It’s Not Too Soon to Start Thinking About Holiday Gift Giving

by Katy on October 16, 2014 · 44 comments

Christmas 2004

Like many others, I internalize the pressures of  holiday gift giving. Sure, I like the creative challenge, but however much I try to keep the expenses under budget they always seems to spiral out of control. I try not to get too anxious about the holidays until after Halloween, but the subject keeps coming up over at The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group, so I thought I would address it head on.

Because I try to only buy used, thrifted gifts need to be picked up throughout the year. However, I’m going to thrift stores a lot less often, so my normally plush stash is thin and puny.

Thin and puny!

I did screw up my nerve a few years and approached certain family members about no longer doing gift exchanges, and with the exception of a few people, everyone was up for it. So we no longer exchange gifts with cousins, adults on my father’s side of the family or adult siblings. My husband and I stopped exchanging gifts as well. (We continue to give each other birthday presents.)

My husband’s family tried a choose-a-name gift exchange a few years ago, but it was an enormous disaster for us as the person who set it up included my children, which meant that they were then just as responsible for buying gifts as an adult would be. Also, the organizer didn’t want to set any general amount to be spent, which made the whole endeavor very vague and subsequently expensive. Everyone else saved money, and my family spent at least four times the amount we normally would have spent. (I picked my own son, which meant I had to give him the level of gift he normally would’ve received from his generous grandparents.)

Thankfully that experiment was not repeated.

Here’s who we do exchange gifts with:

  • My mother and step-father.
  • My niece and nephew.
  • My mother-in-law and father-in-law.
  • Our 16 and 19-year-old sons.

However, there are also a number of holiday birthdays to contends with, so I lump those into the holiday budget as well. (December 11th, 16th, 23rd and 27th!)

This may not seem like much to others who have larger families and multiple nieces and nephews, but it really does add up.

Luckily, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve:

  • My husband was awarded a catalog from his employer for blah-blah-blah years of service and he gets to choose one item for free. (They sent two, as apparently they’d forgotten the last milestone year.) We’ll look through the catalog with an eye for checking off a substantial gift for one of the kids.
  • We have a Sears credit card which awards points to be exchanged for gift cards. (We use the card for expenses related to the non-profits that my husband volunteers for, so all expenses are reimbursed.) Last year we chose a Shell station gift card, as that was money we’d be spending anyway, but this year my husband chose $80 in Sears gift cards for some reason. But we’ll figure out something, anything from Sears that can work to winnow down our gift giving needs. Hopefully we can stretch this credit using sales, coupons, etc.
  • I was sent a review copy of a book about making earrings, which despite being a lovely book was too off topic for the blog. However, my ten-year-old niece loves to make earrings, so she’ll get the book. I also found a darling child size bracelet on the sidewalk and will include that as well.
  • I’ll take books into Powell’s bookstore for credit and use that towards gift giving. (I have an enormous box of my childhood and teenage era books in my father’s attic that I need to go though.)
  • I have two gift certificates for 100 free photo prints from Costco, leftover from a long forgotten camera purchase. Since these gift certificates lack expiration dates, I’m going to figure out a way to use them towards some kind of gift project.
  • I have a number of $5 Amazon gift cards I earned from doing my web searches through Swagbucks. Plus, I use my mother’s Amazon Prime account to get free shipping.

I do like to make some of my own gifts, whether they’re food related or a craft project. Last year’s Portland Timbers-theme painted stool was a huge hit with my younger son, and gets daily use and appreciation. (And remember the manga chair I made for my older son? I’m here to tell you that teenage boys can appreciate homemade gifts!) I also give the boys a new pair of pajamas every year, which I’m always able to find brand new at Goodwill. (Many men apparently receive pajamas as gifts and then just turn around and immediately donate them.)

I like to give what I call the “anchor gift” along with a few “satellite gifts.” In other words, one main gift with a sprinkling of smaller gifts. And as much as I grumble, I really do like the creative challenge of figuring out the perfect gifts for those on my list.

Whew . . . sorry about the brain dump of a blog post. And P.S., aren’t my kids cute? I think that photo is from 2003 or 2004.

Have you been able to simplify your holiday gift giving traditions? Or do you even want to? What are your sure fire gift ideas? Please share your thought in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth Vega October 16, 2014 at 11:33 am

I love old movies about the holidays, and I try to embody that generous-to-everyone holiday spirit, while still abiding by our budget and our value system. To that end, I generally do a semi-homemade, same-for-everyone, preferably consumable, gift for family and close friends. Last year, it was homemade vanilla extract and batches of cookies made with it. Children in the family, and they generally receive sturdy, American-made toys, books, or wish list items from us. Still struggling with gifts for my husband… He generally wants very expensive items! Luckily, though, he receives whatever he gets quite graciously, matching the spirit with which it was given.


MW October 16, 2014 at 11:37 am

As I told my husband, losing one of our jobs has made Christmas very easy. Homemade roasted tomato sauce (our tomato vines were generous this year) and pretty pasta for the few local adults we need to give gifts to, superhero t-shirts for the nephew/niece, odds and ends that I’ve squirreled away over the years for our kiddos, a contribution to a group gift for his parents, and a “gift from the heart” sort of thing for each other. Done. He’s not happy but I’m ecstatic to not have to fuss too much about it.


T.L. Bodine October 16, 2014 at 11:42 am

They grow up so fast 🙂

I have always sidestepped the gift-giving problem by 1.) gifting to families and 2.) giving consumable gifts.

When I was growing up, all four of us kids got $100 in the mail from our grandmother. This was then turned around and re-invested into giving gifts to the family. When I was young, $100 for five gifts wasn’t bad at all (3 brothers + parents)! But then I got older, and inflation kicked in, and my brothers all got married and had kids. So then it became “How do I spend $100 on gifts for 13 people?”

My grandmother’s long since passed away, but I still try and keep my shopping budget at $100 for gifts and $50-100 for holiday food (depending on what I’m expected to cook that year). Here’s how I swing it:

— If I don’t see you at Christmas, it’s very likely that you’re not getting a gift because I can’t be bothered to ship that much stuff. But last year I sent out cards with a short story I wrote, and it was a pretty popular thing. I’m going to try and do that every year now.

— I take the rest of the folks that I will be seeing and divide them out into family groups. Each family group gets a care package devised of some combination of cookies, candy, sweet bread etc. I set aside one day to do all of my baking and knock it out assembly-line style. I’m usually hot, sweaty and sore by the next day, but I end up with a tidy stack of baked goods that can be stuffed into boxes (purchased on clearance after Christmas the year before, usually, thank-you Big Lots) and delivered by hand to people.

— Sometimes I’ll augment the cookie basket with small jars of preserves, pickles, salsa, whatever else I’ve been canning. A couple years ago I got a great deal on 20lb of oranges, so I made orange marmalade for everyone under the sun. It was a hit.

— Another thing I’ve done in the past that’s great for assembly-style is to put together gift baskets of homemade bath goodies. Bath salts are the easiest thing in the world, just buy a big thing of epsom salt, mix it with some fragrance (essential oil is great, but if I don’t have it, the vanilla extract from my cupboard works just fine) and maybe some food color, and pour it off into a pretty jar I salvaged from my condiments (I like the soy sauce jars with the ridges on the neck, they look very posh). Homemade bubble bath is also super easy to make in bulk. Obviously if you’re feeling MORE crafty, you can make soap, which is also awesome. But the bath salt thing, man, it looks so cute and is great for like coworkers or the spouses of relatives you don’t really know very well 😉

— One year I did all of my Christmas shopping at a used bookstore. $100 stretches a long way when you can buy books for under $1! And it’s great because you can find some cool, obscure stuff that your recipients might not have already seen. My bookstore of choice has a whole section of vintage books, which are especially nice for the bibliophiles that will actually appreciate a first-edition of some random old book.

The hardest thing is buying for kids, and part of that is because I usually insist on educational type gifts that the parents aren’t always as keen on participating with. Like, one year when my niece and nephew were like 3 and 6, I found this really cute set of cookie cutters — numbers 0-9 and the alphabet. They came in this adorable lunchbox-style tin and were pretty cheap, in the $10 range if I remember right. Anyway, I made a few jars of premade cookie mix and packaged it all together for the family, figuring it’d be great — bake some cookies, cut them out, talk about numbers and the alphabet while you were at it. never got used. was super sad.

But, alas, you can’t control what happens to a gift once you hand it out, so them’s the breaks.


Lee October 16, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I love your entire comment but I really just wanted to say that one of the best gifts my girls got when they were 3 and 6 was a set of alphabet cookie cutters. Five years later those still get used on a regular basis. There’s nothing like spelling out your name in cookies!


Amy O October 17, 2014 at 6:25 am

They could also use the cookie cutters with play dough. Just a thought.


Lisa October 16, 2014 at 11:48 am

We’ve got our gift-exchanging narrowed down as far as we can (I’d do more if I could). The only thing that still sticks in my craw is my inlaws. My MIL always wants to get a big ticket item for my husband and me, and every year she asks what we want. Which is always NOTHING. Last year, I wrote a very heartfelt note about how not giving us something would be a gift in itself…and we got a Keurig coffee maker. Which. Ugh. We tried it using the reusable cups because I will not use the plastic ones, and it’s horrid coffee. This year, I told my husband he had to handle it, because if I did, I’d end up saying something he’d regret.


Katy October 16, 2014 at 11:56 am

That’s frustrating. Maybe the girls can set up a coffee stand in the front yard. Very Seattle!


Lisa October 16, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I’m keeping it out until their visit in a couple of weeks, then it’s going into some cupboard to gather dust until I donate it.


Reese October 16, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Donate it to me! OR let me pay shipping for it to come to me. I love my Keurig and it helps me to be green. Not all reusable coffee filters are created equal with it (takes a while to find the right one), but it lets me use just a bit of water, a bit of coffee grounds and make ONE cup. Which is all I need.

I love it, and have been wanting one for my office to be green there (but…. alas…cannot as those are too pricy to buy!).


Julie Hoover October 16, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Which one did you settle on?

Paige October 16, 2014 at 5:55 pm

My MIL gave my husband a Keurig for his birthday. Being in Texas we have a local coffee company and my husband LOVES their coffee. We got an ECOcup. its brown and has a filter in it you can wash out. We love it. I’m not really a coffee drinker but when I work nights I make a cup. It’s cheaper than the plastic one use and we always know its gonna be a good cup. No guessing!
This year I’m looking at doing the bath salts for coworkers and a couple lap quilts made from charm packs that were discounted to $1.99 a pack on a quilting website I love!

Katie October 16, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Love this post! I’m already feeling so in the Christmas spirit this year so it’s perfectly timed. Pardon me while I also brain dump. 🙂

We follow the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” rule with both of our kids. It definitely helps to keep me focused and intentional when selecting gifts. Because there’s no slew of gifts, it seems that each thing is more appreciated. I shop all year for the perfect gift to fill each category at a good price.

My husband and I both have small immediate families. Besides our children, we only buy for both sets of parents, my sister-in-law and my 99 year old grandmother. We set a very modest budget and pride ourselves on finding a thoughtful gift for each person on our list. It takes some early planning and creativity, but it’s always fun when you hit the jackpot and find the perfect thing. I troll Pinterest throughout the year in search of handmade gift ideas that might be perfectly suited to a recipient and try to start making them early so it’s not a last minute scramble.

We both have large extended families and we try to get together with them during the holidays, but all of our cousins on both sides have opted not to exchange gifts for ourselves or our children. I’m so grateful that we’re all so like-minded when it comes to that. Spending time together is wonderful, but not feeling the pressure to spend money is refreshing.

When we take our change to a Coinstar machine, we choose the gift card option so that there is no fee. I just recently signed up for SwagBucks so that’s another gift card opportunity this year. When selecting the gift cards, we are thoughtful about what will be most useful for Christmas gifts. This ends up paying for a huge chunk of our Christmas gifts. This year, the thing at the top of my daughter’s list was of course a “Hot Toy” of the season. I took a ton of change to coinstar, opted for a Toys ‘R’ Us gift card and purchased it 2 months ago when it was on sale and I had a coupon for extra savings. My father-in-law loves books so Amazon gift cards easily cover his gift.

My husband’s company sends us a Honeybaked Ham each year at the holidays and it certainly comes in handy since we host Christmas. Everyone else contributes a side dish and it makes the perfect meal. It’s predictable and maybe boring, but also delicious and the right price. 🙂


Robin October 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm

My husband is going to be getting experience/useful gifts. Like a survivalist course and an intro to hunting course (if I can find one). I won a golf shirt at our club’s PGA tournament and that’s his stocking gift. For my son and nephew, I’m now charging all expenses to our Amazon card and I will use those points to buy their Lego presents 🙂 should have been doing that for a few months prior but it didn’t occur to me till last night!


Jamie October 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I have lucked out in the family department – I don’t really talk to anyone on my mother’s side so we just……don’t exchange gifts. On my father’s side, he still includes me on the family gifts he sends I plan to make holiday cards for everyone!

I only have one friend that is hardcore about gift-giving and I will spend a good amount (probably around $50) on her. Most of my other friends are as broke or live far away so I luck out on them….and hope to be able to make everyone awesome holiday cards!

So I will probably spend about $200 between my dad, dad’s girlfriend, boyfriend, and friends.

I plan to be able to spend that by doing a no-spend November! Been shopping sales to re-up my freezer/pantry goods and really for me this means not eating out, buying Starbucks,


Jamie October 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I have lucked out in the family department – I don’t really talk to anyone on my mother’s side so we just……don’t exchange gifts. On my father’s side, he still includes me on the family gifts he sends I plan to make holiday cards for everyone!

I only have one friend that is hardcore about gift-giving and I will spend a good amount (probably around $50) on her. Most of my other friends are as broke or live far away so I luck out on them….and hope to be able to make everyone awesome holiday cards!

So I will probably spend about $200 between my dad, dad’s girlfriend, boyfriend, and friends.

I plan to be able to spend that by doing a no-spend November! Been shopping sales to re-up my freezer/pantry goods and really for me this means not eating/drinking out, buying junk food, or buying Starbucks. I’ll spend the month doing a lot of Swagbucks and making all these holiday cards.


Lesie October 16, 2014 at 2:48 pm

This year our family is doing an exchange with just the adults-but the kicker is you can only spend up to $15 and gifts should be purchased from Goodwill or some other preferably, charity thrift shop, yard sales, salvage stores, etc. It can be funny, useful, downright ugly or whatever. With another friend we are doing the same thing with a $10 limit.
None of us really need anything but the fun is in the creativity and in the hunt. Even gift wrap should be recycled-or upcycled -like maps, grocery bags, newspaper or reused gift bags. Keeping in the spirit of Christmas, we are asking family members to donate what they might have saved to a charity of their choice.
I have had more fun with this already. We will see how it goes and if we continue it the same way next year. Of course, being the mom and dad, we also give a cash gift although since we retired this year, we can’t be as generous as in the past.


Molly October 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm

I… don’t do gifts, and that kind of fits me and my personality. 🙂 I do other nice things throughout the year, and really, my family (who all lives far away) would rather facetime with me than get a present. The nieces get random “boxes of crap” that are the results of my decluttering and are a HUGE hit. But they’re not sent at any particular time, more just whenever I have a full box.
The hubby is getting a cast iron skillet this year, picked up at Aldi for cheap. And he loves ex officio underwear (it’s apparently the world’s best backpacking underwear and it goshdarnbetterwellbe at $26/pair!), so he’ll get a pair of that.


Krystal October 16, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Ah yes. A bitter topics with my in-laws, and an easy topic with my own family.

We, as a general rule, do not buy gifts for anyone. It took about a good 5 years to get them to understand we didn’t want to do it (it first started out as an effort to work on our debt snowball, now because we find Christmas gifts silly and wasteful is most circumstances, especially with that family.) As a result, and in tandem with other issues, we no longer spend holiday with them, as they all wanted to keep up the gift extravaganza.

My own family? We spend Thanksgiving with them, and exchange no presents for Christmas. The sometimes-exception is my brother, who is 29 with autism, I can always find something perfect for him at Goodwill that fits his interests, or he comes to visit for a weekend.

As for us, we saved our miles and bought tickets to Hawaii nearly a year in advance to get a good deal!


Krystal October 16, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Forgot about our dog walker. We general get him a gift certificate to a restaurant he loves, or a bottle of wine. I knew there was someone I was missing!


Jill October 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I don’t have many new ideas as I do Christmas much like you do. We have drastically cut down on gift giving with family. I buy for my 3 kids, my mother and father in law, my mom and my brother. Last year I exchanged my old books for credit at our used bookstore and gave books to my kids. And I hope to do the same this year for guidebooks for Korea, as my youngest is headed there to study abroad. I recently had a coupon for Bath & Body for $5 lotions and I purchased a few – for my girls and my mom. My son wanted a backpacking tent and I struck out on buying a used one but I did find one at Target on drastic reduction at the end of the summer. I just try to start early, don’t overbuy, use coupons and gift cards if possible and stick within my budget.Not always easy and sometimes I’m successful and sometimes not.


carol October 16, 2014 at 5:21 pm

I had enlargements made of an old photo of my husband when he was a child. Frames bought at Goodwill. A perfect gift for my stepchildren who luckily are very sentimental. My husband and I do not exchange gifts.


Laura October 16, 2014 at 6:43 pm

We’ve cut it down a lot, but I still feel Christmas is expensive. Every year We give a framed photo of our son to his 3
Sets of grandparents. Adults in my family do a gift exchange $30-40 range. And we buy for :
A niece and nephew.
2 adult siblings on my husbands side
Our son of course. He gets a book, a pair of pjs and one or two toys.
Some years by husband and I exchange some years we don’t.

Not so long ago we were buying for all adult siblings and their spouses on my side and all adult siblings , spouses, and even aunts and uncles on his side. Is was way too much. Glad we’ve cut it back even if it does still seem to add up


Megg October 16, 2014 at 6:51 pm

I love the challenge of figuring out what to give someone, while staying on a budget. It doesn’t usually stress me out. Gift giving is one of my love languages though, so that probably helps. I was so proud of myself for putting together my nephew’s second birthday gift for less than $10. I gave him 3 things, and none of them was a plastic toy that will break in 6 months. In fact, all 3 should last him until he’s outgrown them, which won’t be for more than a year. One of them is a book, and that’s always useful 🙂 Of course we spent about $150 to go down to Oregon to see him for his birthday, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices like that for family. Sigh.
My husband and I only each have 1 sister, so we just exchange with immediate family. This year I spent a lot more framing a cross stitch I made for my mom, but generally I’ll spend very little on each person, and do a lot of handmade stuff. The challenge to find something for cheap, but that is still meaningful for the person is fun to me. I actually get a little sad when I’m done with my shopping/gift-making (often before Halloween!) That’s probably a little weird, huh? 😉
Local friends get cookies, or something edible and no one has complained yet!
When we do have kids I want to do the 4 things rule: something to wear, something to read, something they want, something they need. I figure grandparents will be plenty generous.
My husband and I exchange gifts, but since our anniversary is Jan. 2 we usually lump it together. We’ve done everything from little gifts (the year we bought our house) to experiences (a date night to the melting pot), to jewelry for me, and Omaha steaks for him.


Ali October 16, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Lisa how about a membership to a kids museum, aquaruium, zoo’ You could suggest a night at a reasonable hotel with an indoor pool. You can pack up a picnic to take with you My husband was working on our only bathroom so we went to our local Hampton Inn. They serve a great free breakfast and our favorite part was swimming while it was snowing.

Or you can use the night out with the hotel as a mini get away for you and your beloved.


Ali October 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm

We no longer give to psycho sis and her teen age children’ They are all out of my life. I send a gift ($) to my neice and then money to my 2 kids as well as dnephew as Christmas is the 25 and his birthday is on Dec. 26. Nephew has a sister who is turning 23 on Thankgiving so she’ll get something. Sil and I have to have a talk about gifting.


Diane October 17, 2014 at 4:24 am

Gift giving for me is to immediate family members only and 3 longtime friends. All handmade. I’m thinking of soap this year. Supplies bought at different times with 40% off coupons at Michael’s . Handmade cards are done. I love gift making.

My son and granddaughter will get gift cards and a basket of homemade edibles.


Cattis October 17, 2014 at 4:31 am

I´m trying to do more gifts myself. This year I´m going to try and make bathingsalt for my sister and MIL, and granola for my other sister. I´m trying to be intentional about gifts but find it hard when children get older and only want cash. Our budget is about $28/ person (its an even number in Sweden, where I Live) and a bit higher for FIL, MIL, my husband, hopefully myself and our children. If I start in time I can get nice gifts of a higher value to lower prizes, I like the sound of that, you just can´t do that with cashgifts though…


Amy W October 17, 2014 at 4:35 am

Yes, they ARE cute kids! I think that little one looks just like you. Or at least like you in the pics I’ve seen of you on your blog.


Nancy from Mass October 17, 2014 at 6:57 am

I come from a HUGE family (mom, 4 siblings, 6 nieces/nephews and 12 grand nieces/nephews. The only person i buy for is my mom and something for my brother (small) because he is my sons’ Godfather. i do try and give them homemade stuff; my bread and butter pickles, fudge, caramels, etc.
My in-laws are different….just the two of them with my SIL and her 3. i try and give whatever i can make (fingerless mitts, scarfs, hats, etc) and we usually give something handmade for the kids (really, older teens/young adults) with money stuffed inside. i try and keep each gift around/under $35. my inlaws dont understand that we don’t want anything. they keep giving us those battery candles…ugh, how i hate them! i would rather get a GC for dinner or groceries or a store….but GC’s are gifts (according to them) because it means no thought was put into it. more use than the candles i can’t stand!
how about a half cord of wood to help heat our house? that would be a GREAT gift!


Nancy from Mass October 17, 2014 at 7:03 am

oh and for hubby and I and our son….i try and get one large gift for everyone to use – one year it was the WII, last year was a weekend away (the first in years since hubby has been ill since 2011). our son gets a ‘santa’ gift – even though he’s 15, that is something cute or funny (wrapped in shiny foil wrapper i bought for a buck yeeeeaaars ago -it’s the only time i use it). then he gets socks, underwear and something he really wants. 2 years ago he got his ipod touch in lieu of the family gift. i try and keep his gifts to under $100. he’s like us – would rather have an experience or gift cards than a gift.


Stephanie October 17, 2014 at 7:09 am

Luckily my husband and I both have small families and no one is worried about extravagant gifts.

I do a lot of handmade. I recently found pears for $.25/lb so I made vanilla pear jam which will be teacher gifts this year (I have 5 teachers on my list!) My sister is getting spicy tomato jam that I made at a class recently, and probably some knit socks. Her husband asks for a knit hat or flannel pj pants (sewn) every year.

The difficult ones are my husband and my kids (9, 6, 2). My husband doesn’t really like anything handmade so he usually just gets a CD or something from his amazon wish list. My kids still believe in Santa 🙂 so I can’t really make anything for them. I think I will do some shopping at thrift stores, or at craft stores using coupons. They love art supplies.


Seattle Nancy October 17, 2014 at 9:11 am

We stick with our budget for Christmas gifts and have a manageable number of people to buy for besides our two kids. We don’t buy gifts for our siblings but do buy for my in-laws and my husband’s one niece, and my two nephews that live nearby. We usually spend about $20 each on the niece & nephews. It varies with my inlaws, probably about $100 for the 2 of them. My parents are both gone, but I usually send my widowed stepmother a small plant or holiday wreath/flower arrangement for Christmas. We’ve never gone overboard for our kids and they often get joint gifts, like the xbox or games. My husband and I just do a few small things for each other.

I do both Swagbucks and InstaGC and get Amazon gift cards and stack them in my account. I usually have $100 – $150 by the time the holidays roll around. I have been selling the toys my kids have outgrown on our local Facebook buy-sell-trade group (much better than craigslist!) and have been setting that money aside for holiday spending. I also tuck away any money from selling on eBay or Amazon for my gift fund. We have relatives that send gift cards over the holidays and I usually get things for the boys with them. So overall, holiday spending comes out of the money that I make from these little side things and not from our family budget which is tight since I’m a stay at home mom.


Jenny October 17, 2014 at 10:27 am

Our gift budget for our family of 4, my mother, two nephews and one niece is around $50 every year. So far this year I already have:
For our two boys:
I’ve knitted all the “blocks” for two twin size Lego quilts from stash yarn — just need to crochet the blocks together.
I picked up fleece blankets for a dollar each thrifting, which I’ll turn into the traditional Christmas PJ’s for my husband and boys.
I have thrifted books for each kid.
I bought the stocking candy for 90% off last January.
I’m turning the leftover knitted blocks into two lego scarves for the stockings.
We’ll buy them each one new Lego set.
For the Husband:
I found new in box Guinness pint glass set yard saling this summer. Teamed with a 6-pack, the perfect gift.
For Mom:
I used a free snapfish photobook register coupon I found on the ground at Safeway to make her a hardcover book filled with pics of all her grandkids, for just the cost of shipping.
Nephews and nieces:
One gets a thrifted, like new wooden Melissa&Doug tangram puzzle set, I’m making one a “fort in a bag kit” from stash materials, and I’m making the infant niece a lion doll with ribbon taggie mane from the stash.
So the Lego’s, beer and maybe a few thrifted odds and ends will be the only purchases I still need to do 🙂


Lorraine October 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm

There’s a great book by Bill McKibben, The Hundred Dollar Christmas. Great read… It helps put things in perspective.


E October 17, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Your boys are adorable! What total cuties! I’m excited because I bought most of my presents last year right at the end of the after-Christmas sales. I wrapped them in very discounted paper, stuck gift tags on, wrote a list of who’s getting what and stuck it on the inside of my cupboard door so I don’t forget. I can’t tell you how relieved that list has made me feel all year. I only have to get the box out from under the house and buy for my own two kids this year. I’m hoping to repeat the process early January!


K D October 18, 2014 at 11:48 am

Our traditions have simplified over the years due to both my efforts and the efforts of other family members.

When we moved far from family we stopped exchanging gifts with siblings. On my husbands side of the family children (nieces and nephews) age out of birthday and Christmas gifts when you turn 18. Everybody is now an adult so I will only buy for one niece and nephew (she continues to want gifts and doesn’t care what, just that she is remembered, he has downs and appreciates Dunkin Donuts gift cards, and their mother does so much for my MIL). Neither my husband nor child are big gift people so there will be some small gifts there.

I will send gifts to three nephews on my side of the family and have gifts for my mom and MIL.

I love this topic and reading all the comments.


SB October 19, 2014 at 6:28 am

I can read again..on your main page the writing was so small on my tablet it was hard to read, Even with reading glasses lol. So, I went into replies and saw the writing was “normal” size, the way it used to be. Now I can read it again easily. Thank you!


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary October 19, 2014 at 11:03 am

We usually give our older (adult) kids money for the holidays. The younger two usually get one thing they’ve really been wanting plus a book and tickets to see some kind of show that we think they’ll enjoy. We are lucky to be in a financial position (and I know I am coming from a place of privilege) to be able to purchase those items. We live far from our extended families, but we do send small gifts to my nieces and nephews and granddaughter. For me, it’s part of the fun of the holiday to find something for each child, and I also think that it’s something that binds us together and helps us feel like family even though we live far away.

I also give Starbucks gift cards to the postal carrier and other service folks, and I bake cookies and treats and give them to my neighbors.


HeatherS October 20, 2014 at 6:20 pm

We are trying to keep our list and spending smaller this year than usual due to some medical debt from a recent surgery – grrrr high deductible! Hubby and I won’t be buying for each other. We will buy for both our kids (ages 14 and 8) but try to lower our usual limit and use deals and swagbucks whenever possible. We use the want, need, wear and read idea. We exchange names for other kids in the extended family which usually leaves us with 3 other kids to buy for with limits of about $10 to $15 each. For teachers and a few friends, I make a white/dark chocolate bark with pistachios and craisins but may need to switch to something cheaper due to price of the nuts. For the last few years, my parents and I exchange foods. I make cinnamon rolls for their Christmas morning breakfast and my mom makes a favorite pasta dish which covers our Christmas day dinner. Not sure what to do about the in-laws. Some years, one sil comes up with group gifts which are easy to buy as she picks up the gift but are almost always well above our budgeted amount. The year before last, hubby painted them a picture of the farm/farmhouse they had owned for years. Brought tears to my mil’s eyes and other than framing was very frugal.


Anthony E.Hamrick October 20, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Yeah, it’s time to think about holiday gift giving. For boyfriends parents: gift baskets is the most simple choice, Christmas decoration is good also. Another choice is fishing rod set. I think that price range should be around $100 – $300


cathy October 21, 2014 at 6:55 am

We’ve never gone too crazy with gifts, and though we didn’t plan it this way, they usually fall in the want/need/wear/read category. My plan this year is edibles for my sibs, parents, and a few friends. No one expects anything, so to me that’s the freedom to do it my way. We’re having an awesome grape harvest, and I’ve been fortunate to be given a lot of fruit from other people’s gardens. I’m thinking jams, chutneys, juice, homemade cookies.

In my husband’s family, years ago we switched from gifts for virtually everyone (3 sibs and spouses, kids, parents) to drawing names so each adult had one other adult. It fell apart the year we included all the nieces and nephews who were young adults. Some followed through, some didn’t, and they didn’t seem to realize that for the cousin/aunt/uncle whose name they had drawn, their gift might have been that person’s only gift. So…we went back to just sibs/spouses/parents and did that for a couple years. It was pretty successful, but at some point, it just fizzled. Instead, the sibs & spouses go in on a gift for my in-laws, especially something they want/need that they can’t afford. I think in the gift exchange years, the dollar cap moved from $50 to $75 to $100, but you were only buying for one person. Secondhand has always been OK, as has homemade. Once we stopped drawing names, we instituted a general “if there’s something you really want to give someone, you can do it, no pressure to gift to everyone” policy. In truth, none of us has a lot of disposable income, so we’re all very frugal.

I’ve already got a few things stashed from recent thrift store finds. Best score was an awesome, snarky, t-shirt from ThinkGeek for my teenage son (it’s even on his wish list). Nearly new condition, $2.99! We always include a game or experience gift for the whole family (has ranged from thrift store board games to tickets to Spamalot), and also make some sort of donation to a non-profit. We’ve done things like shopped for food to donate to a local food bank and then gotten a behind-the-scenes tour when we made the donation, and donated to Heifer International (the kids like deciding if they want to “buy” a flock of chickens or honeybees or other animals).


cathy October 21, 2014 at 7:01 am

I forgot I wanted to mention how we dealt with my parents who kept giving my husband and me gifts even though we would say we didn’t want/need anything. Gradually my mom (who does the shopping) switched to cash (which made us uncomfortable) to grocery store gift cards (useful, but still unnecessary) to letting go. They now only give gifts to our kids, but it did take several years. I think the turning point was when I convinced Mom that if she felt she had to give us something, that a grocery store gift card would be the most appreciated.


Dan Henry January 5, 2015 at 2:21 pm

I run a t shirt company, so if I get pinched on time I totally take the easy way out and give people some of our t shirts haha! That only flies with friends though. My wife would kill me!


Betty Winslow January 12, 2015 at 10:11 am

All of our parents are passed now, and my brothers and I decided years ago no more gift exchanges at Xmas (we do sometimes give something small on birthdays or take each other out to lunch), so the only people I buy for are our three kids, their SOs, my greatniece and -nephew, my husband’s niece and greatnieces, our adopted daughter and her little girl, our granddaughter, and the kids of friends who live in CA (who get small light items, due to postage costs!) We host an Xmas eve extended family event each yr, and I make a huge batch of caramel corn and parcel it out in ziploc bags (which one nephew starts asking about in Oct.) We spend more money on the kids, but I start way early, buy used sometimes (this year a book of 25 yrs of The Rolling Stone for my daughter’s rocker BF, a folding easel for one son’s artist GF, and some concert posters for my older son), make jewelry for the girls, and use my credit card points (paid off at the end of each month, so no fees) to buy gift cards as gifts, too. It’s more fun to shop when you have to be creative…. at least, I think so!


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