Do Your Christmas Shopping at Goodwill or another thrift store
Let's get the shopping bit out of the way, shall we? My husband and I only have a few people to shop for this year since we don't have children: our parents, his sister (who also has a birthday on December 30!), and the secret santas where we work. We are buying all of our gifts at Goodwill to save money and trying to get one thing that's meaningful in an emotional sense. For instance, for my parents I'm making a collage of some wedding pictures that they don't have. For his secret santa, my husband is making the Space Balls helmet for a guy who looks just like Michael Winslow and loves the movie.
Down to the facial expression
That first Christmas the Holy Family was away from home when Mary was fit to burst. While waiting for the Messiah, the people of Israel were repeatedly subject to foreign powers from the Persians to the Babylonians to the Romans. So if you can't make it home (or you can, and that's the problem), you're in good company.
Accept that Advent will never be as Holy and Quiet and Meaningful as you want it to be
The entire world is fighting you on this one. While you're trying to limit commercialism and get to the "real meaning of Christmas," you're smacked in the face at every turn by SALES SALES SALES. Don't get bitter about it, there's no point. Just keep your sense of humor and know that nothing this side of heaven is perfect.
On the Other Hand, You're Poor, So You're Ahead of the Game!
Look, you can't worship the god of commercialism if your pockets are empty after rent and doctor bills, so embrace it! It's OK that you can't afford a bunch of junk, because that's kinda not the point.
If You Want Greenery, Ask the Tree Places for Clippings
I learned this trick from my florist mother-in-law. She's a bulldozer and has no qualms about asking for high-quality tree clippings that fall from Frasier firs at Christmas tree farms, and she gets them for free! After all, most of them die unless someone picks them up. If you can't afford a real tree but you want that nice pine smell, get a handful of free clippings and put them in a vase on the table.
Nothing Manufactured is Real
I'm talking about emotions here. You can't force yourself to feel spiritual, no more than you can force excitement or anything else from the inside. You can light a candle, and the very action may bring peace to your home... or it might get knocked down and start a small fire. Who knows. You can drag yourself to midnight Mass and be too tired to enjoy yourself, and then it hits you what you're really celebrating. Or the feelings may not come until the day itself. You may be stuck in your parent's hospital room on Christmas, or working the night shift in the ER, or crying over bills. When Jesus comes back, He won't ask if you felt sufficiently spiritual during Advent.
Kindness Doesn't Cost a Dime
You may not have time to volunteer at the homeless shelter. You may dig in your purse for the Salvation Army kettle and come up with Kleenex and a blackened penny. You may not be able to afford a gift for your own spouse that costs more than a card and homemade cider.
But remember what you can do. You can wait patiently in line at the grocery store and speak nicely to the overworked and exhausted cashier. You can listen to your spouse and kids even when all you want to do is lock yourself in the bathroom and scream. You can be merciful to the choir and priest when the music and sermons are less than exemplary. And if someone wishes you a Happy Holidays, just say "thanks, you too!" instead of filling their ears with a sermon.
Have a blessed Advent!