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Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

Updated on October 2, 2013

The Impetus for a Change in Thinking

This author has struggled with Christmas gift-giving for years. There have been years when I have spent thousands on the “perfect” gifts, and there have been years when I did not have enough money to buy for anyone but my son, and guilt was my companion for weeks afterwards.

There have been years when I have put off gift-buying until Christmas Eve, and there have been years when I have bought as early as October and then bought continuously right up until Christmas. Last minute Christmas gifts for mom! Last minute Christmas gifts for the wife. They were all necessary, right?

To say that Christmas has been an unsettling time for me would be a gross understatement. However, today it is no longer that way, and it is simply because of a change in thinking on my part.

Like many, I’m sure, gift-giving, for me, was a sign of love and friendship, but somewhere along the way the emphasis became heavier on the gift and less on the sign of love and friendship. Does that make sense to you? In other words, I lost sight of the real meaning behind those gifts, namely a demonstration of love for those in my life who are most important.

This year, the emphasis is back where it should be, on love. This year, the dollar expenditure will be way down, but the love expenditure will be way up. Bev and I have brainstormed some alternative Christmas gift ideas, and we thought we would share them with you.

Great basket gifts
Great basket gifts | Source

Food Baskets

No, not food baskets for everyone! Surely you know someone in your neighborhood or other area of your life who is in need of some special love this holiday season. These are tough times for people; the economy is not recovering as quickly as our leaders would have us believe, and many people are just trying to pay their mortgage and have a dinner on the table for Christmas.

Why not give a gift that will give you as much joy as it does the recipient? Go the grocery store, pick up the makings for a great dinner, and deliver it to someone who really needs some joy in life. If you have some concerns that this may be embarrassing for the recipient, just leave it on their doorstep anonymously. There really is no need for them to know it came from you; a true gift is given without concern over receiving credit for the giving.


No, don’t give envelopes for a Christmas present! This is a neat idea for a rather large family, and it is an idea we are following in our family this year. The idea is for everyone in the family to put their names on their own envelope, and next to their name they write down one item they would really like to have this year.

Then during the holiday season, members of the family put money into each envelope instead of buying gifts. That way, when Christmas comes, the money is there for each person to buy that one special gift they really want. Imagine, no more ugly shirts or ties that are hideous and not really appreciated!

Secret Santa Exchange

This was one of my favorite activities when I taught school. Everyone would grab a name out of a hat, and then during the season they would leave anonymous gifts for the person whose name they had drawn.

You can easily adopt this method in your family. Draw names….don’t mention whose name you draw….and then during the month of December, buy little gifts and leave them for the person to find. You can culminate it all with one big present on Christmas Day, and at that time everyone finds out who their Secret Santa was.

A giving tree.
A giving tree. | Source

Start a Giving Tree

This is another idea adopted from my teaching days. Back in the day, we would contact a local charitable organization, like “Unwed Mothers” or “Teen Homeless Center.” We would ask the director of the center if they would get the first names of the people who used the center, and have each person write down what they wanted for Christmas. Then we would take that information, make gift tags with the first name of the person and the gifts they wanted, and hang them on a tree in the school lobby.

After that, parents and students could take tags off of the tree, go out and buy the present, and then bring the presents back to our school. On Christmas Eve the presents would then be given to the people at the Center. One year the families of our school, a school with 350 students, gave more than 2000 presents to the residents of a low-income apartment building. You should have seen the smiles!

Anyone can do this, and you could organize it in your neighborhood. Pick a tree in the neighborhood, contact your neighbors with your idea, and then find a charitable cause that your neighborhood can donate to. What fun, and what a great way to become an active part of the community.

More ideas

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Play Santa for Those Who Truly Need Some Love

Again, a suggestion from my past years. I have been known to rent a Santa costume and go to the hospital to hand out presents to the kids who have to spend Christmas in the hospital. A variation of this idea is to go to a nursing home and distribute presents.

I have gone to merchants with my idea and gotten presents donated. One year I gave over 200 Beanie Babies to kids at the hospital, and I can tell you that the joy I experienced that Christmas was unbelievable. How about it? Instead of giving each member of your family ten gifts, how about giving them five and using the unused money for some kids or the elderly so they can get into the spirit of Christmas as well?

You could even send presents to our house if you had a hankerin'
You could even send presents to our house if you had a hankerin' | Source

Adopt a Family

Do you know of a family that is really feeling the economic crunch this year? How about your family adopting their family, and giving them gifts that will mean so much. Make them handcrafted gifts; give them gift certificates that promise you will do some chores for them; heck, even give them DVD’s or books from your own collection. Remember, the idea is to give of yourself in an act that holds no promise of a return gift. Your reward is the smile you will receive when you give unselfishly of yourself.

Handmade Coupon Books

If you are having a hard time thinking of the perfect gift, why don’t you make a coupon book for a loved one? Each coupon can be some special act of love, from a backrub to a chore done for them. Then, throughout the year, your loved one can return the coupons and receive a gift of love when they most need one.

Gift Exchange

We do this in our family and it’s a fun alternative. Everyone brings one generic gift on Christmas. It has to be a gift that anyone can use, and there is a pre-determined dollar limit to the gift. We put those gifts in a pile and we open them all at once. We all have pulled a number out of a hat and that is our gift-picking order, so after the gifts have all been opened, #1 will have first pick, then #2, and so on, until all the gifts have been chosen.

Remember the Reason for the Season

Christmas is about love! Christmas is about family! Somehow over the years, Christmas has become synonymous with gift-giving, and more gift-giving, and greater gift-giving, and it is hectic and at times stressful and mindless. Hopefully these alternative Christmas gift ideas will help to bring the focus back on what Christmas should be all about.

Remember, love does not have a dollar sign on it, but it most certainly has great value!

Merry Christmas to all!

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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