It's easy to add festive accents to your interior without going overboard: a couple of seasonal throw pillows and a blanket can give your living room some holiday flair for under $50 while also keeping you warm and cozy.
If you still want to create a full-fledged meal yourself, you can ease the burden by spreading the cost out over a few weeks. Instead of making a couple of giant shopping trips to buy everything you need all at once, gradually stock up. Start purchasing non-perishable items first and buy the fresh ingredients last. Also, plan for your meal to have leftovers so that your the expense and effort of preparing all that food will last you more than one meal. Freeze things and reheat them in a few weeks when you aren't sick of sweet potato casserole anymore.
Consider homemade gifts. Baking cookies or making candy can be a great money saver if you take advantage of economies of scale and make multiple gifts from one set of ingredients. While the preparation of this gift will take you a few hours, so would shopping for a conventional gift. This way, you get to stay home instead of wandering through a chaotic mall. You won't even have to make a special visit to the store: just pick up the ingredients on your next grocery trip. You may be thinking that most people already have more holiday treats than they can handle, but if you make something different than what they are already likely to have, they probably won't care. Think beyond brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and sugar cookies. You could also give something that they can eat later, like a homemade cookie mix with a recipe card attached. When your gift recipient runs out of holiday goodies, all they'll need are some eggs, butter, and vanilla to enjoy your gift. They'll even be able to re-create it later using your recipe. Look for a large jar to put the ingredients in at a craft store or a garage sale.
If baking isn't your thing, maybe you're crafty: how about putting together a photo album with photos of you and the recipient that you've collected over the years?
Another option is to buy gourmet or semi-gourmet items from the grocery store and repackage them with a clear cellophane bag and some ribbon. Most people won't figure out where you got them from, and even if they do, they probably won't care.
Coupons for services can also be a great deal for both you and the recipient. The gift of time can be the most valuable gift of all, whether it's quality time like going out for a cup of coffee or relief from housework.
Remember, your pets have no idea it's a holiday. They don't need gifts. If you just don't feel the celebration is complete without doing something special for your pets, give them their favorite treat, spend some extra time with them, and they'll be happy. If Fido really needs a new bed, give it to him in March when money's not as tight as it is at Christmastime. Besides, what looks old and grubby to you may look like home sweet home to him!
Photo by Chris_J
(This guy really has a lot of great shots. Check them out!)