Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

Q. We have a large extended family on my husband’s side. We need suggestions for Christmas gift exchange without breaking the piggybank (i..e. exchange only items you received as a free-premium throughout the year or homebaked) and are also very interested in other non-traditional giving ideas (i.e. give to a local need/charity during the year and on Christmas, give a praise report of how the funds were used. (Money given mid-year also saves stress at the Christmas crunchtime.)

SIDENOTE: We lost our home and loved-one to a disaster and learned about this Christmas idea by being the recipient of a stranger’s Christmas tradition. Midyear, a family of strangers, who had heard about the tragedy, sent us a explanation note and the $70.00 they typically spend at their adult-Christmas gift exchange. At their Christmas gathering, we were their Christmas story to share of how that $70.00 bought back the daily essentials-of-life and some dignity for us. (When disaster strikes, it does not leave you a packed suitcase with toothbrush, comb, razor, deodorant or change of clothes…That $70.00 helped!) The money was a tremendous blessing to us at our time of need…and the giver said that, rather than spending monies for an adult family-gift-exchange (buying unneeded meaningless trinkets that would be tossed aside a few days after Christmas), they were blessed by giving to the real-life needs of others and teaching future generations a new Christmas tradition!!!) Anyone have any other Christmas gift-exchange ideas or alternative Christmas giving ideas? – Thanks, Julie

A. We make homemade gifts. We are fortunate to have wonderful artists in the family. Sometimes they ask what we’d like for Christmas, and sometimes they surprise us! For those who are not so artistic, me included, we buy all year for Christmas when we travel, buy when we find new items at the thrift shops, and use the freebies we get from the Internet for stocking stuffers. These are saved all year too. I try to go to the freebies site, no S&H, as much as possible to get the stocking stuffers. These are not small items, full sized mens and women’s razors, full sized bottles of bar-b-que sauce and some sample sizes of make-up, hair shampoo,conditioners, and shaving lotion, along with coupons for the items. Each time I go into the discount drug store, such as Eckerd or CVS, I check out their sale basket, sometimes 90% off the retail price. I’ve gotten pantyhose that retail for $4.89 for $.89 and one time pantyhose and trouser socks together for $1.00. I fill Christmas stockings for the children and adults and put the most special item in the bottom in the toe of the stocking! – Betty

A. On the Christmas idea someone asked about, my family for the last few years have started a tradition that continues & we enjoy. We adopt a family at Christmas we take the money & pool it together and give to a family who needs it. Since their is six of us plus our spouses this can add up to nice little sum of money. We have helped a family who lost their home in a fire, and last year we gave almost $300 to a mom who had recently divorced, and then had health problems and was not going to be able to provide Christmas for boys. Her tears & joy about being able to give boys Christmas was the best Christmas that I have ever, had. And because two of us live in different states then the rest of the family we take turns. One year it’s in Colorado, Missouri & Kentucky. This also teaches my two young children that not everyone is able to have Christmas without some help. – Neta

A. Have you tried the old Secret Santa trick? Each family member pulls a name to buy a gift. But be sure to set a minumum and maximum amount on the spending. (We have a few people who take thriftiness into cheapskate realm.) Otherwise you’ll have people spending anywhere from $2. to $100.. You can also try limiting gift giving to only children – ie. only up through grade 12. This way, all the children receive gifts. Finally, my last suggestion is one that my inlaws do each year. Each family secretly brings a gift for each of their OWN children, spending not more than $25 each. Someone collects the gifts on the sly, and Santa appears during the party and gives a gift to each child. – God Bless You, Maria

A. Use a theme each year. Let people suggest some, then all get one vote on the final "theme". Our family has done this with great success. Some ideas would be: Puzzles and Games, Hats and gloves, Something unique to the giver’s home state (if everyone is from different areas), and so on. Once we all had to give something homemade and had some great gifts that would become treasures. The children always had a ornament exchange. They are given enough money or use their own to purchase an ornament for each of their cousins, and they get to pick them out. It is amazing what thought goes into selecting just the right ornament for each child. Then as each child grew up and moved out to a place of their own, they had a tree full of ornaments with lovely memories. You can put a price cap on all of these that is affordable for all. And if money is a real issue, simply draw names so each person has to but only one gift. You can afford a nicer one that way too! – Pam

A. My husband and I decided early on in our marriage to pick a charity together and give money rather than spending it on Xmas gifts for each other. Most years we have chosen an area of the world or an animal (we have a small hobby farm) from the Heifer Project. They are a wonderful organization based in Arkansas that provides needy families in the USA and abroad with chickens, goats, water buffaloes, what ever animal is indigenous to the area, for sustenance. For example, a Peruvian family will be given a llama. When that llama has a female baby (called a cria, by the way, and they typically spend almost a year to deliver one llama) that family passes the baby to a neighbor, who in turn will breed her and pass on the next baby
to another family. In other words, they give a family a fishing line, not a fish ….

This practice has been deeply satisfying to both of us and a lot less stressful than trying to buy something.. It doesn’t work (yet) with our young daughter but at least we have more time at the holidays to spend with her.

A. Our family totals 26 and this is a lot of gifts. Several years ago we drew names and each person had to make the gift for the name drawn. This has worked well. Very unusual gifts arrive. Homemade bird feeders, picture albums of a person’s life and the most interesting one was last year. A young fisherman received a "worm farm." It was made in a large plastic container. Wrapping the gifts is also a challenge. We sit down in a circle and each gift is opened one at a time. Try it, it works and lowers the cost.