I made a trip to Costco yesterday to buy index cards. (Believe it or not, index cards are the building blocks of this blog.) The store didn’t have any, but it did have four long aisles stocked with Christmas supplies: lights, laughing Santas, and artificial trees. “Are people thinking about the holidays already?”, I wondered. Turns out they are. In the Get Rich Slowly discussion forums, Samantha is asking for frugal Christmas ideas:

We sat down to develop a Christmas budget for the first time ever last night. And I have to say, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much we plan to spend. Currently $425. But at least this year we are PLANNING for it and we have the cash to spend!

Does anyone have any tips for inexpensive ideas for Christmas gifts, traditions, etc. and just general ways to save money around the holidays, i.e. holiday entertaining, hostess gifts for every party we’re invited to, etc.?

Samantha’s question made me realize the holidays aren’t actually that far away. Besides, this year, in this economy, it makes sense to begin planning early, especially if you want to try some do-it-yourself projects.

We’ve discussed this subject before at Get Rich Slowly in articles like “Five fantastic frugal tips for Christmas”, “The amazing frugal Christmas savings spectacular”, and “The four things children really want for Christmas”. Some of my favorite money-saving tips for the holidays include:

  • Consider giving experiences. In the forums, Brad suggested giving music lessons, bike tune-ups, wine advice, or other gifts of time, knowledge, and experience. If you have friends with children, give them a night (or afternoon) of free babysitting so that they can have a special getaway without the cost of a sitter.
  • Also in the forums, Pulmano1 noted that if you’re holding your family gathering after Christmas (as we are this year), you can find heavily discounted gift ideas in post-holiday sales.
  • Do a group project, like assembling a family history. Amberlynn’s family writes a chapter of their family history each year, covering topics like favorite holidays, the house they grew up in, and how people met their spouses. The gift costs nothing but time, and carries more value than commercial gifts.
  • Remember that children don’t receive lasting value from toys and candy. What kids actually want are a relaxed and loving time with family, realistic expectations about gifts, an evenly paced holiday season, and reliable family traditions.
  • Give homemade gifts. In the past, we’ve given jams and jellies and pickled vegetables. A good friend once gave us a hand-assembled collection of gourmet salts, complete with written description of each. Rather than a gift card, I’d much rather receive a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

It’s not just gifts you can make by hand — it’s also fun to create do-it-yourself cards and decorations. When I was a penniless college student, I made my cards by hand every year. These were more meaningful to me, as a giver, and I think they were treasured by the recipients, too. It’s easy to make your own cards. (Trent at The Simple Dollar has some tips for doing so.)

My cousin Nick and I recently reminisced about family traditions for decorating the house and tree. “There weren’t so many lights when we were kids,” Nick said. “We made most of our own decorations.” I can remember doing some of this, too. Older children might enjoy stringing a popcorn garland, and constructing a paper chain is so easy a 5-year-old can do it!

Most of all, remember that the holidays are time for gathering with family and friends. Giving is secondary. Spending money doesn’t even make the list.

What about you? Have you started thinking about the holidays? What are your some of your favorite ways to keep costs down while enjoying the spirit of the season?

This article is about DIY, Frugality, Hints and Tips, Planning, Shopping