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How We Lowered Our Christmas Budget, Reduced our Clutter, and Created More Family Time!

Try this one simple thing to lower your Christmas budget, reduce clutter, and create more family time this year!

Reader testimonial from Tami

We are a family of 4 —  me, my husband, and 2 kids (ages 13 and 7.5).

Recently, our income dropped significantly… and because of this, we made a few changes to how we do Christmas gifts. These simple changes helped eliminate the stress on our budget, reduce the amount of clutter in my kid’s rooms, and increase our time together as a family!

I created a “box of fun” for each child.

It took me all of 2013 to put these boxes together because I stretched the budget a little every month in order to buy all the gift cards, but it was so much fun and the kids loved it! This box has something fun for every month of the year in 2014:

  • January = $20 gift card for movies (for one child) — enough for 2 visits
  • February = $20 gift card for movies (for the other child) — enough for 2 visits
  • March = two $50 gift cards for a year-round sports park membership that offers snow tubing, go-karts, miniature golf, etc. I used income tax refund money to pay for this — which is why I was able to spend $100 this month.
  • April = $25 gift card for Barnes & Noble
  • May = $25-gift card for Barnes & Noble.
  • June = $20 gift card for a pedicure (for the girl)
  • July = $20 gift card for iTunes (for the boy)
  • August = $25 gift card for a pizza/arcade place
  • September = $25 gift card for a pizza/arcade place
  • October = $25 gift card for Sky Zone (trampoline place) — enough for 2 visits
  • November  = $25 gift card for Sky Zone — enough for 2 visits
  • December = I bought “Santa gifts” (3 each)

This amounted to enough gift cards to give us 8 or 9 family activities throughout the year with the stipulation is that they can only use 1 gift in a month.

We realized that by doing this, we would still need to pay for my husband and me to do the activities, however, when buying some of these gift cards for the kids, we also earned free gift cards for ourselves. In addition, when our family asked my husband and I what we wanted for Christmas, we requested gift cards to some of the same places — so that will help with the budget as well!

I also made up a coupon book for my kids and put that in the box, too.

For example, they both love baking and cooking with mom, so I made a few coupons for cooking a meal with me. They are able to pick a recipe, make a shopping list for that meal, and then help cook it.

Another one was for date night/day with mom and one with dad. We figure this is when they could use their movie gift cards. 🙂

Another one was for game night, movie, and popcorn at home, a family activity of their choice (such as going on a bike ride), etc. All simple things that they love to do and are essentially free for us.

We told them they could use 1 to 2 of these coupons per month.

In the end, we have the perfect reason to have our “family time” and most of it is already paid for, so we cannot use the excuse that there is no money in the budget.

I plan on doing the same thing in 2014, and have already adjusted our budget to cover the cost of buying a gift card once a month.

The best part about this was the fact that my kids seemed to love the “box of fun” and it was the first thing they mentioned whenever someone asked them what they got for Christmas. It really made me feel like I made the right choice by deciding not to give them just “stuff” for Christmas.

photo source


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116 Comments

  • Michelle says:

    Love this idea and am writing into my goal planning sheet. Thank you!

  • Dominique says:

    This is an amazing idea!! I’m starting our own box of fun for this years’ Christmas. We have 3 children and the Christmas budget always gets blown. With this, we stay in budget, bank family time, and keep money in our pocket! Thank you for the wonderful idea!

  • Robyn says:

    What a GREAT idea!! I feel like as the boys get older, we’re “digging deep” to figure out what to buy for Christmas.

    I am seriously doing this for next year. SUPER fun!!

    My only worry is that the gift cards might expire if I buy them early?

    • Susan H says:

      Them just put the cash in an envelope to be bought later. What a Fabulous idea. Thanks for sharing.

    • Chelsea says:

      I don’t think gift cards can legally expire unless the place runs out of business.

      • Suzanne says:

        Gift card laws vary. Federal law is 5 years before expiration but allows fees after 12months of inactivity. Many states now prohibit expiration dates but not all do. So would be good to check the laws in your area before purchasing.

        • Kathleen says:

          Some gift cards that my children have received have not expired, but the amount on them after time was lowered. A fee the company charged for not using them quickly. Just FYI.

      • Courtney says:

        That depends on your state. Most states gift cards are good for five years. A select few (Massachusetts and others) Do not allow gift cards to expire.

  • Rebecca says:

    Not sure exactly how i’d do this w/8 children……………6 still @ home but i’d love to give it a try. Feel free to email me w/tips! 🙂

    • Kristin says:

      Check Groupon and LivingSocial throughout the year. They often have great deals on local activities. Just make sure you read the fine print so you know the expiration dates 🙂

    • Luba says:

      Maybe you can do it with free activities – a walk in a park where you have not been together as a family, a visit to a museum on a free admission day, a special day to play with friends. The possibilities are endless to create memories without spending a lot of money.

    • Suzanne says:

      I think the takeaway here is to put aside whatever you can for each month in the form of gift cards that your kids can use for experiences (rather than stuff). You might spend less per kid than other families (actually I think a lot of us spend less per kid on our Christmas budget than what’s posted) but you can follow the spirit of the article by putting that money into fun experiences. Exactly what you buy depends on what your kids would enjoy and what’s available in your area. Some activities I thought of that are usually less expensive than the ideas the poster used: miniature golf, lazer tag, museum visit, zoo visit, and fast food. Also, I think in a large family that hand-written coupons for one-on-one time (with mom or dad) and coupons to pick a family activity might be more important than in small families.

    • Leah says:

      Yes, I second Luba. Contact the attractions in your area – museums, aquariums, zoos, and find out when their free/super reduced days our. Here in Utah the zoo has a free day in January and February, in August the petting zoo$2 admission that includes a pony ride, the planetarium has a free night each month, the natural history museum is free every friday, there are dollar theaters for the movie night – or there are often ways to find discount tickets to the first-run theaters if you talk to the manager to find out how to best get deals.
      This year I was able to take all my kids to the local children’s museum (so fun!) and the cost of admission was 2 school supplies (pens, pencils, glue, ect.) which I was able to score for cheap using coupons. You will be surprised at the wonderful things you can find for your kids.
      Groupon/Livingsocial/Citydeals has great deals, but often they are only good for a couple months after purchase.. but these sites are a wonderful way to score season passes for local attraction. For example, make sure you score the season passes for the waterpark in the winter months when you will get a better deal.
      Google blog that shows the deals for your specific area, for example “deal sites utah county” or something similar and you can find websites put together by another local parent showing deals and fun cheap activities in your own area.
      Anyhow, those are some of the things that I’ve done that have been helpful

    • Kim says:

      Instead of movie dates,ido ice cream dates with mom or dad. $5 for each kid will buyna scoop or 2 of ice cream.

    • Courtney says:

      Consider a season pass. It may seem expensive at first, but you get an entire year. We bought a children’s museum pass for $120.00. It was the big gift for the family. By eating before going or packing a lunch, the only additional cost is gas. Cheap when you divide the cost by 6kids.

    • Ramona says:

      I’m a single Mom of two teens–been a SM for 14 years.
      How about, as a side note, Making a Wish Jar, or the kids could come up with their own name. It would include maybe like 3 things that each of them would like to do (have the older ones help the younger ones with this activity), and maybe even have them write down some ideas of what they’d like to do “in service for another person within their family or outside of their family”. For example, a girl might say: get a pedicure (and you could make it a group night for the girls at home), or a boy: learn how to…..
      For service ideas, one might be : Make breakfast for Daddy, read to my little sister, or bake some cookies for the elderly widow down the street”
      I think it’s a fab idea to have a list of things to look forward to throughout the year. It makes the gift seem so much bigger and exciting!

      • Ramona says:

        PS Is there a particular member of your immediate family (child here) that enjoys “book keeping” to keep these ideas in one place? With that many children, you have a wealth of resources at your fingertips, each with their own talents and gifts.

        Speaking of that, you could have your own family “Theatre night” where the kids put on a play for the rest of the family, and or neighbors. Charge admission of $1.00? Just thinking, is all.

    • Carol O. says:

      Family memberships to someplace like a museum is usually a REALLY good investment if you take advantage of all the activities they offer through the year. That is a family gift but a REALLY good idea if you have kids 12 and under, Over 12, you would have to be sure it was something all your kids would enjoy.

  • Marie says:

    I love the creativity with this gift. Kids really do want time with us and having fun. I am going to store this idea away.
    One thing I did this year was create a Christmas Eve box which included new matching pj’s for all three kids(bought the previous year for around $3 each), a Christmas movie, popcorn, and hot chocolate and marshmellows. The kids loved it.

  • Jessica says:

    I love this idea! I think it could be adapted to fit a couple, whole family, or even an adult individual.

  • Heather L says:

    This is a fabulous idea! I love spreading things out throughout the year as well, but I never thought about turning the gifts into family time ideas. Great job!

  • Tari says:

    What an awesome idea! Such real world lessons and learning, and quality family time to boot. This is what it means to be family. Something on which so many kids/families are missing out. I purchase gift cards year round as well, especially when Kroger offers special deals and I also purchase stocking stuffers year-round (those that don’t go bad).

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

  • Jennifer H says:

    I really like the idea, but other than spreading the cost through the year, I don’t see where this was a budget Christmas. $165 per child, plus she didn’t say what she spent on the Santa gifts. We are normally around $100 for our one child, although this year we had a small windfall and spent some of it on more expensive presents. But I’m definitely stealing this idea for next year, although the amounts on the gifts cards for the “one” visit to something will probably be lower for us (for instance, a matinee movie is only $7 where we live and I could package it with a $1 box of movie candy from Wal-mart).

    • Michele G says:

      I love this idea! Thank you so much for sharing it!

    • Vanessa says:

      For us, budget doesn’t always mean inexpensive. It actually means planned for. She stretched her Christmas budget throughout the year instead of getting hit hard in December. Plus, inexpensive is relative. This is half of what we normally spend, with double benefits. We would love more quality time together. Thanks for the great ideas!!

    • Carissa W says:

      A budget is just a plan to use money. And spreading the cost through the year is exactly what a budget is supposed to help you do. It keeps you from spending money that you don’t have all at one time. One person’s budget will never be the same as another’s. We all have different incomes, different expenses, different priorities, and different traditions. I think it is a little unreasonable to expect someone else’s budget to fit you exactly. Just take the idea and make it your own, tweak it to be more or less money, and include the things that your family will enjoy. I have found that by buying Christmas gifts throughout the year, we are capable of spending a little more than if we waited and we often get things at a much better price.

    • Jennifer H says:

      When used as an adjective, it does mean “low in price”. I assumed this is what she meant since she said their income dropped significantly. I do acknowledge that it is budget (noun or verb) in the planning of the presents. Plus, I just think it’s an awesome idea regardless of how much you spend on it.

  • Megan says:

    This is a great idea, and I love the way it helps with family time. However, I don’t get how it helps with budget. That’s way more than we have ever spent on Christmas gifts for our kids! We usually do about $50 per kid, and they are very happy with what they receive.

    • Amanda says:

      I think you have to keep in mind that everyone has a different budget. What works for one family may not work for everyone but you can use the idea and adapt it to your families lifestyle. Just because it isn’t equal to your budget doesn’t mean the family doesn’t have a budget, they may either make more or cut out other expenses to be able to budget more for Christmas.

    • Chelsea says:

      Also, I think it’s important to remember that families do a lot of outings throughout the year anyway. So- by putting together a gift like this, it doubles as Christmas gifts and family outings that might normally happen, and if they’ve already budgeted for it, it helps reduce that cost throughout the year. I hope I am making sense! 🙂

      I agree though, I love this idea!

  • Chris B says:

    I LOVE this idea! I’m definitely going to do this for 2014. Thank You So Much for sharing! 🙂

  • Paula says:

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    i would like to use it , its available on Walgreen’s photo site , wondering if free shipping code is still avalible

  • Elizabeth Hogueison says:

    This is a great idea! My kids are older teens & young adults so this is something that would be lots of fun. Thanks.

  • Jessica says:

    I did something like this for my husband, but didn’t think about it for my kids. Thanks for the idea!

  • Maria says:

    Your “Box of fun” sounds like a wonderful surprise for your kids! I know that as they get older it’s sometimes harder to find things that all would like to do together. Hope you guys enjoy all the activities. 🙂
    And for everyone complaining about how this scenario wouldn’t apply to their family; why do you feel the need to be so critical about her ideas? This mom found a way to cut “their” budget, increase “their” family time together, and reduced “their” incoming clutter. If you can’t find anything useful from her ideas that would apply to you, feel free to skip to the next article, but don’t be so unpleasant about it. We all have unique ways to juggle our budget categories and hopefully can learn from each other, a little at a time.

    • Luba says:

      Good point about all the complainers, Maria. Since this lady cut her budget, she is making good progress. All our budgets and priorities are different. Some people spend more on their houses, others on their health, and others on other things that are important to THEM. I applaud her for cutting her budget so creatively!

    • Rebecca says:

      Maria & Luba… AGREED!!! Everyone’s budget is not the same. We spend about $200 per child for our budget at Christmas, but we have older kids that ask for a couple of expensive items that they would only get for a gift. 12 & 11 year old kids can be quite a bit more expensive than a 7 year old. That being said, my kids only get a couple of gifts for that amount. This post is simply telling how she budgets her gifts so they are not hit hard in December. I think it’s a brilliant idea not only for fitting it in your budget better, but also for family time, which is very little when you have older kids like mine. I’m going to borrow her idea and run with it for next year! Thanks for this helpful post!

  • Laura says:

    I love this idea, especially the experience gifts, but I have to agree with everyone who says I don’t see how this is budget friendly. This is more then I spent on my kids and I don’t think I had a particularly budget friendly Christmas

    • Carol O. says:

      For older kids, their gifts tend to be pricier than little kids. There are many facets to this, they bought gift cards when they got deals on them (sometimes Kroger does a promo where you get massive gas points for buying gift cards for example). Budgeting is not always that the item is cheap, it also means you spread out the purchase of something over time (including Christmas) and I think this is more what she meant, that she could could spread gift buying out all year.

  • Julie says:

    I love this idea! Thanks for sharing!

  • Mandi says:

    I love this. One way to look at how you might save money with this is the money you won’t be spending on entertainment the following year. While you probably wouldn’t do all of these things, chances are money would be spent on entertainment that won’t need to be now. You could a two for one- a gift and entertainment!

  • Vikki says:

    We did something similar to this for my parents for Christmas a year ago, but they had to wait to open a new gift each month! We thought about what they wanted/liked/needed and determined more stuff wasn’t it. We decided to give them things they could together without fretting about the cost. So we made a gift basket with movie, restaurant, and dessert gift cards, a “Table Topics” conversation game, and a few food items that are a splurge for them. Each gift was tagged with a month they should open it. The final gift was a small plaque with a quote about family on it. They loved it! They left it out as a decoration all year and my mother said she would eagerly wait for the first of each month, and then e-mailed us a thank-you for each treat.

  • Jessica says:

    This is an awesome idea to help with budgeting. I wish I could encourage our extended family to do this as well since I am still trying to figure out where to put all the “stuff” our son got for Christmas that he will likely play with for 1 day. Experience gifts have lasting memories!!

  • Sherri says:

    Love this! We don’t have any children, but we say every year that we are going to do something special monthly, and we let life get in the way. By pre-planning the year, we will go. I am going to do this for my husband Christmas 2014! Thanks!

  • Tami says:

    I see there are several responses on this so I will just clarify a few things. When we set about doing this, an exact “Christmas budget” was not what we had in mind. It was more of trying to avoid the “Here it is November and we still need to figure out where Christmas money is coming from.” First, for the “Santa gifts”, I shop sales and try to put things back. My son got a movie, a snow brick maker, and a board game. The movie was on sale at a local grocery store that offered a “fuel saver discount” that was then applied to put gas in our vehicle. The brick maker was on sale for $6.97 at Toys R Us and the kids love it because it helps make the snow forts better. The board game I also got on sale. My daughter got PJs, a snow brick maker, doll (all of which again were on sale). Their stockings are also filled with useful things that I pick up year round. Things like new toothbrushes, pencils for school, crazy socks for my daughter out of the $1 Target bins, new gloves, etc.

    As far as how much we spent on each child…yeah, it might have been a little much dollar wise, but only spending an extra $20 to $25 a month made this possible. For us, it was a lot easier finding the extra $20 than coming up with this all at once. THIS is where it helped our budget. These are also things that I know my children will ask to do at some point during the year so this made it easier because it was already paid for. We also feel better knowing that activities we chose are going to give us “family time”

    When I decided to share this with others I was totally in the mindset that this could be customizable for other families, i.e. the dollar amount, the places, activities.

    • Chelsea says:

      I agree, so easy to customize! I can think of several things in my area I could get a $5 or $10 gift card for versus $25, so it’s very flexible. Also, many of these places, I am sure, will offer coupons throughout the year which can make the gift cards stretch even farther.

      I love the idea. I do experience gifts on a smaller scale for my nieces and nephews, big never really thought of it from this perspective. I wish I heard of it sooner! 🙂

      Just curious- do you think you’ll do this in years to come?

      • Tami says:

        We will definitely do this again for the upcoming year! My kids already have things planned for this year. They saw on TV the other day a movie that was coming out in February that they want to see so they are excited to know that they will get to go and that they get to use their own card for it.

        They both are VERY happy with their boxes so I know that we made a good choice going this route with them for their gifts.

        As for the lower dollar amount, it is really whatever works and interests your children. My daughter actually used a $5 gift card she got from grandma at McD’s the other day and the pride on her face when she ordered her own food, carried her own purse and wallet, and used her card was better than any reaction she could have had to some “toy”.

    • I think this is a great post! Definitely a wonderful idea for how to be able to give more than you would otherwise!

      For those who don’t want to spend as much money on their children, they could definitely modify this idea by choosing one person to buy for each month (children, plus grandparents, nieces and nephews, spouse, etc.).

      I also love that so many of your gifts are experience gifts for fun family time together, so they’re all basically like getting each present twice!

    • Heidi says:

      Tami,
      I loved your post and although my family is grown it got me thinking about something I had actually been contemplating, buying a few presents throughout the year so that I do not feel so overwhelmed in November and December. This will give me a chance to think about what gifts each one would like and also help with the budget. I like the idea of spreading the cost of Christmas throughout the year rather than being hit all at once in December. Thanks so much for your post!

    • Dana says:

      I love this post! I am constantly asking family to give our kids adventures instead of things. They love the time spent and the activity. I am thinking of making a family fun box. We have a children’s museum and aquarium within two hours drive but with gas, admission, lunch and anything else it would be well over $200 to go. At least $100 to get all of in to the attractions. And that would not happen spur of the moment. So by planning ahead it is not saving us money but allowing us to be able to do something fun and really awesome.

      Thanks for the tips! I can’t wait to use them this year!

  • Jocelyn says:

    This IS great! I’m going to adopt some of these- especially the movie giftcards- which the kids love to use to take granparents out on “datenights” when they come to town. Thank you!

    One thing we’ve done to cut on clutter and have family time is to ask the grandparents (of which we have many- modern families and all 🙂 to pool their resources and sponsor a trip to Great Wolf Lodge- or similar. We go the 2nd week of January when it’s less crowded and less expensive. I watch for deals and let them know when 20% deals are running. And aunts and uncles get in on it by getting the kids gift cards to GWL-they love having money to spend for themselves without me hemming and hawing over everything. We keep the actual gifts from Santa and one from Mom and Dad- but the kids talk about our trip to Great Wolf Lodge all year ’round. We rarely have vacations so the grandparents love to hear the excitement-and I make them photobooks of our time there. No clutter, no money wasted, and forever memories. WIN!

  • Elizabeth says:

    What great ideas! I’m going to try those for next year. Something we do at our house that may seem strange to most of you is to go “shopping” at our local library for gifts. Let me explain. We ALL love to read and watch movies at our house but, for the most part, once the book is read or the movie is watched, we really have no need for keeping it (unless it’s a reference book we really want in the house). My husband, two kids and I are ALL like this. So, we all go to our local library which is very large and always getting new books and movies in, pick out selections we think other family members would like, check them out, wrap them up and put them under the tree. We then have the rest of Christmas break to read and watch. When we’re done we simply return them. We save a ton of money doing this and the end result is really the same isn’t it? After all, most of the books and movies we purchase we end up donating to the library when we’re done with them! Some of you may think these sounds really cheesy but it works really well for us.

  • sandra says:

    great planning and thinking ahead! good for you! I’m sure they loved it.

  • jackie dicecco says:

    This is an AWESOME idea! I often tell folks that ask what my kids wanted to give them ‘experience’ gifts. The kids really do love doing something way more than getting something. Since I have one in college now, the gift cards for places near her school give her the flexibility to get what she needs or wants. She asked for B&N cards to help pay for books 🙂

    I am going to plan for this throughout the year. I will second that ‘budget’ means planned for within your family’s means, not ‘cheap’. Kudos to you!

  • Debbie says:

    What a creative idea! I like it and how you can totally customize it to your own family/needs. I was also thinking that you can utilize deals on Living Social or Groupon for particular activities, too (I think someone else also mentioned this). You just need to be aware of those expiration dates. Also, you could enlist grandparents to contribute to the gift cards or have them spend time with the kids during “their” months doing the activity together.

  • Maggie says:

    Be cautious with gift cards, some have a one year “use it or lose it” expiration date which doesn’t give the recipient much time to redeem them.

  • Holly says:

    Love this monthly idea thing. Hubby and I have been talking about reducing or eliminating Christmas gifts. We still will do the all out Christmas decoration and will start using stockings next Christmas. No more gifts under the tree but fake gifts in pretty boxes! 🙂 Gifts will now be in stockings at next Christmas. I do love the idea of having a monthly gift or gift cards. This article is making me think again and will have to talk to hubby to see if we can manage this type of thing but not in boxes but perhaps just surprising the kids with something they wanted. Why do have to wait till Christmas to get them something? I love surprising my kids every month and felt that it is better to do it that way. Put the focus on Christ and family celebrations during Christmas with small gifts for stockings. Eliminate paper trash!!

    Thank you for sharing!!

    • Kathleen says:

      We celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th being of German Descendant. There the children receive a small gift from St. Nick. There for Christmas is all about Christ. This makes any gift the kids get as well from us and they know it. It is not from Santa Claus.

  • zan says:

    Wow! What an awesome idea! Thanks for sharing:)

  • Tami,

    What a fun idea!

    We asked grandparents for experience gifts and they responded with a trip to one place in town one year and to another place this time. It is nice to not have the clutter and to get to do something fun as a family.

    This same idea could work with places that are less money/free. I know families who have done that as well. One family who had no money at all for gifts one year did this. They put each activity in a balloon and the children had to pop the balloons (instead of opening presents) to see what they would be doing. She had one activity per month, and all were local things that didn’t cost them more than the gas to get there. She said it revolutionized their gift giving completely, and the children loved looking forward to these activities.

    Free things could be a family picnic, a free concert in the park (in summer), etc. depending on where you live. You could look for free entrance days at certain places for part of your plan as well.

    I wrote a post about this in regards to children’s birthday gifts. We did date coupons with out children and cooking lesson coupons. My son wanted dates with me this year so he made coupons for ME for dates with him! I thought that was a clever way to get what he really wants–more time with me. Dates don’t have to be leaving the house; we will let a child stay up late to have a date with us, playing a game together or working on something together.

    http://theprudenthomemakerblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/what-your-children-really-want-for.html

  • Mel says:

    What a terrific idea! I have 11 (soon-to-be-12) nieces & nephews, and a very limited budget. They love one-on-one outings, and I’ll bet I could adapt this idea to work for birthdays and Christmas!

  • Dana says:

    I want to take part of your idea of buying gift cards each month but putting them away for Christmas shopping. I know if I would put cash away I’d be tempted to use it. Your idea seems like it would work for MY family once my kids are a little older. Thank you for sharing!!!

  • graymysts says:

    Wow that is allot to spend.

  • M. says:

    Love this idea not for the budgeting reason but for keeping me accountable! There are so many times that I have said this summer we’ll……and it never happens. If I buy the gift cards or certificates and give them to the kids, I HAVE to take them!

  • elizabeth says:

    What a brilliant idea! Especially as children get older, they tend to want budget-busting gadgets, so this is a great idea. The older kids/teens are not as interested in toys anyway. Also, totally customizable for each family or budget. I am definitely “stealing” this idea.

    • Meagan says:

      I’m a first time grandparent and started it this year for my son’s family . This stretches there budget so they can have fun things to do, and they don’t get toy overload.

  • Catherine says:

    This is a wonderful idea to make everyone in the family feel special! All the hard work on budgeting and planning ahead really pays off here! Thank you for sharing such a great idea!!

  • Shana says:

    I LOVE THIS IDEA!!

  • Kim says:

    Love this!

    We wanted to implement parent-kid dates in our family and I think this is going to be our inspiration!

  • Oh, I like the idea of a gift card! My husband and I decided we have enough “stuff” and that the children will get “experiences” instead. A gift card is something tangible to open and hold on to until we go!!

  • Guest says:

    I made experience coupon booklets for each of our kids this year with the stipulation they could only use one per month. They LOVED them!!

    If anyone wants ideas, here’s what we did, prices vary with some being free:
    – frozen yogurt date
    – stay up 30 minutes late one night
    – eat out, location child’s choice
    – special date with Mom
    – special date with Dad
    – one new book
    – help cleaning room (basically one time that month we will help them clean/straighten their room)
    – throw pennies in local fountain
    – movie night, child chooses movie
    – have a friend over
    – eat dessert first
    – swimming

  • D'Ann Martin says:

    You have NOOOO idea how badly I needed this article! I took a babysitting gig this past summer watching a little girl that is in the same grade with my daughter with the hopes of setting the money back ($600) for birthdays and Christmas, as we have 6 birthdays between October and Christmas. Well, sadly, it seemed that every week I needed that $50 for something else and once again, birthdays and Christmas left me stressed and financially strapped:( Obviously, I need some budgeting help, and I really think this may be the answer! God bless you and your family as you enjoy all your special “Box of Fun” gifts!!! Thank you MSM for posting such helpful and encouraging articles!

  • Michele says:

    We’re Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah for 8 nights which means 8 gifts. We buy one bigger gift for the first night and 7 smaller gifts for the other nights. This year I bought a gift card to the local movie theatre for me and my daughter to see a matinee ($13.50). She already “cashed” that one in, and we saw Frozen. And she also got a $5 gift card to a frozen yogurt place which I will take her to in January.

    Another idea is to do a family gift like a zoo membership or a children’s museum that lasts all year.

    • Jen says:

      I asked for a Children’s Museum membership from my parents or my in-laws for my kids. My in-laws took us up on our request so we’ve now got one year to enjoy the best Children’s Museum in the country (Indianapolis) for one year and it didn’t cost us anything…and it doesn’t clutter my house. Win win!

  • Kathryn says:

    Such a wonderful idea to give the give of experience and time together, rather than more stuff they don’t need!

  • Megan says:

    This is a great idea that’s “evidence-based.” Research shows that we’re happier when we spend our money on experiences rather than on stuff: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121908647

  • Jamie says:

    Such a fun idea!! I especially love gift *experiences* rather than *stuff*. My family usually gets passes to the museums and zoos for our kids, so this allows me to give them some extra special outings.

  • shannon says:

    Last Christmas I did something similar…I put coupons in their stockings. The intent was that each child got 15 (we have three kids) and then every week one of the boys would get special ‘date’. The coupons were simple and most of them 1-2 dollars, like look at books at local grocery store and get a small treat. Then I stapled $2 to the coupon. The money was already attached so I did not have the ‘no money’ excuse. Other coupons were a trip to the library and something from Dollar Store, bike ride to local ice cream shop and one scoop, trip to look around toy store and then a Wendy’s frosty, I have to admit, most of the coupons revolved around a small food treat….my boys love to eat 🙂 They enjoyed their own time too.

  • Ashley DeMazza says:

    This is a brilliant idea!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Ashley DeMazza
    Falls Village, CT 06031

  • What a beautiful idea! I think we may do this for 2014 as well!

    • Lisa says:

      This is a great idea! I used to do it for my teenage nieces and nephews, but I gave them each a calendar with the gift cards (or vouchers for the experience) paper clipped to each month. Now with all the shutterfly, etc. codes for cheap calendars it would be extra special to make the child a calendar of pictures of themselves or family and add the gift cards to the months. Although a bit more “clutterful” it would also give them a keepsake to chronicle the gift.

    • Judy says:

      I love the responses here and note an added sense of fun and adventure that doesn’t come with ordinary gift giving. These gifts are more than something in a box that ends up never used, looked at or even played with. Everyone around me has more than enough and the last thing they need is more stuff! My family near and far need time together, getting to know and enjoy each other more. I love the solutions to that dilemma mentioned here. In particular, wrapping books and movies from the library makes me smile and laugh inside and the McD’s gift card reminds of days when I worked there as a teen, not That long ago-when families went for a-big night out and the retro dining room filled up with chatter and the warmth of organized chaos! Around here that hominess is harder to come by-everyone seems so “busy.” But back to the subject of gift-giving, has anyone had a gift exchange limited to items from thrift stores, found items or those received free from Craigslist? Personally I don’t know that many who delight in the worn in,used and old like me but for those who do, I for one would have a lot of fun with exchanging our finds.

  • Susan says:

    I think this is a fabulous concept. It’s an especially good idea for adults and older kids who have outgrown the toy stage.

    My thoughts on the comments stating how expensive this is …

    What makes it “budget friendly” is that the expense is spread over the year, regardless of what your budget is — could be a $5 GC to McDonalds vs. a $25 GC to B&N, it doesn’t matter. The concept is the same as saving for something, anything, over time instead of coming up with a large amount of cash all at once.

    Another thing that makes it “budget friendly” is that these are things that families often buy anyway. Everything on Tami’s list is something that my family does throughout the year, or something similar. So you’re just turning an expense into a Christmas gift. Win win!

    Benefit #3 is that the receiver gets a gift twice! They receive the GC at Christmas and it make them very happy, and then when they spend the GC they get excited al over again.

    A couple of years ago, I made a photo calendar for my Mom with scrapbooking supplies. On each month, I added a little pocket and tucked in a GC for a different restaurant. She and her significant other enjoy eating out, and they loved this gift.

    Also, Tami listed the face value of the GC’s, but she didn’ say how much she paid for them. By planning ahead and taking advantage of various deals, you can spend a lot less on GC’s than their face value. iTunes has promotions frequently, for example. You just have to keep your eyes peeled.

    Albertsons (Jewel, etc) had a that ran during much of December where you get a $20 catalina for groceries when you buy $100 in various GC’s. This is a GREAT deal that I like to take advantage of and buy GC’s for things I will need to buy anyway. I have a nephew getting married in a couple months, so I picked up a BB&B GC, for example.

  • Rita says:

    This is a great idea, I am going to start this month – my kids are getting older and it’s getting harder every year and for those of you who belong to swag bucks – great way to get them for free!!

    • Sissy says:

      My kids are older too. I started making a list of experiences I could give them for next Christmas and their birthdays. I love this idea!

    • Kathi says:

      I realize I’m late to the party…just now reading this post. Was wondering if you could tell me about Swag Bucks and how they work? Thank you!

      • Lauren says:

        Swagbucks is a website/toolbar you can use to earn points for searching things like google, you can watch commercials and take surveys and even use their shop & earn feature to get rewards for online purchases. I have accumulated a lot over the last few years, I have about 16,000 right now (or enough for about $150-200 worth of gift cards) and thats just from since January.

  • Jodi says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. It’s inspired me to give the gift of together-ness and experiences. I sell scrip which is gift cards that benefits my kids’ school this would be such a nice article to add to our gift card sales while saving money and giving families good ideas on staying united. Awesome!

  • Christy says:

    I did essentially this for my husband for his birthday last December — 12 months of pre-planned, mostly pre-paid dates. Put each in an envelope to be opened at the beginning of the month. Two or three were pricey, but I made sure to keep several of them under $10-15 (or even free). I just warned him in advance that the gift budget would be stretched a bit last year, but we’d recoup the costs this year when we didn’t have to pay for entertainment.

    I got several discounts by cashing in Recyclebank points, if you get those points — just be careful, because some expire within a month or two or are for specific locations. A few I just made myself a note to cash in the points when that month rolled around.

  • I love this is great my boys will love this.

  • matilda says:

    I think I’ll do this for my grandchildren for next year.. TIME with the kids, especially one-on-one, is so precious to me, since I have a terminal illness, and they are all under 12. My disability income doesn’t go very far, but I can do the gift-card-per-month idea- – thanks!

    • Jiya says:

      Love the idea — my son is starting to get hard to buy for (he’s growing out of toys & only wants video games — which this mom does NOT like to buy), so this is a great idea. He would love gift cards for the frozen yogurt place, the movies, Chuck E Cheese or mini golf.

      One way to save $$$ & still do this is to use gift cards that you earn at Swagbucks or MyPoints or similar sites.

  • Cathy R says:

    Such a great idea! My husband and I have only been buying for one grown son and Nephew, niece and their two children, but what a wonderful way to budget things out for the year for them! I’m excited about that, and have more ideas how to get things we want or need individually for each other …… budget it! Thanks for the idea that can be individualized for each family’s situation!

  • Em says:

    I love this idea! I have children that are getting harder and harder to buy for. The idea of increasing time as well as still giving gifts is a great idea!!!!!

  • Shana Juarez says:

    When our kids were younger, we would buy the family a yearly membership for the California Space Center in Los Angeles. Most museums across the country honor free entry with a yearly membership to any of the 300+ museums on the list.
    We have 6 museums with in a 2 hour drive from us. Pack a lunch and go! The hands on museums were the best for the kids!
    Average cost for entry each is $20. Family of 4 going out for a day is an easy $100+. Yearly memberships have varied prices. We would grab the mid level membership ($125yr)and enjoy a few freebee’s! And it is a donation! Tax deductible.
    This makes a great gift from family too!

  • Tina says:

    I am so glad I saw this in January. We are doing this for sure!!

  • Judy Brandt says:

    that is such a great idea I am going to start this for my family myself and three kids thank you

  • laura says:

    Love this idea! This year for Christmas we bought the boys lift passes to the local ski place (to go with Dad) and season passes for the Zoo and science center (to go with mom since I teach and we can do those during the breaks).

    If you have a Kroger near by they give extra points when you buy gift cards there (then the points can save you money per gallon – I got all my gift cards for extended family there this December then saved 30 cents a gallon when I road tripped to visit family). Win-Win!

  • Rose Wild says:

    Thank you for this post !
    I’m so glad I started this a few months ago. Having several older kids is really hard to shop for.
    I go to my local Randals and buy gift cards each month. We buy gift cards for restaurants or home improvement resteraunts just about everything. It saves us around a $1 a gallon 2x”s a month !

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