Sense & Centsibility Blog

Ideas for Inexpensive Gifts

If you celebrate Christmas, it's pretty likely that you give gifts. And depending on the size of your family or circle of friends, you could end up spending a fortune. The good news is that with a little planning and creativity, you can take care of everyone on your list without busting your budget...not to mention avoiding credit card charges.

Bake Cookies

Do you have a favorite cookie that your mom or grandma used to make? Find that old recipe and bake some cookies to give to your family. You could also do a cookie exchange; that way everyone gets a variety of cookies. Plus, think about making a day of it with others...get together do some baking. It's much more fun to share the experience.

Ornament Exchange

Instead of doing a big gift exchange, have an ornament exchange. Decide if you want them to be homemade or just purchased. Even if you have to purchase materials, it's still cheaper than having to buy something (even an ornament) for everyone.

Draw Names

In my family, each year we each draw a name of 1 person that we're going to buy for and set a spending limit. This is a great way to keep costs down. Plus, not everyone has the same financial situation and may not be able to afford to buy gifts for everyone.

Dice Game

Have everyone purchase 3-4 small gifts, each $5-10 (or whatever limit you choose). Then play the dice game where you send around a bowl with 2 dice and if you get 7, 11, or doubles you get to pick a wrapped gift. Keep going around until all the gifts are could even set a limit that each person can only win 3 or 4 so that it's equal. Everyone will leave with several gifts and you got a game out of the deal as well.

Create a Tradition

Talk to your family about the idea of ditching material gifts and spending time as a family instead. You could make an annual movie day - in or out. Volunteer somewhere as a family and give back. Try a family potluck or day out sledding with a hot chocolate bar afterward. Whatever you choose, do it together and make it a tradition. Quality time with family and good memories are amazing gifts.

Homemade Gift Certificates

Think of something not material that someone needs. Maybe your sister and her husband haven't been out together since the new baby was born. Give the gift of a free babysitter. Or offer a service like shoveling snow, mowing the lawn (obviously in the Spring/Summer), or dusting. Little things like that can be really helpful especially for people who are always busy or perhaps can't move around like they used to.


Invite friends/family over or go to one of their places and do a craft day. There are a ton of different ideas on Pinterest and the Internet for reasonably cheap crafts. Think about something that would be useful for a seasonal or year-round decoration in your home. Or make it and give it as a gift. Speaking from experience, it's really fun to pick an idea, shop for materials, and work with a friend to see the idea actually turn into something you love.

These are great ways to keep the Christmas holiday affordable. So start the conversation with your loved ones to create a new tradition of enjoying each other's company more and spending less money on things people don't really need.

Author Elaina Johannessen is a Program Director with LSS Financial Counseling.