20 money-saving ideas for an Earth-friendly holiday season

Making holiday magic isn't a matter of money. We asked our colleagues to share tips on celebrating the spirit of the holidays while reducing the season's impact on the environment and their wallets.

Ready, set… gift!

Ask what people need. “For my nephews at Christmas, I start by asking their parents if they need anything,” says Catherine. Marie keeps tabs on her daughters’ needs during the year so that she can make suggestions to her family before the holidays.
Put your talents to work. At Mélanie’s uncle’s house, homemade spaghetti sauce and hand-sewn bags share space under the Christmas tree. Guaranteed to please—and save money too.

Treat someone to an experience for a double hit of joy—first when they receive the gift, and then when they live the experience!

Try a second-hand gift, urges Mélanie. “The kids never noticed the difference,” confides the mother of three boys. Catherine created alerts on Kijiji and Marketplace in January to track down wooden toys for her 18-month-old daughter. Second-hand gifts are great for adults, too. “We bought a used keyboard for my spouse. She plays it every day,” recounts Christophe.
Choose one gift per person. In Natalia’s family, each adult draws the name of one gift recipient—a simple way to keep costs reasonable and give everyone an opportunity to “put their hearts” into choosing a present with special care. In a similar vein, Christophe is a fan of the “less is more” approach. “Memorable gifts don’t always cost more. It’s a matter of thinking about what you give—and especially who you’re giving to.”
Invest in the next generation by making an RESP (registered education savings plan) contribution like Isabelle’s parents, who accompany their gift with a letter to their grandsons encouraging them to pursue their education. “The boys will be able to read the letters when they’re having a tough time at school,” their mother explains.

Another option: help fund a loved one’s dream with My Savings Plan.

Stick to your budget

Make a budget before December arrives, detailing all your expenses (gifts, food for entertaining, etc.) Keep your shopping list handy to avoid last-minute impulse purchases that could put you in the red.

Be generous with your time, suggests Annick. “I send a pre-Christmas email to everyone in the family reminding them about what’s important: sharing their time and ‘talents’.” That translates into things like “taking piano lessons with Grandma or learning family recipes with Grandpa.”
Give something intangible. Treat someone to an experience like a show, spa day, art workshop or cooking class for a double hit of joy—first when they receive the gift, and then when they live the experience!

Give some time to a cause you hold dear. Make volunteering a family activity or better yet, turn it into a tradition.

Distinguish between needs and desires

To help your child understand the difference, use examples: we all need shoes, but we don’t need five pairs. You can introduce the notion of saving to reach a goal and explain to your child that money isn’t just for buying things. It’s also for saving and sharing.

Pay it forward, suggests Geneviève. Sit down with your kids to sort through toys they’re not using anymore and offer them to those in need.

Give some time to a cause you hold dear. Make volunteering a family activity or better yet, turn it into a tradition.

And don’t forget that “a donation to a charity entitles you to a tax credit,” reminds Angela.

Create your own custom gift certificates. For some of our team, giving is about lending a hand: spending a night babysitting for overworked parents, digging a car out of the snow to thank a caring neighbour… or in the case of Darkise’s kids, enjoying a “holiday from chores.”

Others like keeping things playful. At Cécile B’s, the youngest kids are allowed to “eat breakfast for supper” or ask mom and dad to “stop what they’re doing and come and play.” As for Nana, she’s always happy to receive a gift certificate for “a year’s worth of hugs.” There’s no end to the possibilities. “Better yet, there’s no spending, no wrapping and no gas for shopping,” adds Darkise.

Reinventing the Christmas tree

Give your tree a personal touch. Cécile B. decorates the family tree with her children’s crafts. Result? “A non-commercial tree filled with people and memories.”
Unleash your creativity. “A Christmas tree can just as well be the palm tree in your living room as a tree drawn on the blackboard in your kitchen,” points out Cécile A., who likes her holidays minimalist.

Decorate the family tree with your children’s crafts. Result? A non-commercial tree filled with people and memories.

For a fresh take on the Advent calendar, take a cue from Valérie, who hangs homemade gingerbread cookies in the tree. “After supper, our two kids ‘pick’ dessert from the tree. It’s a tradition they love.” And there’s no garbage!
Recycle your gift wrapping. Many of us wrap with newspaper (gotta love those Sudoku and crossword pages!) or reuse the same wrapping paper year after year. Better yet, opt for fabric wrapping (bags, pillow cases, scarves, etc.), taking inspiration from the Japanese furoshiki technique.

To make sure Santa gets the message, have your kids explain what the sheets under the Christmas tree are for when they write to him. Magic guaranteed on December 25!

Holiday celebrations:
yes to sharing, no to waste

Organize a potluck to savour the holiday spirit or split meal costs between guests.
Set an extra place at your table, suggests Amélie. Invite a colleague or neighbour who’s on their own for Christmas, or a family that’s new to the country.
Use reusable dishes and cloth tablecloths and napkins. If you’re short, ask a few of your guests to bring extras. If the atmosphere lends itself to games, play to see who gets dishwashing duty… “The first one to take out their phone,” says Cécile A.
Avoid food waste. Ask your guests to bring reusable containers for leftovers, or donate surplus food to a charity. Compost the rest.
Donate quality food items to food banks that distribute Christmas baskets and get your kids to help choose what you give, suggests Geneviève. It’s a good opportunity to help them understand how fortunate they are, and how their actions can make a difference in someone else’s life.
Encourage carpooling and use of Operation Red Nose’s safe ride service—it’s more reliable than Santa’s sleigh.
Offer train or bus tickets to relatives living far away. Élodie gives plane tickets to her family on the other side of the Atlantic—and plants trees to offset their carbon emissions.
Prepare for your next holiday season in advance

Use this year’s spending to help you plan for next year. Start regularly putting a bit of money aside in January to ease your financial stress when the holidays roll around.

And how about you? What are your tricks for greening up the holidays and staying out of the red?

Happy Earth-friendly Holidays!

Recommended for you