The joy of Christmas is, of course, from giving, not receiving.
However, as lovely as it can be to share this joy with others, it can also be one of the most expensive parts of the holiday season.
The constant pressure to buy more and more, especially as companies’ marketing machines move into high gear in the weeks leading up to Christmas, can be relentless and truly difficult to manage financially.
But never fear! There are a number of strategies to allow you to uphold the spirit of giving these holidays – without having to give up on your budget.
So check out below for some ideas on cheap Christmas presents that your recipients (and your wallet) will love!
(Psst…see the end of this post for a free bonus gift to help you set – and stick to – your budget this Christmas season)
Every parent I know is at a loss about the amount of stuff their kids have. And every adult I know that doesn’t have kids (and even those that do, actually) is in a constant (losing) battle to get rid of all the stuff they have somehow accumulated.
In general, we all have so. Much. Stuff.
And yet we still feel like we have to give a mountain of presents each year. After all, Christmas isn’t really Christmas unless there is a pile of presents at the base of the tree, right?
Nevermind that you’d struggle to find someone who was fortunate enough to be gifted their own pile of presents in previous years to actually list those presents.
And that’s not even mentioning the cost involved.
What you can find, however, are people who remember that time they went abseiling. Or did an art class together. Or went bike riding in a nearby national park. Or spent a weekend in a lakeside cabin.
Groupon offers a nearly unlimited number of options for experiences that you can do with your family, a friend or a significant other, including a range of things that you’ve never even considered. Not only are they very competitively priced, but it’s often cheaper to buy vouchers for multiple people at once – meaning that you get to join in the fun as well!
(That could also mean that you can buy the same experience for the entire family to do together. Not only are you making memories, but you’ve just avoided having to think of a present for each person – bonus!)
Airbnb also offers Airbnb Experiences, in which people in cities all over the world provide experiences from tours of local markets to lessons in ancient pottery techniques. Some of these are more expensive than others, but if you plan to travel for your Christmas vacation, this may be a great way to give a gift that allows you all to experience your destination on a deeper level.
You could even consider the fact that you would probably have spent money as part of your vacation anyway, meaning that any money spent on gifting an experience in that place is money that you would have spent as part of your trip anyway.
As an added bonus, if you’re not already a member, sign-up for Airbnb here to receive $25 credit!
Make your own experiences
This is a little bit different to the previous point in that it may take a bit more effort but will be appreciated even more (and may be even cheaper…).
It can be very easy to get wrapped up in the hectic nature of our day to day lives. So people will truly appreciate it if you offer something that allows them to step away from that, if only for a day.
So, as a Christmas present, offer to babysit someone’s kids while they have a day to themselves. You could even get them something like a massage voucher from Groupon for them to spend their spare time, although that’s not strictly necessary.
Offer to take your parents out on a dinner date. You could save money by making it a picnic (possibly taking a rain check until the warmer months) or even just serving them dinner at your place.
For your kids, offer to let them have a sleepover party with their friends. You could pretend they’re going camping and string up some sheets for the tents and make a ‘campfire’ through putting a torch under cellophane. Cheap yet effective.
If you just use your imagination, you can think of any number of experiences that you can create yourself. Not only do these often not cost much (if anything), but they are always memorable for the recipients.
Sibling gift giving from the Dollar Store
Not only is this a great way to save some money, but it can also help teach children that much of the joy from Christmas comes from giving, not receiving.
This may be easier with another parent or guardian, who can stay outside the store with the other siblings. While they’re doing that, you can go inside with one child for them to choose a $1 gift (or slightly higher if you really want to ‘splurge’) for each of their siblings. Then simply repeat with each child. If you have three kids, you’ll have change from $10!
An even simpler way is to do this online. Hollar is a crazy cheap online store with its own $1 section that has massive amounts of all sorts of things. You can also find more expensive items if you want, with plenty of gift ideas in the $2 to $5 range.
Simply let each kid come into the room individually, select the items – and then close the tab before the next child arrives!
You do have to buy at least $10 worth of goods for them to ship your order, but this should be easy if you have a few kids (or a few adults who would appreciate a novelty gift). In addition, shipping is free if you spend $25.
As a special, limited time offer, sign-up for Hollar here and receive $5 credit for free!
Give second-hand gifts
As a kid, I loved reading. My rebellious stage as a six year old was sneaking my favourite books to school. Yes, I was that hard core.
So when my parents bought the first 100 Babysitters Club books for me at a yard sale, I couldn’t have been happier. Sure, some of the corners were turning over and the pages were yellowing a bit, but I didn’t care. I devoured them.
And I’m sure they were thrilled that someone sold them all to us for about $0.50 per book or less than 10% of the price if we’d bought them new. As far as I was concerned, it was the best $50 that anyone had ever spent.
So instead of buying everything brand new, check eBay first to see if someone has what you’re looking for. Local second-hand shops are also a great source of gifts, particularly for things like board games. Which, coincidentally, are also a great way to spend Christmas Day afternoon!
As an added bonus, second-hand toys are already assembled, saving you hours of blood, sweat and tears.
And the recipient won’t care that it’s not in a box. Particularly in the case of younger kids – as long as they can unwrap and play with it, nothing else will matter to them.
Set a strict spending limit
This can apply both in your own family and if you are sharing Christmas with others. If everyone is on the same page about only spending a certain amount per person – or even per family – there will be no issues about “someone getting more than someone else”.
In addition, I’m sure that those who you suggest this to will be grateful that you raised this as an idea. As with most financial matters, people are generally hesitant to discuss in depth the financial pressure at Christmas. Accordingly, anything you can do to relieve that will be well received by all!
Set a gift limit
My partner’s first nephew was born a couple of years ago and, with two sets of grandparents as well as several enthusiastic first-time aunties and uncles, this kid’s first Christmas was going to be massive.
So his parents wisely told everyone that they only wanted one present per “house”. That is, one from the maternal grandparents, one from the paternal grandparents, one from her brother and his partner… etc. It was the smartest thing they’ve ever done – and we were all secretly appreciative of the amount of money this saved us.
You can apply this logic to your Christmas celebrations as well. Tell your kids (and partner) that they will each be only getting one present. If you really want to splash out for the younger family members, perhaps say that Santa will give them one and they will get one more from their family.
This is also a good idea for you to suggest if you will be spending the holidays with extended family. Simply agree in advance that each branch of the family will give the other branch a strict limit of one present per person each.
You could even extend this to say that each branch will only give presents to the family members in its own branch. For example, you will give a gift to your kids but not to your nieces and nephews. In that case, it’s best to set a present limit that applies family-wide so that one person’s children aren’t suddenly receiving a lot more gifts than another person’s. No one likes Christmas tears, after all.
AND take any of these one step further and suggest a price limit on everyone’s presents! I would suggest being a bit careful who you propose this to, as some people do seem to enjoy the commercialism of Christmas. But if you can get them on board, your competitive streak will soon take over when challenging yourself to see what you can find within the limited budget!
Have a Secret Santa
This takes the previous point even further. Not only is it a fun game in the lead-up to Christmas, but having to only buy one present each is also far more economical!
It may be a bit difficult to organise if you’re just spending Christmas with your immediate family as it can be hard to do with only a few people. However, if you’ll be celebrating with a larger group of friends or some extended family, then this is a great way to tackle the issue of just who you have to get presents for.
To make things easier when trying to sort this out, try using this free Secret Santa organiser. All you have to do is enter the participants’ names and email addresses (or their parents’ email address for the younger participants) and the website will randomly assign each person a Secret Santa and then email everyone with their allocated recipient. You can even set a maximum amount to spend!
As an alternative, try something that my family did a few years ago:
We had a very large Christmas gathering, so the cost of getting presents for everyone would have been huge. Fortunately, the host had a great idea – everyone would buy one present for less than $15 and wrap it, without telling anyone else what it was. All of the presents would then be piled up in the middle of the room and people’s names would be drawn out of a hat one by one.
When your name was called, you would go to the pile and pick one. Bonus points if you could guess who it was from!
Just make sure that you contribute a present that would be appropriate for both the younger and older participants!
This is an oldie but a goodie.
There are thousands of DIY instructions online for a range of different items that can be created for very little and given as presents. Check out this article for ideas for homemade food gifts, and a simple Google search will pull up hundreds of ways to make things like body scrubs, bath bombs, glitter bubble bath or soap.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, why not also have a look at some of the amazing (and amazingly cheap!) things that can be made in this article.
Buy the cheapest card you can
People love to “ooh” and “aah” over the Christmas card attached to their present…for about five seconds, until they discard it and focus on the gift itself.
Some may even say that you don’t even need a card – the most fiscally (and environmentally) responsible card choice of all!
But for those of us who are on the card + present train, don’t waste too much money on that little piece of cardboard. Those fancy pants cards are pretty, but for $7 or more each, I’d rather put that money towards the gift itself.
Instead, save yourself the time of selecting individual cards as well as the exorbitant cost involved and simply buy in bulk.
The designs are beautiful with multiple options in each pack. And, if you don’t need that many, you could even consider getting one of the larger packs and then storing the leftovers until next year!
Get a young (or creative) person in your life to create a card for you
This is a tip that works best if you have children – or if you have a creative streak yourself!
Simply buy this pack of 50 blank cards and have someone, whether that be you or your kids, decorate the front. Kids of all ages can get into this and you just know that your two-year-old’s scribble will be absolutely cherished by the lucky grandparent or aunt/uncle that receives it – far more than a more “standard” Christmas card.
Not only that, but they only cost $0.17 each!
As a bonus, this works all year round! All of the spare blank cards can be kept in a drawer and pulled out for another colouring-in session just before birthdays or other holidays. It’s the gift – to yourself – that keeps on giving!
Need some help with saving money over the Christmas period in relation to gifts, decorations, food and drink, or travelling? Or want to learn how to make money this Christmas? If so, click here for more of our “We Wish You a Frugal Christmas” series.
By the way…it’s no secret that Christmas can be a difficult time financially. Why not make things easier for yourself by grabbing our completely free, interactive Christmas Budget?
Do you have any hacks that you use to save money when giving gifts? Let us know in the comments!