ago from trailer in the country

      Hi Billips, I just met you's funny because just before reading this, I had just made a coupon for babysitting services for the my daughter's baby shower. It is probably a gift that could not be bought. And who knows what it is worth.

    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Central Texas

      What a wonderful Christmas tradition - you are making memories for those children that they will hold dear all their lives - have a very happy Christmas - you deserve it - B.

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      7 years ago from Philippines

      "The things you do for people are remembered much longer than the materials things you give." That's exactly what my family do on Christmas on a tight budget. Rather than making a list of people and planning on gifts to give, we throw a Children's Christmas Party in our neighborhood. We see to it that the kids enjoy some games, along with the food and some surprise rewards. We document the activity on video and give away DVD's which everybody enjoys and appreciates so much.

      With your above quote, I have reason to maintain our annual activity. We are on our 5th year this 2011! Thank you! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you Pastella for taking the time to read my hub, and also for your comments - they mean a great deal to me - fortunately, happy memories stay with you all your life - time fades away the others - I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving - B.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      You are a great inspiration! These are such great but simple ideas. I love the 12-page books you created for your children at Christmas - such a great idea. And I loved how you felt the purple light was magical. I can just imagine you lying there appreciating its beauty. And remembering it so fondly. You have such great memories! You've given me some good ideas of things to try too.

    • doodlebugs profile image


      7 years ago from Southwest

      These are great ideas for those who are on a tight budget, or anyone else for that matter. Great hub. Voted up.

    • htodd profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the great post...nice

    • billips profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you both for your kind remarks - you have given my day a great start.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      There are some really wonderful ideas here. I think I will share them with my teenage son. I would love his time and his help with chores :)

    • pongogirl2 profile image

      Jasmine Pena 

      7 years ago from California, USA

      love reading your hub, its really useful and awesome:) will defenetly use it for this Christmas season.


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