smart spending

12 ways to create holiday magic for less than $15

8. Christmas cookie swap

More than one holiday season has been started with sweet intentions to bake mounds of goodies. But between shopping, holiday programs and parties, you couldn't squeeze in the time to bake. Well, take heart, you're not alone! This is why hosting a Christmas cookie swap is so much fun -- and convenient. You'll bake just one recipe, net a variety of baked goods, and save money by not letting products go stale.

Invite a small group of friends who each bake six dozen of their favorite holiday treat. Each friend keeps one dozen and comes to your house bearing the rest, along with five copies of the recipe. Have baking tins or boxes lined with foil or tissue ready to hand out to your friends, and begin exchanging. You'll all go home happy!

9. "Froehliche Weihnachten," "Lystig Jul" and "Joyeux Noëll"

Research how families celebrate Christmas in another country and enjoy their traditions this year. The Internet is a wealth of information where you can find out the traditional holiday decorations, prepare a meal or dessert, play a game or share a legend from their country. An excellent source of recipes from around the world is RecipeHound.com. Just scroll down the left navigational bar for the country you're researching.

10. Visit one holiday display

Don't even attempt to see it all -- just one. You might go see a living nativity scene, a singing tree, Santa Claus, a local play or choir. Check out local newspapers, local parenting magazines or the chamber of commerce for schedules of seasonal community events taking place. Get dressed up and take the family out on a date. A dinner out is nice, but a stop by the coffee shop for a latte, hot chocolate or cider is just as special.

11. Baby-sitting exchange

Every couple who has children has a circle of friends that includes parents with children, too. So why not exchange nights where you baby-sit each other's kids, so everyone has the opportunity to shop without the children in tow. You save baby-sitting money and return home refreshed -- or at least less stressed.

12. Have a snowball fight!

Act like a kid for an afternoon. It's really invigorating. Make snow angels, build a snowman, go sledding or ice skating.

No snow? Don't let living in the sunny South stop you. Head over to the beach and build a "snowman" out of sand, just gather enough sea shells for eyes, buttons and mouth. Bring along your carrot nose, scarf, hat, mitts and twigs.

Snap a picture and use it for a Christmas card, if anything it'll make your northern relatives a tad envious!

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