The $100 Holiday Gift Challenge

by Katy on October 25, 2008 · 22 comments


How much do you plan on spending on holiday gifts this year? 




How about $100?  

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans plan on spending an average of $801 for their holiday shopping this year. And that number is down from previous years! 

$801 is a lot of money. And with the costs of groceries and other necessities climbing higher each week, it’s money many people don’t have to spare.

Do we have a responsibility to spend money on gifts we can’t afford just to support the economy?

I say no.

Our first responsibility is to our own financial well being. To be able to pay for our needs, before paying for others’ wants.

I’m not suggesting you stop being generous with your gift giving this year. I’m saying you can be generous, yet still be financially responsible at the the same time.

I’m issuing a $100 Holiday gift challenge.

To spend $100, or less on holiday gifts. Total.

Here’s how I plan on achieving this goal:

  • I’m already part of The Compact, (buy nothing new) so that keeps me from shopping from malls and catalogs. I buy almost exclusively from Goodwill, and can often find new/like-new items that are perfect for gift giving.
  • I can take books to my local used book store for credit. I can then use that to buy books, or gift certificates.
  • I have a few gift certificates/ store credits I can use towards gift giving.
  • I can make presents. I’m not very crafty, but I’m going to do my best. For people who sew, knit, crochet, etc., this is a great option. 
  • Give gifts of items I already own. (Vintage dishes, tableclothes, etc.)
  • Give a gift certificate of a personal service. This could be babysitting, gardening, mending, etc.

Do you feel you could spend $100 or less for all your holiday gifts? 

Are you in? 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

jinger October 26, 2008 at 6:51 am

My gifts are almost complete…sea glass mobiles, note cards with photos of street art from funky neighborhood, clay ornaments, aprons, and edible treats…all hand made. Also, gift cards for each family member and of course, stocking stuffers from the $1 store.

Most of my cost will go toward postage for mailing!

You can see some of my random acts of creativity by clicking on my name.


Grey October 26, 2008 at 9:59 am

I usually budget $200, so I think this would be doable. Of course, I think if you plan to use thrifted gifts, you’d have to start shopping much earlier than October/November.


CanadianKate October 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Nope. Not even $100 per person. My son is getting concert tickets and my daughter and son-in-law are getting airline tickets to come home for Christmas (they live 2200 miles away.)

I probably won’t spend much over $100 on *things* and there won’t be many presents to open on Christmas day (there never are) because the day isn’t about gifts, it is about people. But our family will be close to or over the average spending per person you quoted (the airline tickets, alone, are $2400).


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl October 26, 2008 at 1:16 pm

I can’t do $100, but we don’t go overboard with the spending either. We’ve been saving $40 a month since January for Christmas, so we now have $400 set aside specifically for Christmas spending(and it will be $480 by the time Christmas actually rolls around). I don’t really feel bad about spending this much…it’s saved and set aside, and we buy responsibly(no cheap plastic crap, some practical things like pjs, books, etc).


Meg October 26, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Last year my husband and I spent probably about $250. We had a $50 cap on gifts for each other, his brother, and our parents, and we gave out a few small (~$5) gifts to friends. Some of our small gifts were $5 self-watering violet pots — with violets we grew from leaves that we had trimmed off from our larger plants over the year. It also helped that we had a no-gift agreement with some people we might normally buy gifts for — which we’ll likely continue this year, and maybe expand to others.

We would have spent another $100, but we didn’t give gift cards to his dad and brother as planned because our cat got very sick the weekend before Christmas. The timing probably added an extra zero to the end of the bill 🙁 Fortunately, my husband’s family understood the situation.

This year, we’re hoping to avoid another trip to the ER (kitty or human) and cut gift costs even more — under $100 total would be spectacular. This year we’ve bought both a bread machine and a pasta machine, and part of the justification was that we’d use them to make Christmas presents. (And fortunately, we cook from scratch enough to make gadgets like that well worth the money regardless.)

Some of our family and friends are on special diets that exclude most commercial breads and pasta, so I know they’ll especially appreciate it if we can make them some holiday treats that they can eat guilt-free. It shouldn’t cost much since we’d be cooking from scratch and we have some supplies already on hand.

As for my husband and I, our anniversary is less than a week before Christmas and we usually eat out for that and sometimes give each other a small gift or two, or agree to buy a joint gift to us from us. So, for Christmas we’ll probably just do stockings with fruit and candy.


Lisa Whipple October 26, 2008 at 8:09 pm

My challenge (to myself only) is to purchase gifts a) only from local, independent retailers, b) I can only acquire by walking, c) that I make, or d) nonmaterial gifts (tickets, etc). I have to ship a significant chunk of my gifts to family back east, so I am not doing my usual thing of ordering everything online.


Lisa Whipple October 26, 2008 at 8:13 pm

Also, I am not getting Katy Wolk-Stanley the usual over-the-top multi-thousand dollar gift from the Neiman-Marcus catalog. As much as I adore her, times are tough, and something had to go. Hopefully, she will understand.


thenonconsumeradvocate October 26, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Lisa Whipple,

I do not understand.

However, I do want some of your delicious, “nutri-loaf.”

-Katy Wolk-Stanley


thepennypincher October 26, 2008 at 9:00 pm

We won’t be spending much. It is surprising how little you need to buy a gift.

Last year, for example, on our anniversary my wife and I went to our local department store and we had 30 minutes to buy a gift for one another and the maximum we could spend was $5.

I found a watch that had been deeply discounted and was selling for exactly $5. My wife loved the gift as she needed a watch. She changed the battery once since then, but it is still running.

Our anniversary is this Tuesday, so we will have to do it once more.


Caroline October 27, 2008 at 4:46 am

I’m easily going to manage a one hundred dollar christmas. – the in laws are getting framed photos of their kids (the 365 project means i have a gazillion to choose from and some particularly awesome ones). And I’ve scanned all of our family photos so that my mum will have them on cd. Cripes, what a job that was!

My favourite friends are getting a board game that I’m creating just for us to play! The game will encourage much laughter and fun poked at our collective and individual foibles!

The everlovin’ will likely be the only one who will get a store bought present, likely something for our upcoming travels.

The best thing is that I get huge enjoyment from creating and giving these kinds of presents, and the effort reinforces the specialness of my loved ones in my heart.


Michele October 27, 2008 at 11:17 am

Your ideas are great and so are some posted by other commenters. I usually make my gifts, if its a distant I send items. I try to keep it to a small budget, as said Christmas is about being with family.


Max Wong October 28, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I am in like Flynn…unless Flynn turns out to be one of those guys who gives target gift cards to everyone.

Luckily for me, my family, all by their little selves, decided about 5 years ago to stop exchanging holiday gifts. We all have too much stuff. But the b-friend, Mr. Foxypants, presents (pun intended) a huge obstacle. He has five siblings and numerous nieces and nephews. So for immediate family only we’re looking at like 20 people. Then there are our needy, needy friends. Does the $100 include postage?


thenonconsumeradvocate October 29, 2008 at 8:16 am


In answer to your questions about postage being included in the $100.

I would have to say postage is not included. Gifts, you have control over the cost.

handmade vs. store bought.
new vs. used.
clearance vs. regular price.

Postage — no control over the cost.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


connie October 30, 2008 at 10:22 pm

This challenge is a worthy one.
I am in!
I hope to slow down and carefully consider each gift for each family member and friend. Thoughtful gifts are usually not expensive. 🙂
My husband is the easiest- he appreciates everything.
My oldest turns 21 on December 24th, so his birthday will not be a part of this. 21 is a big milestone. Wow.
My biggest challenge will be the youngest at 18, who will be coming home from college. He tends to be the one with expensive tastes. Any suggestions?
I will keep cooking and canning. The strawberry jam is going to be paired with apple butter in gift boxes. I have gorgeous quilting fabric and ribbons to make them festive.
I also make killer caramel to dip pretzel logs in and top off with chocolate and nuts.
I also plan to take the old photos of mom and dad and copy them for the siblings that don’t have them. I will search Goodwill and clearance for frames.

Thanks for the great blog Katy! You are much appreciated in the Pacific Northwest!

P.S. Tried the homemade tortillas mix tonight for dinner (chicken tacos) and the family loved it! Who would have thought that they are that easy.


Magdalena Julie Bragdon Perks November 2, 2008 at 11:50 am

We don’t give or get gifts – just something we started a few years ago, and no one minds. I have a large family and it would be impossible logistically to buy, wrap, send all those gifts, and we are all tired of a bunch of stuff no one needs. We don’t get anything for each other, since we are so poor that it would be an extravagance! If we feel the need to give a gift it is something I made from our own wool, or an icon we make by hand. This only works if you have an equally frugal or very traditional family!


Liza Passemard November 5, 2008 at 2:47 am

The youngest sibling of our large family had decided that she was too broke for the usual $50 exchange that our family usually takes part in. We are taking part in a 1st (which I am very happy about, I must say) this year -our exchange will be a “white elephant” as it was called by my sis. I have spent years making various types of gifts for my family members(sewing clothes, making kahlua and bailey’s, bagels, dried food baskets, beer, you name it-I’ve made it).I couldn’t be happier that the fam is coming around to my “christmas is about togetherness and giving-not buying the latest thing that the consumer world has to offer” I can’t wait…


Philip November 24, 2008 at 7:59 am

I allow myself one reason to go over the $100 threshhold. Every couple years, somebody in our family is given a certificate from MercyCorps, Heifer International, or a similar group, informing them that a donation has been made to the organization in their name. It’s become quite an honor to be the person to receive this certificate, and it’s certainly an excuse for us to spend a bit more money on each other.


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