A happy Christmas on an empty wallet

Short on cash? Worried about the upcoming holidays? Here are some ideas to make the season magical — and they don't cost a thing!

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  • The Christmas season is my favorite time of year. I love the music, the decorations, the gift-giving and the general feeling of love toward others. Even though I get wrapped up in the joy of the holidays, there's a downside to this time of year. It can be tough on my budget. There are so many things to spend money on — gifts, charities, special Christmas activities. I often wonder how I will afford everything. I want the holiday to be joyful, not stressful because of money.

  • So, how can we avoid going broke — or feeling like we can't have magical holidays because we're already broke? Here are some ideas.

  • Make gifts

  • Making presents is a creative way to show you put some thought into your gifts — and they cost you nothing but your time. Crafts have come a long way since macaroni pictures and clay handprints. Use your imagination. I've made a wide variety of items, from painting a bird house I found buried in the craft room to finishing some quilted pillows for my mom that she never had the time to do. I used items around the house to help with my projects and often never spent a dime.

  • Sometimes I do spend money on making gifts, but it is usually not a lot. I have found old frames at Good Will, repainted them and put a cherished picture inside. I have made digital photo books on Shutterfly, then waited until "8X8 book" coupons come (usually about once a quarter). I've made CDs of me playing the piano.

  • Sometimes, others can help you make gifts. I once went around to each of my husband's family members and friends, asking each person to write down his/her favorite memory about my husband. I collected them all and put them in a book for him. There are endless ideas out there. I recommend searching your own talents, looking on Pinterest or even going to a craft store to help with ideas.

  • Give gifts you already have

  • I'm not talking about re-gifting items (although, I would be lying if I said I'd never done that). Try giving an item that the person knows you have. When my grandmother was older, she gave her kids and grandkids things of hers that she knew we wanted. For me, it was a hand mirror with a beautiful fairy carved in the back. Instead of waiting until she had passed on for me to have it, she gave it to me one year for Christmas. I loved receiving the gift, and she loved seeing my expression. If you have something that you know someone else would love and you do not need it, give it to them. I have done this with purses, scarves, movies and even books. You do not have to spend a dime, and it's nice giving a gift you know the person wants.

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  • Give gifts of service

  • Giving your service is another great way to give a meaningful gift without spending anything but your time. I would love for someone to give me the gift of babysitting my kids for free while I go on a date with my husband. While this wouldn't cost the person a cent, it would be something I would value tremendously. Other service ideas could be a week's worth of snow shoveling, cleaning a room, driving someone someplace, teaching someone how to make your famous chili or even helping someone file their taxes. All simple things, yet the fact that you are willing to give your time is the greatest part of the gift.

  • Attend community activities

  • There are always fun and exciting holiday activities going on in the community, and a lot of them are free. Most cities will list activities going on around town that cost little to no money. I searched Google and found a lot of this information for my own town — free live nativities, ice sculpting, free tours of the governor's mansion decked out for Christmas, and even a free tree lighting ceremony with live music and a visit from Santa at our local mall. Try Googling your own town to see what comes up. "Word of mouth" is another great way to find out about what is going on around you. Ask your friends and co-workers what they like to do this time of year.

  • Create your own activity

  • If the community activities don't fit your budget or time frame, there are still things you can do. One of my favorite activities is to drive around and see the Christmas lights. Almost every city has at least one of those houses or streets that goes all out for the holidays. Often they can be found in the newspaper or online. Make a fun night of checking them out with your family and rating which one you like the best. Other ideas include going caroling, decorating Christmas cookies with your kids or have a Christmas movie marathon at home.

  • Build traditions

  • We all have our own holiday traditions that make this time of year even more magical. Whether you do Elf on the shelf, the 12 days of Christmas, make homemade treats for the neighbors or sit around the fireplace listening to Bing Crosby, it is up to you. The important thing to note is that not all traditions cost money, but they are what make the holidays special to us. This year, I plan to wrap 24 Christmas books (most that we already own) and let my kids open one each night to read before bed. Though bedtime stories are something we already do, Christmas themed books will make the holiday month extra special. You don't need a lot of money to enjoy the season — just some creativity and time.

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Megan Shauri graduated with a bachelors in anthropology and a masters in psychology. She is a mother of twins.

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