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15 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Without Spending a Dime

“It’s all about presents to you kids, isn’t it!!? You all wanna wake up Christmas morning, run down to the tree at light speed, you grab the biggest package that you can, you tear it open, you pop your hand in, and you pull out a dream come true. Well I got news for you kids. In the real world, you hang up a stocking, and the next morning you find it filled to the brim with JACK SQUAT. Wanna know why?? THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SANTA CLAUS!!” – Matt Foley, Motivational Santa

I think Matt Foley is onto something. Maybe Christmas really isn’t about Santa and presents? Granted, scaring innocent youth out of their holiday joy is a little extreme (although it shows up on the list twice more, yikes—see numbers 7 and 14), but we have a lesson to learn from Motivational Santa. It’s hard not to get spanked by the material tidal wave that is the American holidays, but what if we take a step back to enjoy the subtle joys of the season?

This year, I will spend less than $200 on holiday presents, decorations, and activities. Now, I’m not trying to make you feel bad, because this is mostly a product of my situation—and I’ve been known to drop a dime on the holidays. (I’m a sucker for a good white elephant—anal bleaching or a five-foot Samurai sword, anyone?) But this year, I have made the decision to put money into my Roth IRA instead of spending a bunch, and you know what? My friends and family totally understand. This might sound like a bummer sitch to some of you, but wanna know what I’m not lacking? THAT SWEET & SUCCULENT HOLIDAY SPIRIT, Y’ALL!!  And really, removing myself from the game has left me the opposite of holiday stressed. There’s so much fucking crap out there.

I want to share the Dumpster Doggy-Motivational Santa ways I’ve been enjoying the season for free. What are yours? Post in the comments below!

1. Watching holiday-themed SNL skits! Chris Farley as Motivational Santa will always be my favorite, but I’m also a fan of Debbie Downer—Naughty and Depressing, Dick in a Box, Christmas Miracle (or anything with Kate McKinnon), Stefon on holiday travel, NPR’s Delicious DishWrappinville, Back Home Ballers and here’s a bonus Will Ferrell as a newer, hipper, more badass Santa for ya. Case CLAUSED.

And The Christmas Candle is perhaps the most Dumpster Doggy skit of all!!

2. Reaping the benefits of other peoples’ obsession with the holidays. You know people are going balls deep in Christmas; all you gotta do is find ’em! Here are two of my favorite ways to do this in Portland:

Everyone goes nuts for the lights at Slammer Tavern, but I’m partial to the 200-nutcracker spread (and my cute best bud, Steph):

Stumbled across this national treasure the other day.  Apparently, this Patron Saint of Holiday Joy has 300 antique Santa lanterns. Ho Ho Holy shit:

3. Speaking of enjoying how crazy/creative people celebrate the holidays, I love to see what The Gay Beards cook up for Christmas. Check out their Instagram account! Over and over again. I could look at these darling Portlandians all day.

4. Watching someone from work get too drunk at your holiday party. There’s always one, and hopefully it is not you and hopefully it is someone in management with lots of authority. Catty? Pehaps, but don’t act like you don’t love some good Monday gossip!!

5. Finding the time and having an excuse to be creative. Let those spiked-eggnog juices flow! Check out this rad jacket I made for my sister!

6. Shagging on a shag carpet in front of a fireplace. Have some freaky holiday sex, people—it’s the best way to truly be in the moment. (Yeah, I said it.)

(Not an advertisement for Burger King, just think he’s delicious.)

7. PERSONAL FAVORITE ALERT!! Admiring pictures of my friends’ children losing their shit (literally and figuratively) while on Santa’s lap. Ranging from someone ate my last french fry to I just witnessed a murder, these emotive little faces bring me inordinate levels of happiness.

(For the protection of these little monsters, I will not use names—but each of these darlings is a daughter to one of my best friends. Thank you, Carlee, Chantel, Lara, and Nicole + partners for creating these entertainment vessels for Aunt Mandi.)

8. People-watching at the mall or WalMart. You don’t have to spend money to enjoy seeing the crazy things people do with it.

9. Potlucks at work. Workplaces love to go all overboard during the holiday season, and nothin’ brings the Dumpster Dog joy like free grub. FYI, it does not have to be your team’s potluck. Keep your ears to the ground and swoop when the time is right.

10. Busting out in song and dance when your favorite holiday song comes on, no matter where you are. When “Feliz Navidad” came on at Freddie’s the other day, I basically did the splits in the cereal aisle.

11. Decorating the tree with the shitty ornaments you made in grade school. Paper snowflakes for an added touch. Here is my sister’s magnum opus, a festoon tissue paper eruption:

12. Getting harassed by my aunt, Diamond Dee, for not having a boyfriend, and listening to her talk about my baby-making parts like it is strawberry Dannon that’s been in the fridge too long—past its use-by date. One year, she asked me if I “ever even have animal urges” (as if I can’t take care of those without being married). She is bonkers, and I love it. Family time is a brilliant spectacle.

Family and home isn’t a safe place for everyone. If it is for you—even if family is totally annoying—count your blessings.

13. Witnessing other peoples’ joy on Christmas. Not tryin’ to fudge with my street cred, but this made tears eject from my eyeballs.

14. Celebrating Krampus. Did you know that there is a half-goat, half-demon that scares kiddos into bein’ good for fear he will whisk them away for some mild torture? Yup. His name is Krampus. He’s delightfully strange Nordic lore that’s making a comeback. If you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch The League’s Season 4, Episode 12, “A Krampus Karol.”

15. Enacting kindness. Random, planned, IDGAF. Being kind to those around us enriches us as much as it enriches those we help.

BONUS: ALL OF THE HOLIDAY OFFICE EPISODES! Has anyone knighted this woman yet??

Well, there you have it. I made a holiday-themed listicle. Check that off the naughty list of things I’ve done this year. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

Your turn! What is your favorite way to enjoy the holidays without spending any moolah? 



  1. Storm on December 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Don’t forget enjoying your neighbors free leftover fries at your local dive bar! Also, you need to add the candle giving SNL skit to your list….

    Animal urges. Hehehe

    • Lindsay on December 23, 2016 at 11:30 am

      Get friends together for holiday drinks and make “naughty” and “nice” lists… But not for people, for the year. (Good things and crappy things that happened that year… 2016 is getting a lot of coal on the 25th…) Its reflective, cathartic, funny, and helps with resolution-setting too!

      • on December 26, 2016 at 10:32 am

        I love this suggestion!! Naughty: Martin Shkreli Nice: Launching my blog!! Thanks for participating!

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:48 am

      SNL candles skit is top shelf stuff, but I link to it in my previous holiday post on compounding so I decided to forgo it for this compilation 🙂

      Aunt Dee wasted no time on us yesterday. She made everyone quiet down in the room so she could point out that all of the cousins are a bunch of middle-aged people that don’t want to grow up and have kids. Um yeah, Dee, thanks for stating the obvious.

  2. Kristin Kofmehl on December 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    My co-worker put together a coat drive and filled up a whole 16 passenger van with donations. Give a little and get a little joy 🙂

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:46 am

      Kristin, I LOVE this. You’ll have to tell me more about it. Did she just drive around neighborhoods in a windowless van and ask for donations?! Where does she donate the coats? I would love to get involved in something like this. Thank you so much for participating! I did a drawing to choose the winner because I liked all the entries so much. Stay tuned for the next contest!! There will be more! Happy Holidays!

  3. Jaja on December 22, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Season’s Greetings Dumpster Dawg! Loved your ideas, and racked my brain for a few more!
    I really love a good regifting during the Holidays. The office gets a bunch of festive See’s Candies sent from vendors that no one really wants/needs. I swoop when the time is right, then will present to friends and family to show I am contributing to the festive holiday ambiance. Red and Green See’s gummies anyone?

    Another fun free idea is going to the Guardsman Christmas Tree Lot in SF. While the trees are not free, the boozy drinks sure are. The smell of fresh pine & unlimited wine- what’s not to love?!

    Merry Krampus!

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Free booze at the Guardsman tree lot? I lived in SF for 6 years. How could I not know this? I’m a failure. Thanks for participating, and Merry Krampus!

  4. Gine on December 22, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    I love playing white elephant where the rules require participants to bring an item from home to re-gift. It’s a race to the bottom. One of my coworkers brought a ped-egg one of those things you shave your dead foot skin with (unused – too bad). I brought my dad’s model kidney from his office. He hasn’t forgiven me yet but it was with it.

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:34 am

      I am not gonna lie, this one was a personal favorite. I liked all the entries so much I did a drawing instead, but I wasn’t expecting Dad’s model kidney to show up in my blog comments. You got me good, Gina, and thanks for participating!

    • Brittany Rolfe on December 27, 2016 at 9:31 am

      I’m late here, but this was my #1 way of saving this year! Regifting previous white elephant gifts or just stuff I bought and never used. Office Christmas white elephant = never been easier. Neighbors and other random folks = I look like the most generous person alive. Family gift exchange = huge hit. Best part was after everyone left the party and left all their crappy gifts behind, I packed them away for next year’s shenanigans!

  5. Chandini Davis on December 23, 2016 at 10:32 am

    This year I’m taking my mom to a church on Christmas eve to listen to the choir. I know it sounds very well churchy, but sometimes taking a moment and experiencing a place bigger than you is just what the heart needs.

    Also tonight is Zoo Lights!! I live and die by this list of things to do in sf on the cheap.

    ps. We aren’t even Christian.

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Chandini, how was the choir? I bet amazing. Don’t need to be Christian to respect them high notes. I have great news! You won 2nd prize in the contest. I loved all of the entries so much that instead of choosing my fave, I did a drawing. Check out my Instagram feed (@dumpster.doggy) to see it happen all-official-like. I wasn’t originally planning on a second prize, but would love to offer you a $25 gift card and free consultation services! Please send an email to to redeem. Congrats!

  6. Moni on December 23, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Chandini, good call on Fun, Cheap SF as the gift that keeps on give the whole year round!!

    While totally unimaginative and technically not free (but if you have cable or an Internet connection, they’re highly accessible!) I compulsively watch certain movies every Christmas – Home Alone, The Santa Clause and, my favorite, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

    I also love the suggestion to craft. You can make crafts out of ANYTHING. Good way to challenge yourself and get in the merry spirit!

    (P.S. I would only accept a prize in the form of a $5 Peet’s gift card, thank you!)

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:31 am

      National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a piece of art. When the aliens come and see that humankind has created such a masterpiece they will turn around and find some other planet to destroy. Thanks for participating!!

  7. Madelaine on December 23, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    My family and I like to get together and sing our traditional family song. We typically do a couple rounds and start with a different person each time so everyone plays an important role. It brings us all together and laughter always ensues. Sorry Mariah Carey, “Puppies” is one holiday song you can’t touch… woof woof!

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:28 am


  8. Rayna on December 25, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I love being home from school for Christmas break and spending time with my family. On Christmas, we always stuff our faces with food (cheesy garlic bread is my personal fav) and play games like cribbage and the train game!! fun and free 😉

    • on December 26, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Hi Rayna! I’m gonna be honest, I ate 4 pieces of garlic bread last night and it wasn’t enough. Great news!! I did a drawing to choose a winner, and you’re the lucky one! I will be in contact with you to coordinate a $50 gift card. If you’d like to see the drawing happen in real-time, check my Instagram story (@dumpster.doggy)!! Congratulations. I’ll touch base over email. Cheers!!