15 Ways to Celebrate Good Times in Tight Times

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It’s been said that the first casualty of war is truth. That may be true, but right on the heels of truth are holidays, traditions, and celebrations. In the middle of war or other crisis, even a job loss, who has the time to bake a birthday cake or hang Christmas lights? It may not even be something that crosses your mind when you’re just trying to survive. Yet, very little brings a sense of normalcy like celebrating long-standing family holiday traditions. In this article, we’ll look at ways you can celebrate good times in tight times.

image: family celebrate good times in tight times

Amy’s Story: A Tornado and a 9th Birthday

My family lived in Northern Alabama and experienced the April 2011 Tornado Outbreak. We saw one of the tornadoes from our front window. I worked clean up and recovery after the storms; the damage and loss were devastating for so many people. Even those of us that were spared direct damage still had to deal with days (and for some, weeks) of no power.

So, while we of course were thankful for being spared, there could have been a “mini-disaster” of our own because the day after the storms was my daughter’s 9th birthday. We were stuck at home and unable to go out for birthday fun as planned. Thankfully, I had already purchased her presents and had a dessert mix on hand so we were able to plan a last-minute family celebration at home.

Celebrating Doesn’t Minimize a Tragedy

Now, please don’t misunderstand, missing out on a planned birthday party in NO WAY compares to the loss of property and life that was experienced due to these storms. My daughter understood what was happening and was not upset in the least by changing plans. But it made me think about a long-term disaster, losing a job, or TEOTWAWKI event. It will be important to celebrate birthdays and holidays even in the midst of a crisis when at all possible.

My daughter’s 9th birthday is what triggered my desire to add holidays to our family preparedness plan.

Rotate the Celebration Stash

Rotation of these items is easy! When the birthday or holiday comes around, use what you have set aside and then buy something for the next year.

For example, I buy a bag of Halloween Candy on November 1st on sale and add it to the stash. After Valentines Day, I purchase a box of Valentine’s Cards with the candy included. Not only will kids enjoy these, but they will have them to share with others in the neighborhood that might not have planned to celebrate.

Celebrations and the Will to Survive

Think about the emotional boost that your family would get during a crisis event by doing something as simple as celebrating a birthday or having presents to open on Christmas morning. Hard times have a way of putting things into perspective. That looming government shutdown? Temporary. Celebrating a person or event important to you? Priceless.

The celebrations don’t have to be huge, but taking the time to honor the person or the day can lift spirits, increase resilience, bond family members, and just produce some smiles.

Celebrations are something positive to look forward to in the midst of trouble. They help to protect and support our mental health.

They’re a reminder to hope.

15 Ways to Celebrate Good Times in Tight Times

Amy was fortunate to have what she needed to shift gears and still celebrate her daughter’s birthday. But in an ongoing emergency, post-SHTF world, or other circumstance, how can a family, how can YOU, continue celebrating special days when the world as they knew it has come to an end?

Depending on the circumstances, here are a few ideas to help you begin planning and preparing for right now.

1. Know how to bake a cake from scratch

They’re easier to make than you might think. If you’re more ambitious consider learning how to grind your own flour from wheat.  Remember that wheat can have a shelf life of 20 years or more, white flour less than 2 years. Along with the recipe and skill, make sure you have all the ingredients for the cake and the frosting. Most of them will be quite inexpensive.

2. Begin selecting recipes for special days that require inexpensive ingredients

Sounds silly maybe, but one of our favorite Christmas treats of chocolate mint bars ends up costing about $12 for a single batch! I know we can do better with a treat we’ll love just as much but will be easier on the wallet.

3. Use the inexpensive to create special moments and settings

I’ve always loved the look of twinkling white lights, and, surprise! they aren’t just for Christmas anymore! Why not hang a string of lights in your child’s bedroom the morning of their birthday or use them to decorate the backyard or patio for Independence Day? Look for them in the after-Christmas sales. Solar-powered lights are even nicer, since they don’t require electricity and would be a great item to have on hand for power outages.

4. Save special recipes for specific special occasions

Many holidays have a signature food or dish that helps make the day special. For an inexpensive tradition that would be easy to continue through almost any hardship, assign a special recipe for holidays, making sure most of its ingredients can be stored in your long-term pantry.

A Dutch Baby pancake is special and doesn’t require any “fancy” ingredients. Use your imagination and make sure everyone knows that this recipe will now be served every year on this special day.

5. Let the birthday celebrant choose their birthday meal

Another food-related treat is to allow the birthday girl or boy to choose their favorite recipes for their special day. If that’s too risky, then you prepare a menu making foods you know they love and you just happen to have all the right ingredients for!

6. Be on the lookout all year long for incredible bargains

When there’s a great deal on something celebratory, purchase large quantities of it. Sounds vague, I know, but here’s how it worked out for me. One year I was able to buy a massive amount of pink tulle at an unbelievable price. When it was time for my daughter’s 5th birthday, we strung swathes of tulle from the center chandelier in the dining room to each corner of the room and let them drape to the ground. It was an amazing setting for her little-girl tea party.

If you see something on sale and you can’t believe the price, snatch it up. You never know when it will come in handy. By the way, if you’re into frugal living, check out this 52 Weeks Savings Plan!

7. Pay attention to what people casually mention in conversations for inexpensive gift ideas

Throughout the year, keep notes of anything someone mentions that is a potential gift idea. It may already be a frugal buy, but you can also be watching for killer deals on things that cost more.

When my son was 7, he decided he was manly enough to use Axe shower gel and shampoo! So, on Christmas morning he woke up to find sample bottles of Axe products in his stocking, along with a well-wrapped piece of the Limburger cheese he had always wanted to try! Gifts can be practical, and fun, and don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

8. Check discount bins whenever you’re at the store

You never know what you’ll find in the discount bins. Make it a habit to check them whenever you’re at a store that has one. Keep a list on your phone of things you’re wanting or hoping to find. You’ll use your time more efficiently and your money more effectively.

For example, buy a few holiday decorations when they show up in the discount bin at the store., including paper plates and napkins. Sometimes all it takes to make a meal or holiday special is eating it on Christmas Barbie paper plates! After the particular holiday is a great time to purchase for next year at a steep discount.

9. Begin giving the gift of experiences, rather than things

I learned this a few years ago when my sister-in-law and her partner treated my husband and me to a magical dinner at The Melting Pot. While I so often forget gifts and who gave them, I’ll never forget that evening. I’ll bet it’s the same for you and your family.

A gift of a “girls’ day out” is something your mom, sister, or daughter will remember forever, or a “guys’ day only” for father and son. This is a gift of time and attention, things we all too often do not give to our loved ones in this fast-paced world.

10. Have special read-aloud books that are only read on certain holidays

We’ve always had a book basket filled with Christmas books that is pulled out only in the month of December. You can also do this for:

  • Independence Day
  • Easter
  • Advent
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Kwanzaa
  • Hanukkah
  • Ramadan
  • Juneteenth
  • any holiday you want!

11. Set special dates and traditions of your own

Dates and simple traditions give kids something to look forward to and help bond the family together. 

For example, families with adopted kids often celebrate “Gotcha! Day”, the day their child officially joined the family. Or make it a family “rule” that, “We don’t listen to Christmas music until December 1,” or “Our family always has a family bike ride to the park on Mother’s Day.”

It also establishes what makes your family unique, as in, “Our family only eats pizza on Fridays!”

12. Candles make any celebration just a little more special

Stock up on candles and enjoy a family candlelight dinner on birthdays or Valentine’s Day. Any holiday, really. Kids have seen candlelight dinners in TV shows and movies, but to have one in their own home??? Wow! And, the nice thing for Mom is that it doesn’t even matter what’s on the plate! Check thrift stores for inexpensive candles and other things mentioned in this list.

13. In truly hard times, sacrifice a little bit each day in order to provide something special later

I’ll never forget learning about one of the moms in the ill-fated Donner party, who was stranded in a tiny cabin surrounded by snow that came up to the rooftop. She set aside tiny bits of food for weeks at a time just so she could tell her kids on Christmas morning, “Today you can eat all you want!” Even nickels and dimes add up when saved over a period of months.

14. Plan for attrition now

Sooner or later your stash of wrapping paper and ribbon will run out. How could you creatively wrap presents in the future?

Christmas ornaments will eventually break, fade, or become otherwise unusable. How could you decorate a Christmas tree when your stash of ornaments dwindles?

The products we normally use to make holidays special may not be as easily accessible in the future. Therefore, it would be smart to stock up on your favorite items now and plan for alternatives down the road.

15. Remember that your attitude sets the stage for any event

If you’re feeling depressed because the money isn’t there for expensive family traditions, the whole family will feel the loss instead of looking forward to a fun, new tradition.

Moms are wired to give and to want to give the best they possibly can to their kids, but consider this. Is it possible that we’ve put too much emphasis on things and other material distractions? Have we forgotten that we are what our loved ones want more than anything?  I’ve seen parents sitting with their kids at expensive birthday parties, immersed in their iPhones or trying to impress the other adults by showing off their own new “toys”.

Bonus: This is second only to decorations in creating a party atmosphere!

Music! You’ve probably already got a lot of music available to you. Create a party playlist with music appropriate to the occasion. Instant atmosphere! Here’s an old favorite to get you started:

Create instant party atmosphere with music.

Help! These are great ideas but I didn’t plan ahead and I need something now!

First of all, don’t panic! You can’t help anyone if you freak out. More than likely you’ll just put everyone on edge. See #15 above.

If you find yourself in the midst of a shelter-in-place and haven’t planned ahead for some of these events, look around the house for something you can make. If you know how to knit or crochet, draw or paint, weave, make jewelry, etc, you can have supplies on hand to create a nice gift. The ability to bake cakes, cookies, or brownies and a few balloons or streamers will help create a festive occasion. (Here are some tips on how to properly store cookie ingredients.) Be sure to have craft items for children so they can get involved in decorating and making gifts for each other.

Once you start thinking outside the box, you’ll probably come up with a number of ideas. (Read more about the dangers of functional fixedness here. Also see #1, #2, #3, #9, #11….actually just go back and reread the whole list with an open mind. You’ll think of something.

A Final Thought on Celebrating Good Times in Tight Times

A difficult future is going to be made easier if family bonds are tight and the love is strong. There’s nothing quite like traditions and holidays to establish and reinforce those bonds, and tight times shouldn’t mean the end of these celebrations. Survival Moms are creative enough to overcome anything!

What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate good times in tight times?

Originally published May 19, 2015; updated and revised by Team Survival Mom with contributions from Amy VR.

18 thoughts on “15 Ways to Celebrate Good Times in Tight Times”

  1. Wonderful list!! Lots of great things to keep in mind even when we're not in dire straits. Events and things aren't special inherently, but we can MAKE anything special! 🙂

  2. It is great fun to decorate your Xmas tree with popcorn and holly berries. All you need is a needle and thread to make the strings. No need for lights and it turns out beautifully

  3. My lil bird in the city just said she has absolutely no money to spend on Christmas presents this year, so I shouldn't buy her anything. This is an area where MOM'S pep talk comes in handy. It will be still Christmas with or without presents. It's not about buying things that make us happy or content, it's the giving from the heart that fulfills and creates the sweetest smiles.

  4. I didn't understand this part of point #3: " Look for them in the after-Christmas sales and be sure to stock up before the LEDs take over completely."

    Why would I go out of my way to try to buy non-LED, inefficient, short-life, fragile lites when I could be stocking up on a great cheap prepper asset ?!? Maybe its just a typo or maybe I'm misreading this.

    1. LEDs don't twinkle. LOL

      It's my own personal preference. Incandescants say, "It's a party!". LEDs say, "The government made me buy these. They're better than nothing. Whee."

  5. Knitting is another way to make Christmas gifts. Bright new mittens look great on a Christmas tree. I don't knit a lot, but my kids have always taken great care of the mittens and scarves I made for them. (love in every stitch). For mittens, I use a technique called thrumming, which looks like little white hearts on the outside, and is all thick and fuzzy warm on the inside, great for our Canadian winters. The kids have told me they love it that their mitts and scarves are original, handmade just for them. My mom lived in Europe during terrible times in the 1940s. She said women would undo the yarn from old sweaters and things and knit brand new things from the old yarn.

  6. Its a great idea to start inexpensive/ free traditions before time get rough. Then our families will feel the loss a lot less when money isn't there. Thanks for the great list!

  7. Making presents for each other has always been a tradition in our family. One year my brother made my daughter a cradle, or my sister knitted a blanket for my parents, or my mother emborderied pillowcases for my kids. These are gifts that are appreaciated and meaniningful.

    Family time, cheap, easy and fun. Playing together, those are inexpensive traditions as well.

  8. How about cloth gift bags? Made from holiday fabric, or heck just family stockings, nothing says it has to be wrapped under the tree, just stuff the stockings and lay them under there.

  9. If you are not up to making cloth gift bags, you can use fabric from a stash for wrapping, skip the tape, tuck the rough edges under and tie with string, ribbon or even paracord. for larger presents, a pillowcase or even a bedsheet works well. One year I wrapped my daughter;s “better” present in a thrift store tee shirt–a two in one present! Also, if you give some kind of survival type item with every holiday, they will be prepared without much budget strain!

  10. It’s been a rough year for us. When Mother’s Day rolled around my (grand)daughter was upset she couldn’t buy me what she wanted to. We had a long talk where I reinforced the fact that memories are the most important things to me. That morning she presented me with the most wonderful letter of her memories of the 2 of us together. From age 3 to 14, it was WONDERFUL!!! Then she informed me I would always have it to help me remember even if I started loosing my memory some day.
    I laughed and cried at the same time. Those are the kinds of gifts we all need.

  11. Some really helpful ideas. Preparing for emergencies with food storage and other survival skills is obviously important but building frugal financial habits is indespensible. It is more likely that you will go through a time of financial uncertainty than your house will be destroyed by a tornado. There are some really great ideas here and it will teach kids such valuable life lessons to see their parents setting these examples.

  12. I have a party box I put together for ” hard times ahead”. I found rolls of party streamer for a 25 cents, I bought red white and blue mostly but other colors,too, balloons, Little hanging signs with Happy Birthday, and Happy New Year ect, this is my happy box. I even have napkins and pretty party plates, this box cost less than $10 to put together. I have a box I have for just Christmas too. Both boxes are carry sizes.

  13. I had my kids choose which kind of cake with which kind of frosting we will have on their birthday. I also got a ‘birthday banner’ (a cheap mylar one) to hang for all birthdays. I got some eyerolls from teenagers, but as adults they’ve told me how special it was to them. I just got another birthday banner to use for my grandkids, who I do after school daycare for.

  14. A few thoughts, in no particular order:

    We have a pair of birthday hats that look like a cake, complete with candles. (we have twins, so we needed two) The birthday person is always photographed at the dinner table, candles lit on the cake, in the hat.

    One year, in December, I needed to fly across the country to say goodbye to a dear friend. As mom, I generally do the Christmas stuff; decorating, shopping, wrapping. When I returned home, I was in a panic about wrapping. So I used gift bags. Paper, fabric, reused Amazon gift bags. Since then I have invested in cloth bags and a wrapping paper organizer to have all the bags, ribbon, wrapping paper, scissors, tape and tags all in one place. Bags, and ribbon and tissue paper gets reused.

    Experiences! We get together to bake Christmas cookies and decorate them. Yes, it’s messy, and my little niece eats more frosting than ever lands on a cookie, but we have fun. Christmas music plays, all the decor is up and we have created memories.

    Homemade gifts. I don’t know how to knit or crochet, but I can cook and bake lemon, shortbread cookies for my mother-in-law‘s favorite gift. A loaf of good, crusty, homemade bread, and a jar of homemade marmalade makes my father-in-law happy as a pig in mud, as does a pot of his favorite potato soup. None of us need more stuff. Books, however, are the exception. Search used bookstores and libraries who often sell donated books for gifts.

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