If you’re anything like me, you’ve pretty much finished your shopping (or run out of allotted Christmas funds, whichever comes first) by this point. I had quite a late start with things this year and wasn’t nearly as organized as I usually am (I start buying in September or earlier), but moving had us stretched in lots of directions. So, here we are, less than a week to go before the “big day” and I’m trying to milk every second out of our holiday fun-making. But, needless to say, anything I come up with has to be cost effective (or downright free). Luckily, this isn’t an impossible feat. Today, I’m sharing some of our family’s favorite ways to celebrate the holidays on a budget. Looking at Lights - One of my family’s favorite activities this time of year is to bundle the kiddies up and load up the car to peep at the lights in our surrounding communities. One house, aptly referred to as “The Christmas House”, has an entire lights show set to music (you turn your radio to their frequency) and gives quite the free entertainment experience. And, yes, it totally includes the “Frozen” song (which I honestly wasn’t into until I saw this!). Sometimes the lights are gaudy. Sometimes they’re classic and beautiful. But, no matter what, hearing your children “oooohhh” and “aaaaahhh” and talk about their favorites (and all for the cost of gas) is the best. A Hot Beverage, Popcorn, and a Favorite Movie - My husband insist I mention this and I don’t blame him. We’re both movie people, and I feel absolutely empty if I don’t catch certain ones at certain times of the year (“Holiday Inn”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”...the list goes on, but I’m a black-and-white girl). Add to it my husband’s famous air-popped popcorn (with grassfed butter, thank you!) and a hot beverage (either wassail or hot chocolate) homemade by yours truly, and all you’re missing is the kids and a snuggly blanket. Now, this can also mean catching your favorite Christmas special on TV, as well, with simply microwaved popcorn or some other family treat. Whatever works for your family! Volunteer Together - We feel it’s important to share in the spirit of the season - which our 4-year-old son is just starting to understand. I asked my sister if there were anymore children in need at her church and she happily obliged by piling an “ornament” off their tree for me. After I got what was requested for the 12-year-old boy (all necessities, so I threw in a small $3 mini-skateboard), I explained to my son that there was a child who requested only new underwear and PJs. He was floored. But you don’t have to buy something to help out. You can help the Salvation Army by volunteering to ring bells, you can donate your old (but in good repair) toys or coats to those less fortunate, or just serve food as a local food bank. Listening to Christmas Music - Every activity is made into a Christmas activity with the addition of Christmas music. Cooking dinner? Festive. Shopping? Fun. Driving through traffic? A little more bearable. (Maybe.) Bake Cookies - Sure, some cookies are expensive to make, but if you just pick one favorite for your family to make (I suggest sugar cookies - they’re fun to decorate and cost less than, say, peanut blossoms), you’ll have something sweet to nosh on, will feel festive, and will have something to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. Visit Santa/Look for community events - Visits with Santa are almost always a hit, so if your community is having a stop, check it out! Sometimes they try to get you with the cost of photos, but most of the time you’re allowed to take your own shots, too. We did this both at a pancake breakfast at my school as well as at a museum we subscribe to this year and it was awesome.. But Santa’s not the only game in town. There are tons of events throughout the community (for example, there are holiday read-alouds with face painting and treats every December at our local Barnes and Noble., so put the feelers out to your local friends on Facebook to see what’s going on. Visit the Elderly - It’s often sad and lonely all year long for elderly folks living in an assisted living facility, but this time of all times is a great chance to give some of your time and holiday cheer. I’ve learned that the elderly ADORE children, so as long as your little ones are free from illness (remember that, just like babies, it’s easy for older people to catch illnesses), stop by for a visit and a chat. You may learn something new about how Christmases were celebrated in “the good ol’ days.” Go Caroling - Just print off some lyric sheets, bundle up, and start wandering around your neighborhood. If your family gets shy, ask some friends to join you. It seems that fewer and fewer people are doing this, so it’ll be a nice surprise for your neighbors!