Photo: Jocelyn via Flickr
Wintertime has become veritable breeding ground for debt.Not only are we under constant pressure to finance all the usual trappings of the season –– gifts, travel, and parties –– with credit, but there’s always a constant stream of friends and relatives to entertain as well.
The good news there are still ways to get in the holiday spirit that don’t mean starting off the New Year in the red.
We’ve rounded up a list of fun freebies that’ll bring you closer to friends and family without breaking the bank.
Host a 'lighting ceremony' with your friends and family at home, then pile into the car to check out your neighbours' handiwork. Use last year's lights or borrow extras from family or friends.
The suburbs are known for friendly holiday decoration wars, with frosted yards filled with more LED-lit reindeer and blow-up Santas than you can shake a peppermint stick at.
If you really want a show, hit up the wealthiest 'hoods in your town. If homeowners are crazy enough to enlist professional decorators to deck their halls for $1,500, why let all their hard-spent cash go to waste?
If you're lucky enough to live in snow-friendly parts of the U.S., grab your gloves and a couple of able-bodied friends for some good old fashioned snow games.
Find a good hill for sledding or hit the lake for ice fishing.
For those in warmer climates, ice rinks often offer free admission as long as you bring your own skates.
Movie tickets can cost up to $15 a pop these days, but your home is far cozier, comes with your own parking spot and -- the best part -- all the snacks are free.
Try hosting a film festival from your living room. These days, you can stream Netflix and Hulu straight to your TV or, if you've cut cable, invite friends to bring their own flicks.
Pop popcorn, make hot chocolate and curl up next to people you know, rather than rows of gibbering strangers.
Take advantage of federally-subsidized central heating and hit up all the best public exhibits your city has to offer this winter. Check community board listings or your local newspaper for new exhibits.
In cities like New York and Washington, D.C., colder months are the best time for locals to enjoy the best city sights without swarms of tourists underfoot.
In the latter, Smithsonian exhibits are always free, but you won't have to fight dozens of other oglers to get the best view of the penguins at the National Zoo, which is also free and open to the public.
It's easy to feel down and out when you're facing mounds of debt during the busiest shopping season of the year. Get some perspective by helping out those needier than yourself.
Before you sign up to dish out spaghetti at the local soup kitchen, try lending a hand to an elderly neighbour by stringing lights or shoveling their driveway.
Plenty of community organisations will need volunteers for holiday shows and food drives and you can get your whole family involved. But steer clear of scams by checking out charities with the Better Business Bureau first.
Before you head to a holiday concert or museum, get your juices flowing with a free wine or beer tasting.
Wineries and breweries often offer free tastings on certain days of the week, when patrons are encouraged to circulate and sip without the pressure of purchasing a pricey bottle to go.
If the business is really classy, they'll have some finger foods on hand, too, so feel free to chow down -- within reason.
You don't have to blow hundreds of dollars on Broadway tickets to get your holiday concert fix.
Look no further than your local community playhouse. Participants are sometimes truly talented entertainers who might volunteer in their spare time, so don't shrug off local events as amateur hour.
Churches and college campuses are sure to have holiday schedules packed with musical events, so keep an eye on community list servs for dates and times.
Campsites offer dirt cheap or free rates during the winter for obvious reasons, so if you're up for a challenge, take a weekend camping trip or a day hike.
You'll get back to nature and the lack of outlets (i.e.: no distracting smartphones or computers) will bring everyone closer together.
If you're not up for a multi-day arctic adventure, try having a picnic on the lake or at the beach in chillier months.
Pack thermoses and bring warm foods for a picnic. If it's legal in your area, lug along a pile of fresh cut wood to build a bonfire and keep warm.
Don't let the word 'party' fool you. You don't have to blow your budget entertaining guests with champagne fountains and other ridiculous bells and whistles to have a good time.
Invite friends over for game night or a potluck dinner. They can bring their own games and a dish to share and everyone will leave feeling satisfied.
If your friends are crafty, exchange homemade gifts in lieu of pricey presents.
Shopping malls are asking a pretty penny for photos with Santa these days, but you can skip the hassle of waiting in line by tracking down a free one-on-one with the big man.
Community events often feature Santa lookalikes, so check your local newspaper or online message boards for listings.
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