How to Deal with Difficult Times during Christmas

Given the economic downturn, many people across the U.S. and abroad are finding themselves having leaner Christmases than they’re used to. Still others are finding themselves without jobs this year. Uncertainty abounds, and that can make it difficult to get into the holiday spirit. I’ve been there. Last year was a trying year for our family. And we didn’t spend a lot of money on Christmas, either.

Fortunately there are some things you can do to take the focus off money and get into the Christmas spirit.

Remember the 3 F’s: Faith, Family, and Friends

For me, Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Christ. I can do that without any money at all. I put on some Christmas music (I especially love Mary, Did You Know? by Mark Lowery) and sing as I go about my day. If you need Christmas music, never fear! Amazon is offering 25 days of free Christmas mp3 downloads!

Even if you’re not a Christian, focus on spending time with family and friends. Think of ways you can bless those that you love. Make a phone call. Write a note. Invite someone over for coffee. Focusing on relationships, rather than things is more fulfilling than trying to buy a Merry Christmas.

Know That the Kids Will Survive

If you’re used to spoiling your kids with lots of expensive Christmas gifts, yet can’t afford to this year, it will be OK, even though it’s hard. Be honest with your kids. Don’t scare them, but let them know money is a little bit tighter this year. Then focus on doing things together. Kids love to spend time doing Christmasy stuff with their parents (well, until they’re teens at least…I have no experience with that age group yet).

From personal experience, I can tell you there were Christmases when I received the dreaded underwear as a present, because I needed it, and my parents had to choose between buying me the underwear I needed or something I didn’t. I like to think I’m a pretty well-adjusted adult. And I don’t have any bad memories of Christmas. Kids are resilient, and a lean Christmas won’t scar them for life.

Reassure Yourself That This Year is Not Forever

Life can change on a dime. Though things might be tight this year, you never know where you’ll be next year. Last year, my family was on the church Christmas basket list. Things were that tight. And it was hard. This year we’re celebrating Christmas in our own house. I never would have dreamed life would change so dramatically that quickly. But it did. Remember that this moment in time is not forever. There’s always hope.

Christmas can be a difficult time, especially in the midst of a shaky economy. By focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t change, and by remembering that this too shall pass, you can find a little (or a lot of) joy in the holiday season.

How are you handling the holiday season this year?


By , on Dec 11, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


Popular Articles


  1. Barbara Ann:

    Awesome advise…if more people would remember the 3 “f” faith, family and friends…not only at Christmas but everyday of the year…a person can have all the money in the world yet without the 3 “f” honestly they have nothing. People that you claim to love should matter most in life…does money really have value if you are not loved?? The best gifts are found in knowing that you are truly loved, money can’t buy. Really enjoying your website.

  2. Amy:

    What a great post! We are also having a tight Christmas this year. We have a few “big” items for our three girls and teenage “adopted” daughter that we got deeply discounted. I got most of the girls’ things at a consignment sale earlier in the year or on ebay. As for other family members, I have shopped all year long, so I haven’t shelled out all the Christmas money at once. Luckily, our daughters are 4, 2, and 3 months, so the older ones can share the big items, and the little one will be happy with anything. One last thing that helps is that my wonderful mother-in-law gives us money for “Santa” gifts instead of buying the girls a bunch of things they don’t need.

  3. Great reminders of what’s really important this holiday season. We were a little bummed to lean my mom won’t leave the hospital until after Christmas, but we plan to still have a celebration here at home for the kids, and to remember the reason for the season. When Mom comes home a week or two later we plan to have another “homecoming” celebration!

  4. This year our Christmas is greatly reduced. I am a single mom with a loving family & church, so I love to get gifts for all those who help us out all year long! So last year I added it all up and we spent about $800 on Christmas (with 100 cards, stamps, and photo for cards, for my two boys-who I only spent $40 each on, and all the people I wanted to thank.) I could not do that this year. So I have decided to do a used Chrsitams. The cool thing is I found nice new stuff at a garage sale. Also I hosted a jewlery party and got $300 in free jewelry that I used on my mom, sisters, and niece for gifts.

    So far this year I did buy my Christmas cards, photos, and stamps (we send out 100 newsletter cards each year.) This was $70. We also sent our sponsor child a Christma sgift $20. We also made boxes for Operation Christmas Child $20. I spent about $20 on used items at garage sales. I sent $60 mailing framed photos (used frames) to my grandparents, aunt, and sister out of state, and mailing a gift to a needy family (the gift was stuff that was all new, but I didn’t pay for.) I also spent about $30 at dollar store on filler items. And we spent about $100 on new stuff for teacher’s, and those who I could not find an appropriate new gift.

    Total so far: $320. But this was spread out all year long. I need to spend about another $30 on my brother, and about $25 each on my two boys, for a total of $400 spent. This is half of last year. Plus I have nice stuff for everyone on my list, but most was used or free to me. This took time all year but I still want to thank the special people in my life.
    We made some hings as well.

    Our favorite things to do though, as a family (my two boys & I) are driving around to see lights (free), making homemade cookies, and rice krispy treats (cheap), and watching Christmas movies and reading Christmas books (free now that we have built up our collection.)

    Of course we also take time daily to pray for those in our lives and those who have so much less than we do.

    Thanks -Becky R in NJ

  5. Zach Younkin:

    I actually did a little project on what people thought the real meaning of Christmas is and all but one of them said the Birth of Christ.

    Pretty cool.

    Now only if we spent our money like the words we say (I’m just as guilty).

  6. What a good post.

    We don’t normally go overboard for Christmas here, either (and we don’t have children so the whole toy thing really isn’t an issue).

    Doing handmade crafts is an easy and frugal alternative to the holiday gift-giving extravaganza. I’ve been felting thrift store wool sweaters and making slippers and handbags. Super-easy, and about $1.50 per gift (plus time). Knitting hats & scarves is also quick & easy (once you learn how) using dollar store yarn. This week I’ll have my Sunday School class decoupage colored tissue paper onto recycled glass jars for unique and pretty candleholders.

    Another thing my brother mentioned to me: Jesus only got 3 gifts. We stick to a maximum of 3 gifts–one planned gift (for instance, I’m getting my husband’s guitar customized with lowered action, new strings, etc) and 2 “stocking stuffer” type things.

  7. Wise advise Lynn. Thanks…and thanks for the MP3 download tip. Great songs and a really GREAT price! :-)

  8. Pat:

    Very true, not just for Christmas, but every day. We have to learn to focus on what is important.
    I want to relate to you two things that happened to me yesterday, even though they may not be related to this topic:
    1- One of out toilet plugged and fludded the bathroom, and a pipe in our garage restarted a leak, even though we paid $1000 to have it fixed last spring. I was upset to say the least. When I watched the evening news they had a section about a family dealing with their daughter’s leukemia. What can I say, I forgot the toilet, the garage, the $1000 and had to thank God for my blessings.
    2-I called the cable company to complain that my bill wa too high. To make a long story short, after 20 minutes my cable and internet connection bill was cut in HALF, just for asking. From now on I am calling all my creditors/service providers at least once a year, or every quarter if nothing changes. Have a wonderfull holiday season.

  9. Fantastic post! You are right on!!

    My son is small and secretly Im glad we are starting out our holidays low budget, this year is tight and knowing I will still be in school its safe to assume it will be next year as well. But Im fine with that we have already had tons of holiday fun getting our tree, looking at lights, hanging mistletoe. And tomorrow we are baking cookies with his best friend!

    Our special projects and activities are making our holiday season special and those memories will last much longer than a ton of new toys!

    A tip for families, buy books, you can find them cheap and they grow with your child(ren)!

  10. Our boys 15, 14, and 9 have been keeping up with the current state of the economy. They watch the news with us and openly ask questions and get honest answers. We told them that we would have Christmas presents but not like in previous years due to the economy. They were really ok with this. They each are getting one special toy- no not a wii or a ridiculously overpriced toy! A couple other practical gifts and that’s it.

    Christmas is not about how much money you spend. Kids would rather have your time- that is what they will remember about Christmas when they get older. Traditions, time and family!

  11. jan:

    Great post. Christmas is so much more than consumerism. Time together, good memories, baking cookies, singing songs, playing board games, remembering the Christ child….

  12. First off, I’m rejoicing with you about your change in circumstances this year! That’s such wonderful news. Things here are snug, not quite tight. But we’ve decorated, and gone to select and cut down our tree, we have Advent calendars to do each day. I have been reminding my children that Christmas is (in the words of my pastor) only the third most important event in the Christian calendar, and even in their classrooms the teachers are reinforcing that whatever one’s faith, this is a great time of year to seek to bless others. My daughter’s 3rd grade class is holding a peanut butter drive for the local food pantry. So all in all, we celebrate all our blessings, rather than fussing about whatever lack we might have. May others be able to do the same!

  13. This year is better in many ways than last year. In August 2007 my husband lost his job. Just before that, one of his grandfathers had a stroke. In November, his other grandfather had a stroke. Both of his grandfathers passed away that December, just before Christmas. It took 6 months for my huband to find a permanent full time job, which he began this past March. My grandmother passed away this year, and my parents work for a auto parts factory that is on the brink of closing. My husband and I work in state government, and our state is having an unprecedented budget crisis, so I see wage freezes and benefit cuts on the horizon.

    However, our daughter is only 2 and we also have a 2 year old niece. We have never gone overboard with gifts because it’s just not our style. My husband doesn’t have vacation time yet, but I will take time off (when daycare closes down for the holidays) and spend doing some things with my daughter like decorating cookies and making dough ornaments. So this year has been better since my husband became employed again, but he did have 2 months of no income and we had other challenges as well.

    Let’s hope and pray for a better 2009.

  14. That’s a really nice post. Christmas is that tight for us this year but somehow, it’s been one of the best Christmas seasons yet (so far). We knew it would be tough months ago so we (mostly me) planned to make things. Our family members are actually really excited to get their homemade gifts this year. We chose to focus on the 3 F’s ahead of time and it has really blessed us. Thanks Lynnae.

  15. Dawn:

    Thanks for the tip on the Christmas MP3 downloads from Amazon – that is great. Just what I needed!

  16. When our kids were little there were several years that we were entirely broke. One year the kids got all 2nd hand and homemade gifts. I made each of the four of them a papier mache animal puppet. I used an old satin sheet from a thrift and made the boys super heroe capes. Our youngest son got a box of cardboard brick blocks from the thrift store ( he loved them!) the 3 boys all together got toys from a large box of rummage sale GI Joe ‘guys’ and their accesories–they got years of fun with that one box which provided gifts for about a year–my investment in it had been $65 for the whole thing–it was easily a few hundred dollars of stuff. Now I’m not going to pretend the puppets were as exciting for the boys to receive as the year when they got their game boys–(times were better) but they remember them and my oldest, now preparing to be a Dad, especially recalls how his folks made it through hard times and tells himself that he and his wife will manage it too. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer and Legal Mumbo Jumbo

I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, I state that I have a financial relationship with companies mentioned in this website. This may include receiving access to free products and services for product and service reviews and giveaways.

Any references to third party products, rates, or websites are subject to change without notice. I do my best to maintain current information, but due to the rapidly changing environment, some information may have changed since it was published. Please do the appropriate research before participating in any third party offers.

For additional information, please review our legal disclaimers and privacy policy.