Join my email list and get FREE ACCESS to the MSM Freebie Library, including my top printables & eBooks.

Ask the Readers: Celebrating Christmas in a meaningful way?


photo by krisdecurtis

Christmas is coming and I have a large family, some
of whom have a lot of "disposable" income and others who are really
squeaking by this year. I have spent several of the last Christmas
seasons in tears of sadness and frustration. Sometimes I feel like I
can’t get the people on my list a "good enough" gift and sometimes
there is not enough money to get a gift for everyone.

I’d really like
to do things differently this year and I’d like to actually make
Christmas about Jesus and not about shopping. So, how can I get
everyone in the spirit? How can we celebrate in a meaningful way? How
do I give gifts from the heart and not from the wallet, and what do
other families do to get through Christmas without crying? -Alisa

I am guessing Alisa is not alone in her struggles; likely many of you have experienced something similar. So, how have you dealt with it? What ideas or suggestions do you have for Alisa?

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!


  • Catherine says:

    Here are a few ideas:

    Hand-made gifts — some people may curl their noses, but folk traditions go a long way, especially when connected with your family’s heritage.

    Alternative giving — a card specifying a donation in the name of a person or family to a non-profit organization. has been in the business of alternative giving for a very long time. You can provide information about how the gift will be used to make a difference in the world. Some organizations even have special cards you can print out in colored-ink.

    Also, has some great resources called “Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?” that might be right up your alley.

  • Kathy F. says:

    My husband and I sent out a letter to our family members explaining why we were “bowing out” of the gift-giving for Christmas. We did this 4 years ago, and we still do not exchange gifts. Our family members were confused by our decision, but eventually realized that we just were NOT going to participate in gift-giving, and that they were not to give us any gifts. Once they knew we were firm in our resolve (and the reasons why), there were no hard feelings or any more problems. Let me say, it has made the holiday season a great joy, instead of a great burden. We now relax and enjoy our relationships with our family without the angst of wondering if our gift was ‘good enough’. Really, gift giving is way, way, way over-rated.

  • redheadharper says:

    My suggestion is to make it personal. When you put thought and love into any gift, the receiver knows it.
    Try using scripture for inspiration to make personal note cards, IOU coupons or as tags on editable goods. Or use a religious story that means something to you to make theme gifts such Noah’s Ark and two matching handmade gifts. The gift of family, friendship and time together is what is most important.

  • Sara says:

    You could buy everyone a copy of the movie “What Would Jesus Buy?” and call it good.

  • A couple of years ago, my siblings and I all decided to stop giving each other gifts and take the money that we would have spent and spend it on people who could use it more than us. We put all of the money together and adopt a family in need and then we buy presents for them (hopefully on Black Friday, so we can stretch our dollars further). We wrap the presents and then leave them on the porch with a note from Santa. It is such a more rewarding and meaningful experience. Instead of stressing about trying to find the perfect gift for people who already have everything that they need, we have so much fun and find so much joy in buying things for families in need.

    It is a truly rewarding experience for everyone involved!

  • Holly says:

    Last year I made Christmas presents. I wanted to have something special. I made scripture boards. (I am not a crafty person, but this was fairly easy.)

    I went to Lowe’s bought pre-cut boards and painted them light beige. I typed scripture on the computer and printed it out on legal size paper. I used carbon copy paper in between the printout and board and then traced the outline of the font. I used black craft paint to “hand-paint” the board. Then sprayed a clear coat. My hubby then put hangers in the back.

    Eveyone loved them and I did Christmas for about $75. For everyone! I felt such peace that I had “done enough” and that the gift was eternal. After all I was sowing a seed with the Word.

  • Jodi says:

    I am doing several homemade things this year. I am making dish towels with a Christmas theme on them. I am also making personal handsoap. I got the idea of Pattiwack from News on 6. You copy on regular paper a pic of whatever (my daughter), glue the pic onto a regualr bar of soap (scrapping the “Ivory” word off), using tongs; dip the soap 1/4 inch into a pan of melted pariffin wax and let dry. Super cute and super cheap. Also dry ingredient mixes of cookie and cocoa mixes in jars are good. Other than that just think of things that are most useful. I don’t like to give gifts that are just wants; I look at needs too and use that as a more useful guide. Hope that helps. 🙂

  • Davonne says:

    I hate the commercialism of Christmas!

    Some suggestions:

    1) Simplify the list. All friends, teachers, cousins, etc, do not need a gift!

    2) Nicely talk to people you’re cutting from your list in advance.

    3) Have picture cards made to send to all of the people as a nice gesture, or host a potluck party for everyone you’d love to buy for but can’t.

    4) Draw names – at Thanksgiving my brothers and I, and our spouses, each draw one name from a hat. If we pick ourselves, or our spouse we put it back and draw again. We choose to have a list of who’s buying for who, so when the buyer forgets, they can contact the person with the list for a reminder. We also set a price limit.

    5) Let others know your budget. We have a small budget for people, and we tell them what our budget is. Then if they choose to buy us something more expensive than what we bought them, we refuse to feel bad because they knew our budget in advance. When telling others our budget, we ask them if there are any items they’d like in our price range. This takes the guess work out of it for us, and ensures they will get a gift that doesn’t need returned.

    6) Shop online. has AMAZING deals, and you can often get free shipping. I’ve found that online shopping is much cheaper, faster, and more convenient than going to the malls.

    6) Unless you really know what you’re doing, beware of homemade gifts. These can be extremely time consuming, and I’ve found that the money I spend in supplies usually doesn’t save much, if any, money.

  • Stephanie Shaw says:

    My extended family (my mom’s side) has already decided that instead of purchasing gifts or even gift cards this year, we are going to give the gift of our “presence” by meeting up at my grandparent’s home at the beginning of January! We are going to sit around and talk and eat, something we haven’t done as a large group in a long time, since we are so scattered across the country. It is a great alternative to spending money we don’t have on things we don’t even know the others will enjoy.

  • As someone who has spent the last two C-mases having to show up empty-handed at large family gatherings yet leaving laden with toys and clothes for the Vikings, I know how you feel.

    I have many other thoughts and/or impressions but don’t have time right this minute to share.

    The quickest first instinct response: everyone gets the same homemade gift. For example, all the grandparents get homemade calendars with your kids’ pics on it. Or, all the ladies in your family get homemade oven mitts. Or, all the guys get a gift basket of cookies. Everyone gets a fleece tie blanket. Everyone gets a coupon book of “free” things/chores you can do later. Something like that.

  • Danielle says:

    It’s impossible to please everyone. Simple homemade gifts show you put time and love into your presents. Try giving a family gift (instead of individual ones) of homemade cookies, bread, or canned goods, add a homemade oranment and you’ve given a wonderful gift that you can feel good about. You can check out my blog for cheap “stocking stuffer” ideas.

  • lisa says:

    Last year our extended family drew names (which we do every year) and MADE gifts for the ones we drew. It was really amazing to see everyone’s thoughtfulness and talents when we opened the gifts together. The time spent making them was valuable enough.

  • angela carrillo says:

    I became a stay at home mom a year and a half a go but for the last three years our Christmas budget has been so tight. For Christmas I started giving my Aunts, Cousins that had their own little families, close friends and my husband’s close friends at work “Christmas Baskets”. I love to bake so I would bake up inexpensive items in bulk and put them in Christmas gift boxes. This year I am really doing it up because I have been shopping lately at the local Goodwill’s and noticed they have started putting Christmas Tins out and I have been buying those up. I have a collection going and now this year can put up the baked goods into tins and really dress them up for little to nothing. I have also started putting together all my cookie recipes, making the batches and started freezing them. I do this because I too ended up crying and being depressed at feeling like it was not a good enough gift. But now EVERYONE looks forward to the baskets!! This year for my friends with little ones I am doing gable boxes that I found at the Goodwill with a dozen tea cookies that are SUPER simple to make and then adding in some disposable piping bags filled with royal icing in red and green colors. That way they may sit with their families on Christmas Eve and decorate their own cookies for Santa! If you would like the recipe just shoot me an email and I would love to send it to you. I love it!! Thanks for the opportunity to share my story!

    ~Angela Carrillo
    PROUD stay at home momma to a 10yr old and a 19mo old!!

  • Shellie says:

    I know Christmas is very hard for many families. You just have to trust that since they are family that they will love you and not your gift. If they are more concerned about material things than the spirit of the season, then you should bend over backward praying for them and not bend over backward trying to please them.

    My mom has a stepsister who has everything and things on her list are either too expensive for us to give or she turns her nose up at them. She doesn’t even says thank you. Many years ago my mom started to donate her time to a charity. The charity made up a certificate saying 40 hours of service were dedicated in Stepsister’s name by my mom’s name. Now they are in a different place and my mom makes a donation but the certificate recieved never says the amount. She picks a charity for a cause that impacts her stepsister. This year is American Cancer Society because her father was recently diagnosed.

    There are few people who can turn there nose up at someone giving time or $$ to a charity in their honor. You can even get your kids involved doing that for their aunts and uncles.

    Another idea: My husband’s family is also quite large and the adults alternate each year by doing an ornament exchange and a baked goods exchange for one another. He has 3 aunts and 5 uncles. One year 4 (and their spouses) give an ornament to each family and the other 4 give a plate of goodies to each family. Then the next year they switch. But they all give gifts to the kids. I think the limit is $25/kid but that could still add up if you have tons of kids. But you could vary it depending on the situation in your family: you could set a $10 limit or everyone gives the kids a book or DVD.

  • Brittany says:

    My husband’s family is large (1 grandparent, 2 parents, 5 kids, 3 spouses, 3 grandkids, and an “adopted aunt”). We do a drawing early in the fall so that each adult buys for only one other adult and we set a limit of $35. Everyone can buy for the grandkids, but even with that the “Christmas bill” is so much smaller than it would be if we were to buy for everyone. Plus when you only have one person on your list, you’re able to put more thought into what that person would really want and wouldn’t buy for themselves.

  • Clare says:

    I have a very large family / extended family and it would be insanely outrageous to try to get gifts for everyone. We’ve agreed to all get gifts for the children but when it comes to the grown ups we each pick a name out of a hat so that each person only has one grown up to shop for. We spend about $100 on the person we get (of course we feel free to spend more if we like) – It’s worked so well that we’ve done it for 9 years now. We have fun opening our gifts but honestly it’s more about the time we spend together and less about the gifts we get.

  • Katie says:

    Why not suggest everyone contributes money (if they can…no one has to know every family member’s amount) and give to a needy family. My family collects the money, gets a money-order and sends it to a family they know are in need. The needy family doesn’t know who the money order is from but they at least get to celebrate Christmas a little better than they would have if they didn’t get the money order. It takes the stress out of buying gifts and allows everyone to reflect on the real reason for the season!

    One of my friends and her boyfriend celebrated Christmas by going to a soup kitchen and working too.

  • rae says:

    Maybe you could suggest to your family to do some sort of secret santa type thing. Put everybody’s name in a hat and everybody picks somebody else. You could do it for one gift. Or you could put everybody’s name in twice and you would buy and also receive 2 gifts. It keeps the costs down but everybody still gets something. Then you guys can give homemade cards/cookies/etc to the rest of the family members if you choose as long as it’s small and homemade. It would leave more time to enjoy the season and spend time focusing on what matters.

  • Leisa says:

    I’d love some ideas on this too!
    Last year, we asked our family members to draw names and purchase a gift under $50 for the person whose name you drew. Everyone agreed – and then Christmas morning came and we were the only ones who didn’t have gifts for everyone. We certainly felt like the poor, cheapskate relatives and it was very humiliating!
    This year our budget is just as tight, if not tighter. I Googled “Frugal gifts” and saw lots and lots of great ideas, many of which I am adopting!
    For exampble, my teenage niece is getting a “Death by Chocolate” gift basket – with homemade Chocolate Chocolate Chip cookie dough and a cookie scoop so she can make cookies whenever she wants, along with a jar of homemade hot cocoa mix.
    My sister-in-law and her fiance are getting a Home Cooking basket – with the ingredients and a recipe card for my favorite Chicken Tortilla Soup, along with 2 soup mugs & spoons from the dollar store.
    Another family member is getting a gift basket with the recipe & ingredients for homemade caramel popcorn.
    (Once I thought of a theme to fit their personalities, I ran with it!)
    Everyone is getting homemade refrigerator magnets with pictures of my boys on them.
    I’m hoping it will all be well received. And if not, too bad! I don’t have the money and no longer have the interest in trying to beat the Joneses every holiday.

  • Michelle says:

    One thing that we have done on both sides of the family is draw names. This year I drew my younger brother’s name, so I will buy gifts for his family of 5. The catch is that no one is allowed to spend over $50.00 total. This just gets my creative juices flowing to see how much I can get for a family of 5 for $50.00. It takes the pressure off knowing that you will only buy gifts for one family and you can focus on that.

    Another thing I did last year was give coupons for service to each of my family members for things I think they would enjoy – a home cooked meal for my newlywed sister, babysitting for my brother, etc. These went over very well and everyone was appreciative.

    Last but not least, one thing that we did at a church activity was a gift exchange, but with services. This could translate to a family setting as well. Each person put a service they were willing to provide on a 3X5 card, some examples were a dessert, babysitting, a hair stylist offerred a haircut, a photographer offerred a session, bringing dinner over, helping to organize a closet/pantry, etc. All the cards were placed in a basket and the game played out like a white elephant gift exchange with stealing and everything. It was a lot of fun – and fun to do the service (and receive a service) afterward.

  • Last year we made our own hot chocolate mix to give along with cookies we baked to families and friends. Three years ago I would have been horrified to spend less than $20 on ANYONE. Now, I do my shopping throughout the year. JUST after Christmas is an EXCELLENT time to purchase gifts for the following year. That doesn’t help so much now but you can easily go to a thrift store and purchase some used frames and make your own collage of extra pictures you may have or put in a picture that your child made. Better yet, have them draw a special holiday picture just for the recipient and frame it. There are tons of frugal resources on the web. I have no doubt Crystal has a bunch. We also have made books for grandparents that describe why our DD has fun with them, etc and incude a picture or two of them together. Once you get past the price tag or your gift you can have a lot of fun with the gift giving.

  • Mary says:

    My immediate family decided quite a few years ago to stop the gift giving and instead just gather sometime between Christmas and New Years for dinner. Some years it’s Pizza Hut, sometimes one of us will cook a meal, but it’s mainly just a chance for us all to get together, talk, laugh about funny things throughout the year…the youngest grandchild is now 15 so we don’t even get the “kids” gifts any longer – they get enough stuff over the holidays.

    Last year, my brother surprised us all by creating a DVD for each of us of our old home movies and we sat and watched that – and we all had a good laugh!

    I have to say, I look forward to that gathering more than any other each year! There’s no pressure to give and spend more than you should.

  • Brandy says:

    I have a book that would be helpful. It is called Unplug the Christmas Machine. It had a lot of very practical ideas for how to deal with family that is not “on the same page”. Take a look and see if you think it would be helpful for you.

  • Joanna says:

    I would recommend picking names for adults in the family. With an extended family of 11 adults, I think we are going to try that this year. With the nieces and nephews we’ll give them gifts. You can always save more personal gifts you want to give to the other adults you didn’t pick for birthdays/mother’s day/father’s day etc gift. I would also recommend shopping the earlier the better so that you can truly enjoy the Christmas season and not get caught up in the typical “holiday rush”

  • Carmen says:

    Not many in our extended families know the Lord so as for getting them to focus on the real meaning, well it’s a hard task. So I’ll stick to the gift part of the question…
    We have seven children so it’s hard to buy gifts for everyone. So every year we give a homemade gift. This year it’s jam and biscuit mix, last year it was hot cocoa mix (money was really tight last year!), the year before it was spicy veggie dip mix. You can find all sorts of inexpensive gifts to make and give. Everyone in our family helps make the gifts. It’s fun, inexpensive, and from the heart.

    Hope that helps!


  • Debbie says:

    A few years back we came up with a solution to this problem. We have the traditional grab bag, but we also have added a slight twist.

    A few years back we decided to start buying stocking stuffers for everyone. The stocking stuffer should be about $5.00 (those with more money usually spend more, but those with less money can stick to the $5 rule and not feel bad about it).

    I purchased those inexpensive felt stockings at Michael’s for everyone and got some puffy paints. Each stocking is unique and very cute. This has honestly become the part of the day that everyone looks most forward to. It’s fun as each person comes into the house and puts all of his items in and around each persons stocking. We take turns going around and opening one gift at a time. Some of us really take a lot of time to get the perfect $5-$10 gift – it takes a lot more thought, trust me.

    This year since I am very new to saving money and couponing I have decided to show everyone just how far $5 can go. I am making each one of the adult family members a basket with items that total no more than $5 (using coupons, rebates, RR, ECBs, etc.). With all my coupons and freebies these baskets are already overflowing and so far I’ve spent like $2.50 on each one (and I’m not even taking into account overages!!) They’ve got stuff like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, floss, mouthwash, dishwasher and dish liquid, Scrubbing Bubbles, deoderant, lotions, make-up, cough syrup, etc. The list goes on and on and I’ve still got almost three more months to add to the baskets. It’s actually getting a little silly, but it’s fun. I’m amazed at how much free stuff there is out there.

    A great, inexpensive gift could be a photo album. With a scanner and printer (or even sending them to a site) you can make a great little book. You can even get old photos of past generations and do something like that.

  • Krystyn says:

    Anything homemade or from the heart. I’ve seen recipes for soap/bath balls….art projects from the kids, or pictures.

    As far as getting into the spirit. Talk about the reason for the season. Jesus’ birth. That should get everybody excited.

  • Dawn says:

    Hi Alisa,
    I found your blog through a friend.
    I have a large extended family too and went through this frustration for several years. Finally, one year I convinced everyone to draw names. We kept Grandma and Grandpa out of the draw so that everyone could give to them as they wanted. Then everyone else, brothers, sisters, in-laws, and children, only got drawn once. Everyone got a gift but we only had to buy as many gifts as we have members of our immediate family. That eased up the budget demands considerably and I was able to buy something nicer and not feel the burn of having to shop for so many people.
    On years that the family won’t agree to this, I do as many handmade gifts as possible. My children paint pictures that I frame. I make homemade playdough or dolls for my nieces and nephews. I give a lot of baked goods and write heart-felt letters, letting my family members know how much I love them and would give out bars of gold if I could, but only have the money to give out bars of goodies. I try to make the gifts as sentimental as possible, hoping that my love will shine through. As I make the gift, I pray for the receiver too and ask the Lord to prepare me to give the gift cheerfully even if it isn’t as “good’ as the receiver had hoped for.
    Hope that helps some.

  • Patricia says:

    We do a number of things already mentioned. We adopt a family as well. Our kids are involved in every bit of the process. I want them to understand how fortunate we all are. We use money from our Xmas budget to do this.

    Also, for gifts we’ve been taking the kids to the portrait studio (Kiddie Kandids often has great deals) and getting their pics done. I buy frames at Marshals, Target, or wherever I can find them and send framed pics to all the grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.. You can also buy craft supplies to embelish your own frames.

  • Michelle says:

    When my children were small, Santa left 3 gifts. I talked to my children about Jesus receiving 3 gifts from the wise men. This was an easy way to limit the gifts and give meaning to Christmas.

    I also try and shop throughout the year for bargains to use as gifts. I also have pared down my list and worked hard to keep it simple!

  • Lori says:

    I love these ideas! One year I made ornaments out of high quality copies of heirloom family photos. There is a great article on how to do it here:,28012,357881_557815,00.html

    As far as ideas for making the season more Christ-centered, I love this book: REDEEMING THE SEASON by Kim Wier. It’s PACKED full of great ideas for the family. You can buy a used copy on starting at $1.35!

  • Christy says:

    Definitely go homemeade and cheap if you feel you just HAVE to give. One of the best gifts i have ever received and still have is a wreath my mom made for me from Dollar tree flowers.

    Consider talking with your family. We have, on several occassions, told the kids that we would let them pick out one item and set a limit ( nothing HUGE). We then explained to them about children who do not have anything or have the basic needs. We all decided we would pick a kid from the tree at Walmart and buy that kid a gift.

    One year we even decided to forgo our holiday and we all (kids and all) packed up in the van and worked the local shelter for the holidays!

  • kim says:

    Since I’ve had kids we always give the grandparents and there are many a picture of the kids in a frame. I usually find a great deal on frames around Christmas time at Walgreens and print the pictures through Shutterfly.

  • Barb says:

    My suggestion for a frugal, yet meaningful Christmas is You can upload all of your photos on there. They have many really neat gift ideas. One that I love is the picture calender. I have made and received picture calenders. I have one right now. It was a gift from family. You can put all birthdays, anniversary’s, any special days you want. You can put photos on the days and on the months. It is so cute. They are around 11.00! You can also print stationary with pics of kids, maybe for grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. They are about 4 dollars! Worth checking out!

  • Erica M says:

    Hubby’s family’s tradition is to have each person fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child or Samaritan’s Purse. The kids like helping pick things out for “their” box! Even if you have 5 people in your family and have to do five boxes, you’ll end up spending much less than if you’d bought each extended family member a gift! Doing it together, maybe even gathering up some cousins to go shopping with you, makes it fun. Sometimes making it about helping someone else is just what we need to get back in focus!

    If not everyone wants to go that route, just explain that your family is taking a year off gift-giving and will be giving to children in need. I haven’t met a single person who thought I was weird for doing this!

    You could still do a small Christmas celebration at home for your family, or even a potluck dinner for everyone!

  • Heidi says:

    Whatever you decide to do, talk about it with your family ahead of time. Some families are happy not giving gifts, and for others, it is a meaningful part of the spirit of giving. Plus, maybe other family members will have ideas you haven’t thought of.

  • Sarah says:

    Not every recipient would love this, but I have given subscriptions to magazines for inexpensive Christmas gifts. You can usually find them for about $12 or less (sometimes free). And with all the different magazines out there, you can find one to fit a person’s interest. You can just give a card or something at Christmas telling the person what you did.
    Something that I do a lot for kids is make them a gift bag full of art supplies. You can do this for $5-10 or less. Pads of plain paper, colored pencils, markers, watercolor paints, stickers, packs of googly eyes and puff balls, glitter, chalk, tissue paper, stencils, ribbon, etc. are great. This is something you can stock up on in the fall when all this stuff is on sale, and put it away until Christmas or until you get invited to a b-day party or something.

  • Emma says:

    My husband told me about this great list of ideas yesterday; I hope it helps! (under Tip Sheets, click on handmade gifts to download the pdf)
    Aside from gifts, last year I bought a small Christmas devotional book that we keep on the dining table throughout December and read together at mealtimes. This really helped me stay focused on what we are really celebrating. (

  • Jenna says:

    My husband also comes from a large extended family. They are in large part non-believers. This is what we have done to keep the spirit up and the cost way down – and still have a blast doing it! Every year on the Saturday before Christmas, my mother in law hosts a party for all of us at her house. We all buy gifts for all of the children and spend about $10 each. If you shop sales you should be able to get a great little something for not much money at all. Then, the adults all partake in a grab bag. This eliminates the hassle of drawing names and keeping track of who has whom. It also frees you up to just purchase or make something you think is nice, not try and please one person in particular. We play the traditional “white elephant” rules. The game is so much more fun than the gift you end up with. The men bring a gift for a man, and the women bring a gift for the women. This being an especially tight year, I plan on bringing a homemade food basket for the men (some of whom are single) and making a Lady’s goodie basket full of things I have gotten free at CVS and Walgreens this year (chocolate, nailpolish, razors, etc.) This works because I only have to make 2, not 18!!

  • Krissy says:

    We also have a large family, with lots of children. The thing we started a couple of years ago was to have the kids draw names. The ages range from 18-3. We put a $25 limit on the kids gifts. This eliminates all the “junky” dollar store gifts, and gives them one “good” gift.

    The adults play dirty santa. Everyone brings a $25 gift that they would like. Last year I took a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure and my hubby took pair of leather gloves. Everyone draws numbers and you choose a wrapped gift in order of number. If the person before you opens a gift you want, you can steal it. After 3 steals, it is frozen. Whoever has number 1 can choose any gift at the end of the game that isn’t frozen. This is so much fun and you get to choose your gift!
    Both of these things has eliminated anyone feeling like they didn’t do enough. For our family of four we spend about $100-no more. Sometimes I spend even less with sales and coupons.
    I really like the stocking stuffer idea from OP. That would be a great place to take my CVS finds.

  • Christina says:

    I don’t have a great idea… but I DO want to say that Alisa DEFINITELY isn’t alone in her struggles. I find that my husband and myself feel this way every year with his side of the family… we’re on the ‘less fortunate’ end of things.. though, what that REALLY means, is that we’re the only ones who don’t max out our credit cards over gifts every year.

    It’s really, really hard to sit and watch the family open pricey gift after pricey gift… only to hand them a specially made gift basket full of homemade cookies, dried herbs from the garden, or other nice, INEXPENSIVE things. It just never feels… good enough.

    So, needless to say, I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say!

  • Lisa says:

    Our family has lots of fun having a “rob your neighbor” gift exchange: We all decide on a price limit (15.00 for us), and anyone who wants to participate brings a wrapped gift with no name tag. We have fun wrapping the gifts in amusing ways, too.
    We draw a card to determine the order. The person with the ace unwraps any gift from the pile and then shows it to everyone. The next highest card, can either “steal” an already opened gift or choose a wrapped gift from the pile. If the person chooses to steal, the person whose gift is stolen now repeats their turn and either steals another person’s gift or unwraps a new gift. This continues until there are not more gifts in the pile.
    We have lots of fun!

  • Aryn says:

    Each adult provides one gift at a value of about $35 (if they choose to participate. Some couples do one gift together rather than two gifts.) Each participant then chooses one gift from the pile. Then we do another round of stealing unwrapped gifts from each other. Then we open them.

    Last year, I went to Michael’s a couple weeks before Xmas and bought a basket, candles, and a couple ornaments all on sale. I assembled it as a gift basket that looked much more expensive that it actually was.

    Kids under 18 still receive gifts from everyone, but several us have started to pool our money to buy a better gift for the same amount. So, we each contribute $10 for each kid, then each kid gets a gift worth $30 rather than 3 gifts worth $10. Everyone is happy.

  • Last year we made a donation using World Vision’s Gift Catalog. You can donate to buy things like a pair of chickens for a family. Providing eggs for them to sell. Or a water filtration system providing much need pure water.
    We then sent out Christmas cards telling everyone what we put our money towards that would have usually gone to gifts.
    Then on Christmas Eve we watched a movie as a family and snacked on popcorn and cookies.

  • Coupon Geek says:

    We used to draw names for Christmas. But now, we all do the “Gift Exchange Game.” We each try to find the best deal, throughout the year or at Christmastime. We can’t spend more than $10-15. Everyone who plays, brings one gift. The kids don’t join until they are teenagers. You draw a card and the person with the highest card goes first and picks a present from the pile. People can take it away from you. The game ends when the last person gets their gift. You have to set a rule of how many times the last round could go, though. It’s really a lot of fun!

    For now, we all buy something small for each kid. But we are talking about drawing names for one kid and getting to spend more on a nicer present.

    And the last thing we do is buy/make a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus! Because that’s what it’s all about!

  • stina says:

    I would suggest doing charity work. There are always places that have work to be done on christmas eve and christmas day. My family used to work at a Salvation Army until past midnight on Christmas Eve giving away gifts to poor children and mothers. Somehow we still awoke Christmas morning around 6 am. But, we appreciated our gifts much more.

  • striving mom says:

    I have a great idea that is not only a gift, but it makes a difference in the lives of others on the other side of the world! My husband and I have traveled with Allow the Children Ministries, and you can donate to certain projects or buy things like Bibles for others. Check it out at

    Also, they have a child sponsorship program for $24 a month (and all $24 goes towards your child … nothing is taken out for administrative costs … part of the reason we LOVE this ministry!), and you can sponsor a child for a year and give it in the name of someone each month ($24 for your aunt and uncle in January, $24 for your mom in February … etc.).

    There are many projects on the page mentioned earlier, but look under the Nepal and Burundi projects for several things that are a few dollars ($15 for 5 Bibles, $7 for 100 tracts … etc.).

    Here is an opportunity to give a meaningful gift instead of trying to find something that someone may or may not like or even use … Merry Christmas! 🙂

  • Amanda says:

    We have been extravagant in our Christmas without even trying. I usually pick up things all year long when I can find them on sale at great deals. Well I haven’t kept a great list so we end up with so much. Last year after wrapping what felt like a million presents, I stopped and bagged up the rest and took them to our church for their Christmas ministry for the less fortunate. Well the past few months have been just scraping by and we decided it’s too much. Instead of just saying it, we are doing something about it. We are only giving our kids 4 presents a piece and at least 2 will be homemade. I’m going to make them each a little quilt and am getting them something special for the rest. My husband and I have to make each other’s gifts. As for the rest of the family we are making homemade gifts for everyone. The girls are going to make ornaments and decorated bags which I can sew. I made my grandmother-in-law a picture quilt a few years ago and am going to give her new pictures to iron on it. Super cheap. For teachers and friends we will be baking up a storm. We are going to use our talents and use the things we already have. We already told our family that is what we are doing and asked that they not buy our children lots fo gifts either.

  • MaryEllen says:

    These ideas would depend on whether or not your family would all agree on them or not, but here they are nonetheless. These are all things my family has either done or has talked about doing.
    1. We have drawn names at Thanksgiving. Whoever we draw is who we will buy a Christmas present for. That way we each only have to buy for one person. Either the adults draw an adult, and the kids draw a kid, or the just the adults draw, and we buy presents for all the kids.
    2. We have also decided not to do presents at all, but just to spend the money we would have spent on a big family outing (ice skating, going out to eat, etc.)
    3. We have talked about something where we don’t spend money on presents for each other, but rather use the money to do a family ministry like giving groceries to a family in need.
    4. The past couple years we have done a gift exchange where everyone just brings one present, and we play some type of game with them until all the gifts have been exchanged.

  • Holly says:

    One of my best friends is one of 10 kids and her husband is one of 7 kids so they have over 40 nieces and nephews. Each family on her side draws the name of another family. If each person chose another name it would still be expensive, so they do it by family. They then spend about $25 buying something that they could do together as a family. She would buy something like a game and a family devotional book. Crafty people could really come up with some good ideas. You could take advantage of deals throughout the year to put together a great gift basket.

  • This year I have decided to dole out all the free stuff I have accumulated throughout the year, and yes it is quite a bit. I thought I would make baskets for everyone and put their real gift in the middle. As of now, it looks like each couple (we have 4 sets of parents to buy for) is getting about $200 worth of stuff they can use. The siblings (all 12 of them) is getting about $100 basket. This way I get away with only spending a few hundred dollars on Christmas!

  • Crystal says:

    I know these feeling all too well. As our first son has gotten older, we’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions about Christmas, our celebrations, and why we’re doing what we do. Last year he was 4 1/2, and I struggled until I finally gave it up. I had prayed and thought so much about it all, and I decided that I couldn’t let the stress of finding “just right gifts” or expensive enough gifts take away from what truly matters.

    We started one holiday tradition a few years ago. We go somewhere and take a nice photo of our son. This year will be our first with two! Then I have prints made for most of our family members. This works out well because all our family is out of town, and we have 5 great-grandparents, 4 grandparents, and 3 sets of aunts and uncles. Everyone has enjoyed these so far, and the first year we included frames. Now they can just change out the photo each year. If you don’t think you can take a nice photo yourself, you may be able to find a friend or even Wal-Mart offers some packages really inexpensively with lots of prints.

    My immediate family draws names to cut back, but everyone still gets our children gifts. Last year we wanted to take some of the “I wants” and replace them with thoughts about what he might like to give. We helped him to make a list of people to buy gifts for, and then we took him to the Dollar Tree. He spent time thinking about what types of things each person might like, and he picked out gifts for everyone and a roll of wrapping paper. Then we went home and he helped to wrap the gifts and make tags.

  • Lindsey says:

    We also have a large family that is continuously growing. The way we make Christmas easier on everyone’s wallet is by drawing names with my husband’s family. He has 3 siblings, and everyone is married, so the five girls (his sister, me, his mom, and 2 sisters-in-law) draw names to buy gifts for each other; and the men do the same. That way, each couple is only buying 2 gifts, instead of 8. We also keep the limit at $25. For the adults, presents are just the icing on the cake of being able to spend the holidays together. There are also 7 grandchildren in our family (and more on the way), so each family can’t afford gifts for all the nieces and nephews. Our family understands that if you can afford to get gifts, great! If not, it’s OK, and no one ever gets mad. In fact, this last Christmas, we didn’t buy gifts for anyone! We even chose to not be part of the name exchange. If you feel like your family wouldn’t understand, you could explain to them that you’re trying to celebrate Christmas for what it really is about–Jesus and family–instead of what it’s really not about–presents. And, you can always give the gift of your time. If you have a sister who never gets a break, cook her a week’s worth of meals or babysit her kids overnight. If you have a single parent or sibling, invite them over for a home-cooked meal (something that may be rare for them). If you have lots of girls in your family, have them all over for a “chick-flik” night at your house, complete with lots of girly food, homemade facial masks and nail polish for pedicures. For your kids (or nieces or nephews that live close-by), you could allow them to have a special slumber party with friends or family, complete with yummy snacks, you telling a favorite family story, and no bedtime. You can get really creative and think of so many alternatives than having buy a gift for each member of your family. Give them yourself!

  • Julie says:

    Family gifts are a great way to cut costs. Game nights or movie night packages are usually a hit. Put together a family game, some snacks, and possibly a DVD for a family night package. I did family gifts one year and was not sure how it went over so I went back to individual gifts the next year. Everyone asked me where the family gifts were because they enjoyed them so much.

  • Kasey says:

    The most beautiful thing I have ever read addressing this concern is a story called “Mary’s Dream”. (If you google Mary’s Dream Christmas story you can find it)

    I am a big fan of scrapbooks. They can get expensive if you want them to, but they can also be simple. Some people think that others might find them cheesy, but I even made one for my super-sports-jock husband and he loved it! I just included photos of him with the children and a few words (Daddy’s girl, etc.) and quotations. I have also made them for extended family, and they are always a huge hit.

    Last year I made a family photo matching game for all the children in the extended family (my kids have 15 cousins) where I just included 2 copies of each individual family’s photo and put decorative printed paper on the backs so they could use them for matching, or just to remember names and faces.

    My third favorite cheap gift idea is an Inspiration Jar. I made one for a friend last year, and I just compiled a huge list of inspirational quotations and scriptures on my computer, then I printed them out on the white side of scrapbook paper. I cut them apart, then placed them in a clear jar that I got for $2 at Goodwill. I decorated the jar with some ribbon and a tag that said “(Friend’s name)’s Inspiration Jar”.

    I feel that these ideas help to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas by encouraging finding joy in the important things in our lives- love, family, and friendship. I am planning a post for later this month about more great Christmas gift ideas on my blog. Hope this helps!

  • Lyn says:

    Alisa, bless your heart. I think the best way first is to be honest with your loved ones. You can let them know lovingly that you just can’t afford to spend what you don’t have. Perhaps some of them are in similar circumstances but they just haven’t told you. Looks can be deceiving.

    You’ve received some good suggestions. I would say that ultimately you have to come to terms that it’s okay to not give what you cannot afford. In the end it would only hurt yourself and your family’s finances. There’s no need for you to feel guilty at all about this. Release the guilt and embrace the joy of all that you do have.

    Do you have a special talent that you can share as a gift? I think homemade gifts are wonderful, especially practical ones. Anything from your heart would mean a lot. Also, you can also trim your Christmas list to the most important people in your life. If you have children, perhaps you can discuss as a family that everyone can pick 1 special thing that they want (within a reasonable range). You could also try to get some freebies for stocking stuffers.

    You don’t have to spend another Christmas season so sad. You can make your own family memories with less of a focus on “stuff”.

  • We have always gotten presents for our parents ( usually pictures of our kids, framed) So this year our three sets are costing $9 each!!!
    My husbands family only gave gifts to their god-children ( he had two and I cut off the gifts once they hit 18) and his mother.
    I love the drawing names idea- but you certainly don’t have to purchase gifts- why not write something up- like a remeberance with that person.
    You could apply that to Christmas!
    For my daughter’s 1st birthday we did a time capsule and most everyone brought words of advice or even deeper sentiments written for her to cherish… it was the best thing ever! My too cool for words brother brought me to tears when he wrote to her about the day she was born from his perspective and what her birth and first year has done to make him a better person!!!

  • We have always gotten presents for our parents ( usually pictures of our kids, framed) So this year our three sets are costing $9 each!!!
    My husbands family only gave gifts to their god-children ( he had two and I cut off the gifts once they hit 18) and his mother.
    I love the drawing names idea- but you certainly don’t have to purchase gifts- why not write something up- like a remeberance with that person.
    You could apply that to Christmas!
    For my daughter’s 1st birthday we did a time capsule and most everyone brought words of advice or even deeper sentiments written for her to cherish… it was the best thing ever! My too cool for words brother brought me to tears when he wrote to her about the day she was born from his perspective and what her birth and first year has done to make him a better person!!!

  • Jennifer says:

    I personally love giving and receiving Christmas gifts. It is an area of my life that is steeped with love and tradition and my family has never put a focus on materialism.
    However, I know that Christmas can sometimes just become a competition to give the best gifts and to walk away with all the things you wanted…which is not at all the spirit of Christ and the celebration of his birth.
    I try really hard, like other commenters have said, to really personalize things. I genuinely enjoy the challenge of finding, or creating the perfect gift for someone, so everything I give is either handmade or hand selected just for them. Giving gifts is my love language, but for me it has never been about the money…and I try to reflect that in my gift giving. Homemade gifts are almost always appreciated…usually more by adults, but children too sometimes. Its all about using your specific skills and abilities.
    If you love to bake, homemade food is a special treat that is often very rare in today’s world. Men almost always appreciate food 😉
    If you are into making crafts, homemade gifts can be very special. My mom has never really done any serious crafting…she is just not interested and her skills really lie in other areas. However, sometimes she will make fabric covered photo albums for people who have just gotten married or had babies, and that is a very sweet, meaningful gift that just requires the ability to use scissors and a hot glue gun.
    Gift baskets or gift sets are a fun way to be creative, and can make smaller, more inexpensive gifts feel more substantial. A homemade apron is a decent gift, but if you pair it with some homemade jam, potholders, and a collection of your favorite recipes it becomes really impressive.
    Giving a charitable gift in someone’s name, such as the heifer project is another great, creative way to circumvent the materialism issue.
    Finally, the gift of time is huge for some people. If your sister is busy with 3 little ones you could give a coupon for free babysitting, or even offering to do her dishes. A niece or daughter in junior high would be thrilled to have the opportunity to go shopping with you (and they have pretty inexpensive tastes usually, like Claire’s).
    When I give gifts to people I try to make each gift something unique that no one else could give them, that they could only get from me. And I feel like that is what makes exchanging gifts so special.

  • We have some family members as well that “have everything” and we always wonder what to get them.

    A few years ago we made everyone homemade fudge as presents and it was a hit! Who doesn’t like homemade fudge!

  • Lyn says:

    I don’t know how large your family is, but if it’s not too large – as your gift you could even invite everyone over for a holiday meal, a breakfast brunch, or you could have a holiday night of fun for everyone that includes either appetizers or desserts, along with hot spiced cider or hot cocoa. Add some festive music with holiday decorations you already have. Something like this can be done quite inexpensively, and you could even send out homemade invites that make it even more special.

  • Laura says:

    I come from an amazing Christian family and about 10 years ago when grandkids started being added to the Christmas scene, my dad made what we refer to as “The Best Gifts.” His are made out of wood, stained with drops of red paint, but it could be made from anything. On each is something that we are given through Christ – His forgiveness, fellowship with others, adoption into His family, mercy, etc. Each begins with “Because of Christ, we have a gift of infinite value, more precious than anything money could buy. Christ gives us…” Then there are 2-4 verses that explain that gift. So our tradition is that every 4 or 5 gifts that are opened (and we open them ALL one at a time!) we stop and someone else around the room will read one Best Gift. Each time it brings the focus back. So we never get too far away from the cross throughout the morning. It also keeps it from being a mad rush to get through the presents which allows for fewer gifts to take longer and be enjoyed more. I look forward to it every year and I know it is a tradition that my sister and I will continue always in our homes too.

  • April says:

    I can’t claim this as my own idea – my husband and I stole it from one of my really good friends and we are going to try it this year for our children.

    Everyone gets a gift that is
    1- a want
    2- a need
    3- a spiritual growth

    And for our extended family – – every year I give pictures in frames – – I buy the frames from Kohl’s because they are always on sale and you can get a great deal from time to time.

  • Darlene says:

    When we get together with my husband’s extended family, rather than exchanging gifts, we pass around a manila envelope and everyone puts in a monetary donation. There is no minimum amount- whatever you can afford- and you can put in cash anonymously so no one has to feel bad about how much or how little they gave. Then each year someone different gets to pick out a charity or cause to donate the money to. We started doing this about 5 or 6 years ago, and it has worked out really well. We usually end up with around $500-600, and yet no one is over extended financially.

  • Jessica says:

    My DH and I buy for one niece, and his younger sister and both sets of parents, and our daughter who’s almost 2. I shop through the year. My niece will get 2 unopened toys we’re regifting from things our daughter got last year that we don’t want her to have, along with two Christmas themed shirts (target clearance last year) and some books (from borders this summer). The parents and his sister are getting photo books and photo dvds from CVS that were free after ECBs. They’re small, personal, and didn’t cost anything. For our daughter, I put together a box of dress up clothes and hats and purses that I’ve found at yard sales and thrift stores.

    I grew up with my dad’s family exchanging names and it never went well. Inevitably, one family would cheap out and get you total junk that you didn’t want. My parents, who could barely afford it, would get something nice for whomever’s name they picked. My Mom’s family just got together for a big meal.

    My ideas:
    1. For parents/grandparents: a family picture or picture of the kids
    2. Fudge, cookies, fudge and cookies!
    3. For the person who has everything, just make a donation in their name. If you have a hard time choosing, go with one like the American Red Cross or a local humane society.
    4. Zoo memberships or museum memberships are nice.

  • We used to draw names and give the person whose name we drew a gift that cost no more than $50. But even that got to be too much for many because they all gave to the kids, and some gave an extra gift to my parents or grandmother. Then we tried having each family bring a stocking stuffer item for each stocking, but again, even if all you spend is $3 per person, and you can’t get much for that, it still became a lot of money because of the size of my family.

    Now we give gifts to the kids only, and each person spends what they choose there and the adults just enjoy the fellowship and a meal where everyone brings something. It has taken a lot of pressure off my mom who used to stuff the stockings and cook the meal, and we all get to feel like we are giving what we can.

    If you have a family that would be receptive to this type of thing you could also ask that whatever they would have spent on adult gifts they bring in the form of a check made out to a charity that means something to your family. All donations are sealed so no one is embarassed, but all the envelopes are placed together in a mailer with a letter saying that as a family God has blessed you with abundance, that your needs are small and you would, as a family like to share the blessings with those in need. You could even get the kids involved asking them to each chose a toy to give to a shelter or children’s charity.

    Hope this helps. Have a great upcoming holiday season.

  • shevigirl says:

    In our family we do things a little differently. Since Christmas is about the Birth of Christ and kids adore it, we make it about the kids. The kids at various age ranges do a $10 gift exchange with one other kid and all the little ones under age 5 get something from everyone (not to exceed $10 limit). All of this is optional though.

    As for our personal family, we have 3 small kids and not a lot of money, so we make it about things homemade, like cookies, blankets, doll clothes, etc. I also read something long before marriage and children and my DH agreed with me so this is what we do. Our children get 1 gift from Santa and 3 gifts from us. Our reasoning is simple. When the Baby Jesus was born, he was brought 3 gifts. Since we don’t want our children to think they are better than that, we only give them 3 gifts. They do make lists, and we pick 3 off of that list. It makes the kids truly think about what they would like, not just gimme gimme gimme, oh this looks cool syndrome.

  • darlene lafalce says:

    Our family does not buy presents for anyone over 18. A small gift for the children is usually books or clothing. If someone wants to give a gift they can recycle a book or a photo but nothing of significant value. This happened when three of us were basically exchanging gift cards for each others teenagers. Now that said…the 20 yr olds now see that it is more meaningful when we spend time together and not a half day opening gifts.

  • Amy says:

    Hey- all good ideas…here are my comments…
    -We approached our sisters and brothers one year, it was about time time we were all buying our first houses. We suggested that instead of gifts that year we would dedicate one day to each family as a service day. That family was responsible for buying supplies, and assigned us tasks to help around their house. The idea was that we would spend time together and serve one another!
    -Check out the website for Advent Conspiracy and watch the video there. It is amazing- maybe after you send it to your relatives they’ll get on board with you.
    -I try to have all my shopping done before Thanksgiving (yes-this includes not shopping on Black Friday) because I find myself spending money I wasn’t planning on. Also, the crowds and materialism keeps our eyes off the real meaning of Christmas.
    Hope this helps…

  • Amy says:

    Hey- all good ideas…here are my comments…
    -We approached our sisters and brothers one year, it was about time time we were all buying our first houses. We suggested that instead of gifts that year we would dedicate one day to each family as a service day. That family was responsible for buying supplies, and assigned us tasks to help around their house. The idea was that we would spend time together and serve one another!
    -Check out the website for Advent Conspiracy and watch the video there. It is amazing- maybe after you send it to your relatives they’ll get on board with you.
    -I try to have all my shopping done before Thanksgiving (yes-this includes not shopping on Black Friday) because I find myself spending money I wasn’t planning on. Also, the crowds and materialism keeps our eyes off the real meaning of Christmas.
    Hope this helps…

  • Liz says:

    When it came to Christmas gifts I have done a variety of things: made gifts, gift cards, bought gifts, etc. I would spend so much time picking out gifts especially for people only to be disappointed that they didn’t appreciate it or would never even acknowledged the gift.
    This is the first year that both of our children are married so we decided that along with my parents and brother we would draw names. We put a $50 limit on the gift and then we also decided that one couple from our group would decide on a charity for us to donate to. We decided that my parents would choose the charity this year. There is no limit or minimum for the charity donation. We will just send our checks to my parents and then they will send the donation to the charity.

  • I was listening to a radio program a few years back about minimizing the Christmas mayhem and focusing on the true meaning of the season.

    One caller said, “My kids get three gifts each. It was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for them.”

    I like that idea. Very simple.

  • Katie says:

    I am making “Mom Time Out Baskets” for all of my sons teachers, my grandmother, my aunts, and any other mother or just girl on my list. I am making baskets of all of the things I have gotten throughout the year and filling them full. I have in there candles (free), Toothpaste and toothbrush (free), Shampoo and Conditioner (free), Body Wash (free), Headache medicine (free), nail polish (free), makeup (free), air fresheners (free), razors (around $2.00)etc. As you can see, it is not costing me hardly anything. Start collecting coupons now, watch for sales, and get things free. Make up a nice or funny name for the basket and the girls will love it. Walgreens and CVS are great stores to get free items at. Hope this helps!

  • Sam says:

    My husband’s family draws names each year. That was great because you didn’t have to buy so many presents but then even that got crazy. Some would then tell you exactly what to buy, where to get it and how much to pay for it. We quickly got fed up of that. That is not the spirit of Christmas to us. So, for the past couple of years we stopped participating in that. No one could understand. This year, I have considered drawing names again but this time making a donation to a charity in that person’s name. I’m sure that will not be well received either but hopefully no one is brash enough to publicly dispute that!

  • Sarah says:

    Hi! For Christmas this year we are (as a family) going to be spending $5 on people. We actually have drawn names so I have a person and my husband also has a person. And we are all going to see how much (or how little!) we can get with $5. So this will be fun, we can make things, get free samples, get freebies from CVS or wherever… And for the kids we also draw names. We have 4 kids so we draw 4 names. We have also reduced our amount to $10 per kid this year… trying to do the same thing. We will be having fun with this! It is actually the first Christmas (in a long time) that we will have fun getting ready for.

  • Stephanie says:

    Wow. That is hard. I come from a family where Santa came every year. It would put so much stress on my mom. She loves her girls so much, but to keep up with all my sisters friends is simply not possible. I would make every effort to make sure that within your walls the focus is where it’s supposed to be.

    I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve heard the idea of only doing three small gifts in relation to the three wise men’s gifts. Obviously, I haven’t put that into practice yet, but I like the idea.

    In regard to the extended family there are many things you can do. After college, I worked as a ministry intern and then for my church so I never had disposable income for these types of things so I tried to make things up as I went a long.

    One year I invited my closest friends for a Christmas tea where the gift was quality time as friends making jewelry that each person could take home. Honestly, the jewelry wasn’t fabulous, but time together was.

    Another year, I knew one of my friends wanted to grow in cooking and the other in home management techniques, so I bought 3×5 card boxes and filled them with recipes or home “tips” for each of the girls.

    Baking things, or donating to a charity on behalf of the family could be some interesting ideas too.

    This year I’d like to make some homemade soaps or scrubs for my close girl friends.

    Joy to the world! The Savior reigns. Let that be the theme of your Christmas this year!

  • Jennifer says:

    One year we did a “Dirty Santa” gift swap with our family. The gift had to be under $5, which usually meant it came from our attic, garage, etc. We laughed more than we ever have that year as we opened our funny gifts and we still talk about the pack of toilet paper my 18 year old brother wound up with. It was by far one of the best Christmases ever and no one complained about not getting “real” gifts.

  • Kathleen says:

    I was also in this boat a few years ago and finally decided to talk with the rest of the family about it. It was wonderful to find that others in the family felt the same way 🙂 In the end we decided to buy for the children only. For my parents and in-laws I make photo calendars of all the grandkids. Everyone LOVES them and they last all year long. Plus, they are SUPER EASY to make. (We use Shutterfly and can’t rave enough about their calendars.) Anyway, it is a much happier time of the year for us now and we can really enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.

  • fidget says:

    I make candy boxes and then for certain folks, I also make an ornament. Other family members I offer to photograph them (I am by no means a professional and just use a point and shoot but how many photos do you have of your whole family? Not many b/c someone is usually behind the camera)

    If youve been wiley through out the year, you can put together pampering baskets with all the free makeup and body washes you score

  • I posted a list on my blog of easy and useful homemade gifts that I’ve made in the past if anyone is interested in them. I hate homemade gifts that look “cheap” and like others have said, “drain me of all my time and energy”. This list is thoughtful and most of them are pretty easy.

    We are trying to cut back too although I felt it would be offensive to cut our families off completely cold turkey we are slowly weaning our gifts down each year to less and less and switching over to generic gifts (everyone gets the same thing) and useful homemade gifts.

    Here is the link to that list or you can just click on my name What’s Cooking.

  • kp says:

    I think this is a great idea:
    Pick a theme for your gifts. One year EVERYONE gets a book. Another year everyone gets a cd or a game. Whatever you want! This can save you in many ways…time (just go to one store or online store and buy it all at once), money (there are often deals like Amazons buy 3 get 4th free), embarassment (not one gift thats better than another or more desireable, etc.).

  • Jessica says:

    For Christmas, we’ve been making our presents the last few years for my family. My husband’s family has everyone put a full Christmas list of what they want and come Christmas everyone gets exactly what they had on their list. It’s kind of boring.

    This year we’re attempting to make presents for both sides of the family (this is for our immediate family–parents, sibilings, grandparents, and a few nieces & nephews). We’ll see how my husband’s family reacts. They’re not so much into the homemade type gifts.

    For our extended family (on both sides), we play a version of the white elephant gift exchange. One are normal gifts and the other is joke gifts with a $10 giftcard attached. That way it’s fun, everyone gets a present, and no one goes broke trying to get something for every aunt, uncle, and cousin.

    Hopefully, if you can convince your extended family to do a white elephant gift exchange it will make your Christmas celebration a bit more simple and enjoyable.

  • I have two suggestions.

    First, in our family, all of the adults and teenagers exchange names on Thanksgiving for Christmas gifts. We always set a limit on how much to spend, and everyone buys or makes something for the small ones. We do this buy couples for those who are in them to cut costs down a little.

    Second, gag-bags are a lot of fun. Have the adults make a grap bag, again with a set price limit. The more ridiculous the better. On Christmas, assign numbers to each of the bags and everyone can draw numbers to see which one they get. They are a lot of fun to open. Everyone can have a good laugh without having all of the gift pressure. To make it more interesting, everyone could vote on the best bag, and have a revolving “trophy” or something until next year. Granted, the trophy part only works if everyone involved is a good sport.

    For everyone else, I normally make some sort of homemade treat. This year I did jelly. Owlhaven has a great easy recipe over at

    Hope these are helpful!

  • Stacey says:

    My family draws names for families. We all get together after Thanksgiving and draw names for one another and set a limit. Depending on finances some years we just concentrate on the children–

    Remember your family would probably feel horrible if they knew you stressed so much about not being able to give the way you want to. The thought really does count.

    Baked goods, photo cards and “chore” coupons work too. For my anniversary this year my sister watched my children so I could go out with my husband. In turn I went and stayed at her house for a couple of days so her and her husband could enjoy a 3-day weekend.

    Keep it simple, stress free and get creative! Don’t ever feel bad, that’s a horrible way to feel–especially around Christmas.

    God bless and I hope your holidays fare well this year.


  • Chris from St. Mary's says:

    Celebrating Christmas in a meaningful way?

    I hate to throw a damper on the party, but my Mom is dying of ovarian cancer. The doctors haven’t told us how long, but we’re figuring 3-6 months. Mom’s afraid she won’t even live to see Christmas 2008.

    When you’re dealing with that, Crystal’s question takes on quite a different perspective.

  • judy says:

    My frugal family has always done a Christmas exchange instead of buying every single person a gift. Last year we really went frugal– we all agreed that we would only buy things from Goodwill or yard sales!!! Boy, did we have fun! I actually got my SIL a toaster that she desperately needed on freecycle, so I didn’t even have to pay for it. The fun part was, we could actually get each other “bigger” gifts by doing it this way.

  • Janeen says:

    I know this year I’ll be looking to really give out some of my free items I’ve been stocking up on and I’ve been hard at work in making tons of canned jams, jellies and salsa. I love the look on people’s faces when you give them something they can’t just go out and buy themselves. Homemade stuff may sound cliche, but I know a lot of people really appreciate it because they either don’t have the know-how or the time to do it. Giving should be a lifestyle, not a season.

  • Michelle says:

    There are many different solutions to your situation. About 2 years ago I found out (happily!) that I was pregnant, and decided to give up a well paying job to become a part time caregiver for my mentally challenged brother, and a Stay at home mom. My huspand and I had lived a very comfortable lifestyle with a large “disposible” income, and reality struck within weeks of me leaving my job. I learned to be frugal, and amazingly we live just as comfortable if not more than we ever did. I thought Christmas would be a major challenge, especially since my due date was only 3 days after Christmas. This is what I did, and my method has only improved over the following years. First, decide how much you are able or willing to spend. Not total, but per person. I chose $10 per person/couple. Most importantly, start early. My shopping starts the day after Christmas for the following year. This way, not only do I have a huge selection, but I have a whole year to look. I have time to return something if I find something better, and I am not overwhelmed by having to spend a lot at one time. ( I use this same method for birthday shopping too.) Also, I get to take advantage of every holiday sale. I live in Florida, and we have a store called Bealls. They have an awesome clearance section, with discounts ranging from 30-70% off. Then, during holiday weekends they often offer an extra 40%. If I buy a $20 item on clearance for 70% off, I really only pay $3.60!!!!( a $10 item, my max spending amount would be only $1.80!!!) And sometimes they offer $10 “Bealls Bucks” for every $50 spent that are immediatly redeemable, and I can roll that money back into gift buying. This is just one example of a super sale. Remember: Everything eventually goes on sale…Never pay full price! Next, use rewards points from everything from credit cards to surveys to get absolutly free gifts. I also “regift” sometimes. This can be very tricky. I make sure to remember who gave me the gift. I also make sure it is something they would never remember they gave me, or ask about it after giving it. Make sure you don’t give it to anyone they know, so they don’t ever see anyone else with it. I know a lot of people are against this method, but I figure it’s better off with someone who will use,need or appreciate it then collecting dust in my closet. Buy some storage containers, mark each gift as you purchase with a post-it, and store the containers in an empty closet or garage. I can honestly say, that I have 37 people to get gifts for, and I could doit spending less than $200 over the year, and have few stand by gifts on hand. As of today, I only have 4 people left to buy for this year!!! Another idea is to do a $5-10 gift card standard for everyone, and just let everyone know that this is what you are doing. There’s also the old pick an name out of the hat. Have everyone write down a list of items $50 or less they would like. Pick a name, and then pick an item (or 2 if they are inexpensive) off the list. One year, I had a family Portrait done. We have a very nice studio near us that quarterly offers a $9.95 package with 10 sheets of one pose. Guess what everyone got in a nice (picked ’em up on sale) frame. Recently we chose to only buy gifts for the kids in the family. As adults we understand that the real holiday is in spending it with our family. Homemade gifts can be awesome. Buy some inexpensive glass Chistmas balls, paint, and glitter and make some beautiful ornaments. Find a pottery studio that will let you paint your own, and for a small fee glaze it in their kiln. Type up all of your favorite recipes, and buy inexpensive clearance albums to make your own cookbook.( This could cost as little as a dollar or 2!) Here’s a twist on giving out holiday treats and foods: Have someone who either doesn’t know how, or have time to cook? Next time you are making an awesome dinner, make double, and freeze in disposable foil servingware. This is like home cooked take out on demand!Pair with a “movie night basket” ( inexpensive classic movie from the bargain bins, bought on sale popcorn[ $.10-.25 per bag], candy obtained for free with coupons, in a clearance after easter sale basket), and you have a perfect “date night” gift!(Big hit with new parents) I know I said I always start on December 26th (My daughter’s actual birthday!), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have enough time to start now. There are still 3 great shopping months to go! Hope these ideas have helped anyone out there. Happy hunting!

  • Mrs. Jo says:

    I collected freebies from Walgreens and used them for little gift baskets last year. Most of my gifts to relatives were free!

    For my children, I’m planning to adopt the idea where we get our children 3 gifts to emulate the 3 gifts from the wise men. 1)A gift to help them grow spiritually (a worship music CD or devotional book
    2) A gift that is educational (paints/puzzle/stacking blocks) 3)A gift that is something fun to play with (racecar, baby doll, big ball, etc.)

  • Sarah says:

    My husband’s family is large (and growing every year!), so we now draw names for gift giving. That way you only have to buy a gift for one person. Then we all give gifts to the kids.
    Some suggestions for heart-felt gifts though…..
    1) A personalized calendar from Snapfish—all of my relatives beg for these! 🙂
    2) A nicely framed professional picture of your family
    3) My friend just suggested this on her blog–a family recipe album (go here to see how to make it:

    Good luck! I struggled with this area myself, but finally have come to realize that it doesn’t matter what you give, as long as it is given sincerely and lovingly. That is all you can do!

  • THERESA says:

    Everyone has some great ideas, and I understand how a homemade gift can look “cheap” (although I disagree). I went to and “handmade” some Memory books. You could “make” one per family. Cost is approx $25 ea, but they look professionally done. You download your own pictures, place them where you want, write you own notes/capitons, pick your own page layout, cover and best of all you do this online. If you did “family” books (the same book for every family) you would get an additional 25% off for each book. I made some for special milestones in my family life… High school graduation, moved to a new town (and missed old friends), Horse riding competition, etc. It is something my family has still held onto.
    As a side note: I also shop clearance, sales, etc and start day after Christmas, but even that has put a strain on our budget. Several people live out of state and I have to then ship my gifts to them.. that’s where I spend the most money. This year when I write thank you cards I am going to tell the 2 non-related families that for 2009 I will not be sending gifts for Christmas or Birthdays due to financial issues. These are my Children’s godparents– if they don’t understand then oh well. My family was told we are cutting way back this year… that includes my own children. I finish all my shopping and wrapping in October. I do not even look for gifts after Nov 1 (except for Black Friday). This allows me all of Nov and Dec to bake, watch Christmas movies, visit friends, etc. Christmas isn’t stressful it is us to makes it stressful.

  • Lindsay says:

    It might be a little late to start this, but I have been buying things on clearance or when there’s a great deal thru-out the year, so its not hitting my pocketbook all at once come December.

    Another idea is to draw names. My father’s side of the family always did this and everyone was able to get a more personal gift for the family they chose. The fun of gifts was still there without the stress.

    (I didn’t read any other comments so, sorry if those suggestions are repeats!!)

    In my husband’s family, everyone gets everyone a gift, and nobody is particularly close, so it generally seems like a lot of exchanging of gift cards. It just seems so impersonal and a waste of money to me. I have wanted to suggest drawing names but since its not “my” family I would feel a bit weird…

  • Cherity says:

    We have the same problem in our home. One way we have found to help bring Jesus back to Christmas…especially to our unsaved family and friends…is to participate in Samaritan’s Purse’s Christmas catalog ordering. You make a donation in someone’s name for certain mission outreaches. It could be buying baby chicks for a family, providing a baby with milk for a month and even help with bigger items such as needed surgeries, wheelchairs and other medical care. Samaritan’s purse will send you gift cards that have a short message on the inside about what their program. We did this with some trepidation, but I was pleasently surprised at the reception of these gifts.
    We included with each card, a family photo, a description of the gift that was donated and for the younger kids a little gift from the dollar store or something else small.
    My children really got into the idea as well…when that catalog comes they drop everything to start Christmas shopping for our loved ones! I feel better knowing that the money is going to something that is truely needed, my children are learning the importance of giving and our family and friends are seeing the love of Jesus through our family. What a better way to celebrate Christmas!

  • Jacqueline says:

    I noticed a lot of the comments focused on gifts. I’ve got more ideas about keeping Christ as the center.

    On Christmas eve, before gift opening, we tell the nativity story, using a child’s nativity set (sturdy wood one). Then we read from Luke, put the pieces in the nativity. My husband and I make sure we testify of our love for the Savior.
    If you have extended family, you could say we’re reading the nativity story at this time, whoever wants to join us is welcome. And then make sure you’re not offended if some would rather not participate. We also let our children play with the nativity during the day until we cleanup all the christmas decorations a week later.

    Another thing we do is focus on why we give gifts. (We don’t do Santa) We say things like “Isn’t it so exciting? We get to give each other gifts at Christmas, just like Christ gave us gifts.” Some families in my circle of friends go through the scriptures and make a list of 10 or so “gifts” Christ has given us- Life, Family, Food, Eternal life, etc. Then every day for 10 days before christmas they read the scripture reference and talk about how Christ has blessed them. It helps to keep the stress out of Christmas and focus on the Lord, even for 15 minutes every night. (My friends discuss this during dinner for efficency’s sake)

    The other thing I’ve seen a lot of families do is have the children go through their own toys and find two toys they’d like to give away, then donate them to a local charity or hospital (Like toys for tots).Our church usually has a drive for new toys for needy families, I remember as a teenager picking out gifts for children in our church, and feeling so good as we dropped them off and rang the doorbell and ran away. The same could be really fun for your children to do for the “strapped for cash” relatives in your extended family, to be “Santas” and give the family more elaborate gifts anonymously.

  • Patti says:

    Our family has struggled with this issue, too. We solved it by making a Christmas Wheel as descibed in The Tightwad Gazette (like drawing names). We set a small price limit ($25.00) and everyone puts on their paper about 10 items in that price range. That way no one spends money on useless junk and it is still a surprise. In my extended family we play the game of bringing one unlabeled gift ($10) and swapping them. At our family reunion (held in November) we spend the afternoon making a craft together. We rotate volunteering to bring the supplies for everyone. We have also given to charities and doing mission work in place of gifts, but I have to say that I like to give gifts that show the recipient I was thinking just of them. That is why I love yard sales and thrift shopping. I have found great gifts (or supplies for them) for very little money.

  • Courtney says:

    Several years ago, my mom’s side of the family stopped exchanging gifts and instead we each buy gifts for an Agel Tree child or a Salvation Army collection. We felt instead of buying more things for each other (that we don’t need!) it would be so much better to give things to someone who could really use them and appreciate them so much more. While I used to really dislike shopping for family presents, I love shopping for our Angel Tree children.

    For those in the St Louis metro area, I highly recommend the “100 Neediest Cases” program ( This program serves over 10,000 families in the St Louis area during the Christmas season.

  • Heather says:

    We really cant afford to do a lot for Christmas because my husband and I both have large families. It costs so much!! But, we really wanted to get everyone something. So for the people that we just needed something small for, we got them each a gift certificate from You buy a $25.00 gift certificate for $10.00 so you are saving $15.00. Once you buy one for $10.00, you are on their email specials list. They have 50%, 60% and 70% off sales all the time, ESPECIALLY before christmas. I put in my family member’s zip code, saw a nice restaurant, and bought a 25.00 gift certificate for ONLY FOUR DOLLARS!!!!! It helped us with saving money and everyone got something nice. You have one year to use it; SOME places make you spend 50.00 to get the 25.00 off, but not all of them and they are still saving a lot. I just printed them out on nice Christmas paper. Also, if you refer a friend, through their websites email referral page, if that person buys a gift certificate, then you get a free 10.00 cert.

  • Aimee says:

    What a great topic! I really need to take time tonight (after everyone is sleeping) and read the comments!

    I am going to blog about this if anyone wants to check it out. My comment would be WAY TOO LONG!!!


  • Laurenlulu says:

    The best part of our family Christmas growing up was the stockings before dinner. So now that us grandkids are grown, and I have two small children, my family will gather and we all do stockings only. Only now they’ve expanded into buckets- everyone gets bucket stuffers. People with more money will buy more expensive things, and those of us with less make more heartfelt gifts. For my grandmother and my parents, I also give a donation to Heifer International. They are a wonderful charity that is working to reduce poverty and increase self sufficiency and community in impoverished areas.

    This year I am making home made heating pads and ice packs for our buckets, and throwing in lots of stuff I’ve gotten cheaply at CVS. I’m trying to accumulate ECB’s to buy lots of pink pedeggs for the ladies also, since my aunt has breast cancer. Small things like supporting Pink are appreciated, and it isn’t about how much money we’ve spent.

  • Staci says:

    We’re changing our routine this year. Our entire “holiday” will be ‘doing for others’ somehow. We want to give of ourselves, our time and ambitions. Christmas was never meant to be about shopping – the focus has gotten WAY off. We’re praying for ways to help and serve others and making that our focus. That is the greatest gift you can give – letting Jesus love others through you. 🙂

  • Jennie says:

    We buy gifts for only one family member per side of the family. We write down everyone’s name on a chart from my side of the family. Then each sibling is assigned someone (and their family) for Christmas. Everyone then rotates to the next person on the chart for the next year so you get a chance to do everyone eventually. We also do this for my husband’s side the family. This has helped us tremendously and all of the family members on both sides really like it because you can focus on just that family and no one gets their feelings hurt. We ALL appreciate how much money it’s saving us too.

    I also start looking earlier in the year for gifts that I could get because I already know who I have for that year. I am focused on their needs/likes/wants and can find something just for them (or make something) starting from the beginning of the year. By Christmas time, we have plenty to give without hardly costing us anything or stress!

  • Mom in VA says:

    On keeping Christmas tear-free:
    One great way to prepare for Christmas is to celebrate the season of Advent. I am Catholic, and for the four weeks leading up to Christmas our liturgy at Church focuses on the Old Testament passages foretelling the coming of the Messiah and Israel’s longing for the Savior. We have an advent wreath at home and light a candle each of the four Sundays before Christmas, read and pray about Christ coming as the LIght of the World. It makes longing for Christmas about so much more than presents! We also have an empty manger with a pile of “hay” beside it (yellow construction paper strips). Each time we do something to remind us of Christ we secretly put a piece of straw in the manger. For example, doing good deeds for each other, praying and recalling God’s presence throughout the day, giving up something that we’d like (that extra cookie…) to remind us that we should be longing for Christ more than we long for the things of this world, etc. The goal is to have a manger full and ready for the Christ Child on Christmas morning, symbolizing our hearts prepared to receive Him. This kind of preparation can also become a gift for others. No matter how tight our budgets, we can always pray for people, and making a simple gift or card telling the person you prayed for them during the Christmas season is a gift that is eternal.

  • Robin says:

    Just give as you are able.
    Do not worry about making it even out.
    We don’t do big gifts anymore, and asked that we not receive big gifts. But of course one family member of limited resources (MIL) still wants to buy big gifts. Well I can’t stop her; she will still get the little gifts from us, what else can we do? I do try to make it something thoughtful and wanted.
    Also there are some family members who just make a LOT more $ than we do, so when they give something that costs a lot, I don’t stress over it, but receive graciously.

    But in general, it seems to work to simply stop giving big gifts, the receiving end of it will slow down, LOL.

    Also sometimes what we do is offer a meal instead; have people over to the house and cook something nice.

  • Heather says:

    I make a list of who I need to buy for and what the budget is. We do this early in the year and then I start picking up good deals for each person. I got school supplies for the little kids during the back to school sales. I filled a box for only $2.50 each. I got a few really nice wallets for my sisters and am going to put gift cards in them. I only paid $6 for $40 wallets. We have a new baby coming this month and I know we will have hospital bills coming around Christmas time, so starting my shopping early has helped. I also try to discuss a budget with our siblings and then stick to it.

  • Laura says:

    I’ve also decided that everyone is getting the same gift this year! We sponsor a little girl in Rwanda, so we’re giving everyone coffee from Rwanda. Everyone drinks coffee, and we’re helping our sponsored child’s country! If you’re interested, check out

  • Liberty says:

    This is a GREAT thread and one so many people could benefit from! I have read about 1/3 of the responses and cannot wait to get back to it later today.

    My DH & I have a LARGE family – the kind that married, divorced & remarried… LARGE! Each year I have had to thin my giving list out more and more. It is hard, I won’t say that it is not. This year we are thinning even more. We are tyring something new with my parents that our gifts have to be hand made/assembled – and this thread has really created some amazing ideas. Thanks!

    Thought I’d share an idea that I received as a gift a couple years back and am going to do this year with some young ladies. A Journal Jar or Blog Thoughts Jar – with this you make a thought or quote or question for each day of the year on a little strip of paper. Roll these little strips around a pencil to curl them and drop them into a mason jar or cute container. Include a journal and pen. Each day the person reads a new slip as a starter for their pen & journal or as a topic for their blogs – which ever suits their life. Very fun, gives all year long and is a wonderful keepsake when it is all done.

  • Katie says:

    Books, books, books!

    All of the cousins started exchanging books. They write a personal message inside with the date, too. Books are cheap! Books can be purchased in the Scholastic order forms that come home from school for $2.00 or less or check out the rack of high interest children’s paperbacks in Barnes and Noble for only $3.99. Draw names or give one books per family if there are a lot of kids to buy for.

  • Renee says:

    When I couldn’t figure out what to get for my sister for her birthday this past August (she has most “things” she wants, but works full-time and has a toddler and a baby, creating a hectic schedule for her and her husband), I decided to give her 2 meals a month for a year. I’ve been making double-batches of the meals I’m making for my family every other week, and delivering them to her twice a month (I could also freeze them and deliver less frequently). She told me that this is the best and most thoughtful gift she’s ever gotten!
    The way I thought of if was just thinking about what she REALLY wanted, and I realized that the thing she talked about most was not having enough time in the evenings to prepare a nice family meal.

  • Sarah says:

    I have to say that I can sympathize all too well with your situation. My husband and I are looking at Christmas this year with a 0 dollar budget. In his family the adults all say,” let’s just buy for the kids” then our gift opening rolls around and they’ve bought gifts for everyone. The first year this happened we were the ones who looked dumb because we only bought for the kids. The next year we wised up and purchased gifts for everyone and someone else in the family didn’t and felt dumb. I have been trying to think of what my husband and I can do this year…here are some questions we are asking ourselves in light of the fact that our budget is low and we want Jesus to be the reason for our season:

    1.How can we glorify God best? especially with our limited “Christmas” finances?
    2. What is best for our family? (meaning my husband, my daughter and I)
    3. How can what we do be a witness to our unsaved family and an encouragement to our saved family?

    Here are my thoughts…
    1. What things can be done to make it more about Jesus?
    For us:
    -we don’t do Santa (which is one step away from comercialism)
    -we get our daughter ONE gift from each of us (not 20)
    -we read the Christmas story and sing Christian Christmas songs (even though our daughter is too young to understand we still wanted to start this tradition)
    -our gift giving strategy for others is changing this year
    (I like the idea of sending a letter to our family…maybe asking that if people still want to give us a gift to give money and we will donate it to a missionary or local ministry)
    Now I know these things sound “uncomfortable”…but that’s part of our Christian witness is being different and it’s going to make others (and sometimes other Christians too) uncomfortable. Our point should never be to be legalistic or force other people to jump on our band wagon, but to be a light in the darkness. (Mark 4:21, Luke 11:33)

    I hope you find these ideas and verses encouraging, and remember this Christmas: It’s not about what other people think about us…it’s about glorifying God and doing what’s best for your family. I pray for God’s wisdom for both our families!

  • Stephanie says:

    I love the idea of not giving gifts, but as it gets closer to Christmas it becomes harder and harder to resist buying. This year, I will be baking cookies and goodies for each of our family members. I’ve been doing this for about 8 years with my husband’s family since they live all over. But this year, it will also be what my family receives. Plus, the joy of baking with my kids and letting them give to and serve others is a gift in itself!

  • Mandy says:

    I think that photographs make wonderful gifts and they are great if you are on a budget. In the past I have taken pictures of my family (cousins, kids, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc) throughout the year and I sometimes make a collage which you can do throught Walgreens or CVS, or I print them from home. Everyone loves these because they are pictures they haven’t seen before. You can even add scripture on the bottom of the photos if you use Walgreens/CVS or if you have a program on your own computer. You can frame them..or not it’s up to you, but a great place to get inexpensive frames is Ross/TJ Maxx/etc. I too have a very large familes and I am always looking for ways to cut costs, but also still make it personal and from the heart. I hope this helps.

  • Sherrieb says:

    The comments posted are chalk-full of great ideas!!

    I for one, do not like to opt out of gift giving. I enjoy being able to give friends and family gifts, but it can be a struggle because I wonder if the homemade gift is appreciated or useful. I also do not enjoy picking names, although that definitely works for some families and there have been many different creative methods mentioned. I think the point is giving a gift, not getting, and when I pick a name, I still wish I was giving to everyone else as well, so that’s a little hard for me. We have opted to just buy gifts for everyone’s kids, but then that gets hairy, because some people have more kids than others, so do you spend the same amount on each family, and then what if no one has kids? I find that setting an amount for each family unit works, and then either get a family gift or a small gift for each person totalling that amount.

    I find the frustration arises when you find that the funds just arent there to meet what you wish you could do for the people in your life that mean so much. A budget is a definite help – especially if you are able to put money aside each week for Christams. Even if it is $10 a week, you will have over $500 by Christmas!!

    Shop clearance sales and especially clearance right after Christmas – January and February are great months to buy gifts!! I bought several nice gifts last January that I wouldnt have been able to afford right before Christmas if they had not been on clearance. (And I have a place in my budget for after- Christmas spending because I get so much more for my money!) Make a list of all the people you buy for and several good ideas and always be on the lookout for clearance and reduced prices that you can put away for Christmas. I also found some gifts at the end of the summer from seasonal clearance. (I have 2 large cabinets in the basement that store my “store”.) Just be careful to get a gift that the person will want and need (I have a friend whose sister is so cheap she gave her a mother a sweater because she found it on clearance and it was several sizes too big and she couldnt even wear it!!)

    I find that you are either giving people your time or your money. If you dont have the money to do what you want, it will take a good deal of time and effort to either make something or find something you can afford. Just be encouraged that you are not alone – there are thousands of families with the same struggle. And take the opportunity to pray for the people in your life as you you search for their gift and either make it or wrap it. God wants our giving to be cheerful – even to others – sometimes it just takes some effort of make it so!!

  • Jeannie says:

    We are tired of the commercialization of Christmas too, and started new traditions in our family, especially now since many of our elder family members have passed on and the old traditions can no longer be done.

    Starting the weekend of Thanksgiving, we celebrate Christmas the whole month by doing special activities. First is putting up the tree. We don’t just try to hurry and put it up; we invite relatives over, turn on the Christmas music, have a fire going and have hot apple cider or hot chocolate as we all work on it together. The next weekend we may go to my parents house and put up their tree in the same manner, or we will all sit down and work on Christmas cards (either handmaking them or signing off on store-bought) always with the Christmas music playing. Other activities are Christmas Baking Day, caroling, reading the Nativity while we put out our Nativity Set, baking a birthday cake and and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus. The important thing here is to take your time, enjoy the activities, and invite your friends and family to join in. Gifts become secondary in their minds when you’ve put so much effort into celebrating the season.

    When it comes to gifts, hand made ones are great! Or a small , thoughtful gift is better than just buying something (anything!) in a “suitable” price range.

    Some of my favorite gifts I’ve received have been: a recipe “scrapbook” that had the family recipes in it. Each page had a relative’s well-known recipe and a picture of that person on it. I cried. My brother in-law, who is a Pastor, performed the baby dedication of my now 8 year old daugher, but never gave me a certficate or a copy of the services. Last year I received it. I cried. I cleaned out my home office and found a copy of a Special Edition TV Guide on the 35th Annversary of Star Trek in perfect condition. I gave it to my dad who is a major Trekkie. He was speechless, and couldn’t put it down.

    I know you probably have relatives that just expect you to pay a lot a money on a nice gift (I have those too), but they’re just being selfish and missing the point of what Christmas is all about.

  • Lea says:

    My hubby is the oldest of 9. We draw names for all the parents, siblings and spouses and the grand kids over age 5. They have a limit of $35 per person (most of us usually try to go less). We all buy for the kids under age 5 ($10 limit on these). Usually we buy stuff we need – socks, school supplies, a special item – nothing big. We also started the tradition a few years ago of giving any newly married couples in the family a christmas ornament. They end up with 9+ new ornaments – a good start for their first tree! I look all year and get creative with all this buying. Even though the family limits are $35 and $10, I try to stick with $10 and $5.

    We also try to keep things Christ centered. We read the Christmas story – different versions on different days, sing carols, bake a birthday cake for Jesus, attend worship and all the programs (whether we have kids in them or not) at church, and gather often with friends for cocoa and cookies and even some caroling. All of these things cost next to nothing and keep us focused on God, friends and family through the season. We also try to keep our ethnic heritage alive by baking traditional goodies and participating in traditional events.

    Hope your Christmas is a good one and less stressful this year! Lea

  • kasie says:

    We pick an amount (usually$10 but you could do $5), and everyone spends that money on someone who needs it in the person they draw’s name. It could be donate to salvation army, but material with it and make baby blankets for the pregnancy crisis center babies, buy something for a kid who isn’t getting anything for Christmas. We actually did it as any time during the year you could do it! Like my mom went rummaging and got a lot of girls cloths cheap and sent them to my cousin whose name she had drawn, and didn’t tell until christmas they were from her.So, she got packages all year long. Or, give it to a kid who needed a little extra money to be able to go to church camp that year. buy a few extra food items for someone to have a great thanksgiving. The ideas are endless. But, you do it and then don’t tell what you did in the other persons name until christmas! Another idea is that we draw names at Christmas for the next year and do a rummage sale gift exchange! Where you set an amount and everything you get has to be from a rummage sale or clearance rack. You can get a lot of things at a rummage sale for $5 or $10! You could do an after Thanksgiving day sale and find your gifts then! There are a lot of bargains. Hope this helps a little!

  • Megan says:

    Here’s what we do for both sides of our family:
    1 – Adults draw “couple” names. We give a spending limit ($35-40 for the couple) and say that it can also be homemade OR a service. We LOVE the service ones like a weekend away w/out the kids (so the service would be babysitting!). Mom and Dad are included in the drawing on one side of the family.

    2 – Kids draw kids name. Limit is $10-15

    3 – In our immediate family, we also do the 3 gifts like the gifts given to Baby Jesus. 1 from Santa, 2 from mom and dad and their stocking. That’s it. We started this young, so they don’t know any different.

    4 – I usually bake for friends and neighbors and put together a plate of goodies, or make almond roca, etc.

  • jennie says:

    Several years ago we made the decision to not do extended family gifts anymore. We suggested to other family members that if they just had to spend on something, donate it to a family or a charity. This allows us more time to enjoy each other and to concentrate on the Savior. It also frees up time that we would have spent in stores buying gifts that no one really needed anyway. The only exception to this is if we have someone who is in serious need in our family (last year my sister’s husband did not have a job and they were unable to provide for their children’s basic needs so we sent them some money to help with food and clothes). It also teaches our children that we should truly give to the needy, not just give because it is socially acceptable.

  • jennie says:

    Several years ago we made the decision to not do extended family gifts anymore. We suggested to other family members that if they just had to spend on something, donate it to a family or a charity. This allows us more time to enjoy each other and to concentrate on the Savior. It also frees up time that we would have spent in stores buying gifts that no one really needed anyway. The only exception to this is if we have someone who is in serious need in our family (last year my sister’s husband did not have a job and they were unable to provide for their children’s basic needs so we sent them some money to help with food and clothes). It also teaches our children that we should truly give to the needy, not just give because it is socially acceptable.

  • Meredith says:

    One thing that I do (although it’s really too late) is start shopping early. I bought several of this year’s Christmas presents at last year’s after Christmas sales (you know, the Dirty Santa presents where people draw numbers and pass them around?) I also use cokerewards points or credit card rewards to buy gift cards (husband’s boss) and I try to keep my eyes out for good deals all year long.

  • Jenny says:

    I haven’t seen this book mentioned yet. I recommend _Unplug the Christmas Machine_ by Jo Robinson & Jean Coppock Staeheli. You can find it at: and also at

    Here’s part of the blurb that Simple Living has on the book:
    …answer the questions they have heard most often in their many years of talking with people about Christmas, such as: How can I reduce the stress of preparing for Christmas? How can I make our celebration more spiritual and less materialistic? How can I get my husband to be more enthusiastic about Christmas. How can I get my wife to relax and enjoy the celebration? and How can I help my children see that Christmas is more than just presents?

  • cynthia says:

    This year has been really tough for our family too and since I’m a new stay at home mom we have way less money than what we had last year so this year my whole family and my mother and sister’s family have decided to draw names for gift exchange. This means we are not going to be buying one individual gift to everyone and it will save us a lot more money. And to make our Christmas special and more meaningful the kids usually do a little Christmas play in our living room about the birth of Jesus and we read a few chapters from the Bible.

  • Peggy Hathcock says:

    My husband’s family is varied some are wealthy and some are not. We are the only ones with children so we gave the different family members laminated cards that stated that they were entitled to 1 meal per week at the Hathcock Family Table. This way we get to spend some quality time together and those who are not well off get to save some money by having a free meal.

  • EmmyJMommy says:

    I have read through most of the comments, but what my family has done over the last few years hasn’t been recommended. We have a get-together for visiting and eating (it *is* what we Southerners do best!). During the visiting and eating time, you anonomously put cash in a basket that has been marked…we finish eating and gather, count the money…We then go around the room and tell what charity we would give the money to if our name is pulled out of the “hat”….there have been suggestions in the past like: Food Bank, Over Seas Missions, Children’s Hospital, Humane Shelter…and more…

    The first year we did this, we “fixed” it so my Grandfather would get to choose, but last year I WON!!! We had collected right around $750 that went to Children’s Harbor, a safeplace and camp for sick children.

    It has been a blessing to give instead of receive!

  • Rhonda Devine says:

    For the last couple years, we have given homemade gifts at Christmas–they are more special to those receiving them as well. I enjoyed making little baskets of homemade jellies, pickles, etc. that I had canned over the summer. Our children also make homemade gifts for their cousins. If your family starts the tradition, it may take awhile, but others will catch on. I also like to give a family gift, not individual ones as we have large families on both sides. A fun idea is a movie night basket–put in a good family movie, microwave pop-corn, a 6 pack of little coke bottles, and maybe some movie candy–it’s fun and I’ve done if for about $10.00 per family if I get a good deal on the movies.
    Be creative–go to the library-there are endless possibilities for sharing things made with our your hands:)
    R. Devine

  • Megan says:

    I feel like everyone has already said so much. But in my family the “adults” drew names, because it got so expensive. And set a $50 limit, or something. But could give gifts to kids. This year, we are using rewards points from our credit card to get gift cards for people (just got married this year, so it’s our first Christmas). We also made our own vanilla and found cheap bottles online. I plan to package them up with a recipe of the vanilla, and maybe for cookies or something. It’s relatively cheap, and simple. When we were kids, my mom had us make towels, ornaments, etc. Ornaments can be found for pretty cheap, and you can just swirl glue around inside for a cute effect, perfect if you have kids. We also used to do the cookie giving thing too!

    There is also the idea of buying someone a “goat” for Christmas. Where you donate to world vision to buy a goat for a family, in honor of another family member. Lots of options with that.

  • Mom is Broke says:

    Last year was a tough year for our family. Between the immediate family we could only give hand-made gifts that didn’t cost anything. You had to think creatively and use my craft stash in the basement.

    I actually had more fun with the kids “sneaking” around to make their crafts, then going to the store to buy something. It was a good bonding between myself and each of the three kids. I personally made each child warm PJ’s and a new quilt for their beds. They made football notebooks out of composition notebooks and scrapbook paper, safty pin braclets, handmade necklaces, crayon tin bucket, and picture frames of family vacations.

    My 9 year old son was asking if we can make our gifts again this year!

    By the way “Santa” still brought a few fun toys that I found throughout the year at good prices.

  • Jayme S says:

    My husband has a large family, so this year we’re making it all about the kids. Instead of buying gifts for all the adults, the adults are going to draw a childs name and buy a gift for them only. We set a $25 limit for each child. The older children can get involved by helping select the gift for one of their cousins. We’ll see how it goes this year. I’m definitely looking forward to it since all the adults seem to have everything already.

  • Nina Jackson says:

    I’ve been frustrated about what to buy for the last few years, then it dawned on me. It’s about giving from the heart. How much time I spend in line or how much into debt I go says nothing about how much I love my family. Last year for the first time, I created gift bags filled with home made gifts. From hand stamped stationary that was one of a kind to homemade jams and fudge every item was hand made and unique. WE were able to prepare for Christmas and not go into debt, everyone loved the gifts. The only people we bought for were our parents, nieces and nephews. The parents got gift cards that we purchased slowly throughout the holiday season. The kids just got something small to open and everyone had something good to eat.

  • Maria says:

    We draw names in my family, and then have a spending limit for that person. All the kids go together and get a gift for the parents. Other than that, we do handmade gifts and home-made food. I really feel that most adults don’t want or need more “stuff” and that Christmas is about spending time focusing on family, friends and faith. When we’ve had to travel for Christmas, we don’t buy presents because we spent our money getting there. In the times in our lives when my husband and I have had exra income, we’ve loved being able to buy and extra-special gift at any time of the year and never cared about getting something in return.

  • Heather says:

    We give pictures of our children.

  • Heather says:

    One idea is to bless others instead of giving gifts. Most of us don’t need anything else. So find a local rescue mission where you can volunteer to serve a meal, pack shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child will all your freebies and cheap deals you get
    make a donation to and bless children with essentials
    make a donation to an orphnage in Africa so that children can have essentials
    or buy a few simple beautiful pictures and frame them Pictures take up less space!

  • bekah says:

    We are planning on starting a tradition as soon as our kids are old enough where we commemorate the gifts of the wise men on Epiphany. We’ll be having our kids pick out something to “give to Jesus” for His birthday the same way that the wise men gave Him gifts. This will go to a suitable charity (such as the Jeremiah house in our area, a house for low-income and homeless mothers).

  • Mummy says:

    I have ten kids of my own and I also have 9 siblings in my family. We have no money for b-day or Xmas presents. We simpily tell the kids we are giving any presents this year but we’ll play games and have have a party. It’s hardest on the little guys because they don’t understand but I get hand-me- down toys that I save for such occasions.
    I know this doesn’t slove your problem for people who you really feel like you want to or should give presents to. I just try to be creative with those guys. I save gifts when I feel I can get away with in order to regift! OUCH! I can’t believe I just admitted to that but it helps me save face and it’s usually something I’d love to keep so I feel like it’s a sacrifice of love. Am I awful for doing that?

    I also make these Xmas balls out of photos. Family members really love it. You cut out circles and use a pentagon shape to score the photos and glue all the edges. It Takes 12 circles. And then I glue glitter on the edges where they didn’t meet all the way.

  • Katie says:

    We agreed on my husband’s side of the family to forgo Christmas gifts last year and this year. The reasoning was that we wanted to spend time together and that feeling like we “had to” give gifts was actually hurting finances of at least some of us. His parents, who love to give gifts, find other times during the year to give and we’ve all made it a point to spend our money on travel to see one another and to call more often instead of buying Christmas gifts. This won’t work for everyone, but it’s been great for us.

  • Lindsay says:

    My 9-year-old has a large extended family and each year she makes a homemade gift. Last year we went to Goodwill/Salvation Army and picked out different shaped vases, jars, and bowls from the millions of glass pieces they have there for $0.99-$1. Then we bought a bottle of Mod-podge at Michaels and a package of colored tissue paper at the dollar store. She had so much fun tearing up the tissue paper into small pieces and using the hodge-podge to glue it onto the glass pieces. it dries into a stained-glass look (a good idea to add a final coat yourself when the kids are done) and each piece was unique. the family loved it and it cost next to nothing.

    I found the idea at an art teachers’ website here:

  • Lindsay says:

    My 9-year-old has a large extended family and each year she makes a homemade gift. Last year we went to Goodwill/Salvation Army and picked out different shaped vases, jars, and bowls from the millions of glass pieces they have there for $0.99-$1. Then we bought a bottle of Mod-podge at Michaels and a package of colored tissue paper at the dollar store. She had so much fun tearing up the tissue paper into small pieces and using the hodge-podge to glue it onto the glass pieces. it dries into a stained-glass look (a good idea to add a final coat yourself when the kids are done) and each piece was unique. the family loved it and it cost next to nothing.

    I found the idea at an art teachers’ website here:

  • Melodie says:

    Here’s an idea requiring some planning ahead throughout the year, but it’s one that I hope to implement in the future. I plan to collect all the freebies I can get and either sell them on e-bay or at yardsales. All profits will be put into a gift giving fund. That fund will be the budget I set for myself year-round for our family’s giving.

    My husband and I are blessed with two large extended families who generally understand tight budgets. We usually have Polyannas (choosing one family member’s name out of a hat to give too) or we give gifts to the elementary children only. The rest of us give as we please to our churches. We also may give cookies, fudge, or homemade gifts to each other if we wish, but there is no pressure or expectation for that.

    As our children grow (they are too small to understand at this point) we hope to have a birthday gift for Jesus fund that our children participate in by giving portions of the money they earn from doing chores around the house and yard or neighborhood. We are still working out the details of the plan here, but here are some of the ideas. We have considered having a gift box with a slit in the top where the kids put change they collect throughout the season. Also, I have thought we could raise money as a family for the box through different bake sales and yardsales. The box would be opened and the money counted on Christmas morning and the children will have the oportunity of writing letters to the pre-arranged recipients of the gift at that time. Then the money will be sent to a missionary or special fund for those in need. The children will also be encouraged to choose one of the best gifts they receive for Christmas to share with another child who does not have the same privileges as ours might.

  • Debbie B says:

    We also have an extended family with different incomes and lifestyles represented. What we decided to do, as a group, is not give gifts to each other. Instead we pick a charity each year, and each family donates what they feel comfortable with to the charity. Some years not all family members have been able to give, and that is ok too. When we gather together as a family we do a pot luck dinner and just spend time together. Hopefully everyone in your family will agree to something similar and remember what the true meaning of the holiday is.

  • Jen says:

    My mom’s side of the family had all agreed to just get together for dinner and games, without the gifts. It wouldn’t hurt to approach your family about that.

    I read this cool idea in a newspaper: A charity auction of homemade goods. Each person or each family makes an item. It can be from very simple (a child’s drawing) to elaborate (a quilt) or even a food item. Each item is auctioned off. The winning bidder keeps the item. All the money raised goes to a charity. Or maybe each family could choose a charity and split the money by the no. of families attending.

  • Alisa says:

    Thank you to everyone! Thanks to Crystal for posting my question and thanks to every one of you who commented. I really feel blessed, inspired, and even a bit optimistic about this year’s Christmas celebration. It’s like having a hundred or so really smart sisters, so thank you, you’ve been such a blessing to me!

  • trixie says:


    I love all the grate ideas shared. We are pretty big believers about keeping Christmas simple.

    So many people feel pressured to buy more and more to build a bigger and better Christmas Experience. It is so sad; I wonder if we would all enjoy the holidays more if we were not so concerned with turning them into a big production.

    I recently wrote about a simpler Christmas here:

    Take Care,


  • Jennifer says:

    Hi! I’m here via Virginia’s blog (blackflipflops). I posted a piece last December that was given to me a while ago. It helped me to refocus my gift giving with regard to my kids and helped the budget, too. I just thought maybe you and your readers could benefit from it. Here’s the URL to copy and paste. Have a great day!

  • Michelle W says:

    I’ve had this problem before. We’ve done the drawing names thing and that works well. However, now that we live out of state and away from all of our family, gift giving inexpensively has gotten tougher. I love handmade gifts, but doing the “cookie in a jar” or things like that aren’t practical when you factor in the shipping (which can cost more than the gift!)

    So I’ve turned to more handmade items, like a calendar with my kids’ pictures on it. Snapfish usually has good deals on that. Or handmade items from the kids. That way, the kids are making the gifts and they’re more personal.

    When it comes to my own kids, I try and buy things throughout the year or when I find good deals. Also, my kids do not ask for a ton of presents. They are told to ask for just a couple things they might really want and they are just fine with that. Now, that doesn’t mean that they’re only getting 2 or 3 gifts but they have also been taught from a very young age the value of money, that this season is not about presents and spending money, it is about Jesus. So they don’t ask for those pricey toys. And they don’t *expect* a lot.

  • Letisha says:

    How can I contact the second commenter Kathy F? Thanks!

Money Saving Mom® Comment Policy

We love comments from readers, so chime in with your thoughts below! We do our best to keep this blog upbeat and encouraging, so please keep your comments cordial and kind. Read more information on our comment policy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *