5 Frugal Christmas Ideas for Children

Christmas Ideas for Children

Advertising executives want us to believe that the only way we can make our children’s Christmas a meaningful one is if we buy them everything on their Christmas list.  Have you seen the commercial this season where a teenage girl sits, expensive opened presents all around her, and declares that she actually liked everything?  Her father looks stunned and then elated.

Maybe this is Christmas in an ad exec’s world, but I tend to think most kids are happy with a simpler Christmas.

frugal christmas children

Picture by Flickr

Don’t feel that you need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on your children to create a “magical” Christmas.  Spend what you are comfortable spending and within the limits of what you can afford.

Here are some of my favorite frugal gifts for kids:

1.  Give the gift of time

We can shower our children with as many commercial items as we want, and they may be temporarily happy, but ultimately, what they want from us is our time.

Consider making a little coupon book for your child.  You can include some freebies such as “one hug from mom” or “one cooking session with dad”, but you can also include a few bigger items like “one movie and dinner date with mom” or “one miniature golf session with dad”.

Your child will be able to redeem these throughout the year, so you won’t have to have all of the money upfront.  Maybe you go to the movies in March, but you don’t go miniature golfing until June.  Plus, you may be surprised to find that the gift of one on one time turns out to be one of your child’s favorite gifts under the tree.

2.  Jar a treat 

Is there something your child loves but doesn’t often get?  If you have something that is normally only available in limited quantity, why not give a gift of that?

For instance, in our house, our children’s access to sweets is limited.  Hot chocolate is a treat.  So, each year I pack a pint size jar with the ingredients for hot chocolate, and each child gets one.  They can each decide when they would like their hot chocolate throughout the year such as after playing outside in the snow.

3.  Make a gift

Homemade gifts can be frugal, entertaining, and appreciated.  Thanks to Pinterest, there are a wealth of homemade gift ideas available.  Consider making homemade doll clothes for your little girl or accessories.  My mom crocheted a baby blanket for my daughter’s favorite doll, and she uses that gift every day to take care of her “baby”.  Other ideas for girls include jewelry, bags, and hair accessories.  For young boys, super hero capes, car caddies and car road mats are great gifts.

4.   Give craft supplies

What child doesn’t like crafting and coloring?  When you see all of those back to school sales in July and August, secretly stock up on paper, crayons, markers, scissors and other supplies.  You will have a gift that the kids will love for only a few dollars.  I also usually buy an extra backpack that is on sale in August.  If my son’s backpack is starting to wear out, I can give him a brand new backpack for Christmas that I bought at a steep discount in July.

5.  Give second hand gifts

If you would like to buy your child all store bought gifts, don’t assume that you have to go to the mall and pay retail price.  Look through eBay and Craigslist.  In our area, if I search “new toy” on Craigslist, I get a full page of listings.  These are toys that are new in the box and offered at a significant discount.  (Don’t forget that you can negotiate to lower the price, too.)  Why pay retail when you can get a toy at a steep discount on eBay or Craigslist?

Don’t believe the media hype that you must spend hundreds of dollars on your children to give them a memorable Christmas.  There are many frugal gifts that you can give your children such as your time, which will likely mean more to them than a plastic toy that may break in a few months.

What is your favorite frugal gift for children?

About the Author

By , on Dec 17, 2012
Melissa is a freelance writer and blogs at Mom's Plans, where she shares her family's journey to get out of debt, live a fulfilling life on less, and enjoy healthy, allergy friendly foods. She is a mom to three kids, ages 8, 4, and 2.

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  1. CreditDonkey says:

    I love the idea of giving our children the “gift of time” especially when we make it sound so special, they will always treasure and remember the moment when say, they had gone fishing with Dad or made cooking demo with Mom. I like also how crafting stuff for kids sound like a labor of love. These are the best gifts we can shower them.

  2. Great post. The gift of time! So true. When I had my first child I had an older friend who told me the best thing you can give your kid is just showing up. Just showing up and being there in the moment with your kid is 90% of being a great dad. I will always remember that.

  3. It is true. Children should not get the impression that Christmas is all about gifts. It is also about loving and sharing. When it comes to gifts, giving them inexpensive gifts is advisable. This will teach kids about the importance of frugality.

  4. Don’t tell the kids, but we got a couple of items off craigslist.org this year. Santa Claus is NOT a wealthy man!

  5. Peter says:

    Our little boy is so young, at this point I think the gifts he enjoys the most are just spending time with him playing, going outdoors, or just being with mom or dad. So I especially love the ideas that have to do with that, making cookies or crafts together, a day at the movies with dad, or things along those lines. Great ideas!

  6. Great Post! I like the hot chocolate idea. I like how the children get the jar and can have it when they wish but when it runs out , it’s gone. It’s almost like a jar full of money so they should spend it wisely because when it’s gone it’s gone. If they can spread it out over the course of a year that’s great. Of course provided the product expiry lasts that long. Cheers!

  7. Kids, especially smaller ones, don’t care how much things cost. My daughter loves to pick up rocks about as much as anything. Buy her a bucket and take her somewhere with lots of rocks and you have a happy camper. You can also give her $2 and take her to the dollar store. She can pick out any two things. You can spend a whole afternoon doing this. It’s great.

  8. Your time is definitely the best present you could ever give a kid, that’s so true.

  9. CF says:

    I think craft supplies are a great idea. I used to volunteer at the Toy Bank, and the one “toy” that never went out of style were crayons and colouring books.

  10. Good tips! Some of the best gifts are the ones in their heads – like when they open a box full of Jeepers tokens (a kid place similar to Chuck E Cheese). My kids go nuts over stuff like this.

    The craft idea is also really good. Give your kids some paper, glue, and fabric, and you’ll be surprised at what they put together!

  11. I like the idea of crafting for your kids, but even more important, is the gift of time.

  12. I like the idea of giving a gift of time. With all these distractions in our lives, it can’t hurt to take extra time to spend with children and or loved ones. I know I could definitely spend more time with my bf!

  13. Pauline says:

    #1 is a great idea! I try to give my niece sturdy, good quality classic toys, that will grow with her. Crafts supplies too. The smallest thing I gave her was a $2 purse I shipped from Turkey, and that is the one she loves most and takes everywhere with her. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive.

  14. Mackenzie says:

    You can save quite a bit of money on children’s gifts, but many parents feel pressured to purchase things that are really outside of their budget. Kids don’t always need the latest gadget or what-not. Great post!

  15. Debt RoundUp says:

    These are great ideas. I don’t think children need extravagant gifts, nor do they need expensive ones. I am all for these tips. Thanks!

    • Melissa says:

      Exactly. I always had modest Christmas’ when I was little, and I didn’t mind at all. Only in the last few decades have Christmas gifts gone over the top.

  16. Jamie Dickinson says:

    All terrific ideas. The mason jar of cooking ingredients is relly popular this year, all over Pinterest. I’ve made my wife some bath salts and body scrub and put them in mason jars with ribbons and tags. Much cheaper than somewhere like Lush

  17. Thad P says:

    Chose something unique–that all the friends don’t have, but wish they did. It doesn’t have to cost anything, but make it unique.

  18. Good ideas! We use #1 & #5 a lot. If you know what you’re doing you can get a nice “new” to us toy for a fraction of the cost. Our kids get so spoiled by our parents that we’re able to hold back a lot of what we have budgeted and use it for fun experiences for them throughout the year.

  19. I love this one – one miniature golf session with dad. I think this is definitely something that we need to do with our son when he gets older. I really don’t want to shower him with random presents that he will get bored of in 2 seconds, this is a far better way to encourage less consumerism and more interaction.

    • Melissa says:

      You are so right that they get bored in 2 seconds with some of the expensive gifts. I remember one year my son had more fun playing with the box than the actual gift. That was a wake up call!

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