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Give low-cost gifts

By on December 10, 2009

marshmallow gun

The holidays can be stressful. If you’re not careful, you can overspend easily. But maybe this year is worse because you don’t think your budget will allow for many gifts. It can be especially tough if you have kids. Instead of being depressed, get creative.

What types of low-cost gifts have you given?

Here are a few ideas that can help fill in the gaps.

HANDMADE TOYS: Boxes make great playhouses. Use aluminum foil crumpled into a ball and rubber bands wrapped around it to make rubber-band balls. Or make a marshmallow shooter from PVC. Visit for project instructions.

You can make a parachute, too: Cut a 12-by-12-inch piece of a grocery bag, or use a handkerchief. Tie a piece of string to each corner of the fabric or plastic bag. Fill a film container with some pebbles or coins for weight. Tuck the loose ends of string into the container, and snap the top in place. Fold the parachute up, and toss it into the air. You can go to a craft store and buy a single wooden letter, paint it, and add ribbon to hang it, too.

COUPONS: Create a coupon booklet with services that can be redeemed by the recipient later. For example, a free night of babysitting, gardening or a favorite meal.

FOOD: When food shopping, think about consumable gifts. Kids will enjoy a piece of fruit decorated with stickers or a bow. It’s silly fun. Wrap a hot cocoa packet, cereal or snacks, such as microwave popcorn, for them to enjoy that day. Or give a homemade cookie, cake, pie or dinner-a-month gift coupon and they’ll get home baked treats throughout the year.

THRIFT STORES: You can find items such as books, toys, costume jewelry, framed pictures, etc. Giving secondhand gifts isn’t for everyone, but if you haven’t been to a secondhand shop in a while, you’ll be pleased to discover most of the items aren’t junk. There’s often the misconception that it sends a message that your kids aren’t worth new gifts. That certainly reflects how backward society has become. Still not convinced? Try shopping at a dollar store or online auctions, such as, a Web site that offers brand-new items and gift cards with bidding starting and increasing by one cent and a chance to win an auction for a penny. Or check your local Freecycle (

TIME: The gift of time is the best gift you can give. This can be as simple as making ornaments together, watching movies, listening to music, putting together a puzzle, or playing games. One reader, Odilia in Nebraska, shares: “We do lots of holiday baking. My kids LOVE to bake! Christmas week, we take plates of treats to friends, neighbors and shut-ins. At the beginning of Advent, the kids sort through their toys and find some in good, giftable condition to pass on to a women/children’s shelter. It helps put the emphasis on giving rather than ‘gimme,’ and it clears some space.”

EXTENDED FAMILY GIFT-GIVING: Ask whether you can draw names or do a white elephant swap, so you exchange an item from your home. Nadia in Canada adds: “One family had had enough of trying to think of things to buy the others — people never received anything they wanted. Instead, they pooled some money and divided it up among themselves. They each took their share and bought themselves a present, then wrapped it up and put it under the tree. So then they all knew what they’d bought themselves, but no one else knew.” Another idea is to buy a calender and write in activities you can do together during the upcoming months.

photo by somegeekintn


  1. Lisa

    8/5/2010 at 5:16 pm

    I do a lot of couponing and Walgreens register reward deals. My area has a FREE newspaper that has free smartsource inserts!! I pick up several extra. I live in an apartment that gets redplum inserts in the mail and most people here don’t coupon and I get 3-4 extra inserts a week from others who share with me. On good weeks I might buy the 75 cent paper that typically has all the coupons in it.

    I get toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo/conditioner, shavers, shave cream, body wash, etc all the time that I just pay tax on it or the cost of a stamp. People for some reason really love this stuff! It is so much fun to give useful stuff that I paid pennies for.

  2. Jeanna M

    12/13/2011 at 6:53 pm

    I think the biggest point of this article is we need to get back to what the celebration is about. It’s about wanting to give gifts because you care. People have gotten into the habit of asking kids what they want, which now includes game systems, cars, etc. I think we need to go back to the old ways. Now don’t get me wrong, if you can afford large gifts and want to give them that’s OK but not if giving such items make you stress out because you are afraid of disappointing the child or parent. A little time invested can go a long way on your Christmas list and soft on your pocketbook.

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