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Christmas on a Zero-Budget

Stocking Stuffers

Is it possible to celebrate Christmas if you don't have any money to spend? Brandy shares many creative ideas in her post here which won't cost you a dime but will likely be remembered for years to come.

What are your best ideas for a meaningful but no-cost Christmas?

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44 Comments

  • Angela says:

    We are having a no cost Christmas here this year. Between grocery/drugstore deals, the great prices on toys and wii games, and giftcard offers at Target, and swagbucks winning, we are going to have an amazing gift exchange this year, for almost $0!

    Brandy has some great tips. And awesome recipes!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Heather says:

    I like to focus on experiences, rather than gifts. There is so much fun to be had through the holidays without spending a penny! We make a huge event of trimming the tree. The girls call it Tree Trimming Night.

    It’s our way of having a chance to celebrate with just our immediate family. I make appetizers (so we can eat and decorate) and we decorate the tree, put up the Christmas village and hang the wreaths.

  • Amy says:

    I have very fond memories of the year I picked up rocks along the dirt roads for my young son for Christmas. We had very little money that year, but he loved rocks and was perfectly satisfied with the unique ones I was able to find.

    I also stashed away anything the grandparents gave us to use as stocking stuffers…candy, stickers, trinkets, etc. They were forever giving me things like this for the kids, so I figured I could choose when and how to give them.

    Amy @ Raising Arrows

  • NICOLE says:

    Wow! This is how christmas should be. 😉

  • Great post, looking forward to everyone’s ideas here!

    We are actually doing a similar series on our blog called “Free Christmas Presents 2009” with free / cheap gift ideas for the holidays. You can see it at http://www.engineeradebtfreelife.com/search/label/Free%20Christmas%20Presents%202009

  • I have almost everything for my boys for Christmas, and nearly every item was purchased at yard sales – I just blogged about a castle set I paid $3 for and when I googled it at home saw it was over $250 originally!
    I have a lot of yard sale steals tucked away for them for Christmas and birthdays 🙂 When I get my act together I intend to blog about it. Yard sales have great, quality items that can easily be gifted to ones own children!

    The only brand new items I have bought them for Christmas are glow sticks from the Dollar Store. I bought them each a set of 12 for $2 total. Glow sticks + boys = true love at my house!!

  • Thanks for linking to my guest post over at Mom’s Frugal, Crystal!

    Brandy

  • Kristi says:

    Last new year’s I bought the gift baskets that walmart usually has for $20-$30 when they were marked down to $2-$5. I was able to get one for each family member. Also, I bake for Christmas presents and decided to add jams and preserves to the baskets this year. We have a produce stand nearby that will put overstock on the $1.00 rack. I was able to make about 9 jars of preserves for about 3.00 thus far.

  • Jennifer Caldwell says:

    This year we are having a very scaled back, but still very nice, Christmas with regards to gifts. We always exchange with our parents, and either with our siblings directly, or with their children if they are parents. This year we are giving everyone ONE gift each.

    Our own three children are getting two gifts each, plus one combo gift, as well as some candy and fun food in their stocking.

    I’m not crafty. at. all. So, I have been taking advantage of every money-earning and money-saving opportunity that comes my way.

    By money-earning, I mean places like Mypoints.com and Swagbucks, which are EASY ways to earn points to be transferred into gift cards. I stopped doing Mypoints for awhile, and barely started up again about two months ago. In that short time, I earned enough points to get two $10 Starbucks gift cards that will go to our two single siblings. Yeah, it’s a pain sometimes to click the little “earn points” box, but when I was diligent about it, the opportunities came fast and I earned quickly.

    The same with Swagbucks; enough to buy some gifts on Amazon.

    I also keep my eyes peeled for any and all money-saving coupons, especially the ones that are $X off of $X or more. With careful looking, you can get a pretty nice gift for free or almost free.

    Take the recent JCPenney $10 off $10 or more Rewards coupon. I took that to Penney’s and found my polo-shirt-loving-Dad a $46 Brand Name polo shirt on clearance for $2.47. I paired that with another nice shirt for $12, used my $10 Reward coupon, paid the small difference and VOILA! Beautiful quality shirts for pennies and a gift that he will appreciate.

    Finally, I’ve been shopping the thrift stores. My kids wanted a certain game, which is typically $20 or more. I found one in perfect condition at the thrift store for $5. Also found my 1 year old some toys (he doesn’t care that they are re-loved). And my daughter a $2 purse that I then filled up with $1 items from Target that I paid for with a Pharmacy-earned gift card.

    So, for about $20 out of my pocket, everyone is done and paid for.

    One key is not to wait until the “holiday season” to start thinking about these things. I’ve been collecting points and coupons, etc all year long, which is why I’m already done. If a great coupon comes out in March, by all means, buy the item in March and stash it. You’ll be so glad that you did.

    Finally, the kids and I will be baking cookies and candies to give to our teachers and loved ones. It will be a fun time with the kids and a chance for them to participate in the giving fun.

  • Excellent post! My sister always makes freezer meals – I think that’s an awesome gift – wouldn’t you love to have a couple freezer meals handy! What woman would not want to receive that? Make a huge batch of broccoli soup or rigatoni and bless lots of people!
    Courtney
    http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com

  • IRENE KEGEL says:

    We are jewish so we have 8 nights of chanukah = 8 nights of gifts….
    what we are going to do is 8 nights of volunter work…children hospitals,nursing home,homeless shelter

  • Bethany says:

    Freecycle! That’s my best idea… you could either pick up materials to make cool gifts, or you just might find that someone is giving away something that would be perfect for a family member. But don’t forget to give away also. Most freecyclers don’t like to give to people who are all take and no give. 🙂

  • Annie says:

    This year I am putting together gift baskets and bags using freebies I’ve requested online! My sister is getting a spa/pamper set using lotion, shampoo, perfume, candles, exfoliators. etc. that I have gotten for free! My brother the coffee lover is getting a large assortment of coffee samples I have requested or have found coupons for free bags of. They come in all different sizes. My brother, the bachelor, is getting a “bachelor survival kit”- all sorts of food samples. I’m also backing a backpack full of free samples/giveaways from companies of granola bars, energy drinks, nalgene-type bottle, bandaids and first aid supplies for my outdoorsy brother. My sister, who loves to cook, is getting all sorts of little kitchen gadgets and bake goods that I have recieved as samples or gifts from companies. One of my brothers is getting married and I’m give him a wedding day male pampering set using free samples of cologne and grooming supplies (mens deodarant, shampoo, soap, razors, nail trimmer, etc.). Hope this idea inspires someone!

  • Everyone on my side of the family is getting books from PaperbackSwap. While I don’t consider it entirely free since you have to pay to send your books out, I’ve had the credits sitting there a while so it’s free at this time!

  • I’m using rewards from points at pampers gifts to grow, swagbucks that I used for Amazon gift cards, and drugstore goodies as well as hand sewn and crocheted gifts for my daughter, niece and my cousin’s three daughters who are like nieces to me. I have no idea of what to get my husband though…! Then again, I am pregnant so perhaps the gift of life is plenty! 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    Some other ideas for children would be to make wooden blocks using scrap wood, sanding, and painting. Or making some baby doll or barbie clothes using scrap fabric. For gifts for others, a basket filled with freshly baked goodies like breads, or cookies would be nice as well. 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    I always enjoy including handmade items in my Christmas gifts. Croqueted scarves in the past. This year, I’m going to try my hand at ornaments made from pinecones and cookies-in-a-jar (using jars I saved from salsa/sauce).

  • Meagan says:

    Our Christmas budget this year is 100% Swagbucks. We buy the Amazon gift cards. With just my husband and I, we have almost $100. More than enough for us at this point in our life. Now, what we’re going to get with them we’ve yet to decide.

  • Rebecca says:

    we are not exchanging gifts this year. Instead, we are each making a dish and gathering at someones house (has yet to be determined) and we’re just going to enjoy each others company!! We had contemplated going out to dinner, but decided we’d be more comfortable at someone’s house instead. We’ve all said that we don’t spend enough time with each other during the year… so here’s a way to start!

  • Tammy says:

    Thank goodness for the invention of computers,printers and e-cards!

  • Kasey says:

    Some of my favorite no-cost gifts: A Dinner of the Month club for friends- a gift certificate for them to come to your house for dinner once a month throughout the whole year. This is a great way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. You could also do something for a spouse where you offer to clean out their car once a month, or something along those lines.

    Another idea I like is to write letters. So often we neglect to tell our friends and family how much they mean to us, and a heartfelt letter can go a long way, and will be something they will cherish for years to come.

    For kids, a great idea is folder games. You just get some folders and create simple activities out of paper and string for them to do. Each folder contains a different game. For example, Put in a few pieces of string with different activity ideas- put the strings in size order, jump over the string, make a circle with the string and jump in and out- preschoolers LOVE these! Or make little paper houses with numbers and pictures on them, then include a paper bag with envelopes inside that have matching numbers and pictures. Place the houses around the room and have the child play mailman and deliver the envelopes to the correct houses.

    I did a blog post on this last year also- maybe I’ll get it back up again for the holidays! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Lynn says:

    I think it is good for all the family to learn to be frugal together. Out of necessity we are having a very low key Christmas, but we don’t need to approach it that way and make that it seem like a negative. We are enjoying helping the kids make gifts this year and be creative. One thing we love is coupons for special time together! My husband fondly remembers doing $1 gifts for everyone one year… the Christmas the whole family still talks about! Homemade goodies are always a fun idea as well!

  • Charlotte says:

    We are having an almost-zero cost Christmas. The first step for me was keeping it simple- the kids are each getting 2 gifts. One is homemade, one was on major sale, one from a thrift store, and one was a “splurge” because I know I won’t have time to browse thrift stores (although I know I could have gotten it there). Total, I think I’ve spent $20 between my 2 kids. And now I’m done shopping so we can enjoy the season together- snuggling up for stories and baking cookies and singing songs. I figure giving them my time this holiday season will make up for any lack of “big” gifts they may feel.

  • This is a good reminder as we approach our first Christmas where our son is old enough to recognize and appreciate gifts, but not yet expect them. He’s just over two, and it’s tempting to want to get him a variety of things that we know he’d love, but this is also a critical time where we can set his expectations for the years to come. These are some great ideas, both from Brandy as well as the commenters. I think that I want a large part of Christmas to be centered a) on the meaning, and b) on rituals that support and celebrate that meaning. I haven’t quite figured out what that will look like yet, but this is a good reminder to start thinking!

  • Hannah says:

    We are going to try and do lots of things this Christmas season. We like to drive around and look at all the lights. (I realize this costs the gas for the car, but if you live in a good neighborhood, you could just bundle up and walk around.) Also lots of baking for other people. Since I always have every baking ingredient on hand, I think it counts as no-cost. Games and good Christmas books are always fun too!

  • Kasey says:

    I just posted a few of my favorite free or almost-free ideas from last year on my blog. Come to think of it, I think I might get started making some of them! I’m feeling a little “elfy”. 😉

  • mary bailey says:

    I’m loving all these ideas. There are some very creative people here, with the right heart and attitude. I struggle with my in-laws who have never understood why we want and need to be frugal at Christmas!

  • Lee says:

    While we aren’t doing a no cost christmas we are and always have done a family centered christmas or a giving christmas. I purchase gifts to donate to toys for tots, and we take them together. Each year we let the boys pick a name off of the angel tree to purchase for. We go to craft stores and get ideas for making gifts. We donate extra food to the food banks (we do this anyway every month) Every year my children make something for everyone and they also recieve home made gifts. My 2 boys also help me bake and deliver cookie trays to various friends. We have tried to simplify what our boys recieve every year as well. We ask for smaller or more meaningful gifts from family. Most do, but we have a very large family so my boys still get overwhelmed a bit. Simplicty is something we strive for, and in our fast paced media world it is difficult.

  • Karen Rucker says:

    A few years ago I gave my mom a letter for Christmas, just telling her all the little things I remembered from my childhood that meant so much to me. I didn’t spend a penny but she cried and hugged me and said it was the best present she ever got.

  • jennifer says:

    I too have been trying to stash away!We have done the large glade candles for zero to 50 cents. Also I have been collecting the dvd bluray combos. I got snow white for 5 bucks after rebate and 2 UP dvd combos for 0-1$ depending on the rebates, from dealseekingmom.com’s website. I also hit old navy for thier really good clearance a week ago, and got clothes for my nieces/ nephew for 1-2$ each. My only(?) purchase for much is a Wii we are looking at for my son, and I would love to find a deal!! Thanks!!!

  • Vicky says:

    There seem to be lots of wonderful gift ideas for younger children. I need some great inexpensive ideas for college and highschool daughers. Any suggestions?

  • Kelley says:

    I bought journals on clearance at Hobby Lobby for $1.00 each. Printed a Different verse inside for each member of the family!

  • If you haven’t joined Swagbucks, that would be a way to earn free gifts for teens and young adults. I’m going to get some Amazon gift cards for my sister that way.

    I also like to use materials from around the house, like when I made a yo-yo recently from bottle caps:
    http://roots-of-simplicity.blogspot.com/2009/11/craft-of-week-making-yo-yo-from-bottle.html

    I also enjoy learning how others have applied their creativity to make gifts and decor without spending a lot! Hopefully we’ll keep things simple even after the grad school years are over and my husband has a “real” job.

  • Lucky says:

    I love this post! It reminds me of Little Women.

    My little son (18 months) has an obsession with throwing paper away. I’ve been saving all of my expired coupons and think I will use them to stuff his stocking. He doesn’t really understand presents yet, and I won’t waste $$ on small toys to add to the 1 billion other small toys his granparents and aunts and uncles will be giving him.

  • Angie says:

    For teenage and college age girls, if you do ‘cvs-ing’, you could give them gift baskets of all the free, or close to free, makeup and bath/beauty supplies you stockpile during the year. I can’t tell you how much makeup and stuff I have been able to collect just over the past few weeks for my 20 year old niece.

  • kathy says:

    I making several gifts including these wooden coasters from dead trees in our yard…….FREE

    Love your blog!

  • Vicky,

    I have small children, and it is true that a lot of things are easy for small children.

    However, if you look at the sewing links, there are ideas for women that you size to the individual, that would work for teenaged girls (slippers and skirts, for instance). The links to the Sew Mam Sew Blog have LOTS of ideas, and you’ll quite possibly find something on there as well.

    On the Frugal Gifts page, there are ideas for sources for used books.

    Another thing you may want to do is look at thrift stores for needed clothing for your girls.

    For those in college, there’s bound to be something they need that isn’t a lot (especially with sales and coupons), that is a very practical gift–shampoo, nail polish, makeup, cleaning supplies and laundry soap, free music downloads, etc. Perhaps give a basket full of edible goodies that they can use in their pantry at school (this would work for your college-aged sons as well; I’m sure cold cereal would be appreciated!).

    I know I mentioned fixing old jewelry to give as well. There is a link on the Frugal gifts page to making some earrings with buttons and earring posts (which Michael’s and Joann’s may have on sale in the next while). You can also use this idea with old jewelry as well instead of buttons.

    I hope that helps!

    Brandy

  • Amy says:

    One year I asked all the adults in the family (which there were many, between seven kids and most of them with spouses!) to email me with a list of all the other adult family members. Next to each name they were to write a word or two that they felt described that family member. I compiled all the results and created a Word document for each one – at the top was their name, then all the comments from the family members – each word or phrase in a different font for interest. At the end it was signed in cursive font, “with love, your family.” Mom and Dad’s pages had the most so had to be much smaller font size! (it was hard to pare down how wonderful they are to only a few words!) I printed them up on nice paper and framed them. It was such a wonderful time having everyone open their gift and read them and they are one of our family’s treasured keepsakes ever since that Christmas.

    A no cost version could be done without the framing, but cheap frames can easily be found at thrift stores.

    Amy
    http://www.momonraw.blogspot.com

  • Honey says:

    My husband is laid-off so I have tried to prepare my kids that there won’t be as many presents as last year. But my kids like to do things more than they like to have things. Last year when the bookstore had their post-Christmas sale, I bought various Christmas books for a few dollars each. I am calling it the “12 days of Christmas.” Each day I will give them their new book and read it to them, them we’ll add it to our library or put them away after Christmas to enjoy the next year. Counts for homeschool, too. If I buy any this year we could maybe have a whole month’s worth of books! I also plan to do an advent calendar this year. Any ideas of good trinkets? Also, I will make dolls for my girls. And I have also bought garage sale items and clearance items throughout the year. And for my husband’s family, we weren’t able to see them last year so I will just give them the gifts we had for them. I really like having all the buying and wrapping done before December (although I am behind:() and then I can just enjoy baking, making crafts, etc with my kids (and alone). There are some great ideas on all the other comments!

  • Honey says:

    Oh, one other thing. My kids’ favorite thing to do is draw names and buy for each other at the $1 store-works for me!

  • kelley says:

    Another suggestion is to make a Coupon book….ie, good for your favorite dessert, good for a car wash, good for a backrub, etc.

  • Tessa says:

    The year my sister found out she was allergic to wheat, soy, and peanuts I took a photo album that had 3 4×6 picture sleeves/page and created a cook book specifically for her by putting recipes on 4×6 blank note cards. She loved it and it probably only cost me $3.

  • Kristina says:

    While this is not a free Christmas idea, it is one that my husband and I have done since we got married. We only give three gifts to each other. I read this in a book right after I got married and my husband heard about it that same week. It is patterned after Jesus being presented with three gifts, gold, frankenscence, and myrhh. We give each other 3 presents as well. It is a simple reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

  • Shannon says:

    This year our family is planning to make a family cookbook. We’ll make a copy for each of the kids and their families. The cookbooks will be comprised of all of our own family favorites and will just be simple printed sheets placed in sheet protectors then put into an inexpensive binder. Every year our plan will be to have each family add atleast one recipe to the binder.

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