Scrooges can get in the spirit without the spending

christmas-treeHere’s your $24 guide to holiday cheer.

College students seem to be constantly in need of cash. This time of year, though, no one wants to be left out of holiday celebrations — regardless of their financial situation. So here are a few ways to get yourself into the spirit of the season without even spending $25.

The Jingle Bus – $1

Ever notice how some of Milwaukee’s downtown parks get decked out in holiday lights every winter? If you don’t have a car, or you like being able to feel your toes, maybe not — very few people can handle a two-hour walking tour of downtown in the cold.

Fear not, just $1 buys you a ticket on the Jingle Bus. The bus takes you around to the majority of festive sites downtown. The warm tour leaves from Grand Avenue Mall, 161 W. Wisconsin, and lasts for 40 minutes. Catch the bus starting at 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until January 3, 2010. The last bus departs each night at 8:20 p.m.

“A Christmas Carol” – Free to $20

Plays are generally beyond a student budget. The Pabst Theatre, 144 E. Wells St., offers special rates for students, beginning at $20. This takes up the majority of our small budget, but it is well worth it.

Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol,” is performed annually by the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s Professional Theatre Company.

Carole E. Barrowman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, called this year’s production “a gift that’ll warm the cockles of the coldest heart.”

The performance is a short walk from Marquette, or an even shorter walk and bus combination. Check ridemcts.com for directions using the 14 bus line.

Purchase tickets online at MilwaukeeRep.com.

Some of us have never seen the original Dickens play, but many are familiar with Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” For those who can’t or don’t want to pay $20, cozy up to the nearest laptop and watch “A Muppets Christmas Special” on Hulu for free.

Even better, call that friend who is really into the holidays — you know, the one who started listening to Christmas music in October. Borrow a few of his or her DVDs, but don’t forget to return the favor with a cup of cocoa or a Jingle Bus ticket.

Donate Your Time – Free

One of the best ways to get ready for the holidays is to volunteer.  It can give you a sense of well-being in the thought that you are helping others.

Hundreds of organizations need volunteers this year, among them, the Salvation Army.

Joy Cohn, volunteer administrator of the Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Salvation Army Divisional Headquarters, said the organization needs bell ringers to help raise money for the holiday.

“Also, we have need for volunteers for the Toy Shop.  This is a meaningful volunteer opportunity as you would be giving out toys to the parents of greatest need in Milwaukee,” Cohn said.

The Salvation Army Toy Shop gives parents in need the opportunity to give new toys to their children for Christmas, according to Milwaukee’s Salvation Army Web site.

Interested individuals can go to SAMilwaukee.org to sign up.

Cup of Cocoa – $3

To some, the impending months of snowstorms and ice conjure happy images of nights by a fireplace, wrapped in a blanket. The rest of us have a bit more difficulty looking beyond the frozen fingers and shoveling.

The chocolate cure for winter has always been a mug of cocoa, available at local coffee shops for around $3.

Milwaukee also has another local option. The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, an internationally involved organization, is headquartered in the city and produces several hot cocoa mixes for sale.

Steve Wallace, founder and president of Omanhene, said 100 percent of the cocoa the company uses is from Ghana.

The hot cocoa is put into tins in Milwaukee. The labels for the mix are also printed here.

“I’m really trying to link the economy of Ghana and the economy of Milwaukee together,” Wallace said. “We try to equalize relationships rather than exploit them.”

The hot cocoa mix is available at Outpost Natural Foods, Sendik’s Food Markets and Woodman’s stores, among others. Wallace said it generally sells for about $5 in stores and $6.50 at Omanhene.com.

Holiday cheer can get anyone spending, but now with these thrifty suggestions, you can save your money for “books” next semester.