I wrote this up two years ago, but I know many people are looking for easy ways to cut costs in every day life- let alone at Christmas! Here's some ideas on how to keep the costs low for Christmas this year.
Christmas Shopping on a small budget
Since getting married almost 9 years ago, we've had a low income. It's risen over the years, but in the beginning, we survived as a family of 3, then 4, on less than $10,000 a year of income.
We did get help, of course, but for the most part, we struggled to do it all on our own. We got very creative with what we would do for Christmas presents, both for our kids, and for other people. For several years, we just skipped over the gifts for each other part.
So, here are some idea's on how to get Christmas done, on a realistic and small budget.
First, shop sales. Don't buy something full price. It'll go on sale between now and Christmas at least once. If it's something that is on the so-called "hot list", and it will be sold out, weigh out how much of your budget it eats up, and just how badly it's wanted. Keep in mind Want vs. Need.
Next, shop clearance racks for clothing, toys, house wears, and more. Every department in a store has a clearance section. So what if that shirt was from summer? As long as it's short sleeved, and not no-sleeve or tank style, grab it. Kids wear t-shirts day in and day out. They can pair it over top of a long sleeved shirt for the popular layered look. And at $2.00, can you really beat the price for a brand new item?
It's a bit late this year, but shop the clearance racks year round. After Christmas, you see HUGE amounts of clearance items in every single department in a department store. Buy a few things here and there, buy a Rubbermaid tub, and store it in a closet, or the garage, or attic, for next year. This is a great way to get gifts for extended family members. Candles & bubble bath will survive a year in storage, as long as it's in an area that's not too hot. Alternatively, buying up cheap holiday dishes work great, too- short glasses can be used as candle holders, coffee mugs can be dressed up with a packet of tea, coffee, or cocoa, some candy, and a candy cane. Plates can be filled with cookies. Bowls can be filled potpourri. Getting a set of 16 dishes on clearance for $5 gives you a LOT of lee-way in gift giving the next year.
That brings me to my next topic- homemade gifts. Baked goods are always welcome, of course. Here's some idea's on how to do it easily, even if you are not Betty or Martha. Buy mixes and pre-made dough!!! Of course, pair the item with a sale price AND a coupon for the best value.
Buy mini-tin's for making loaves of bread. Gingerbread, banana nut bread, apple cinnamon bread, etc, are all great breads at Christmas. 1 mix will make 2-3 mini-loaves of bread. Wrap it up, tin and all, in saran wrap, and add a homemade label from the computer saying what type of bread it is. You can even make them ahead, freeze them now, and thaw them the day before you want to give it out.
Buy a few of those refrigerated cookie dough's. Make the cookies smaller than average to stretch the dough out further. For easy sugar cookies without the hassle of decorating or cutting into shapes, form a ball, roll it in colored sugar sprinkles, and press it flat onto the cookie sheet. I usually try to make up 3-4 different types of cookies. Fill a plate with an assortment of them, wrap in saran wrap, and add another label showing what types of cookies are on the plate. The person gets a handmade goodie, and a cute plate for next year.
Another EASY treat to make are chocolate covered pretzels. Buy a bag of the twisted pretzels, or the long pretzel rods, and a bag of chocolate chips. I also buy round sprinkles (called non-perils) in holiday colors. First, you want to line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with wax paper. Next, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, or set a smaller pan in a larger pan of water. Stir it constantly to prevent scorched chocolate. If you are using the rods, hold one end, and stir the other end in the chocolate for a half-covered chocolate pretzel. Lay it on the wax paper. You can leave it half covered, or use a spoon to pour more chocolate over the rest. Sprinkle with sprinkles (non-perils) while it's still wet, and move on to another one.
If you are using the little twists, get a large spearing fork (two pronged) and drop the pretzel into the pan, and use the fork to flip it, and drag it through to cover it completely. Then, pull it out, shake it a bit to get off the excess chocolate, then drop it on the wax paper, sprinkle on decorations.
Let them harden for an hour or so, then peal them from the wax paper. They make a great addition to the top of a plate of cookies. Add in a few chocolate kisses or peanut butter cups, and you have an excellent gift. Once the plate is wrapped with saran wrap, tie with ribbon, and add a candy cane.
Gifts to extended family don't need to cost a lot of money. Don't feel bad if you can't afford to spend $20 on each cousin, aunt, uncle, and friend on your list. If there is a gift exchange, explain that you can't afford to take part this year, and don't feel bad about it!! Going into debt over a Christmas gift or two isn't worth it.
Another idea for cheap gifts are ornaments. You can buy wooden unpainted ornaments cheaply at craft shops, as well as plaster ones. Add some cheap paints, and go to town. Add a spool of $.50 pretty red or green satin ribbon for the hangers, and you have a nice gift for people.
One other way is to take a package of glass bulb ($1.88 at Wal-Mart) ornaments in different colors, and use glue to write on them, or draw on them, then sprinkle with glitter. Or, use fabric paints in different colors, with or without glitter. Again, add pretty satin ribbon for a hanger.
Cheap kids gifts- not as easy, right? Wrong. Aside from shopping sales and clearance racks, you can still get away with cheap gifts for kids. Maybe the word Frugal would be better, as cheap has bad connotations with the word. ;)
So, for kids, you want to give a gift that they'll like, but not spend a ton, right? Well, here's how to provide a nice Christmas morning, without breaking the bank.
First, shop the dollar store. Dollar Tree is my absolute favorite dollar store. If you haven't been to a dollar store in the past 10 years, let me tell you, gone are the junk for a buck stores. You can find nice items at dollar stores now days, and still get out cheaply.
The toy aisle at Dollar Tree includes items like brand name coloring books (or, Brand Characters- Winnie the Pooh, Care Bears, Hot Wheels, Bratz, Crayola, and many more!), books based on great series (I've found Fear Street, Goosebumps, Lizzie McGuire, and more), good hardcover books for younger kids (Rugrats, Jimmy Nutron, and more!), puzzles by Rose Art, and so much more.
For a good gift to assorted nieces, nephews, cousins, and the kids your friends have, get to Dollar Tree, buy a puzzle (age appropriate), a coloring book, a box of crayons, and a book. For $4, you just gave a great gift. It might not be hi-tech, or have bells and whistles, but what child doesn't like to color? Heck, I still like to color.
Dollar Tree also has cute baby dolls this year, as well as clothing. For $2, you can give a new baby doll and an extra outfit to a younger girl. These are great in the 2-5 year old range.
They also have many other toys that work great. I pick up lots of toys through out the 2 months coming up to Christmas and use them for stocking stuffers as well as actual gifts for my kids.
One thing that was great this year, is that I found some items at another dollar store which sells most items at $1, but some up to $5 each. I found a hard cover Monet art book for $3 for my step-mom, who loves art, and I found Betty Crocker Bake N' Fill Mini pans (the deluxe set) for $3 each. I bought LOTS. I got one for me, then I went back and bought 3 which I auctioned off on eBay- I sold 1 for $4, 1 for $5, and 1 for $16, which easily paid for the 4 I had purchased, plus some. So, I went back, and I bought 3 more boxes. These ones I wrapped up for my mom, my mother in law, and my aunt in law. Over all, I spent $24 on all the items, but I made $25 selling 3 of those pan sets, so I got those gifts free.
Stuffed animals make great gifts for smaller kids, and at Christmas, you can find them in assorted sizes and prices. Wal-Mart has cute, cuddly small animals (reindeer, snowmen, Santa's, and more) for under $3 each this year. Dollar Tree has larger stuffed teddies this year for $1. They top off a stocking great, or if the stocking is too full, simply use a ribbon to add a tag to the front, and squish it into the tree branches on your tree. Trust me, the kids LOVE seeing gifts that are not wrapped sitting under or in the tree.
One thing I bought last year were tins shaped like round ornaments, complete with a hanger on them. I filled each one with some candy, added a dollar bill, and a name tag, then hung them from the tree.
Because the kids are candy-a-holics, we don't hang candy canes on the tree. But, Santa does. ;) Stuff like that just makes their eyes light up, and it's not expensive to do.
Kids can also make gifts for grandparents, aunt's, uncle's, etc. It doesn't have to be anything fancy from a child. Just have them do something with crafts. One good idea is to take all those old CD's you get in the mail, and take glue or puffy paint to make designs on them. Cover the printed side with felt or construction paper, but leave a hole in the center. Once it's decorated, and dry, use fish string to hang a loop through it, for hanging on the tree, or from the ceiling. Or, add a picture of the child to the front.
I hope some of these idea's help out some of the families out there with similar situations as mine, or those looking to spend less this year!