$100 Holiday Gift Challenge — An Update

by Katy on November 18, 2008 · 8 comments



Katy Wolk-Stanley

Starting to get anxious about the holidays?

Worried about how you’ll be able to buy thoughtful gifts without going into debt?

Take a deep breath fellow Non-Consumers. Help is on its way.

I had posted a $100 holiday gift challenge on the blog last month. To see if I could put together thoughtful and welcome gifts for the friends and family in my life without spending over $100. (And I’m including four family birthdays in my challenge.)

And I think I’m actually going to be able to not only spend less than the $100, but might even get out for under $50.

Without even coming across as a miserly bah-humbugger.

And here’s how I’m planning to accomplish this goal:

Regifting: I was given a $100 gift certificate to a schwanky restaurant last year. This a very thoughtful and generous gift, but more than I needed. I took the certificate into the restaurant and had them switch it out for two $50 vouchers. Now, I can enjoy the restaurant, and have a nice gift that I will present to my in-laws.

Reselling books: I have a pile of books to take to my local Powells bookstore. This will give me store credit, which I can this use to buy gifts. I only buy used, but other people could employ this tactic to buy brand-new presents. Powells also sells non-book items for the reluctant reader on your list. Powells buys books from non-Portlanders as well, and they even pay the postage!

Consignment shop: I take my kids’ outgrown clothes and toys to a local consignment shop. Not only am I de-cluttering, but can get either store credit or a check. I’ve received two checks totaling $120 in the past month alone. Keep in mind that all the stuff brought in was inexpensively purchased second hand to begin with. 

I also brought in a great Columbia Sportswear boys coat that I had gleaned from a free pile. It didn’t fit either of my sons, but I can trade it in for a new coat for my 13-year-old who has grown possibly 47 feet since last winter.

Give Fewer Gifts: This may seem mean, but a number of my family members decided last year to only exchange birthday presents. This idea was very popular with some, and horrifying to others. But this year I will not be exchanging gifts with my sisters, brother-in-law, father and step-mother and husband. My in-laws, mother and all children will still receive gifts.

This was not a financial decision. It was a simple living decision. We’ve all got more possessions than we know what to do with, and everyone had become very stressed about the holiday season.

Rethinking gifts: When my 13-year-old was a toddler, his favorite toy was a huge freezer box I cut into a playhouse. It had a door and three cut-out windows. He would take stuffed animals and push them through the windows, only to go into the house and push them out again. He loved this house and it kept him occupied for hours. I meant to paint it cute and sew curtains and such, but never did. But you know what? He didn’t care!  He played with his play house for years, and eventually we recycled it. You don’t need to buy bright, plastic electronic toys for your kids. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.

In this case, it payed to think inside the box. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Thrift Shops: This is my main ace-in-the-hole. I buy almost all my presents, year-round at thrift shops. It’s not uncommon for me to come across fabulous gifts for less than $2. And often, it’s still in the original packaging. I buy presents for my kids to take to birthday parties, gifts for family birthdays, and almost all holiday presents from thrift stores.

I went to one of my favorite Goodwills yesterday and bought:

  • A $1.99 travel Scrabble game in perfect condition that included a bonus small dictionary. I will give this to my nine-year-old nephew whose birthday is December 23rd. (This kid is Scrabble obsessed, and will totally groove on this present!) This is a substantial enough gift that it can serve as an anchor gift, with just a few satellite gifts to round it out. (Travel Scrabble is $17.99 if purchased new.)
  • A $1.99 still in its packaging set of watercolor paper for my ten-year-old artist.
  • A $1.99 still in its packaging uber-cool CD case for my 13-year-old rock star.

I’m not crafty, so I won’t be making any presents. But this is a great option for people who enjoy creating their own gifts. Just make sure to not choose projects that require expensive components. 

The key to inexpensive gift giving is to employ your creative faculties and to start early. I still need to buy most of the anchor gifts. But I know I’ll be giving great presents without noticing even a small dent in my bank account.

And, I won’t be practicing any bah-humbuggery.

What are you doing to keep holiday costs under control?

Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

CT November 19, 2008 at 6:49 am

Thanks for the Powell’s tip — I was dubious about what they would accept, but they were willing to buy a paperback I just snagged from someone’s recycling bin. I’ll definitely keep that in mind as an option, because somehow I never seem to be able to carry all my books to the local used bookstores (fairly long drive, limited parking, sheer laziness — the usual excuses!).


Deanna November 19, 2008 at 7:25 am

Last Christmas I didn’t keep it under $100, but I didn’t buy anything new either. Actually, I didn’t buy anything. Instead, I donated money to local food banks in honor of my family members across the northeast. The VT, NH, CT, and NJ food banks all received $50 to $100 each, and my family members received a Christmas card with a certificate (I printed these out myself) letting them know of the donation. This worked out in multiple ways: the food banks received desperately needed contributions, I didn’t buy anything (I did all the donating online), and my family, who has everything they could ever possibly need, were grateful to know that I remembered them during the holidays but didn’t waste money on a crappy gift they really didn’t need. Even my younger cousin was inspired by the thought that “I bought food” for hungry people and told them it was from her. It’s not under $100, but it very much non-consumerist.


Mark Winston November 19, 2008 at 8:51 am

My secret this year is to start acting like I reallyndo live on the opposite side of the country as my family – in years past I would scramble to shop for last minute presents after I landed. That always led to excess spending. This year I just ordered some nice local wines from my side of the continent shipped to my parents’ side, and once it and I are there I’ll open it and basket it in one of the many used gift baskets in my mom’s garage on a bed of ripped up newspaper. They’ll appreciate it just as much, it will have more thought behind it, and it will have set me back substantially less money.


Janet Patterson November 19, 2008 at 11:07 am

I typically make a Christmas donation to Heifer International on behalf of various family members, and send them a gift certificate telling them what I’ve done. Last year, I did this as a present to two of my neices…ages 5 and 7.

When I saw them this summer, the oldest asked me what I had given her for Christmas. I was a bit taken aback, but reminded her of what I’d done. Her response was to look at me in shock and say, “You’re kidding me, right?? You gave me a goat???”

I was disappointed both in her behavior and that of her parents, who obviously didn’t talk to the kids about the meaning of the gift.

Another year I gave the girls hand made gifts. I later saw them thrown on the floor, with no care taken at all with them.

Call me cynical, but this Christmas I don’t feel like giving these girls anything.

Has anyone else had problems like this?


Heidi November 19, 2008 at 11:14 am

I like to do advent calendars for my kids, but with little to no “stuff” in them. The gifts might be things like:
You get to control the TV clicker tonight.
Tonight we play the board game of your choice.
One get-out-of-jail-free card for a household chore.
You choose dinner one night this week – I will make anything you want. (pizza or chinese ordered in, for example, is not allowed. It has to be something we make at home. We might make our own pizza, or my kids are thrilled to have baked mac&cheese.)
Sometimes I put $1 in, with a note that says – Put this in the piggy bank of your choice. (My kids each have 3 piggy banks, one for college savings, one for spending, and one for giving/donating. And dontcha know, they often choose to put the dollar into the donating piggy bank! Makes a mom feel great!)
Sometimes I put a pack of gum in, with a note that says – Share this with a friend today.
You get the idea. It’s a fun tradition, something they look forward to.


Sara at On Simplicity November 19, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Two thumbs up to simply giving fewer gifts. A large percentage of the gifts on my extended family’s gift lists are obligation presents. The recipient doesn’t need anything, doesn’t want anything, and doesn’t want any more clutter. Why foist stuff on them?

I think the rising expense of airfare provides a pretty good excuse to drop some gift exchanges off the list this year. It’s like we can see each other or we can trade stuff. Easy decision.

Love the picture also! I had an awesome cardboard box playhouse for years. It was my refuge, and I loved it. Mom did pimp it out with some bright curtains, but I would’ve enjoyed it regardless.


Jan November 20, 2008 at 3:29 am

This year, my siblings & I have decided to do a White Elephant & keep the gift at a $25 level. I’ll probably just get a gift card to the grocery store & wrap it in a big box. Everyone could use grocery money rather than buying a senseless gift.

I am crafty & making everything this year. I have a scrapbook supply company so everything has been bought. I just need to put some things together!


Wren November 22, 2008 at 2:50 am

Janet, I have 2 granddaughters who are 7 & 11 and they have more stuff than they can possibly ever need so I also give them gifts to give to others. I LOVE the Heifer Foundation…sent them money just last week. 🙂
The thing that might help engage the girls is to let them choose the recipient. I take the info (Heifer booklet, web printout’s etc) to them before Christmas and we read it together and decide who to send money too. I think it makes it a bit more “real” for them to be involved in the decision making process. I make sure they see that I am putting their names on the gifts too.


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