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Can’t Afford Christmas? Being Broke is No Joke!

Can’t Afford Christmas?

If buying presents for friends and family stresses you out every year because you can’t afford Christmas, you are not alone. And if you are on a tight budget like me, it can make planning for the holidays extremely challenging.

You still have your regular December bills you have to pay but now you have to scrounge up even more money to afford Christmas presents. How are you going to do it all?

Over the years, the members of our family have gone through some rough times, so we have established some traditions that have helped us have a budget-friendly Christmas and even found ways to get free money for presents! Here is how we didn’t spend a penny this year on the holidays…

Can't afford Christmas? Don't spend a penny on Xmas gifts. Here's how we did it!Stressed about holiday shopping? Can't afford Christmas? Next year, don't spend a penny on presents with these tips. Click To Tweet

Get the whole family on board

Create a budget that the whole family can get behind.
Back in the 1950’s you didn’t have to worry about buying Playstations or robots.

We have a total extended family of 8 adults and 5 children. Your family might be smaller or larger, but these tips can be utilized for a family of any size as long as you can get everyone on the same page. They might even appreciate your efforts as it will save everyone money in the long run.

Here are some ideas for any family or individual who can’t afford Christmas.

Rather than buy presents for everyone, we do a Secret Santa for the adults only. We pick one adult family member that we have to shop for. Just one.

There are several free online websites that you can use that will do the picking randomly for you and email your list to everyone in the pool.

Here are a few examples:

Draw Names Secret Gift Exchange Generator

Draw Names works like this: Send out invitations by entering their names and email addresses. Everyone responds to their email invitation and clicks the link in their email invitation to join the group. They may also complete their wish list at that time.

Then it’s time to draw names! The names will be drawn out of a virtual hat. Each member will receive another email directing them to their drawn name. You can also send questions and receive the answers anonymously to help you choose the perfect gift. It will also save your group from previous years so you can use it over and over again.

Sneaky Santa Secret Gift Exchange Generator

To use Sneaky Santa first just set up some rules for the name drawing, send anonymous messages to the person whose name you draw, or you can just use it as a place to share gift ideas. You can even dig out photos from Christmas past to share with the group if you want. All you need to do is: Create or join a group. Enter gift ideas you are hoping for on your wishlist.

Draw names, check out what everybody wants, and you’re good to go.

Assign a budget

We assign a budget of $40 for our Secret Santa gift. We believe that this budget is friendly enough so that you can still get something nice without breaking the bank!

On top of our secret Santa, we also do a white elephant gift exchange for the adults with a budget of $15. These gifts are completely anonymous.

You can learn more by reading my White Elephant Gift Exchange Guide.  In the end, every adult gets a total of 2 gifts and no one feels like they are getting the shaft.

The kids always score at Christmas.
The kids always score at Christmas.
 As for the children, everyone in the family buys them each a gift as a couple. We set a budget of $50 per kid ($100 for our own kid). So for our family, we spend around $300 on the kids and $55 on the adults for a total Christmas budget of $355.

And guess what? This year we didn’t even have to spend a penny of our own money!  And this is how we did it…

Don’t spend a penny on Christmas gifts!

We got all of our Christmas money from making regular purchases throughout the year. Yes, you heard right. We bought groceries and got cash back for doing so!

Get cash back from making regular purchases!
Get cash back from making regular purchases!

Everybody has to buy groceries so why not get paid for them?  There are a number of free apps available for download for the Android or the IPhone.

These are the ones we used and how much we cashed out for Christmas:

  1. Walmart Savings Catcher. If you do a bunch of your grocery shopping at Walmart you HAVE to get this app! You just scan your receipt and it price matches all of your local competing stores and refunds you the difference in the form of Walmart rewards dollars which you can spend on They do all of the work for you. We have saved a ton of money this year with this app. But from now on, I’m just going to save all of it for next year’s Christmas budget.
    Cashed out: $77.78
  2. Receipt Hog This is another app that requires you to take a photo of your receipt from your phone. It also has a bonus game where you can play slots for even more points. They pay you in the form of Paypal or an Amazon gift card. It takes a while to build up a decent amount of money, but it’s free so why not?
    Cashed out: $25
  3. Checkout 51 is a site that will send you an actual check when your account balance reaches $20. You just pick and choose items from their featured list and then take a pic of your receipt. There are several items that they feature on this app that we don’t really use so it took us a while to build up enough funds. But by the time Christmas rolled around, we had enough to cash out.
    Cashed out: $27
  4. Saving Star is a money-saving and cash payout app. You register your store card or you can save your receipt. You scan your items, then scan your receipt and get cash back. They also have “freebies” and healthy offers every week
    Cashed out: $25.74
  5. Ibotta is a very popular shopping site as well. They have a variety of items that they will give you cash back on. You can also get cash back on staples like milk or produce. You can even join my team to get more money and bonuses. The more people who use the app on your team, the more money you can earn. What is even cooler, if there is an item on Ibotta that you have a manufacturer’s coupon for, you can still get money back on that item. It’s like saving twice! And if you sign up now through my link, you will get an instant $5 to get you started.
    Cashed out: $77.31
  6. Inbox Dollars This site has lots of ways to earn a little green. You can do surveys, games, and read paid emails for more ways to make money. But these days I use it only for the coupons. They are the same coupons featured on all of the major coupon sites, but they actually pay you 10 cents each when you use them! Once you earn $30 in your account you are eligible to receive a payout. If you sign up with my link you can get a $5 sign up bonus to get you started!
    Cashed out: $25.00
  7. Ebates I just started using Ebates this year and I wish I had done it sooner. Ebates actually gives you cash back for purchases you make at stores you would shop at anyway. You can install the app on your pc or phone and when you shop online and click on the Ebates button, you will see just how much cash back you can earn if you make a qualifying purchase. If you If you sign up now with my link you will get an instant $10! They pay you quarterly with a check or transfer to your Paypal account.
    This year I got back: $199.53 total. Crazy right?

Total of $457.36 in FREE CASH this year!!!

So as you can see we earned a very nice amount of free cash just by snapping pictures of our receipts and shopping for products we would buy anyway! Talk about no effort.

We didn’t have to spend a penny on Christmas gifts. We even have enough money left over for wrapping paper and dinner.

Christmas photo from 2014. Jaxon was feeling a little camera shy...
Christmas photo from 2014. Jaxon was feeling a little camera shy…

*To see even more ways to earn free cash please visit my page How to get Free Cash for more awesome apps and ideas.

What about expensive purchases?

Now I know that this budget doesn’t cover that $400 PS3 your kids are screaming for or that Versace purse you have been eyeing. But when you are working on a limited budget like us, we just put big money purchases off for a few months.

Expensive purchases usually can wait.
Really expensive purchases can wait.

For example, if there is a very expensive purchase that my family wants or needs, we make a list and use our Income Tax refund to pay for it. I use a free income tax calc to kind of give me an estimate on what I can expect.

I also save up unused vacation time at work and my company buys it back at the end of the year at time and a half. I know not all companies offer this type of program, but if they do, it’s a great way to earn a really nice paycheck in January.

So if you can’t afford Christmas, it’s never too late to start a new budget-friendly family tradition!

Do you think any of these tips would work for your family? What do you budget for the holidays every year? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Disclosure: I was not compensated for writing this post, but it does contain affiliate links which means I may be compensated a small amount if you click through and sign up. Full disclosure policy here.**

Published inGift IdeasHow to Get Free CashRants and Rambles


  1. The holidays can be very stressful, especially financially. These tips can definitely help. Thank you!

    • Seriously! I usually get an aneurysm every year just thinking about it. But not anymore! I’m excited to see how much more cash we can rack up for next year 🙂

  2. Informative post. Quite handy for the season 🙂

  3. Great ideas! I use Ibotta and reaped $100+! I wasn’t familiar with receipt hog so I’ll check it out.

  4. We use draw names for our secret santa for the “bookclub” I’m in – its a fantastic app and website and has a ton of useful features – I’ve been very impressed with it. xx

  5. Wonderful, i am glad i use few of the apps you have mentioned here! Might have to check out the other ones too. Thanks for sharing! #ProductReviewParty

  6. Loved reading this! Very helpful

  7. staciesayzso staciesayzso

    That is such a smart way to use your cash back! I admit. I haven’t done this much lately, but you make me reconsider!

    • Thank you! I wish we thought of it sooner. But its definitely worth planning ahead for next year now. ?

  8. These are great suggestions! I love Ibotta

  9. Im so glad that my sisters in law decided that we are doing a white elephant this year instead of buying everyone a gift.

    • Yes! That’s great. That should make everyone’s holiday less stressful. Thanks for commenting!

    • I have heard of them before but I have never used it. I will definitely look into it. Thanks for the tip!

  10. These are amazing ideas that I’ve never heard before!

  11. When money use to be tight for us, I would do online surveys and let the points collect throughout the year and then cash out in November. It’s a great way for extra spending cash for Christmas. Awesome list you have here! #ProductReviewParty

    • That’s a great idea too! Thanks for the tip ?

  12. Definitely signing up for the Walmart savings catcher…I shop there all the time so I know I’ll definitely get some cash back…thanks.

    • Omg it is the BEST! You will see how quickly your money will add up. It’s so effortless. I hope you get lots of cash back!

  13. We have the exact same budget amounts for secret santa and white elephant. Saves a ton and makes it fun. (rhyme!)

    • Really? That’s crazy! You are too cute. I LOVE your site btw. I just subscribed.

  14. Great ideas. I am going to check into some of these!

  15. rsrote rsrote

    I have used a few of the shopping sites you mentioned and I also ama member of a few WOM groups where I can earn Amazon CG– this year our OOP cost for Birthday’s and Christmas (2 kids) was under $100 because of “FREE” money =D

    • That’s fantastic! I love hearing stories like this.

    • What are wom groups? I’d like to learn more.

  16. great suggestions, I also use swagbucks for amazon gift cards!

    • I have heard such great things about swag bucks. I always forget to use it though. Lol!

  17. i knew about half of these, but i am definitely registering for the rest. Thank you for the tips!

    • For sure! You are so welcome. I hope you make lots of free cash with these tips!

  18. What a Great list of how to earn free cash. I wish we had more programs like that here. We only have a few but I’m definitely making it a new years resolution to use them more and hopefully take some of the stress of Christmas Shopping away.

  19. serena serena

    All great tips. Seems like the holidays are always a budget bust. I just signed up for Ebates this year.

  20. It’s really important to have a budget for people, a gift doesn’t have to be expensive anyway! These are awesome tips for people who have a difficult time shopping for gifts.

  21. Jeanine Macintosh Jeanine Macintosh

    Great ideas! We do strict budgets every year for our Christmas. This year I kind of over did it but generally I keep within budget. I know so many people struggling right now and its really sad.

  22. As if life isn’t stressful enough, adding on buying gifts for Christmas adds even more stress! We do a Christmas Club account every year, so we know that we have enough to spend. We deposit whatever we can each month, and whatever we have when it comes time to spend, that’s what we spend.

  23. Trying to make ends meet is a problem and around the holidays you just have to splurge. It is so smart to do a Secret Santa and only have to get one or two presents. Those Apps are the best way to get money back.

  24. These are some really helpful tips! We do secret santa gifts in our immediate family, and I do it with my group of friends too. I use cashback websites throughout the year, and tend to buy gifts when they are on sale.

  25. These are some great ideas! The holidays can be so stressful when the funds are low.

  26. Christmas can break our pockets and bank accounts. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful tips!

  27. I think these are great ways of making sure that the holidays are festive but also frugal at the same time.

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