How Can I Spend Less on Presents Without Looking Cheap?

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Katie from Rolla, Missouri writes:

Everyone else in our family makes a lot of money and buys expensive Christmas gifts for us. I’m getting ready to become a stay at home mom, which will stretch us even more. I’m wondering how to buy presents for the rest of the family without looking ridiculous and being embarrassed. My husband and I can have Christmas without lots of presents, but the extended family gatherings are stressing me out financially. How can we get around this and still seem generous?


You can save money on gifts by shopping wisely and presenting them nicely. Here’s a perfect example: One time I found my mother in law’s favorite bath gel on clearance for $1.00 instead of the $8.00 it normally costs. I bought all they had left and then, for several holidays, I made nice gift baskets with new items from the dollar store, yard sales and the thrift store. She would never have known that the $30 value only cost me $5-$7 for each one! Of course, we put the money we would have spent toward paying off our credit cards to get out of debt instead of just spending it.

Buy family or couples gifts instead of individual ones. Present the whole family with a fun game and maybe a basket with popcorn and some hot cocoa mix. Give a couple a pair of tickets for a movie with a coupon for free babysitting.  Of course, you could always suggest things like drawing names or just getting things for the children or something like that.

Listen to what they like. Then keep your eye out for good deals at clearance aisles, thrift stores and yard sales. If someone collects something small, make up a nice little gift with several of those small things. Here’s a good example: My daughter collected penguins last year. We collected several over a few months and then made a nice box filled with penguins for her. She never knew and wouldn’t have cared that the cost was only a couple of dollars. It made a huge impression because it was something she liked and because of the way we packaged it.

Remember when shopping for gifts, it’s not so much how much you spend but how you present it. If you think about it, when you pay more for something at the store, what you’re often paying for is just the presentation. Sometimes you can make a small or inexpensive gift seem like it cost more by the way you present it or wrap it.


Also remember you don’t always have to spend money for gifts. One of the gifts I treasured most was a set of pillow cases my husband’s grandmother gave me. She had made them as a young bride and stored them away. It wasn’t even the fact it was homemade because I embroidery my own pillow cases all the time but it was more precious because it was a family heirloom – something of hers- that could be passed down. You could do this with anything. My grand kids mention knick knacks they love and different things. As they get older I will tuck the thing they loved in with something else little for a really nice gift.



photo by:  voxtheory


  1. Sandra says

    If you can’t and shouldn’t “compete” with your family in the gift giving
    cost department then then make up for it in the generosity of whatever your have. I’ll bet most of those spending those big bucks are couples with both partners working full time to pay for everything, so maybe you can give a gift of time. A certificate to take all the kids to a movie matinee one Weekend and then over to your house for an evening of games will serve both as a gift to the kids and a date night for the parents or a spa night for Mom. I know when my kids were little I longed for just a few hours with no one screaming Mommy or Honey every 2 minutes.
    Homemade goodies are another big treat. When you are working and commuting 10-12 hrs a day who has time for home made goodies. If you have a speciality make it. If you have a particular dish they love. Make them a certificate to make them a complete meal and bring it over at 6:00pm on one of those nights Mom has to work late. If you are working yourself, maybe one of your stay at home moms would bake you 6 loaves of her famous banana nut bread in exchange for you getting enough supplies to bake her 6 too. Do they make a fabulous Red Velvet cake? Buy her the ingredients and give a broke stay at home Mom $10 and she would probably be happy to make you one. You don’t necessarily have to do everything yourself. The price of the ingredients and what you pay will undoubtably be less than you would spend trying to buy each member of the family a seperate cheap gift and would be something they would never get for themselves. Do you have a particular talent? Into art? paint them a picture that will coordinate with their decor. Just use what you have. I know some of my most treasured gifts are ones a friend or relative made for me or had someone else make because they knew I loved a particular style or color or type of collectable. That home made Christmas Wreath my daughter-in-law made with all my pets on it comes out every christmas whereas that lead crystal bowl that costs 10 times as much and was bought because someone thought it was pretty and they were in a hurry is hidden in the back of my china cabinet.

  2. Paula says

    Hi Katie…Try local church “Christmas Bazaars”. Many of the items are donated and the church ladies will make up baskets to sell at some amazing prices. One year my mother picked up a basket for $5…It contained dish towels, small ornaments, nice candle, nice basket and some floral picks all tied up with cellophane. I opened it carefully, reused the basket and cellophane with the dish towels, added 2 mugs and some tea (1 gift), wrapped up the fancy candle (2 gifts), used the floral picks on a wreath (3 gifts), and hung the angel ornaments on my tree (4th gift to ME!)…

    Head to the craft store (they have amazing sales and don’t forget the 50% off coupon in the weekly ads)…Grab pine or grapevine wreaths. Add some nice wired ribbon (for bows) some scented pine cones, some floral picks and make holiday wreaths. Be sure to check with Walmart and the dollar store for some cheap filler (beads, ornaments, picks, teddy bears etc)…Check crafting websites for ideas.

    Also, you could bake. I bought a cookie gun for about $10 and some sprinkles/sugars etc from the dollar store, along with a package of paper doilies, beautiful trays or tins and cellophane or better yet shrink wrap (the kind of cellophane you heat with a hair dryer for a nice tight fit). The cookie gun will knock out cookies quick as a wink, line the trays with doilies, pile on the cookies, and shrink wrap for a bakery ready gift. Use lots of curling ribbon, or a fancy bow…

    A few words of FREE advice… Set your priorities. After God, you and your husband come FIRST (NOT last)…My husband and I gave up gifts to give MORE to our only daughter. I shopped sales, clearances etc to put a big pile of gifts under the tree… Last year I was told if we didn’t give her a WII or some other expensive thing, she didn’t want anything and I could cancel Christmas. My heart was broken. Then I was angry. First, I had bought her a LOT of nice things and didn’t have extra for the Wii. Then I was furious at how self centered she was (our fault)… After I blew my stack and tossed our Christmas decorations out to the curb, our lives have changed for the better around here. We cut WAAAAAYYY back on giving and Mom and Dad are no longer a walking ‘Wish Book’. This year she will receive some nice gifts, but nothing compared to past years. My husband and I now exchange gifts (sometimes something small depending on finances-we’re in debt and trying to dig out from under it)… We make OUR relationship a priority, because after the kids are grown, it will be you and him. This also shows the kids (and relatives) who comes first in your life…Have a Merry Christmas Katie (and everyone else)

  3. anna says

    The best Christmas I have had in a long time was one where we all drew out one name (adults and grown kids) and we gifted to that one person. The limitations were that the gift had to be home made, second hand, or something pre-loved of your own. AND.. it had to have a story.. for example why and how the person came by it.. or why that thought of the giftee.. it was a lovely Christmas.. with all the stories providing a richness and sense of love and togetherness that has hardly been rivaled since.

    Another thing my husbands Nanna (grandmother) did is got everyone to bring a present.. it had to be no more than $5.. and everyone had a lucky dip.. she gave everyone some chocolate coins too.. then we opened gifts and we could bargain, swap, negotiate and cajole to get the presents we liked.. it was all very fun.. and the little kids loved it.. the gifts were very thoughtful too.. i was amazed at what people did with their $5.. made things, shopped well.. and it was a fun game we all were in fits of giggles with the antics and bargaining.

    I guess the idea here is that what ever you do.. if you make it a game.. then everyone can get in on the fun.. and it becomes more about the experience, love joy and cheer than the present. It brings back the idea that its the thought that counts.

  4. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Paula, thanks for sharing your story that you needed to show your daughter than you and your husband needed to demonstrate your love for each other in a tangible way, and not just spend all your Christmas funds on her.

    I am appalled at the greed fest my indebted sister gives her kids every holiday. No child can handle that many toys and she is setting a bad example.

  5. Sarah says

    Just a quick idea…every year we have a party with all the in-laws, aunts and uncles and grandparents. The grandkids get a gift from the grandparents and there is usually something small for the grandparents. Afterwards, we all play bingo. Everyone brings a small wrapped gift and puts it in the middle, when someone gets a bingo they can unwrap a gift or steal one that someone else has unwrapped. We play until there are no presents left. It’s great fun, especially because there usually is one “better” gift that everyone wants. The catch is, that if your gift is stolen you can’t steal it back, and there can only be two steals, the third person has to unwrap a new present and is stuck with it.
    This was a very inexpensive way to have a lot of fun…and everyone, no matter the age can participate!

  6. barb~ says

    An inexpensive memory making idea-last year I brought out an old plain white tablecloth. I decided to let the kids draw on it at first and write their names in markers. I then thought the adults might enjoy adding something. I asked older family members to write something-either a greeting, memory, or something they were thankful for. I got out pieces of trims, yarns, sequins, etc. from my sewing stash. We all had a blast-coloring, gluing, sewing… The most fun was drawing around the baby’s hands and feet. It was pretty sensational when we were finished and definitely one of a kind. We gave it to my grandmother to keep until this year. She plans to bring it back and I’m sure we’ll add more!

    • says

      To Barb: Please make sure this tablecloth is handed down to a relative that will cherish it. I was in Goodwill & saw a tablecloth for sale that was similar. I stood there & tears came because it had ended in goodwill. It looked as though it had been around a long time because of the dates. I just couldnt believe a family member had given it away. Such a sad waste of memories & family history. I even thought about buying it & seeing if I could trace the family….so sad.

      • Ellen says

        Cathy, please don’t feel bad. That particular tablecloth wasn’t mine, but I recently had to clear out my mom’s house of “precious family memories” from several generations, and even other branches of the family. Everbody who already had more family stuff than they could deal with dumped it on my mom because she felt like it was her job to keep everything, forever. Sometimes there were multiple items that were almost identical. My poor mother was so buried in “stuff” that she was horribly depressed and every corner of her house was loaded to the max – we had the charity truck coming every month for two years. I have lots of wonderful family heirlooms from my and my husband’s family, but we just couldn’t keep everything and had to make decisions about what to let go. Be happy that somewhere out there is a family so rich in memories that this tablecloth was the “cup running over”. And be happy for them that they are going to have a house where they can breathe without mold, run around without tripping on anything, and sleep easy without an attic full of fire hazards.

        • says

          Ellen I have to say amen to that. My mom has given me some things and I have gone through a bunch of her stuff and some of it just needs to go. She doesn’t even know what some of it was or whose it was. Part of why I get rid of these types of things is I want to save the really important stuff that I want my family to remember and not have it so mixed in with things or others so they don’t know what is what or the important stuff accidentally gets tossed with the things that belong to others we don’t even know.

  7. HockeyMomof2boys says

    I love the table cloth idea. What a treasure for years to come! And great advice on priorities. The best gift we can give our kids is a healthy marital relationship at home. So often it is easy to put our spouses in the corner to make sure the kids have “everything,” whatever that may be. I know I have to work on this every day. I love my boys, all my boys especially their daddy, and I have to make sure I am doing my part to work on our marriage and not take it for granted. Say I love you every day and mean it. We never know what life will throw at us and things can change in a moment. Merry Christmas everyone!!

  8. Jacquie says

    I try to make family members a favorite cookie. My brother likes butterscotch chip cookies. His wife works full time so this is a big treat for him.

  9. Monique says

    Along the same lines as Anna’s gift giving, when our family gets together for Thanksgiving, our family also takes a name out of a hat and then in another hat we each pull a letter from the alphabet in another hat, leaving out some of the more difficult letters that might be hard to find a gift such as “Z”, “X”, etc. Then we find a gift beginning with the letter pulled for the name selected. We keep the monetary cost of each gift to $20 or under. Sworn to secrecy, we never know who is buying our gift or what the gift will be until Christmas.

    The “gifts” can be quirky, unique, just plain odd or a gift that a person can use. We all get a lot of laughs when we look at what another received. No pressure of finding the perfect gift and the cost is significantly decreased.

  10. Nancy says

    The best gifts I have received were homemade. My step daughter, was in college, and had very little money. She made all of the females, in the family a darling throw. She actually bought very inexpensive fleece throws and individualized each one. She cut out a gingerbread man, a Christmas tree, a large ornament, etc. out of felt, and attached them with a simple blanket stitch. She bought some colored buttons at a craft shop, and used them for eyes on the gingerbread man, and for “ornaments” on the Christmas tree, and for highlights on the ornaments. We all loved them! I’ve seen the throws for less than five dollars each. The cost isn’t important. It is the thoughtfulness, creativity and love that is put into a gift. My daughter made us mop dolls one year that were wonderful, and much loved. She is not particularly crafty, but needed numerous gifts, and had little money, so she went to a craft store for ideas, and saw the mop doll idea and ran with it. She individualized each with ribbons that matched our rooms.

    The year that I was jobless and broke, I made wonderful gift baskets with thrifted items, mostly from Goodwill on half-price days. I found a beautiful set of glasses, that looked new, also a set of new white linen dinner napkins, all for less than five dollars. I wrapped each napkin around each of eight glasses, and tied them with red ribbon, also thrifted. I added a few pretty ornaments and arranged it all attractively in a lovely basket also purchased from Goodwill for a dollar. They sell large bags of ornaments every year before Christmas, and you can find some lovely ornaments among the not-so-lovely ones. They price is about $2.99 for a large plastic bag full. I look at each bag to see the infinite possibilities before I purchase.

    I buy a roll of cellophane at Wal Mart, and wrap it around each basket and tie a lovely bow at the top. It is all about presentation. You can make a theme basket around anything that you chose. These baskets look expensive and can be beautiful. Use your imagination. You can find one object and build a basket around that. Examples: A thrifted bird house, some bird seed, etc. You can make beautiful wreaths for under ten dollars. I just made two, and they are lovely. I used ornaments that I found at Goodwill, in one of those bags of misc. ornaments. The wreaths were four dollars each at Wal-Mart, but I’ve seen them for less at Goodwill. I bought one bunch of Christmas greenery (silk) and separated it and placed it on the wreaths in a pleasing pattern. I glued the ornaments in strategic places. One, I sprayed with a little artificial snow. They are gorgeous. They were about $6.00 each, but I could have done it for less. One has Victorian Angels on it and one has Old World Santa’s on it. Use what you have or can find for pennies on the dollar. Wal-Mart also has lovely over-the-door wreath holders for $2.00 to $2.50. A beautiful wreath with a wreath holder is a wonderful gift!

    I have made gift “baskets” with other thrifted items, for the little ones. I found a little plastic wagon, and filled it with thrifted large leggos, for a three year old. Loved it! You can find like-new toys that just need a little clean up, and think of a unique way to present them.

    Goodwill always has nice baskets for one or two dollars. I have put some of them in the sink and sprayed them off to make sure they are clean. The willow ones and other wooden ones clean beautifully. I have spray painted them red, white or green, or just leave them natural if they are pretty. Put a little white tissue paper in the bottom and use your imagination to fill. The cellophane and ribbon make them very pretty.

    For my husband, I made a fishing themed basket, with a thrifted book, on fishing, and some vintage lures I bought on eBay. The possibilities are endless.

    You don’t need a lot of money, just a little imagination, and a couple good thrift stores nearby.

    • Judi Dymond says

      Nancy, love your ideas. They sound sooo nice. I collect old sugar bowls and the best place to find them are thrift stores and yard sales. Everyone knows what I collect and if they want to give me a gift that is the way to my heart. When my kids were small I’d do whatever I could to give them a nice Christmas. Years ago my ex husband’s aunt gave me a crocheted basket for a bath towel that I duplicated. I was able to get the towels free, bought inexpensive wash cloths.

  11. Margaret says

    Our family used to go crazy with gift giving, until several family members could no longer afford to do this. We then began to pick a family members name out of a hat at thanksgiving, so we each would only buy for one at Christmas. This evolved to the White elephant gift-Just buying a gift & playing the games where you could steal a gift or pick a new one when it was your turn. Now, though, we have all decided that instead of wasting money on things we don’t need,and wasting time shopping for “stuff” we would rather adopt a family in need & shop for them. Then we just enjoy the day, remembering it is Christ’s birthday, with church, family ,& friends. Usually a beautiful, peaceful day.

  12. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    I forgot to mention, I have a house full of stuff. Please don’t feel you need to get your Aunt Grizzly anything. If you must give her something homemade cookies are fabulous. If you must do storebought, please try brownie mixes. They always taste good.

  13. Alisa says

    My husband and I are debt because of some choices he made and now we are struggling to get out. We have made a limit of $10 per grandchild (there are 11 of them) this Christmas. I can figure what to get or make for the babies and very young ones, but I’m stumped for the teenagers, 16B, 16G, 13G, 12B. Any ideas?

    • Nancy says

      Alisa, I have the same problem, and have come up with a few ideas that worked.
      I found a group of five Ertl old fashioned cars on and had the winning bid, at a pretty reasonable price., They are well made of metal and are banks. They are collectable. I decided which teenagers got which cars, and put Kennedy half dollars, Sacagawea dollars and Susan B. Anthony dollars inside. I’ve seen the banks as high as $25.00 each on eBay, but I got the group for much less on shopgoodwill. It’s a unique gift and affordable.

      One year, my husband made small square banks, and we taped dollar bills end to end and rolled them up and put one edge through the slot in top of the bank. When they pulled on the dollar, a string of them came out. They loved that.

      You can also find nice books, that look new. Put some bills, randomly, between the pages.

  14. says

    for the 16 year olds. If you live fairly close give them a couple invitations to come for a weekend when they need to get away from their parents. I know at 16 I sure could have used a few of those just to go and talk to grandma and grampa when my parents didn’t understand me.
    My father was not a nice man and one year my grandma gave me $2. She said to use it to call her when I really needed to talk. I never used it because we didn’t air our dirty linen to others. But just knowing I had the $2. if I needed it and knowing that grandma was there for me made a great difference in my life at the age of 10.
    She loved me even if nobody else did.
    Kids need to know there is someone to talk to so an invitation to do just that is appreciated even to a teen.
    you get 1 on 1 time with them and they get a chance to cool down and learn from you.
    Or a few certificates to a burger place that is a favourite.

    this could be for all 4 of them at separate times offer to teach them to cook a favourite meal or something different that they would like to try.

    One summer I was at my grandparents farm I was about 13 and my aunt taught me to ride a horse. We lived in a small town and horses fascinated me so the best gift from them was letting me ride the horses. I still love horses and would love to ride again. Can’t do it but the memory of those days is still front and center in my memories.

    Find something they enjoy and think of a way that you can add to their pleasure with your presence instead of your money.

  15. Paula says

    Hi Alisa…Our 16yr old loves this store GAMESTOP, where you can buy and sell new or used video games when they tire of them…Also, for the girls, there are a TON of makeup kits, nail kits, etc…Also, try the craft store…If you knit, maybe a set of needles and some funky colored yarn with the promise to teach her how to knit on a Grandma and me weekend sleepover…Our daughter asks my mother to take her for her birthday (fast food lunch and hit the craft store for a gift)or a sleepover weekend to do crafts together. Kids today crave attention, and some one on one time. Check clearance and ebay for things she’s ‘into’ (cats, etc). I found a retro (50’s) cat statue with rhinestone eyes and collar, that a certain 16 yr old will receive this year…They also like funky toe socks, scarves, ANYTHING Plaid….
    Sorry, I’m no help with the boys!!
    Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!!!

  16. Mari says

    I always remember a really thoughtful gift that a friend of mine got me many Christmasses ago, when times were really tight for me. She gave me a great big box, all wrapped up in Christmas paper, and when I opened it on Christmas Day I found it was full of things I use every day, like tea bags, coffee, crackers, cereal, tinned food of all kinds, and luxury items like Christmas pudding and a lovely little Christmas cake. So, basically, a food hamper! I was really touched that she’d put so much thought into her gift, rather than just going into a store and buying an “impersonal” gift off the shelf.

    For your teenagers, Alisa, how about small inexpensive items of make up for each girl, put into a little basket and tied with a nice bright ribbon? My local pharmacy usually has a basket full of sale items on the counter, things like nail varnish, eye shadow and lipstick. You could shred brightly coloured paper and use that in the base of the basket.

    Now for the boys…well that is always a little more difficult! I always look on eBay for bargains – I found a USB laptop cooling pad for £4.99 (around $10) the other day, ideal for a teenager who uses a laptop frequently (as they all seem to do LOL!) You can get interactive DVD games for bargain prices, and CD compilations of pop music. But boys are notoriously more difficult to buy for, I always think! Good Luck! x

  17. Terrie says

    Cash always makes a nice gift for anyone, especially teens! Pam Young has an “Everybody Loves Money” video available for purchase at and sticker kits to decorate money with I have heard many of her ideas for free through e-mails from

    I have found a cute ornament or small gift from the dollar store and found a way to attach or enclose cash for a gift. Or consider a small handmade gift or homemade goodies to go with the cash.

    • Denise says

      Try a movie night. Host a pot luck or make pizza from scratch. Watch a movie that you can agree on at home. Bring one that may have received at Christmas or something from netflix. It cost less than the movie theater and you can have fun, too.

  18. Andrea says

    If your teens have a favorite dish of yours, prepare it for them… of my sisters baked 16 of my favorite cookies for me on my 16th birthday…I cannot recall any of the other presents I received. Another sister homebaked a version of Danish Wedding cookies and sent them to me….both are gifts I treasure beyond any “thing” they could have bought for me.

  19. elizabeth says

    Boy can I relate to this. I used to get caught up with this as well, with my extended family. We felt very stressed and uncomfortable bc we could not possibly reciprocate in the same manner. It really started to ruin the holidays for me. As I have gotten older, I notice I care less about these kinds of things though. I have started planning in the summer gift baskets for people and I often do a “couples” or “family” gift.

    For example, this year my sister and her husband is getting a lovely basket which can be reused and would be great for magazines, etc. Inside i am putting a Monaoploy game, a cuddly throw, a pizza gift card (bought for charity), a popcorn bowl and microwave popcorn, severaL boxes of movie theater style candy, and a gift card for video rental. Everything was on sale/clearance except the gift cards. Total I spent about $30 for the 2 of them but it looks really nice. They have had a rough year and are low on $, I figured this would give them a few fun nights at home for free.

    My parents are health nuts so they will be getting a basket filled with several local, organic treats which I have purchased little by little. I want them to have a nicer gift so I will add a gift card to Whole Foods, but hopefully it will look nicer packaged up with the other goodies.

    I find shopping little by little helps me stay on budget too. People who I like to give “a little something” to, I usually bake up several banana breads, make easy fudge, or bag up a festive trail mix. That’s it. Baking really is a great way to share a gift very cheaply.

  20. Sandra says

    several ideas for cute, cheap gifts. As everyone has already said #1 Gift Baskets! Gift Baskets!, Gift Baskets! They are suitable for any age, any size, any price range. When creativity fails go for the practical. When my girls were off at school they loved getting goodie baskets filled with their favorite shampoo, conditioner, deoderant, cologne, some razors, shave cream, lotion, chap sticks, bath scrubbies, pretty face towels, manicure sets and other necessities that I was going to have to buy anyway, was just a matter of whether I wanted to pretty it up as a gift or wait till they got back to school and got the ” Mama I need some money call”. #2 For the “little old ladies” or “young ladies” on you list you can take a Sweat shirt (buy 2 sizes larger than normal, split it straight down the front, bind the cut edges and around the base of the neckband with colorful bias binding, lace, or grosgrain ribbon and it makes a perfect casual cool weather sweater. I make them for my older sister who is in a nursing home and everyone loves them. Comfortable, washable, easy to make, quick, and cheap. For the little ones add some teddy bear buttons or make them in the school colors. Cost is about $7.00 or less if you get some sweatshirts this spring when they go on summer markdown to use next fall. #3 dollar roses – there is an easy pattern on line, they are super easy to make. It takes 5 $1 bills for each rose so how ever much you want to spend that is how many you make. I go to the dollar store and get a cheap bunch of artificial roses, place the dollar roses among them and wrap them with tissue paper and ribbon like a florest’s bouquet or put them in a bud vase with a couple of red roses. Makes a cute presentation for $6.00 up.

  21. Sandra says

    For the teen boys, if they are into video games you can get a vast variety on Ebay starting at $1.99 ea. Out of the dozens that I have bought there has only been one that was defective and they promptly refunded my money. For the young men baskets with razors, shaving cream, Axe or other loud smelling toiletries. For the younger girls small samples of multiple colors of lipstick, eyeshadow, nailpolish, perfume samples, etc. at that age they are still experimenting and most do not have fixed ideas about what colors and scents they like the most. – For their bathroom get one of those metal wall mount file holders and decorate with a few of those wooden flowers with magnetic tape on the back. They are perfect for holding those hot curling irons and blow dryers, put a few s hooks on it to hold scrunchies and pony tail holders. Dayplanner calenders/address books were always popular with both my girls and boys. Now days they have so many “on line” friends that they had a hard time keeping track of all the different email addresses, cell phones, etc. and to them true tradegy is to have a computer crash or lost cell phone with all it’s stored numbers.

  22. says

    One way to save money on gifts for children is to ask the parents if they have room for that 8’X 4’X 3’6″ Gi Joe Aircraft carrier. Before you buy it. Or would a handful of the characters and few jeeps and tanks be better.
    I used this example because my BIL bought just that for my sons years ago. It took up the entire living room and we only had the living room since we were in a small apt.
    But anything huge should be discussed with parents. After all for the most part they are the ones cleaning up and storing things.
    So yes get the child what they have if there is a rhyme or reason to their wants but ask parents for suggestions of yes and no so you know what will be prized or stored.
    Saves you money and maybe even a friendship with the parents.

  23. Angie M. says

    I second Grandma’s comment…definitely check with the parents on bigger gifts before giving.

    One time, one of my aunt’s gave my oldest son a play tent for his birthday. It was really cute…it had the characters from one of my son’s favorite Disney movies on it…A Bug’s Life. It had the plastic tube frame to put together and then the material to go over it.

    The only problem…it was quite large and we lived in a 900 square feet, 2 bedroom house. My son only had room for a bed, dresser and a couple of toy boxes in his room. The only place he could put the tent together and play in it was in the middle of my small living room floor.

    He did enjoy the tent but the funniest thing…when that tent had seen better days and had to be tossed, he was just as happy playing in the tents and forts we made out of kitchen chairs and blankets. And I was happier because when we were done, the chairs went back to the kitchen and the blankets back on the beds. If my aunt had asked before giving this gift, I would have suggested A Bug’s Life DVD or a few of the characters instead of the tent.

    My parent’s are very thoughtful when it comes to gift giving for their grandchildren. They have always considered the space we have and how much of something the child already has before buying gifts.

    My oldest son was their first grandchild and they did go a bit overboard with toys to start. I did too…but we quickly learned that the toys accumulated too quickly and the child gets too overwhelmed with too much to play with.

    Angie M.

  24. Wanda says

    There are some really great ideas here. They mainly work if you look for things all year, not just before the holiday. I love looking for special things at Goodwill, I just don’t tell where they come from. It’s a special secret only a few people are privy to. This website is terrific.

  25. rose says

    i am making all homemade gifts .. laundry soap, jam, and the next project i am working on is pumpkin butter … i figure something homemade is a good thing ..
    lots of great ideas on xmas gifts here on the website wanda …

  26. Nancy says

    I have seen (and purchased) beautiful, like new, books at Goodwill. Many of them look like they were gifts, that were never opened. If there is writing on the first, blank page, I have used a single edge razor blade to remove that page. I put a piece of cardboard under it and cut carefully, as close to the binding as possible. You can’t tell a page is missing.

    I look for books that are of interest to the older kids, and randomly place cash between pages. If all you can afford is $5.00, place five one dollar bills between random pages. Kids love cash.

    I found some large jar candles on clearance at the grocery store. They look just like the $28.00 Yankee Candle jar candles. I removed the plain, rather ugly label and tied a pretty ribbon around the neck of the jar, and they will be a wonderful addition to my thrifted, homemade gift baskets.

  27. Bea says

    I have bought many lovely used books and since I’m fussy about books sometimes I’ve found really lovely stories and cookbooks etc that are older but better in so many ways that new stuff from stores. I like vintage books etc.

  28. Cindy says

    Books are a wonderful gift, especially if you can find something to match someone’s hobby or other interest. Several years ago I bought my hard-to-buy for mother-in-law a beautiful little vintage book of poems with watercolor illustrations of English scenes. She is an Anglophile and apparently like the book because I always see it on her bedside table when we visit twice a year. (And, no, she wouldn’t bother to put it out there just because we were coming!) This year I was excited to find a vintage book of Victorian houses, another interest of hers.

  29. Veronica Tidd says

    One year I was very lacking in money but am an excellent sewer so I put a $5 limit on gifts. My husband was off having his mid life crisis. The family was heavily into horses so there were several saddle covers with names painted on, tote bags, bridle bags, boot bags and other simple sewn sewn projects that did not exceed the $5 limit

  30. Sheri says

    I learned how to knit those ruffle scarves and started making them a few months back. One ball of yarn and four hours makes one homemade gift. I buy the yarn with a coupon too. I have also been making them as thank you gifts for special people in our lives.

    I have in mind to make felt food for my grandchildren. The guys get food baskets, but it goes in a rolled down paper bag. Wrapping with nylon tulle is cheap and reusable!

  31. Michelle says

    A few ideas…all year I think about Christmas. We are not poor, but I am cheap. I also hate to make others pay the price for my cheapness. Hahaha. I have three children under 5, and this year we are starting with a great idea I read about on a blog. Take a large basket…wicker clothe basket that I save for such things. Put a big bow on it…and then fill it with wrapped books (25), I have been wrapping them with paper bags for months. I’ll number each book and each is marked with who will open it to keep it fair. We share books, and for the most part books are a favorite here. This gift would have been very expensive but my wonderful sister cleared off her shelves…free books. She even said to feel free to use them for christmas, did I mention I have a wonderful sister? Her books are more aimed at boys because that is what she has. Then I hit a great garage sale…well, they wanted tons for their clothes, but books were only .25 each. I walked out with 40…and they look new. So for less than the cost of an advent calander or even a bag of candy…I am using grocery bags for wrapping (free) the books I picked come to ($2.50). I plan on opening a book each night, and then sitting and reading it before bed.
    For Christmas I have enough fleece to make my daughter a quilt for her bed…Twin size blanket last summer for $5 because it had a monogram, plus enough for the top from unused baby blankets (my daughter was born in July…but got a lot of fleece blankets), and Target had a sale a few years ago and they were $1 each. If I use them all…which I should not…I will spend $12 and have enough fleece for valances as well. We plan on starting swim lessons at the Y after Christmas…we would do it either way, but might as well have it be part of Christmas. I think to give it as a present though I need to be able to wrap it up some how…right now I think I will take a cardboard box, paint it to look like a beach or pool, use tin foil to make pretend water, and then cut out paper people with swimsuits on, glue photos of the kids on the paper people and laminate them…play people with a pool, and tickets marked with gym time and pool time to give to me when it’s time to go. Imagination for a few weeks….and after that no clutter. We also have some other toys that we got at garage sales, and I have a few things that I thought would be great for homeschooling, games and such, that would be fun, but not needed. Some of these are boughten, some homemade. Little kids seem to love games and for small amounts of money…hours of fun. My sisters boys are 12, 8, and 7. Their favorite thing in the summer is camping in the backyard…they live on a farm so they have a big campfire, Marshmellows, s’mores, you know the deal. They miss this in the winter. I have a wood burning cook stove that we can roast Marshmellows in. Cook hot chocolate on, and because it has a glass door, enjoy the fire. I will hang silver stars on the windows, spread out their sleeping bags, and let them have a nice sleepover. They may tease me about it being lame, but my sister says they will adore this more than anything she can think of. I may sweeten the deal with cookies and vast quantities of homemade junk food.

  32. Judi says

    This year I’m making calendars. I’ve printed the pages out on slightly heavier weight paper and I’ll print out some of the multitude of photos I have of my daughter and will stick one or two on each page of the calendar. I’ll use some scrapbooking paper for the covers and will tie the pages in with some cord. One or two eyelets and I think they’ll look quite professional. The cardstock is £4.99 for 100 sheets and each calendar uses 8 sheets. The photo paper was £11 for 100 sheets when I bought it years ago. The ink in the printer will be the most expensive thing, but still cheaper than getting them developed commercially. The rest of the stuff is leftovers in my general stash.

    In other years I’ve made different things. Last year, I made Christmas stockings for everyone out of left over calico and some red and green dye. The year before I customised some plain white sleepsuits for all the babies in my life. Each one had the child’s name stamped on the back, with some gear and cog stencils sprayed randomly over the suit. Then, using a fabric pen, I wrote directions/instructions over it: feed here at the collar, kiss here on one foot and tickle here on the other one, Waste Disposal Section across the bottom and Food Processing Unit across the tummy area. One friends asks me to make him a giant box of shortbread each year – plain flour, butter and sugar is relatively inexpensive. Another friend makes truffles for her closest friends – we all wait in anticipation for her truffles. My parents used to make wooden jigsaw puzzles, but that is a lot of work. Saying that, most of the jigsaws are still valued by the recipients 40+ years on.

    I find as long as you create the gifts with care and love, most people value them _more_ than a store-bought gift.

  33. Margaret says

    Year before last i made my daughter a home made cookbook filled with easy, few ingredient recipes that she could quickly make from scratch, since she works and goes to college part time. She loved it, and uses it all the time. I think this could also be done with relatives and friends who are on special diets.

    I think gifts that take real thought are far more appreciated and lasting in the long run and that are real keepsakes, like the table cloth, are far more important than how much is spent. I know my mom’s gift to me of an hand made antique box that carried my great grandfather’s letters from the civil war are a lasting treasure to me.

  34. says

    My 7 year old granddaughter loves horses and the bobsey twin books. I explained that I could not find the Btwins books new but found a few used ones. She explained that used books were better since you got more of them for a better price. I bought out the used book store and give her a few for every celebration. She also likes horses and mysteries so have been on the look out for Trixie Beldon books. horses and mysteries combined in one book.
    My 12 year old grandson is harder to buy gifts for but he loves to read so he gets a gift card at Chapters. This summer he said he loves garlic mashed potatoes but not everyone in the family does so they are at treat for him. I roasted a lot of garlic bulbs and the dehydrated them. I will put the powder into a fancy jar for him to sprinkle onto what ever he likes garlic on. This combined with the gift card will be his gift this christmas.
    My DIL did a great gift idea for the chldren. She set up a wish list on Toys Rus for the grandparents. She limited it to 18 gifts and we can go online and order and pay for them but have them sent to their address. No shipping to us and then the bus. The presents arrive in time for the adults to wrap for under the tree. She did the same at Sears. The children get the gifts all under $50 so no big amount if you don’t have a lot of cash for gifts. That is the big gift while the small things you pick up during the year can be mailed or sent on the bus.
    think outside the box for gifts and ask the parents after you find out what the children want. This way there are less chances of duplicate gifts from grand parents.

    • says

      I loved Trixie Beldon books too. I have a couple I have saved because I loved them so much. Hope you can find some. I saw some at my thrift store a few months back so they are out there.

  35. Maggie says

    My sister is always on the lookout for Trixie Belden books for me and has sent me several she found in out of the way places. I also have some Bobbsey twins books.
    One year when I was single and just out on my own, I found some yarn for really cheap and made scarves for everyone in my family. They were a big hit because I had made them. Those cold fall evenings when I was too poor to go out, I crocheted on those scarves and really felt good that I was making gifts to share.
    Now, I make fudge for my family and friends. I also take some to my doctors’ offices because of their support throughout the difficult times I have had medically, these last 15 years. It is a hit and now the nurses cannot wait for the end of the year. They tell everyone – here is our fudge making patient. I have found that a plate of fudge and cookies per family, rather than an individual gift for each person is just as appreciated and when it is gone, there is nothing to store or find a place for. A win for everyone.
    I wish everyone here a very happy Thanksgiving and want to say how much I appreciate all your timely and great tips.

  36. Carole says

    These are all good ideas. If the gift is appropriate and thoughtful, I don’t think that people will consider it cheap. If one consistently overspends and winds up in bankruptcy court, then your loved ones will wish you had spent lesss on them.

  37. says

    I love this post! Thanks for the fantastic “gift basket” ideas. I never really considered presentation – it’s worth so much and can be done for so little. My in-laws bring a disgusting amount of gifts to our house. It actually makes my husband and I angry every year and his mother “laughs” it off. You can’t buy someone’s affection.

    Your tips will help my house look pretty and bright without overspending the budget!

  38. says

    here is a gift idea for someone who has young children around and they want to keep them out of the way in the kitchen. (I am thinking christmas day cooking times) but in the car or even a bedtime game.
    Hide and Seek
    Fill a 1 litre (quart) jar with rice or barley.
    put in a selection of small plastic or wooden toys.
    leave about 1/2 inch of head space.
    secure the lid. add a tag of what is in it.
    Each player turns or shakes the jar to identify each object.
    You can customize the gift by using items the child likes.
    farm animals or even those tiny wooden or plastic christmas ornaments craft stores have.
    for older children make it competitive by setting a time limit for each person.
    The younger children could have larger and fewer items to find but the older ones could have very small things to find.
    I found this idea in my canning book and thought what a great idea for giving to a teen who does babysitting. They can take it with them for their charges. Or for a mother who works all day and needs a few minutes of quiet children time to get supper on the table. Maybe grandma would like a few to keep visiting children happy while everyone is trying to get dinner on the table for the masses. Rainy day toy cupboard would also be handy.
    I am going to make a couple for my son and his wife as they are in the car a lot and have 3 children aged 5-12.
    Just thought I would share the idea.

  39. Nancy says

    One of the best received “family” gifts I have given is a “Family Fun Night” basket.
    I include cute mugs, purchased at Goodwill, for about 50 cents each, a Christmas movie, purchased for about $5.00 at Wal-Mart, packets of hot chocolate mix, packets of microwave popcorn and “Theater size” boxes of candy, which you can find for under a dollar. I put everything in a nice basket, purchased at Goodwill, for a dollar or two, some tissue paper from the dollar store, and wrap the basket in clear cellophane, tied with a pretty bow. It is inexpensive and a nice family gift. You can substitute a board game, purchased on sale, for the movie, and eliminate the candy.
    Attach a cute tag that says “Family Fun Night”. The presentation is wonderful! Much of a gift is how it is presented.

  40. MJ Dean says

    I have 14 grandkids and almost-12 greats, plus 4 daughters and 4 sons-in-laws.
    I often shop for younger grandkids’ favorite cereals a month or two before Christmas and get them each a couple boxes, then slip a couple of $2 bills into a homemade card (telling them all the things I like about them and how much they mean to me). Sons-in-laws get our wonderful, locally-produced Tillamook Cheese, and the older grandkids get containers of their favorite cookies.

    One of the most appreciated gifts that I gave my four daughters a few years ago were photo albums (found some really nice, inspirational type, under $10 each). I copied family photos of their ancestors, starting with great grandparents, the grandparents, parents, and going through to my daughter’s baby photos to their wedding photos and then photos of their babies. Each album was tailored, with their own “branch,” as it got towards the last of the album. Not a project to start in December, if you have more than one child!

  41. Trish says

    I can totally understand the stress you are under. I returned to being a homemaker after working part-time for several years. I know you want to show your family how much they mean to you and how much you love them. We struggled with this too. We have finally decided that this year in our family we are not exchanging gifts. We are just spending the holiday being together and giving the gift of ourselves. This takes SOO much pressure off and takes the consumerism out of Christmas.

  42. Gladys says

    I always remember my Dad said to me when I was young, “It’s not the price of the gift, it is the thought behind it.” When I get a small gift or an inexpensive gift I think of the person and that they thought of me and wanted to give that gift to me.
    The gifts are nice but I also ways think of the real meaning of Christmas and when it means to me and why we celebrate Christmas. I think it is getting to commercialized now.

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