It’s a notoriously expensive time of year, but it’s also a time of fun traditions and getting together with friends and family. Make the most of this holiday season without blowing your budget or sacrificing fun with these tips:

Christmas bookFree and cheap things to do:

Look at Christmas lights in your town. Pick a night, fill travel mugs with hot chocolate, and marvel at the festive decorations. Since darkness falls early this time of year, you can take a long drive and still get the kids in bed on time.

Enjoy a festive Christmas performance at your local high school. You aren’t required to have a family member attend the school to enjoy the hard work of local performers. Tickets are inexpensive, and proceeds go to supporting the arts at the school.

Baking Christmas treats is a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy. You can even give the results of your efforts away as Christmas gifts. Even if you aren’t a great cook, Christmas baking kits make the process easy.

Read favorite Christmas books as a family. Kids love seasonal traditions. Make it special by curling up in soft blankets and enjoying treats. Even if the kids have outgrown nightly bedtime stories, they’ll enjoy the nostalgia.

If singing makes you happy, plan a neighborhood caroling party and go from house to house spreading Christmas joy.

Host a dinner for friends but keep it simple with buffet-style service and disposable dinner plates. Ask guests to bring a side dish or dessert and enjoy the company of people who are most important in your life.

Keep a calendar of Christmas events in plain sight so you don’t overbook. You don’t have to attend every party, so send your regrets for anything that you don’t really look forward to. Concentrating your time and energy on Christmas events that you love makes the season more meaningful and enjoyable.

If you have kids, talk to them to learn which holiday traditions mean the most. Chances are, their most cherished memories are also inexpensive and simple. Focus on making sure each child gets to participate in their favorite Christmas tradition to make this holiday season special for the whole family.

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