A Zero-Budget Christmas
3. Easy ways to make some Christmas capital (that you might already be doing)
Welcome back to our series, A Zero-Budget Christmas. So far, you’ve heard about our family’s decade-long struggles to provide magical Christmases with very limited money. You also joined me for a little “Christmas-magic shakedown,” which was all about putting Christmas in perspective and focusing on finding contentment instead of trying to achieve perfect happiness.
Today, we’re going to get to the real work of figuring out how to make Christmas happen on a (nearly) zero-budget by brainstorming ways to make that zero-budget a little bigger. We need to create some Christmas capital.
Which means I need to make a little disclaimer: the goal of this series is not to show you have to spend absolutely zero money for Christmas at all. That’s almost impossible, because unless you give acorns and pine cones, even homemade gifts need a few dollars for supplies.
The goal is to spend zero money from your existing funds. You’re going to create the capital to fund your Christmas so you don’t need to touch a penny from any other source.
Don’t worry, it’s easier than you may think. In fact, you can leverage the things you’re already doing or are good at to fund your zero-budget Christmas and make it fabulous. It just takes a little creativity.
But if creativity is not your jam, I have some ideas to get you started. This is a long post, and hardly exhaustive, so don’t get overwhelmed with all the ideas. Choose to do one or two things on this list, but not more than that.
The ultimate goal of a zero-budget Christmas is to free yourself from financial struggles so you can enjoy your family more during the holidays. Replacing financial struggle with a struggle to make money would be counter-productive. Stay sane.
Alright, let’s get the ideas rolling!
Make some dough. Literally! If you have a favorite holiday treat that always gets rave reviews, make extra and market it! Take a picture, post it on Facebook, and tell your friends that they can get some of your famous toffee (here’s my favorite recipe, and it’s so easy), peanut brittle, or homemade vanilla.
Package your product so it’s cute and ready for giving. Your friends already spend money on things like this to give at Christmas, and they will be happy to send their dollars to you instead of a box store.
Don’t think it works? Recently, I made $200 by selling bottles of my natural remedy, Dragon Juice. The recipe is free on my blog—and I told people that. But people are busy, and having a prepackaged version was a blessing to them and me.
The same is true of just about anything you can think of, from home remedies, body care products, and homemade holiday treats that people can use as gifts. If you can’t cook, try my recipe for Sugared Bath Bombs. They are adorable, super simple to make, and people will gladly pay you to make them.
No matter what you choose to make, and really the sky’s the limit, be sure you charge enough to cover your expenses and make money. This is not charity. This is hard work. You are offering a service and should be compensated for your time and effort. Don’t be ashamed of that!
As an example, I charged $10 for an 8 oz jar of Dragon Juice and $18 for a 16 oz. Last year, my cousin made Christmas Buckeyes (chocolate-covered peanut butter balls—it’s an Ohio thing), and charged $10/dozen. If people don’t want to pay for your product, they simply won’t respond to your post. But the ones who see the value in what you do will gladly support your efforts!
Offer a holiday-related service. I have a roofer friend who makes extra money at Christmas by hanging Christmas lights for people or taking them down afterward. Another friend funds her Christmas gift budget by offering Christmas tree decorating services. Full-time working moms love her! Business do too. If you know someone who owns a business or runs a commercial office, advertise your decorating skills! Here a few more ideas:
- Address and send Christmas cards: I got paid to do this one year because a friend liked my handwriting! If you can do hand-lettering, this is for you. Charge by the hour or by the card.
- Houseclean: Offer a special Holiday Cleaning Blitz to your friends. Help them get ready for the holidays and fund your Christmas capital at the same time.
- Pet sit: My kids made over $1,000 with their part-time pet sitting business. Pet boarding companies fill up fast over the holidays, so you can really help people out by offering to keep their pets in a loving home environment. Charge at least $10/day/pet (unless they are small, caged animals). That is a deal.
- Gift wrapping: This is a blessing to the elderly and those who simply don’t have the time to do it themselves but want something a little more special than the ubiquitous gift bag.
- Cater Christmas: One year, I was hired to make an entire Christmas dinner for a neighbor who had health issues. If you love to cook, offer this service on a first-come, first served basis. Or, simply offer to bake things like pies or sides. This can be a great help to those who want to do it all, but can’t. Take orders for your specialties and watch how many of your friends would rather shop your kitchen than Costco’s.
Host a Mom’s Day Out. If there’s one thing moms will pay for at Christmas, it’s time without the children so they can shop for them! Hosting a Mom’s Day Out is the perfect solution. It’s different from babysitting because you control the time and place, and you maximize your efforts (and thereby profit) by offering it to as many children as you can safely handle. This is a win for the kids too because it turns into a giant playdate.
Plan fun crafts (like microwave salt dough ornaments—cheap, fast, and fun) or other activities for the kids and advertise them so moms see the value for their kids in what you’re doing. Charge $5/child/hour, set the time, take reservations, and if necessary, enlist some help from older kids so you can have a great event. If you get ten kids and host the event for three hours, you’ll make $150 in one afternoon, and your mom friends will love you for it.
Get paid to clean out your closet. You need to do it anyway. You know you do. So why not get paid to do it? Sites like Thread Up will pay you in store credit for your gently-used items. Plus, use this link and you’ll get an extra $10 to get started. You can use that money to get free, new-with-tags items for Christmas!
Once you’ve set up your account, order a free clean out bag from their site. It’s free to ship it back, too, so don’t be afraid to load it up. Go through your clothes, shoes, and handbags, and do the same for your kids. Look for items in great (near-perfect) condition. (Obviously, that completely eliminates anything worn by boys. Ahem.)
Take a moment to iron anything wrinkly, snip loose threads, polish shoes and wash laces, and vacuum out handbags. You’ll get paid more if your items look their best. Then, send back the bag and Thread Up will do the rest!
The first time I sent a bag to Thread Up, I made $127 in credit, so it is definitely worth the effort. Just be sure to read through their FAQs first so you know which items they will not accept.
Sign up for cash-back programs. If you do any shopping online, be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck by using one of the many cash-back programs available. I love Ebates, which gives me a percentage back in real money (not store credit) on nearly everything I buy online. It’s free to sign up, and easy to use. Simply log into Ebates, search for your store, and click through their link before shopping. If you’re new to Ebates, be sure to use this link. You’ll get an automatic $10 credit just for signing up and using them to make your first purchase.
Use store programs to your advantage. Most retail stores have rewards programs, so if you are a loyal shopper, be sure to check those out. I’ve recently discovered the Shop Your Way program, which rewards customers from Sears, Kmart, and Land’s End. I’m major crushing on it because they often offer 100% points-back offers, which means that if you buy qualifying products, you get the same amount spent back in store credit. I purchased three winter coats, a pair of pajamas, and a pair of shoes that my kids needed for about $50 and got $50, plus an extra $10 bonus, to spend on Christmas presents. Since I needed to purchase those things anyway, this was a total win for me. Learn more about the program here.
Be controversial: earn cash back by paying with a credit card. I saved this for last because it goes against some of the most popular financial advice on the market, which is to pay with cash only. Paying with a credit card is definitely not for everyone, but it is for us. I absolutely do not recommend this method if you struggle with over-spending or carry any sort of credit card debt.
However, my husband and I are very conscious of our spending and do not have any debt. We stick to our budget (which I track on paper) and pay our credit card balance each month, so paying with a credit card is only beneficial for us. In fact, we rarely use cash. We pay for everything we purchase with a credit card and use the cash back to fund things like Christmas. It’s not much, but then, we don’t need much to fund a (nearly) zero-budget Christmas.
This list is long but far from exhaustive. Do you have any favorite ways to make Christmas capital that have actually worked for you? Please help generate even more ideas by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!
*To begin reading A Zero-Budget Christmas from the beginning, start here.
**During this series, affiliate links may be included for your convenience. Thank you for supporting this ministry!