Starting in October, we are bombarded with the sights and sounds Christmas: People stream into malls and stores in droves, looking for just the right gift, and it’s hard not to get caught up in the mania of this year’s hottest toys (that’s enough, Hatchimals).
And while a certain level of anticipation and excitement for presents can be fun, when you are on a budget and money is tight, this time of year can be downright depressing. It’s only natural to want to find the gift that says, “Thank you for overlooking the fact that I pumped breastmilk at the breakfast table this morning” and “I owe you one for cleaning up the vomit last night.”
So, what’s a cash-strapped, tight-budgeted couple to do when they are eager to fill each other’s stockings with a little something special? Luckily, I have a few suggestions. Twelve, in fact. And unlike the song, these 12 gift ideas won’t involve pipers piping or geese a laying. Because no one has time to clean up goose shit or listen to drummers pounding away in the living room. That shit might be free, but no one wants a piece of that action.
1. Make a photo album with a photo from every year you’ve been together.
Admit it: You remember why you married your spouse when you see his cute face in those tight jeans he used to wear on dates. Chances are, he feels the same way about your ’90s baby doll dress and construction boot getup, and you’ll both have a magical Christmas moment as you realize how far you’ve come as a couple.
2. Cook his favorite meal.
I know, I know, this sounds straight out of the 1950s, but hear me out. Our lives are busy and overscheduled, and often, many of us resort to fast food or convenience items to feed our families on a busy night. But taking the time to slow down, prepare a favorite meal, and sit together on a chilly night will not only help you reconnect, it might also just make you want to mess around under the mistletoe after the kids go to bed.
3. Give him a coupon book for “I Won’t Look at My Phone for an Hour” nights.
Shut down your laptop, turn off your phone, and point your undivided attention his way. Give him the act of being present as a present, and you won’t regret it.
4. Have a “Drive-in Movie” night in your living room.
Round up his favorite treats, grab his favorite movie, and make a “cuddle puddle” of blankets after the kids go to bed. Talk, laugh, snack, and make out like teenagers.
5. Send him on a scavenger hunt.
Put the kids to bed and hide little notes around the house with clues about where to find you. Maybe you’ll be in the basement with a movie and popcorn ready or in the bathroom with a bubble bath for two. Or you could simply be waiting on the couch with his favorite cocktail and say, “I’m glad you are home. Let’s talk about your day.”
6. Make him a mixtape or iTunes playlist of the songs that remind you of him.
Yes, it’s cliché. Yes, you just rolled your eyes. But everyone secretly loves a mixtape. It’s the truth.
7. Find a free event in your town and arrange to meet him there.
Beg your mom to take the kids for a few hours and take him to a local concert or wine tasting at a favorite bookshop. A quick search on your town’s website will produce lots of fun, free date night activities. You could even consider going to a tree lighting sans kids and secretly laugh at the poor parents who didn’t have the good sense to leave the kids at home.
8. Take a drive to look at Christmas lights.
Totally cheesy, I know, but turning on some classic Christmas tunes and gawking at the tacky light displays in the surrounding neighborhoods can be downright fun. Pack a thermos of coffee and some sweet treats to make it extra special.
9. Take something off his to-do list as a surprise.
We all have “Honey Do” lists for our spouses, and often, the list is endless. Elicit some help from a friend and paint the bathroom he just can’t seem to get to or have your kids help you rake the leaves so that he can enjoy an afternoon off. The gift of relaxation is always in style.
10. Write him a letter. Yes, with paper and a pen.
Texts and emails have replaced the good old-fashioned written word and a special letter will seem like a throwback to a time gone by. Write a list of the reasons you are glad you married him or tell him why you are grateful he’s in your life. Take it one step further and write 12 letters to be opened on the first of the month as a way to remind him all year that he’s your number one.
11. Put the kids to bed early and agree to watch the shows you hate that he loves.
My husband is never happier than when I agree to watch some car show about engines and turbines and big oily messes. Whether your spouse is into that show about zombies or the world’s most boring golf match, simply agreeing to let him have control of the remote will make him smile from ear to ear.
12. Leave a Post-it on his mirror every day in December with a special love quote.
Everyone loves to be romanced a little, and there’s no better way than to simply say what’s in your heart. That’s the true meaning of Christmas, really: telling the ones you love that they are special and important to you. Take the time to say “I love you” daily, and you’ll be surprised to find that it’s a habit that you’ll want to keep up with long after the Christmas lights are stored away.
Christmas doesn’t have to be over the top and expensive, and your holiday season doesn’t have to depend on the amount of money in your wallet. Often, we forget that this holiday started with a baby and some very humble beginnings, and finding the simple joys of Christmas will be memories you’ll both cherish forever. And if you can do it without 11 lords leaping all over your family room, even better.