Celebrating Holidays on the Cheap as a Single Parent


The holidays are fast approaching, and while they can be fun and joyous, they can also be very emotional, stressful and costly for single parents.

Christmas 2010 was just that kind of year for me when my husband of 22 years left our children and me and moved across country to begin his new “single” life. My ex and I had been separated for four months but he chose mid-December as the time to make his exit. At the time, my twin girls were 17 years old and my son was 13. Needless to say, it was a devastating and overwhelming time for all of us.

I asked my children if they wanted to stay home and celebrate the holidays as we normally would (but without their dad) or if they wanted to do something totally different. Of course, they wanted to do something different. I immediately got on the computer and started searching for ideas. I wanted to take them skiing but soon found that was not within my budget.

I eventually found a great hotel deal in Durango, Colorado and planned our getaway. I wanted to add some fun and mystery to our otherwise stressful holiday so I decided to keep the location a secret from my kids even as we were driving to Durango. As soon as we arrived and checked into our hotel, I had the kids change into the footed pajamas I had previously bought for them (yes, footed pajamas!) and much to their embarrassment; we left the hotel (in our pajamas) for a planned surprise. When we arrived at the Durango/Silverton train station and they realized we were going on the Polar Express Train Ride, they were so excited. It was so wonderful seeing their eyes light up and the smiles on their faces as we enjoyed our ride to the North Pole.


When we returned to the hotel that night, we set up a mini Christmas tree I’d found at a discount store and decorated it with mini lights and bulbs, hung our stockings on the bed posts, and unpacked a small box of presents I’d purchased for them. We opened our presents on Christmas morning and hung out at the indoor pool in the hotel. Over the next couple of days, I took them to a local hot springs and then snowmobiling.

As I look back at that holiday five years later, I am so glad that my kids made the decision to spend our holiday away from home. It was actually a special time for each of us during a very difficult point in our lives.

I realize that a holiday getaway is not often an option for single parents and, honestly, that was the last holiday getaway my kids and I took together because my financial situation changed dramatically after the divorce was final. The important thing is that you spend special time with your children creating new and lasting memories.


Here are ten ways to celebrate the holidays on the cheap as a single parent while still creating new and inexpensive holiday traditions that might have more meaning for your family’s current situation.

  1. Ask your children for ways they’d like to spend their holidays and vote on which one you’ll implement this year. For example, start an annual slumber party around the tree complete with hot chocolate, cookies and holiday music or a favorite holiday movie.
  1. Getting away for a holiday vacation may not be in your budget but you can plan a “staycation” in your own hometown. Some ideas include a trip to the aquarium, local zoo, children’s’ museum, ice-skating rink, etc.
  1. Spend a Saturday afternoon making and decorating holiday ornaments. There’s nothing like handcrafted ornaments courtesy of your children. You and your kids will have fun making the ornaments together and decorating the tree, and years from now you’ll enjoy reminiscing together about those special times. Here’s a fun page with several ornament ideas.ornament3
  1. Handcraft some gift certificates for family members or friends for a specially prepared meal, dog walking, babysitting, or cleaning services. These types of gifts cost you nothing monetarily but will mean so much to the recipient. Officeonline has an assortment of free gift certificate templates that you can create on your own.
  1. Create a calendar for the upcoming year. Let your kids help you pick out some of their favorite family pictures from the past year. Check out Snapfish, Shutterfly, and Walgreen’s for custom templates. Each runs holiday specials and offers online coupons.
  1. Brew some hot chocolate, put it in spill-proof cups, dial the car radio in to some holiday music, and take your kids out for a drive to look at holiday lights. While you’re at it, bring an extra cup of hot chocolate to the Salvation Army bell ringer. This will help teach your kids the importance of giving back. You can do a quick search online for light displays in your local area.holiday-lights
  1. Create “acts of service” or “date night” gifts for your children. Hand craft a letter detailing your gift and wrap it up in a box. Children cherish one-on-one time with their parents and you’ll probably find this gift will be one of their favorites.
  1. Check out your local YMCA or community center calendar for family holiday activities. Some even offer a parents’ night out so you can have a little time to yourself during the holidays.
  1. This one is just for you: Participate in Secret Santa gift giving with your co-workers and/or extended family. Make a list of who will be participating and randomly assign names to participating members. Also set a budget for how much can be spent.
  1. If your children are older, consider forgoing family holiday gifts and instead donate your time or money to a good cause. Some ideas: Operation Christmas Child, Meals on Wheels or Toys for Tots.

I wish you all the greatest joys as you spend time with your children this holiday season creating new traditions and lasting memories. 

donna may lyonsDonna May Lyons is a single mother of three adult children and a frequent contributor to Twiniversity.com. She is a freelance writer, editor, graphic designer, and social media manager residing in Colorado Springs. You can connect with Donna on Facebook andTwitter. For more articles by Donna on Twiniversity, click here


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