Holiday Gifts on a Budget

Archived Responses: 

Ideas for low/no-cost toddler and family gifts

November 2005

My husband and I have a 16 mo daughter. We are on a very tight budget and can barely afford second hand clothes. I'm wondering what creative gift ideas are out there for families who have very little money. What resources, suggestions, creative activities, gift ideas do you have for both a toddler our daughter's age and for family members? I'd love to hear your ideas.
Tight Budget, Big Heart

A cheap idea for others made by her is to take empty jars of baby food and decorate then with scraps of tissue paper or use food coloring to dye coffee filters, then glue on the outside. If you put a tea candle inside, it looks great. Then for affordable gifts for babies- used books from tag sales- between 5 cents and 25 cents usually, or take something like a pine cone and wrap it. She will think it's great. Oh homemade playdough with a fork and spoon also make a great gift (if you make the playgough yourself it is edible- so no worries about mouthing). Good luck:) anonymous

Hi Tight Budget, Big Heart, My advice: ask! Use the ''wanted'' section of the Marketplace on this network and ask for toys that you'd like your little one to have. Let us all know and I'll bet you'll be flooded with responses. You could say you can pay a little or nothing at all. There are many folks who read these postings who are not in your same shoes and would love to help. (Me for example.) I bet I have some toys (and clothes) that are in great shape that your daughter would LOVE and my kids are underwhelmed by! Feel free to email me directly - but try posting as well. This is a generous and plentiful resource. (And, you can give the things you receive away on the Marketplace when your little one outgrows them.) -alison
Less-tight budget, big heart too.

Hi- We've got a 12 month old. We ''recycle'' his toys (put some away for a while, when he seems bored, shift them around again). We plan on re-gifting the toys that have been put away. This may not work as well for a 16 month old, even our son is getting too smart. As for friends/family. Photos are great(you can get prints pretty inexpensively @ ofoto or shutterfly and most have a 15 prints free for setting up an account). You can frame them with inexpensive papers, or turn them into ornaments. We always try to do a ''gift from the heart'', so often I do paintings, or prints, or ornaments. Last thing, prioritize your list of people and give gifts to those who you feel are most important. You can still have a nice christmas on a tight budget! kukana

My recommendation for gifts for the toddler: childrens' books. They are available at used book stores and elsewhere and often do not cost much. As far as gifts for friends and relatives: I suggest a gift of your time. You can watch their children, do their errands, stay with a sick relative. Also a certificate for a home-cooked meal (they can choose when to redeem it with a day's notice, for instance) is always welcome. Lori

I used to stress about gifts to extended family/friends when our budget was tighter, and then my mother said ''for heaven's sake--just send a card!'' I'm still doing that years later--we get gifts for our kids, but as far as parents, in laws, close friends, nieces/nephews--it's a card with a family picture. And people love getting pictures--I save all the ones I get in an album and compare the kids year to year. It takes the stress and the materialism out of the holidays, and when everyone else is frantically shopping, I'm sipping eggnog and relaxing. A few of my friends continued giving me gifts even after I explained that I was getting off the gift giving treadmill, but they stopped after 2 or 3 years when they realized I meant it. They are still my friends, my family hasn't disowned me--in fact, my sister, brother, and parents do the same thing now!

Sometimes I'll make pies or cookies for friends around the holidays, and for birthdays (esp my neices and nephews), I do give gifts. But that is manageable, because the birthdays are spread out. The whole gift/shopping thing is way overblown and retail driven. It's not what the spirit of the holidays is supposed to be.

I would love to give you clothes that my girls outgrow. If you e mail me your address, I'll box them up and send them. I donate alot of them, but I'd prefer to give them directly to someone that I know could use them. My e mail is anniegirl59 [at] ann

Two ideas:

1) Your toddler, at this age, will be more excited by the boxes and wrapping paper than by anything inside them. Strange, but true. Get a cheap box of ribbons and wrapping paper (or use second-hand or already used ones -- she won't know the difference), break a small number of gifts up into the maximum number of packages (ie. if you decide she needs a new pair of shoes, buy them second-hand and wrap each shoe separately), and let her go to town on Christmas morning. She will love it, I promise.

2) Your family will love a photo of your daughter, and/or a piece of her artwork. Get some big pieces of paper, and some fun, cheap nontoxic paints, bits of yarn or fabric, shreds of colored paper (even newspaper ads will do) and glue sticks, and let her paint and glue to her heart's content. Or, if you go to Habitot, help her create some stuff there. A frame (you can even make one) and your daughter's name on the creation. They will be delighted. Karen

When I was a kid we made regular outings to Union Square for window shopping. We went to Macy's to check out their display, we checked out the City of Paris tree, we looked in all the windows. It was fun. It wasn't till I was much older that I thought maybe we should buy something too. Take BART across if you can afford it. You can also take a walk in the neighborhoods that have christmas lights. You can also check out the various free activities such as tree lighting, christmas carols, etc. and maybe start some new tradition of your own like telling a favorite christmas story or making hot chocolate together from scratch (I remember doing that too!) or baking & decorating cookies. janet

I hope you will get lots of ideas for low-cost gifts (home-baked goodies come to mind), but I wanted to suggest that you let your toddler make the wrapping paper.

Throughout the year if you let her paint on big pieces of paper you can use these to wrap presents (saving a few masterpieces of course). But for the holidays you could help her ''mass-produce'' some appropriate paper using just a few colors, handprints, and stamps you cut out of sponges or potatoes. Good luck! I'm looking forward to seeing other responses.

p.s. I have fond memories as a child one year of our whole family making candles to give as gifts. Maybe not something for your toddler to do, but you and your spouse could do it, or wait until your daughter is old enough to participate.
--trying to live by ''it's the thought that counts.''

Santa's on a Budget This Year

December 1996

This is in response to the mother regarding limited funds and an expectation from her daughter of presents from Santa. I have three children, two of whom still believe. When my oldest son started questioning why Santa used the same wrapping paper as we did and why he got four and his brother got six presents from Santa, I realized I had set myself up for early detection. I was able to mumble through some reasons that satisfied him and decided Santa would change his policies. I now give only one present from Santa to each child. This way if I was in financial difficulties Santa could always fill his part of the deal. I could explain our money situation and the children would understand my financial problems but they wouldn't understand Santa's. I also discontinued wrapping Santa's presents. These changes happened when my sons were 6 and 1 at the time. It has saved me problems with my daughter who is 6 and my younger son who is now 9 and very suspicious.I realize this may not solve your problem now, but it might help future parents.

You might try explaining that only one or two presents were from Santa and the rest were from you. If she really paid attention to the name tags (my kids don't), this probably won't work.

Or you might explain that as she gets older (I don't know her age) Santa gives less and expects older children to help him spread christmas cheer. This year my children were required to give away 5 toys (nothing broken or worn out) to the less fortunate and to give to everyone that gives to them (Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.) We made/will make homemade gifts, cookies, cloth napkins, picture frames, paper dolls, etc.(we have a large family and started weeks ago). I am trying to instill the spirit of giving and not just receiving. It has been hard. Last year after opening at least 15 presents, my 9 yr old said Is this all? It's distressing.

I hope this helps. Susan