How We Celebrate A Frugal Christmas

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Mr. FAF and I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas.

I don’t know about Mr. FAF, but for me, having been born and raised in Vietnam, I saw Christmas as a Western holiday.

I neither had a day off nor received any presents for this occasion. It was somewhat a foreign concept to me.

Our families celebrate the Lunar New Year’s some time in late January or early February.

And that’s the biggest festival of the year that I grew up with and love dearly.

Christmas in me

After coming to America, however, the festivity surrounding the Lunar New Year’s no longer exists to the extent I have experienced.

There are no New Year movies or music shows to watch on TV. There are no special food or candy displayed at the grocery stores for the Lunar New Year’s.

At first, I felt sad. But I gradually got used to it. I don’t remember since when, but I started associating Christmas with the Lunar New Year’s.

It’s a time to celebrate a new beginning, spend time with family and friends, take a few days off work, eat good food, go shopping, see the nice red and glittery decorations at the stores, review what happened in the previous year, and make plans for a new year.

I have developed an affinity for Christmas and get excited whenever the holiday season rolls around.

2017 is even a more special year since this is our first time celebrating Christmas together at our new home.

Our previous plan

Before Baby FAF came back to the US, Mr. FAF and I always talked about buying a big Christmas tree and decorating our house on this special day. We wanted to give our son the true experience of enjoying a national holiday in America.

However, we haven’t carried out our plan for two reasons. First, Baby FAF is only 2.5 years old and barely understands what holidays even mean.

I think the only thing he really enjoys right now is watching ABC’s songs on Youtube and playing with his toys. Having an extravagant Christmas celebration would mean more for us than for our son.

Second, since Mr. FAF and I will be the main family members putting up the decorations and enjoying them, we have been debating whether we even want to spend time and money doing that.

And the answer is No. I love Christmas, but it doesn’t mean I need to spend a few hundred dollars on Christmas ornaments.

Our current plan

We plan to have a frugal and merry Christmas by doing the following activities.

1. Host a hotpot party at home

Mr. FAF and I love eating good food. We also like spending time and catching up with our good friends. After hosting a successful hotpot party on Thanksgiving which cost us only $54 for 7 adults, we decided to continue the festivity by having another one for Christmas.

Our Thanksgiving hotpot

Mr. FAF and I are finalizing the guest list, but we will likely cap the total headcount at 7 due to the limited space at our dining table. Our estimated budget for the party is $60-70.

2. Not exchange gifts or send postcards

We didn’t grow up receiving or exchanging gifts with other family members. Our parents were busy making ends meet and not particularly interested in gift exchanges. Mr. FAF and I got into the same habit of not buying presents for each other on any occasion.

After Mr. FAF dropped $300 on a dress and $10 on some roses for me, I have told him not to buy any gifts for me again. If he wants to surprise me, the gift should be less than $10. It won’t be a waste even if I don’t like it.


Gifts from Mr. FAF: a $300 Ted Baker dress & Shoppers roses

Over the past few years, we have received loving postcards from our friends. But we are not planning to send out postcards this year and have never done so. I think emails and Facebook messages will do.

3. Buy Christmas decor from the Dollar Tree

On our way to celebrating our 4th anniversary, Mr. FAF and I stopped at the Dollar Tree to pick up two Christmas decorations for $2 in total: a snowman face and a hanging artificial Christmas tree.

I did think that we were a bit cheap in spending only $2 on such cheap decorations. But the truth is that they are enough to bring us some holiday joy and remind us that this is a special time of the year.

It also helps that many of our neighbors go all out with their Christmas lights and decorations on their front lawns. In a way, they make our neighborhood more pretty and festive. And I’m grateful for that.


Christmas decor from the Dollar Tree: snowman face & Christmas tree ($1 each)

4. Have Baby FAF take a picture with Santa

Before Baby FAF went to China with my in-laws, we spent a Christmas together. But that was not a merry Christmas for us. Baby FAF had a high fever for four days straight. We ended up spending Christmas Eve in the emergency room where the on-call doctor did a series of painful tests on our son.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a serious problem, and we went home on the same day. Yet, you might probably agree with me that it’s not a great way to celebrate the holidays.

This year, Baby FAF had a fever followed by an ear infection that lasted almost two weeks around Thanksgiving. I am determined to have him take a picture with Santa this time.

We could do that for $25 at the mall or for free with a Santa invited (and paid for) by our HOA (we live in a townhouse community). Mr. FAF insists that we should take a picture of Baby FAF with the HOA Santa since it’s free, so we did.

The pictures don’t look as good as those taken at the mall. The lighting wasn’t great, and the background was simple. There were some kids hanging in the background.

At first, I was disappointed. But I learned to embrace the imperfections in the photos. The most important thing is that Baby FAF got to meet Santa and even got a lollipop from him. And we were happy.

5. Minimal shopping

My mother-in-law (MIL) is going back to China probably in February 2018 (after the Lunar New Year’s). She plans to buy gifts for Mr. FAF’s extended family (a must-have in Asian culture), and we will pay for all of her purchases.

My MIL is generally very frugal and has given us great help in taking care of our son. We are happy to buy whatever she wants or needs.

I will also buy three gifts for Baby FAF’s teachers since they’ve done a great job caring for him while Mr. FAF and I are at work. Other than that, Mr. FAF and I don’t plan to buy anything for ourselves.


In total, we plan to spend at most $150 for Christmas: a hotpot with friends and three gifts for our son’s teachers. My MIL’s shopping will happen regardless of Christmas, so we don’t count it as holiday shopping.

This is our first Christmas together after our family is reunited. And I do believe that we don’t have to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to be happy together.


On behalf of the FAF family, I want to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy holiday. Thank you for supporting us in our frugal adventures! 🙂


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21 thoughts on “How We Celebrate A Frugal Christmas”

  • It’s nice you bought had planned to have a frugal Christmas and spend less money!

    I’m quite different from you since Christmas was one of the biggest celebration in our home, it was time to hang out, eat out and merry but I took a very weird decision this year to celebrate Christmas indoors, I just talked about it on my blog and hey! I’m sticking with the decision, I want to taste how Christmas feels when celebrated indoors and I won’t I if it could save me money!

    Nice post*, we’ll love frugality.

    • I think it’s great that you love spending time with family at Christmas. Money alone shouldn’t determine how much fun we have. As long as you have a great time with your loved ones, I’d say it’s all worth it. 🙂

  • Happy holidays to you and your family too Mrs. FAF.

    For the past couple of years, we tried to get our son to take a decent picture with old St. Nick, but my son somehow was not very fond of him. He either cried or hid behind his mom when he sees Santa.

    Having been living in North America for almost 30 years, I don’t remember much of the lunar new year celebrations, but I have adopted the Christmas and new year celebrations. It’s great to have a couple of weeks to enjoy the slow pace of life.

    • Thank you, Leo! Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family too!

      There were a couple of kids at our HOA Santa event who weren’t big fans of Santa either @_@ Baby FAF was actually throwing a tantrum at the time and didn’t even look straight at the camera 😀

  • Are you Christians or do you think of Christmas as a purely secular holiday? I imagine that would contribute to your attitude towards it. I celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas and try to avoid the commercial side as much as possible.

    • I think you made a great point about celebrating the religious aspects of Christmas. I’m not Christian, but I really like the festivity of the holidays 🙂

  • Happy holidays, Ms. FAF. I’m so happy to hear that, your family are celebrating Christmas together at your new home. Wish you the best.
    I don’t do much about the Lunar New Year anymore. May just go out and have a nice dinner. I like Christmas, the decorations, carols, snow, and the holiday smiles. It’s the best time in the winter.

    • Thank you, Helen! Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family as well! My MIL is in DC, so we probably are going to have a big dinner (maybe with some friends). Other than that, we won’t do much either. It’d be totally different if we were in Asia though 😀

  • Have a Happy Christmas!

    Hehe, great minds think alike. We’ll be having hotpot too with Korean barbeque since my aunt has a new grill to try out. ?

    We have decorations that my mom put up, but me and my Dad only have the electric circuit board Christmas tree and Santa that my brother and I soldered together when we were 5+7.

    At university I just got some Christmas tree air fresheners and made them into a 3D tree. We put the presents under that. ?

    (P.s that outfit looks great on you ?)

    • Thank you, Will! Merry Christmas to you too. I love Korean BBQ and hotpot, so it’s a perfect combo for the holidays!

      (Thanks for the compliment on the dress! I ended up returning it since it was too expensive. But it was a nice gesture from Mr. FAF ;))

  • A HOA Santa….that’s the darnest thing I’ve ever heard for a HOA fee to go towards. But I can’t frown on it because THAT’S ADORABLE!!! I think the HOA said was a choice, would you do a Mall one next year?

    • LOL I never thought of him as an HOA Santa, but I guess it is an adorable name! Our HOA Santa comes every year (not sure if it’s a good thing). I really want Baby FAF to take a pic with the mall Santa, but I need to overcome Mr. FAF’s frugality for that to happen next year. *crying in happy tears*

    • Thank you, Joe! Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family as well! I want Mr. FAF to buy me a Christmas gift, but he refused, so I guess neither of us will get Xmas gifts @_@

  • Oh wow! So frugal. Do you get any gifts from family members? I spend way too much at Christmas but I save for it- my 3 kids and their spouses and 3 grands all get a crisp hundred dollar bill so that’s $900 right there. I also buy something the grands can open too. Then there are my clients who have no family- gift cards for them. That costs me at least 20x$25- again I want to do it and figure as long as I am working, I can! I also bake a lot and treat my family to prime rib Christmas Day. The rest of the year I am pretty frugal.

    • Thanks for sharing your Christmas plan, Nan! I don’t get gifts from either family or friends, so I guess that takes the pressure off. I spend money on other occasions and stay frugal otherwise, so don’t be too hard on yourself 😉

  • Spending $150 is really good and frugal, love the hot pot party idea. We usually create a holiday card from Costco($15 for 50) with pictures of us from the year and briefly describing the progress Baby with Cents has made during the year.
    But ultimately it’s about spending time with family this time of year and that is what really matters.
    Happy Holidays to you and your family Ms. FAF!!

  • This article is so expressive and thoughtful, I totally agree with concept of spending less dollars. Christmas is all about spreading joy and giving love to everyone you meet, it’s never about how much money one is spending on that day. Christmas is about making little things more special. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great post! It’s in the middle Eastern culture to buy gifts for relatives when our in laws go back to Egypt as well! I can totally relate. ? Merry Christmas!

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