10 Things To Do When You Can’t Afford Christmas Gifts

For many, the holidays are a time of joy, but for others it’s a dreaded time of year. Sometimes your budget simply doesn’t allow you to buy extravagant gifts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Christmas with loved ones. If the thought is truly what counts, then you really shouldn’t need to buy anything to have a Merry Christmas.

For those of you that are stretching your budget to make ends meet, you’re probably wondering how you can celebrate the holidays when you can’t afford gifts for Christmas? There’s several things you can do to make your holiday special.

  1. Make your own gifts
  2. Plan a family outing to free events
  3. Spread Christmas cheer (caroling)
  4. Help those less fortunate (volunteer your time)
  5. Enter contests and look out for freebies
  6. Shop at thrift stores
  7. Register with a charitable organization
  8. Have an honest discussion with your kids
  9. Barter for gifts
  10. Sell items you no longer need

This site is owned and operated by Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC also participates in affiliate programs with Clickbank, CJ, and other sites. Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

1. Make your own gifts

Buying things isn’t always the best way to show your family or friends you care about them. In fact, it takes significantly less effort to hop over to Amazon. You’ll end up throwing items in a virtual cart, having them gift wrap presents, and ship them to your doorstep. All the while, you’re sitting in your PJ’s eating Christmas cookies.

However, taking the time to actually create something shows a dedication that few of us remember and apply from our childhood days. Despite having developed so many skills in our life, we default to purchasing gifts instead of making them. Why not use those skills to create something useful.

DIY Santa’s Helper

If you’re the DIY type, bust out those power tools and create something. You’ll find an abundance of “how to” resources on the internet. My girlfriend gave “keyboards” to her family a few years ago and they were a big hit. Afterwards, her friend inquired about where she could get one. By the way, the “keyboard” was simply a piece of scrap wood she painted to look like a piano, and stuck some hooks into for hanging sets of keys.

If you’re short on ideas, pop on over to Etsy, and see what others have created. Chances are you’ll find something you can replicate with a little time and elbow grease. Apply whatever skills you have. Perhaps you’re into metal working or that’s your chosen profession. You can scavenge materials from work, and use them to create something unique and priceless for your family and friends to enjoy.

Kitchen Elf

Speaking of Christmas cookies, why not make some special cookies for your loved ones. Many people give this as a gift to neighbors and friends, and of course Jolly Old Saint Nick gets his cut. Make the baking a family event, to keep Christmas spirits high. Then when the little ones head off to bed, you can make another batch just for them. Even better bake a holiday cake for them to enjoy.

If you’re the homesteading type, you can make preserves and hand them out as gifts. You’ll spend a little extra at the grocery store, but you’ll save an enormous amount compared to buying gifts. Hopefully you have some spare mason jars and lids laying around to further cut down on costs.

2. Plan a Family Outing

The biggest part of Christmas is the spirit of the holiday. It’s about sharing time with family and friends. Look around for local events that you and the family can enjoy together. Maybe there’s a Christmas parade going on downtown for the family to enjoy.

If you’ve got a little extra cash to spare, there’s always light shows that are constructed that you can drive or walk through. Typically the cost is nominal and by vehicle so you can pack all of the kids into the car and it’s almost like buy one get five free! Take pictures from all of the events you go to (on your cellphone) and create a holiday collage to give as a gift.

If you don’t have the cash on hand to go to a dedicated light show, you can always drive around the neighborhood or nearby towns to see what folks have setup. Bring a pad of paper and make a game out of it. Have everyone pick the top 5 house decorations and do a comparison at the end of the trip. Chances are spirits will be high after the family outing!

3. Spread Christmas Cheer

If one of your kids is an aspiring American Idol, take a trip together around the neighborhood and let them showcase their voice. Singing Christmas carols to lift up spirits of those around you can be rewarding. Just grab some lyrics off the internet, suit up for the cold weather, and make your rounds. If you’re lucky, some of the neighbors might even offer refreshments along the journey like hot cocoa or cookies!

When my girlfriend’s family was young, they used to do Christmas shows for the neighborhood. The kids could re-enact their favorite Christmas tales. This builds lasting memories and gives your thespian the chance to perform center stage for loved ones.

4. Help Those Less Fortunate

Volunteer work is highly underrated. Serving soup to the homeless or spending time with the elderly is a great way to spread holiday cheer. You’ll be able to make lasting memories with your family and maybe make some new friends while you’re at it.

Giving the gift of your time is a great way to teach the lesson that not everything that glitters is gold, and not everything that’s made of gold glitters. Be sure to point out how happy you are making people simply by being around and offering your time and aid.

Hopefully seeing how much a bowl of soup or a simple conversation means to some people will put the expectations of receiving a gift into perspective.

5. Enter Contests And Other Freebies

If you’ve got the time, you can enter for chances to win contests. Radio stations, television shows, and others typically amp up their contests during the holiday season. Entering to win doesn’t cost you anything (no purchase necessary), so enter as many as you can. I actually got Katy Perry to pay my bills one year, which freed up some extra cash for Christmas gifts I otherwise couldn’t afford.

If you know of something that your kids or spouse are particularly interested in, try to find a contest that’s giving one away. Also, keep an eye out for local events that might be giving away free items for being present. First “X” number of visitors get a free [insert item here] can be a way to get gifts for the kids. Similarly, find stocking stuffers by finding coupons for buy one get one free deals this holiday season.

6. Shop At Thrift Stores

Assuming you have a little extra cash, a great way to stretch your dollar is by searching thrift stores. I know I’ve donated items I never even opened to thrift stores. You can find great deals on clothing and other items.

Of course, this requires some cash, so it’s not ideal if you are completely tapped out, but it’s worth mentioning if your budget is small.

7. Register With A Charitable Organization

The last thing you should feel during the holiday’s is ashamed. If you have family that can help you out when you can’t afford gifts for Christmas, it’s worth reaching out to them for assistance. Obviously, don’t go overboard with your spending if family is willing to help.

Another option is to register with a charitable organization. There are a ton around the holiday’s that are dedicated to providing children with gifts to open on Christmas morning. You’ll need to meet certain criteria in order to qualify, but these types of organizations could be a viable option. Organizations like Toys for Tots, Project Angel Tree, Salvation Army, and more are there to assist you, so don’t be ashamed to reach out to see if you qualify.

8. Have An Honest Discussion With Your Kids

It can be tough as a parent to admit to your kids that there won’t be presents under the tree on Christmas morning. This is even more difficult explaining to a child who is still relying on Santa’s generosity. In this instance, hopefully you’ll be able to use idea #1 to make sure there’s something for them to open.

You can save money on wrapping paper by using the comic section of the newspaper. My family did that for years in previous generations. Not only did it provide a way to conceal gifts, but it also gave them an opportunity to share the jokes as they opened their presents.

If Santa isn’t an issue, then you’ll likely be able to explain that Christmas may be a little sparse this year. Having activities lined up with other family members can help. The most important thing is to be together and enjoy the blessings you already have.

9. Barter For Gifts

Fortunately, we live in a digital age. Take advantage of this, by perusing Craigslist. Try typing “for trade” in the search box and looking in the “for sale” section. Chances are there are people looking to complete collections, upgrade, or generally get rid of items. If you’ve got something they’re looking for this may be your best bet to get higher ticket items.

sample listing on CL

Along those lines, Craigslist also lists “free items” in it’s own section. At the time of this posting, the very first entry was for free toys. The person listing said their kids were grown. You can take advantage of this and go searching for something to place under the Christmas tree.

Just because you can’t afford gifts, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there waiting to be found.

10. Sell Items You No Longer Need

Let’s face it, we all have that pile of stuff that we just can’t seem to let go of. It’s usually stored in a closet, garage, or other out of sight location. We pretend that we’ll eventually find a use for it but we’ve said that for years. Now’s the perfect time to liquidate.

If you’ve set a budget and priced the items you want, then you know how much you need to make. Again, you can list these things on Craigslist to try and find a buyer. Be aware that people will likely try to negotiate price. A similar service is LetGo which operates under the same premise.

Take pictures of your items to help get them sold. Having a present for your child under the tree, is far better than having an unused item sitting in a closet.

Final Thoughts

Even if you can’t afford gifts for Christmas, there’s still a way to keep the holiday special. Remember that the holidays are a time of giving thanks for the blessings we have and sharing our lives with those we hold dear. If you have other ideas please leave them in the comments, so I can update this list.


“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!




This site (TheGiftasaurus.com) is owned and operated by Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC also participates in affiliate programs with Clickbank, CJ, and other sites. Graphite Designs Unltd. LLC is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.

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