Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

Christmas gifts do not have to be expensive; thoughtful or homemade gifts often mean more to the recipient than the pricey expensive ones. This is a guide about frugal Christmas gift ideas.

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September 10, 2012 Flag

20 Weeks until ChristmasI was shocked to see the first of the Christmas goods appearing in some of the stores in recent days. I suppose it is because I am from the generations for whom Christmas didn't appear on the horizon until the days became noticeably shorter and colder and the teachers broke out the glitter and glue.

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Anyway it reminded me of a time a couple of years ago here on Thrifty Fun when I responded to a sad little post from someone who had been out of work for months and was desperately trying to make a happy Christmas for their children. The downturn was biting then but unhappily for many of us, two years down the line things are even worse.

I recall that the Thriftyfun community came up with a few ideas but as it was 17th December we all basically knew it was a bit too late to do anything. I was so moved by her plight that I actually wrote a My Frugal Life post in which I outlined some of the different ways you could achieve a happy and frugal Christmas for your children with little money.

The key to making winter holidays on a tight budget is to start as early as you can. That goes for every aspect of the holidays. There are 20 weeks until Christmas so now is the right time to get planning. While the weather is good you can visit garage and car boot sales, or pick up items you know your children will like for a good price on Ebay. You can have a clear out, sell your own unwanted items and use the cash you make to launch your Christmas savings. By adding to this each week you will have a little cash cushion set aside for treats and holiday food. Don't worry if you can only put a few cents away, it doesn't matter, because it will encourage you and give you heart if you know there will be a little extra when the time comes. Encourage your children to plan for the holidays if they are old enough, give them a jar to save their pennies in too!

Organise a swap meet or bring and barter where you can use your cooking or craft skills to make things that you can exchange for things you can put away for the holidays. This is a good chance to swap toys and clothes that your children have outgrown for new to you items that they can use and enjoy in the coming year.


Use this time of Autumn plenty (and cheapness) to fill the pantry and the freezer. Perhaps you won't put up things you will use at Christmas but the money you save in the meantime can go in the holiday jar and boost those reserves. Make some gourmet gifts like sundried tomatoes in oil or tasty fruit preserves with farmgate produce. This will save you money and be much appreciated, especially if the gifts go to people who know your money is tight, because they will know that you cared enough to take the time. Sow some pots of kitchen herbs ready for the festive period because adding fresh herbs to dishes can make you feel like a better and richer cook.

Finally don't ever be afraid to tell people with whom you are going to exchange gifts that you need to set a price limit. As long as you do this in plenty of time your pride will stay intact and embarrassment can stay at a minimum for everyone enjoying the holidays with you.

By Ayesha from Slovenia

Do you have a frugal story to share with the ThriftyFun community? Submit your essay here: http://www.thriftyfun.com/post_myfrugallife.ldml

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July 1, 2008 Flag
1 found this helpful

I am already thinking about Christmas. I know it's early, but with my budget I need to plan ahead! My whole family buys for each other, even though I have suggested many times to maybe draw names, but this never seems to go over well.

They all want to buy for everyone. But my question is what can I buy different from every year? Mostly I end up buying clothing because I am at a loss as to what to buy. I would appreciate any suggestions. I am not too imaginative and would love to do something different this year. Please help!

Lisa from VA

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November 10, 20081 found this helpful

I think a lot of the ideas are great, but some just wouldn't fly in my family. I do think the soup in a jar would work with some and jars of cocoa mix. I do buy cleaning and household supplies and put in a big hamper to give to my son and his girlfriend, but they also get cash and a few gift certificates.

Last year I bought inexpensive cocktail size Christmas napkins. I attached a small spreader (small knife for a cheese ball), and a beautiful ribbon. They made an awesome presentation and really only cost a couple of bucks. This year I'm doing a plain wine glass with a small finger towel wound so that applique shows through the glass toss in a few ribbons on top. They are both good gifts for coworkers.

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December 3, 20150 found this helpful

"I have suggested many times to maybe draw names, but this never seems to go over well" is the problem right there. In a nice but firm manner, let your extended family know well ahead of time [and it is your family, so you should be able to talk honestly with them], the gift giving has gotten out of hand. It's become too stressful, too time consuming, too expensive, and most of all, the meaning and joy of the Season has become lost for you. Ask them this year to give your idea of drawing names a try. In my family, we do this at Thanksgiving. Set a reasonable dollar amount per gift [in my opinion, $20 is the maximum]. If they shoot you down again, get some guts and let them know that you will not be buying for the entire family. Hey, somebody's bound to get mad, but then again, people have to get mad over something, it seems. I can't even imagine the stress of buying for everyone in an entire extended family not to mention the expense. This is what I call "giving something just for the sake of showing up with a present in your hand" with no real thought or meaning behind it. I guarantee, you only have to break this cycle once, and it is done.

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December 1, 2010 Flag
13 found this helpful

Offer a free Christmas gift this year, such as a night of free babysitting, a day of house cleaning, an afternoon tutoring a child or adult, or even just spending time with a shut-in person who is unable to get out. The recipient will thank you for your thoughtful gift.

By fossil1955 from Cortez, CO

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December 12, 2011 Flag
2 found this helpful

Here are a few of my ideas for inexpensive but thoughtful gifts.

  • A box of chocolates with a homemade card that says you're just too sweet for words.
  • Give out cards with homemade coupons for neighbors, like one free night of babysitting, etc. depending on the needs of the person you're giving it to.
  • Buy a tea towel and dish rag with a tag that says enjoy your new washer and dryer.
  • Family theme boxes, for movie night add a movie, popcorn packages, and 2 litre of pop.
  • You can do car wash baskets with items from dollar store like sponges, cleaning fluid, wax, etc.

Use your imagination. Chocolate boxes with coffee mug, various chocolates, a book, and book mark, maybe a candle.

By Tracy C. from Brockville, Ontario

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October 14, 2008 Flag
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I am currently a college student, living on my own, and definitely on a budget for Christmas. I have 3 brothers, all married, and 4 nieces and 1 nephew, plus my parents to buy for. My boyfriend's family I am also very close with, and everyone in the family always buys me something. There are 9 people on that side to buy for, as well.

I was wondering if anyone has some thrifty ideas on something sentimental I could make, or great places to shop. My budget will probably be around $150- MAYBE $200 for everything. I believe I have around 22 people to buy for. The ages of the nieces and nephew range from 1 year up to 11. Thank you for any help or ideas you can offer!

Kimberly from Tracy, CA

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November 7, 20080 found this helpful

Crossword puzzle books make good, fairly inexpensive gifts for those who like therm. There also things like logic puzzle books and other specific puzzle books.

For those you feel comfortable enough doing this with, something intangible, like a massage, or a "slave" day where you do their housework or cook for them or spoil them.

For the kids, depending on what they like, simple things like jump ropes or bubble sets (make sure they're the good bubbles...or find a good homemade recipe) are things they can enjoy.

Maybe make up a book of fun recipes for a little boy or girl who likes to cook, or make up a little "princess kit" of things like hairbands and maybe a mirror and a brush or some kid makeup or perfume for a little girl.

Maybe there are cool museums or zoos or parks that are free or very inexpensive you could take the kids to. Treat them to a day out if weather permits.

Used stuffed animals that are in good shape, especially if they still have the tag, are good for very small kids.

Look online for recipes for homemade bath salts and other such things. Go to the library and look up books that show you how to make things out of homemade products. Bath salts, deodorant, those little pouches that smell nice that people put in their dresser drawers or closets. Potpourri. Air freshener.

One book I borrowed from our library was called Supermarket Superproducts, and was CHOCK FULL of awesome ideas for putting together gifts and other useful things from cheap and usually environmentally safe products.

Hope some of this helps!

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December 4, 20080 found this helpful

I found this article a couple years back when I was buying for my cousin with 6 kids. Has a lot of good ideas.

http://www.lotsofkids.com/LOK-Household/Holiday/LOKgifts.htm

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December 15, 2006 Flag
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Felt stocking. I have a friend, Samantha, that is having some money troubles and needed some help with Christmas. So, we dug around in my craft supplies and started to make some things for gifts. Getting together to work on her problem was good for the both of us, she gets a little help and cheering up and I get company and get to share my creative skills with her.

We made some simple stockings from felt. Felt is the best material to work with; it is easy to cut, needs no finishing for the edges, and is very inexpensive! I showed her some very simple stitches and she made two, cute little stockings.

Snowwoman ornament. We also made some ornaments from scraps of felt, floss, buttons, and snaps. I am also bartering with another friend that crochets ornaments; she likes to give gifts of the homemade dog biscuits that I make and Sam now has two more ornaments to give to her children.

To fill the stockings, Sam has gone to the dollar store with money that she earned helping me clean and has picked up small items like Chapstick, pencils, and notepads. She has wrapped each gift separately so it will take the kids time to open each thing and it makes it appear like they have gotten a lot of gifts!

The wrapping paper she made from regular loose leaf paper, but she used markers and using the lines for guides made a plaid design that looks festive.

We have a bag of popped corn that we are letting get good and stale; popcorn is easier to string when it isn't fresh! The kids are looking forward to stringing the popcorn after our "kid's craft" session that we made a garland from felt that is the same idea as the old-fashioned paper chain idea.

I played Christmas music while we were crafting and since I am a pretty silly person, I sang and acted goofy, the kids love when an adult acts so crazy! I dug fabric out of the scrap bag and made a patchwork doll quilt and pillow, and I have a piece of fabric big enough to make a doll outfit for Katrina's doll.

For Shawn, we made a pop bottle movie night! After washing out a 2-liter plastic pop bottle we cut a slit in the back, stuffed in shredded paper, one can of pop, some microwave popcorn, a bag of regular popcorn (because it is inexpensive and took up a lot of space in the pop bottle!) one candy bar, and a free pass that Sam made up on my computer to get a movie on dollar day from the local rental place. We tied some curling ribbon in a bow at the top. It came out so cute we may just have to make some more to give as gifts!

Sam also likes the "Santa Soap" idea that was shared by Cindy Bailey and she wants to make a few of those from dollar store items, we think the kids will love those!

Christmas dinner for her family will be here with me and my husband so she won't have to worry about that, and there is always too much food so there will be leftovers to take home. My husband and I have no children of our own and look forward to a big family meal! I have to admit that it won't be a very fancy Christmas, but so far, it has been a lot of fun.

I look forward to all the other posts that people share so I can continue to get ideas. Thank you to everyone for so generously sharing your ideas, tips, stories, and recipes!

By Persnickety Paula
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December 14, 2009 Flag
2 found this helpful

Many of us frugal folks know that when we don't have money to spend on gifts, we sometimes choose to give people "coupons" for things like babysitting, cooking, mowing the lawn and other useful chores or activities.

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December 10, 2007 Flag
1 found this helpful

I find it challenging to give all the gifts I'd like to without exploding my budget. For many friends and their children, I have a $5 budget. I feel like this can work when 1: the gift is thoughtful and original and 2: the gift is well wrapped and comes off looking more expensive.

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December 9, 2011 Flag

Purchase a glass shaker jar. I found one at the dollar store. In a bowl, mix one tablespoon of cinnamon with a half cup of sugar. This will give you enough to fill about two or three jars.

Homemade cinnamon sugar shaker jar with tag.

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January 4, 2001 Flag
0 found this helpful

What is the best gift you've received that was not expensive?

Some of my favorites are:
A book of poetry by my adult daughter.
A picture of me drawn by my younger daughter.
(It's a funny picture, but I love it).
A set of tapes of my favorite music compiled by my son.

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January 8, 20010 found this helpful

This Christmas I made hot pads and mitts our of recycled blue jean material and lined with cotton mattress padding or old placemats. I then put on a nifty tag which I copied out of Amy Dacyczn's TIGHTWAD GAZETTE which is as follows: "Our products are made of naturally seasoned denim with an unpatented process."

"First sewn into pants and worn by actual human beings, the material is exposed to sweat, grime, sunlight, and hundreds of washes to achieve an authentic fade and uniquely confortable feel. Then using only select portions of unpatched, seamless, and pocket-free fabric we handcraft our original potholder design." "THE BLUE JEAN POTHOLDER, a product alrady withstanding the test of time."

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February 6, 20030 found this helpful

My friends and I are interested in the same types of music, so a while ago I went to Costco and bought a big package of cassette tapes. Through out the year when I don't have the motivation/money to buy gifts, I've made tapes taking songs from the radio, various cd's and tapes. It's also fun to add on a little comedy from my Bill Cosby or Hank the cowdog collections. (this can be done using a cd burner also)

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December 22, 2008 Flag
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I just came back from my weekly thrift store run and found small ceramic flower pots, already painted for 40 cents each. I am adding a envelope (downloaded from Alenka's printables) of seeds from my garden and a candy cane. I will give these as a small gift for office co-workers, since I am known as mother nature--this fits perfect with everyone's thoughts of me.

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December 6, 2000 Flag
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I have a friend that I met online and we've been emailing back and forth for almost two years now. I wanted to send her a little something for Christmas, but don't have a lot of money to spend. Any ideas?

Kris

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December 8, 20000 found this helpful

I love Susan's idea! Just a thought also - by now you two have worn out at least 1 mousepad - how about sending one with a picture or saying that would mean something special to her or both of you?

Roxsie

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December 11, 20001 found this helpful

I send one of my very close on line friend, that I also met 2 years ago from CA, a box of my homemade Christmas cookies every year. She looks forward to them as they are ones she doesn't make. It's a way of sharing part of my traditional Christmas with her every year. I find a good box and fill cup cake liners with them and put a piece of fitted cardboard between each layer and they arrive all in one piece, and I live 3000 miles from her. Some of the ones I make are very fragile too. Good luck.

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January 31, 2008 Flag
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There have been a lot of negative things going on in my life in the past couple of years (husband's job loss, two deaths in the family, a car accident that totaled our car, etc.!).

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December 16, 2000 Flag
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I always have canning jars around. At Christmas, I fill some with assorted Christmas colored candy; those star brite mints, gold and silver foil wrapped candies, etc.

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October 29, 2004 Flag
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One way to make a great Christmas gift is to take pictures of the children in the family unbeknownst to the family. This is tricky, and then make a photo album. Add a page in the album where you write a poem or your favorite time spent with the child was.

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