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Family fun can be festive and frugal

By Amelia Killcreas
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Celebrating holidays can be expensive, but two Mississippi State University experts said there are ways to create meaningful family traditions without spending excessively.

Joe Wilmoth, MSU assistant professor of human sciences, said traditions are important to family well-being.

“Research has found that participating in rituals actually produces neurobiological effects that encourage warmth and closeness among people,” he said. “Family traditions also help parents teach their values and beliefs to their children and help give the family stability and a sense of belonging.”

And creating traditions doesn’t have to cost much money.

“For many of us, the most meaningful moments of our childhood are simple activities shared with family and loved ones,” Wilmoth said.

He suggested families select the Christmas tree, make decorations, go caroling, or write and illustrate a holiday book together to celebrate the season.

Like Wilmoth, Extension child and family development area agent Carla Stanford suggested that the best family activities are often simple and inexpensive.

“Going to a religious service is a tradition in our family, and nearly every community has a neighborhood or area where the residents really decorate their yards,” she said. “You can make it a yearly tradition to drive around looking at lights, and that can be enjoyable for anyone from 9 months old to 99 years old.”

Gift-giving is another holiday tradition that can become expensive, but Stanford suggested ways to create meaningful gifts that are not costly.

“Writing letters can be a good way to express how you feel to someone. They really mean a lot,” she said. “Another low-cost but meaningful gift is a scrapbook: you can go through old photos and either use the originals or scan them and use copies. If you scan them, you could even make multiple identical scrapbooks for different people.”

Stanford suggested other ways today’s technology can make gift-giving frugal but significant.

“There are Web sites available, such as, where you can create short films for free using video clips, photos or clipart. There are also Web sites that allow users to download songs legally for a small fee, which you could use to make a CD of a person’s favorite music,” she said.

Wilmoth and Stanford agreed that creating meaningful holiday gifts and traditions should start early in the year.

“There are many things that can be done ahead of time, not just on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day,” Stanford said. “For example, if you want to take the emphasis off of material things this holiday season, you can’t start on Dec. 1. You have to teach it to children early, as a way of life.”

Wilmoth noted that planning ahead is especially important in stepfamilies.

“Be flexible, but make all the plans you can as early as you can,” he said. “Begin to develop new traditions, incorporating some from each family if possible...and don’t forget to laugh.”


Released: Nov. 5, 2009
Contact: Dr. Carla Stanford, (662) 489-3910