Meaningful, Low-Cost, Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday Gift Guide from Top Bloggers
Every year at Christmas I am faced with the same challenge: coming up with meaningful, budget friendly, gifts that my children will love. That can be a hard combination to find.

Not that I am complaining. I love Christmas and everything it entails: Christ, family, baking, Santa Claus, and of course finding the “perfect gifts.”

What I don’t like is the consumerism and pressure to keep up with the Jones’s. Santa may have magic and unlimited resources, but I don’t. That does not stop me from trying to make each Christmas more exciting and special than the one before. However, I want my time, energy, and financial resources to be used wisely.  Our family has come up with ways to meet this challenge (more on that in another post), but I know that what works for some may not work for others. So, we enlisted the help of some of our favorite bloggers.

These amazing ladies shared their best tips for meaningful, budget friendly gifts for kids, and I was blown away by how great their ideas are. They are all fun and unique. I hope you enjoy their responses as much as I did:

Jenny at The Happy Family Movement

“Instead of buying them the latest, greatest (expensive!) thing, consider giving them an experience. We’re all about creating memorable experiences for our family, so every year, we give gifts like movie tickets and roller skating passes and a zoo membership and amusement park tickets. We get to spend time together having fun and I don’t feel guilty that they don’t play with all their new toys. It’s a win-win!”

Melea at Freebies 2 Deals

“Moms know their kids better than anyone else.  So use that to your advantage.  Instead of spending a fortune on that toy they want, you can create something yourself.  Maybe you will want to create a Photobook with pictures of you and your child or put together a Mommy and Me Monthly Playdate for the entire 2014 year. Both are creative, but don’t cost a lot of money at all.”

Alexis at One Little Sparkle

“Depending on the age of your child or children, buy or make 3 to 5 nice, meaningful gifts (something they have been wanting, something that means something to the family, something that has value or will grow value, etc.). Don’t buy too much, don’t be afraid to buy used, and if you are crafty add some homemade goodness to the mix. Enjoy picking out a FEW really special gifts and then wrap the presents, store them out of reach, under the tree or somewhere special to be delivered by Santa on Christmas Eve… and be done! The simplicity of not spoiling your children on Christmas will leave room for the most important parts of the Holiday. Not only that, but it will allow you as a mother to relax and enjoy your family. Children want a happy home more than anything. A happy, relaxed mom is one of the greatest gifts you can offer your family this season. Keeping the gifting under control does not mean you can’t make Christmas a BIG deal. You can “go all out” and not spend too much money or overwhelm yourself. Make special meals, serve others in need, create and continue family traditions, focus on each other and what the holiday means to you and Christmas will be magical!”

Melanie at

“I really like the want, need, wear, read mentality of gift giving. It gives a good limit to the amount of gifts each child is given yet covers enough ground so they’re not left disappointed.”

Kimberly at

“Listen to your kids. Sometimes it’s not so much a tangible gift that they want. Many times a child wants an “experience” instead. For example, instead of buying a bunch of beauty products for your ‘tween/teen learn how to make products using ingredients found at home (DIY) and create a spa-day experience at home. Not only would it be fun it’s also a great way to bond and make special memories.

  Our son loves to be in NYC. Since we live just outside the city we try and make it to the city as often as we can. Just the experience going there is enough for our son so are one of his “gifts” this year we are taking him to the city and letting him tell us what he wants to do and see while we’re there.

  If your child is asking for an expensive toy why not ask family, friends and neighbors if they have the item and do a “swap” or buy it from them. Kids don’t usually care if an item is “pre-loved” as long as it’s works and is in decent condition. When my kids were younger I would buy things from Ebay. Sometimes they were new, other times “previously loved”. My kids didn’t care. They were happy to have what they wanted and I was able to get the item/items at a fraction of the original cost. The same could apply to garage sales, hand me downs and the Salvation Army/ Good Will.

Using layaway is also a good option providing they don’t hit you up with a lot of fees. Also check websites and circulars daily to see if the items/items go on sale.

Handmade items are also a great idea providing that you are handy in that way (I’m not).”

Melanie at CravanShoppe

My husband and I really plan out our gift giving. We try to limit to just giving them 4 gifts each year- something to read, something they need, something to wear, and something they want (and of course they get their special gift from santa, and their siblings gift… so it all really ads up to lots of things!)
 I find that my kids are always thrilled with whatever I get them- and that the real culprit of getting too much is ME. (It’s so easy to want so many things for christmas for your kids, but they really don’t need all of that!) so we carefully plan out each gift and think through it, to make sure it’s meaningful, it is something that will last, and something that they want. Limiting and giving myself a number of gifts really helps to limit my spending, and also takes so much of the headache out of christmas.. leaving me time and energy to focus on service and the true meaning of the holidays. 

“If you have little ones who love to read check your local libraries for book sales. You can often find children’s books for 50 cents or less. They may be gently used but younger bookworms won’t mind. They’ll love opening gifts to find books starring their favorite characters. It’s also fun to wrap them individually if you have time or to use them for the 12 books of Christmas, unwrapping one book a night and reading it together in the 12 days before Christmas.”

AmberLee at and

“To be fully honest, Christmas surprises for the kids are not my specialty around here, because my husband kind of rocks this category. I’ll often let him handle kid presents because he is so much better at coming up with the kind of gifts that have this great exciting impact as soon as the wrapping paper is torn off, and that somehow my kids still love to play with for years after.

That said, I have come up with a few hits with my kids over the years, and one of my favorites for certain is this: Matching T-shirts. My boys think it is the coolest thing in the world to have a Mario T-shirt just like their dad’s, or my daughter still likes to show up somewhere with us both wearing our Hello Kitty T-shirts.

The thing I love about this gift is you can go as chic or budget as you like. There are some truly rad screen printed Ts out there, or you can screen print something yourself onto a $3 T with an iron and a little freezer paper and acrylic paint, or, let’s not forget, there’s always Target, easy peasy and quick.”

Gabrielle at

“My advice: think handmade! There are tons of ideas out there that kids would love and that are inexpensive. Like this doll bed made from sturdy cardboard. You could even cover the cardboard in inexpensive wrapping paper for a patterned look.”

Shanti at

 “Don’t fall into the trap of “more is better.” Some of the most meaningful Christmases we’ve had have been simpler ones. This year, I asked our kids if they would be willing to use half the money I would normally spend on them for Christmas to help other people, and they all agreed wholeheartedly. Instead of having a bunch of meaningless gifts under the tree, we are spending the month of December seeking out ways our family can help others–buying lunch for a homeless person, adopting a child through Angel Tree, paying for someone behind us in line at Starbucks, donating to a charitable cause…the list is endless.

And when Christmas morning comes, all of our hearts will already be filled with the true joy that comes from giving. Sure, we’ll still have some gifts under our tree, but the temporary excitement that comes from those will pale in comparison to the pure delight that we experienced the whole month!”

Kelly at Cloudy Day Gray
“When it comes to buying Christmas gifts for our kids, we believe that less is more. They will get toys, clothes, and knickknacks from grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins. So we focus our efforts into buying one classic item that we know will not only be adored, but can last a childhood and possibly be handed down. This year we bought our son a wooden train set and our daughter a beautiful fabric doll.”

Rachael at Nothing if Not Intentional

“Whenever possible, I think it’s helpful to consider a child’s love language. Just today My Husband came inside and was like, “Our Three-Year-Old was helping me rake leaves, and I told her how thankful I was for her help and how she’s such a great helper. And she was like, ‘Will you tell Mommy that story?'”

I heard that, and I was like, “Oh my goodness! I think her love language is words of affirmation!” It totally fits with other clues she’s given us, but I’ve never made that connection before. A great gift for her would be a letter from Mommy and Daddy she can read (hear) over and over again. For instance, she responded really well to our Valentine’s Day notes.

As for other gifts, we’re going the used route this year. My girls have no expectation of new and shiny, and I hope to keep it that way as long as possible. We just got a like-new 3-in-1 trike off Craigslist for $30 ($100 retail value). My girls will be THRILLED.”

Nicole at A Little Sussy

“For meaningful, try making something (fairy wand, dollhouse, etc.)

For inexpensive, I always resort to Amazon.”

Landon at Livin the Dream

“My kids have plenty of toys. They have plenty of clothes. They don’t really need more stuff. My husband and I decided several years ago that for Christmas and birthdays, we would rather give (and receive) gifts that created or captured memories instead of just giving things.

One year for Christmas, we each took the other to a concert s/he would love. Last year, my parents took everyone to Disneyland for Christmas, so we made a Shutterfly book of all the pictures from the trip for everyone to open on Christmas day. This year, we want to continue with that idea. A membership to our local Children’s Museum ($100 for our entire family) will provide us so many opportunities for the kids to play, learn, and grow together while creating memories with our family!

Our Children’s Museum has a water area, art room, a huge train table, a play supermarket, and more. And, if we go once a month (which is my goal), that’s $8.33 a month! So $4.16 per month per kid! This gives my kids an opportunity to play, to explore, to learn, and to create happy memories. And, honestly, I think the most meaningful thing I can give my kids is my un-distracted time. At a place like the Children’s Museum, I’m there. I’m with them. I’m playing on their level. No where else to be. Nothing else vying for my attention (including my phone). Our purpose is to be there, playing, together, as a family. (And, how cheap is it to give your time?)

So, what can you do to give your kids your time? Where can you go to create memories with them?

In addition, if I am going to buy things for my kids (which I did) I look used. Craigslist. Amazon on sale. Facebook yard sale groups. But when I look to buy stuff for my kids, I look at longevity – is this something they’re going to play with for five seconds? Five days? Five months? Five years? My kids are getting a train table and a kitchen this year. I know these things will get played with for a long time and both encourage unsupervised, imaginative play. These toys don’t need to be new to be fun! I don’t care about having a brand name (Little Tykes? Thomas the Tank Engine? Don’t care) – I want my kids to explore and create on their own. (Ok, off my soap box now.)”

Suggestions from us at Travel Parent Eat:

1. Something to do together. I know that my children want to spend time with me. And what better gift than that of your time? Give them the parts to build something together. Give them the ingredients to cook something together. Give them the books to read something together. Make your gifts something that encourage and require time spent together and it will be meaningful, even if it costs nothing. Have you ever heard of They offer low cost projects to build together. It is a membership site that is only about $25 a year, and could make a great gift.

2. Family Time with Game Nights– I love giving games to my family for Christmas because it is like giving them cheap/free family fun time all year round. Games are also the perfect way to teach skills like math, teamwork, sportsmanship, and more. I have compiled a list of 12 of our family’s favorite games which could be used one game per month. You can give the gift of a regular standing family game night. Imagine the fun you will have together playing a new game each month all year round.

  • Uno Card Game– This is one of our favorite games to play as a family. I love playing it with the kids because it helps teach colors and numbers. We play with some family rules, such as “matching” where you can play the same card as someone else, out of turn, if it is an exact match. You just have to play it before the next person goes. This teaches speed of thought and play, as well as improves motor skills.
  • Scrabble Junior– Scrabble is a blast to play, and I love it because it increases vocabulary, while improving spelling skills. My kids don’t even realize they are doing “school” type work because it is so much fun.
  • The Settlers of Catan– This is a bit more grown up, we are just starting to teach it to your two oldest kids. You can also use the expansions, which make it pretty fun! I also love that this can teach my kids the ideas of community. You have to earn resources, and build your settlement.
  • Ticket To Ride or Ticket To Ride – Europe– The perfect game for teaching geography, and it helps with math skills and color recognition too. It is fast paced, which I love. Because my kids are studying French in school, we bought the Europe version for Christmas last year because we wanted them to learn European geography.
  • Curses– This game is hilarious. If you haven’t played it, trust me you will want to. I prefer it with a group. Prepare to laugh. Basically you have a challenge, and then if you complete it, you assign someone a curse. The curses might be speaking in an accent, or touching your elbow the whole game.
  • Spot It!- What a fun game. A friend recommended this game to me, and it is a great game for families.
  • Apples to Apples – This is a classic game of comparisons. Lots of fun, and a great family game.
  • Blokus Game– I love this game. It teaches problem solving, and is fun. It can be played with four players, so if you have a large family, it may not be a great game if you have a large family. However, it has lots of versions, travel, classic, 3-D, and is so fun!
  • Sorry! 2013 Edition Game– I think this is my kid’s favorite game. I tolerate it. It is not a bad game by any means, but does not challenge me as much intellectually as I like for games. One of the things I love though is that you can get whatever version your kids are into, like SpongeBob.
  • Rummikub– Another classic game, tons of fun, great for teaching kids patterns, numbers, colors. Plus it is fun for adults too!
  • Trouble Game– This is another of my kid’s favorite games, but maybe because they are all kinds of trouble. 😉
  • Yahtzee Classic– I love this game! I even have the version for my phone that I play by myself. Haha, so lame, but it is fun. I like that there is some luck involved, but you also have to make some choices for how you want to play each roll. This is a great way to teach kids about making choices, and have fun while doing it.

3. Parent-Child One-on-One Time– As many of our awesome blogger friends have mentioned, time can be a great gift. One-on-one time is as important as family time. But of course, kids want something to open. Well, why not give them date nights? Vanessa has created a darling printable coupon book that you can give your child. A year of once a month date nights that don’t have to be expensive or cost anything, but will make them feel so special. Watch for the free printable download later this week!

4. Make Memories– A few years ago my husband and I decided we were tired of the “stuff” that often came with Christmas. Not only were our kids getting things from us and “Santa” but they also receive gifts from two sets of Grandparents, cousins, and friends. This multiplied by three (the # of kids we had at the time), meant a LOT of stuff. That year we decided to do something differently. Instead of gifts from us, we would use our Christmas budget to go on a family vacation in January after the holiday hub-bub died down.

We have loved this tradition. But you don’t have to do a vacation. You can get a membership to a local museum, take kids on dates like those mentioned above, participate in an activity such as making pottery, or find other ways to give the gift of memories instead of things to your family. Last year, my brother gave each of my children a gift certificate to go rock-climbing with him. They loved this gift. They were so excited for the one-on-one time with their uncle, and the adventure of climbing was an added bonus. Do what works for you!

5. Privileges. When I was a kid, if we got in trouble, a privilege was taken away. No reading for the day, or no dessert at dinner. I remember hating that so much, and realized the opposite could be true as well. Giving kids extra privileges could make a low-cost, but very exciting and fun gift for your kids. You know your child best, so create a coupon book full of small things that will really make their day. Here are a few of our ideas to get you started:

  • 15 minutes of extra screen-time
  • Staying up 30 minutes past bedtime
  • Getting to sit in the front seat of the car
  • Extra stories at bedtime
  • A get out of eating your vegetables free card
  • One less chore that week
  • An extra slice/scoop/piece of dessert
  • Add a favorite item to that week’s shopping list

(free printable coupon book coming soon!)

We hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and that your gift giving is a source of joy rather than stress. We are so grateful for you guys, and so excited to be sharing this blog with you. Don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar, “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below.


About Rachael

I am Rachael, I have a passion for all things travel. I have an incurable wanderlust, and a need to see and do. I have four littles that call me "mom" and I am currently wading through the ever changing tides of parenting. I am figuring out what works, and what doesn't. And, I have a passion for food. In fact, I have an entire website dedicated to food I love to eat, cook, and try new things.

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4 Responses to Meaningful, Low-Cost, Holiday Gift Guide

  1. Shanti @ Life Made Full December 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    Thanks for sharing my little contribution!

    • Rachael December 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

      Thank you for your contribution! We Love your blog, and would love your contributions any time.

    • Vanessa Hunt December 3, 2013 at 11:38 am #

      Yes thank you Shanti! You’re the bomb! Love to you and your sweet family!


  1. More FREE Downloads! | - December 5, 2013

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