Christmas on a Small Budget—30 Ideas For A Magical Holiday

A great christmas on a small budget

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How can you have a Magical Christmas and an extra special Christmas on a small budget if your bank account is less than enchanted?

We all want to make Christmas a special time of year for our kids and other family members. But we don’t want to wake up in January with huge credit card bills and a large dose of Christmas regret.

It really comes down to time versus money. If you don’t have the money to buy every present you want to give, then you’ll have to invest some time to make the magic happen.

If you can involve your spouse or kids as elves, you can all have a hand in keeping your Christmas budget in line and sprinkling fairy dust around to everyone.

30 ways to Create a Magical Christmas on a Budget

And you can do all of this without emptying your wallet of all of its cash. (Watch a live video replay of this topic at the bottom of the page).

Warning – some of these ideas may challenge your core beliefs about gift-giving.

Saying “I Love You” when giving a gift doesn’t mean that the gift needs to be expensive, new or enormous. In our family, love is synonymous with thoughtfulness. Taking time to learn what the gift recipient really likes or needs and then find a way to get them that item.

Because, it’s not about what we like or want to give, it’s about what the recipient would enjoy receiving.  

Annette Economides

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Christmas on a small budget means that you should start by looking at what you have with new eyes. One of the curses of the middle-class world is having too much stuff. Especially stuff that we no longer use or never used, or don’t really need.

Could these excess items be turned into gifts or cash – you bet.

Looks for Items to Sell for Quick Cash

You may have items in your house that you don’t want or need that could quickly be converted into cash or credit at a store of your choice.

1. Designer Clothes or Accessories that you no longer wear or don’t fit.

Evaluate all of your clothes including purses, shoes, belts, scarves, and jewelry. Try selling your unneeded things at consignment stores or on Poshmark.

2. Sporting Goods You’re Not Using

If they’re in good condition they can be sold on CraigsList, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and SwipSwap.

2. Old computers (even if only for a few bucks)

We just sold a mint condition MacBook Pro  (7 years old) for $150 plus shipping. Someone wanted it, we didn’t. That money will go toward buying something we need.

3. College Textbooks

How many students hold onto these books – they can be sold to the College bookstore or through Amazon or eBay. It’s easier to sell them if they are the current edition or only one or two editions old. We know that many schools have moved to the exclusive use of digital textbooks, but some are still using printed versions. Especially small colleges and private universities.

4. Old movies and books you don’t want any longer

Take them to Half Price Books or other Used Book Stores and see what you could get for them. Or try DeCluttr – especially if they’re newer or super popular titles. Or sell these things on eBay. Just remember eBay gives you the most, brick and mortar stores will give you as little as 30 cents each and DeCluttr may give you about 15 cents. Check out all of the options and pick the one that works for you.

5. Artwork and Musical Instruments

Sell those unused or less loved items now and use the cash to buy presents.

6. Technology 

Do you have an old printer, an older unused computer, on old smart or “dumb” phone, or software you no longer use? You’d be surprised at the number of people who want to buy older technology either to use because they understand it or for parts to repair a similar item.

7. Garage Sale

As we’ve been driving around this December we’re amazed at the number of Garage Sales we see each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On a 5-mile errand run, we typically see between 5 and 7 Garage Sales. This is a great way to clean out the clutter and generate cash for gift giving.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Great Garage Sales

Look for Things to Convert into Gifts

If you look around your house you may find items that could be repurposed into wonderful gifts.

9. Refurbish Old Toys

These may be found in your basement, closet or garage, or possibly picked up at a rummage sale or thrift store. A little sanding, painting, and repairing and a vintage toy could have a wonderful life with a new owner.

10. Make doll clothes

from old table cloths or fabric scraps. If you’ve got sewing skills, put them to use for your child’s dolls. A new wardrobe brings a smile to every face.

11. Jewelry

An old piece of jewelry that your kids have admired can be put into an old jewelry box and become a cherished gift. Or for younger kids, giving a gift of gaudy or sparkly costume necklaces could really make them smile. Inexpensive costume jewelry can be found at thrift stores and rummage sales. Adding a little spray paint and a mini treasure chest can turn it into pirate booty.

12. Extra Tools

If you’ve accumulated extra wrenches, saws, screwdrivers or other tools, they can be cleaned up and given to a new homeowner. Steve is always on the lookout for these types of things for our handy sons-in-law.

And remember Harbor Freight – they often have coupons for free flashlights, screwdrivers, and other basic tools in their flyer.

13. Return Unused Things for Cash or Credit

How many of us have unopened clothes, household items or leftover project parts (purchased from Home Depot or another handyman store?

We just helped a friend clean out her recently deceased mother’s house and we found a large number of things still in plastic with price tags on them.

If you don’t have the receipt, most stores will give you the lowest recent price for the item, but with a receipt, you’ll usually get something and often times a complete refund.

If they give you store credit, look through their closeouts or clearance items for inexpensive deals that would work as gifts.

14. Use Your Airline Miles & Credit Card Points 

A child's drawing of an airplane.

We have a friend who has accumulated lots of airline miles through a credit card he uses for business. He thought he could only use the points for travel. Steve encouraged him to investigate what type of things he could trade in his points for … he was surprised by the vast variety of gift cards that were available for stores, restaurants, and destinations.

Fill Your Gift Closet

We have an area in our house where we store items we’ve purchased on sale. It’s called our gift closet. This is where we accumulate steeply discounted purchases to be used as gifts.

15. Shop In Your Gift Closet

Stocking a gift closet is a must for every frugalista. Its value is seen not only during the holidays but throughout the entire year. By utilizing the gift closet concept, you’ll be prepared for birthdays, baby showers, weddings and other occasions that come your way.

We believe it’s never too soon to start hunting for gifts. No matter how many gifts you “have to buy,” we wholeheartedly recommend stocking up all year long to avoid paying retail for last-minute things.

When we come across a sale or great close-out deal on things that

would be great wedding shower gifts, or birthday presents for friends of our kids or even for our kids, we buy several of the items for our gift-closet stockpile.

16. After-Christmas sales are great for stocking up.

The Gift Closet. A brown oak door with a red ribbon on it and a yellow caution sign.

But you won’t catch us in the stampede on December 26. For us, 50 percent off is not enough. We usually wait a week or two and then find spectacular deals for the next year when prices are 75 to 90 percent off.

Maintaining and Sorting the Gift Closet

Once each year, in August or September, Annette takes about two hours and inventories the entire closet. She takes stock, sorts and starts matching up gifts with people for the upcoming holidays. This is a crucial step in keeping the gift closet from becoming an ever-growing receptacle for great finds. Her goal is to eventually use everything that’s in there.

Once the closet’s contents have been reviewed, we type up a list of things we need to buy for our holiday gift-giving.

Earlier this year, we started using the Evernote app to track the gifts we have in stock for each of our kids and grandkids. The app is synced on both of our phones so that whenever either of us is out shopping we have an up-to-date list of what we have and what we need.

If by chance we stumble across a sale on a listed item, we pick it up and are then one step closer to completing our Christmas shopping.

17. Put Regiftable items in your gift closet

Okay, you’ve got to keep this quiet. This may not be socially correct, but we think you’ll relate. What do you do when you or the kids receive gifts that are . . . well, how can we say this . . . just not your kind of thing?

First, we try to return or exchange the item for something more desirable. If we can’t do that, then (you guessed it) it goes to the gift closet—held for the day when it can leave the “island of misfit toys” and find a grateful recipient.

When we store a re-gifting item, we always mark it with the giver’s name to avoid the potentially embarrassing possibilities. Over time, we’re likely to find someone who is a perfect match for that gift.

Cleaning out the Gift Closet

Annette cleans out the gift closet every five or six years and sells items that have become less appropriate for the age ranges of our kids’ friends, at our annual garage sale. Because gift closet items are brand new and in boxes or wrappers, they usually sell for more than we paid.

Recently she has begun taking items to our consignment stores to be sold. She then uses the credit to purchase other gifts or home decor items.

Use Your Gift Cards

How to make money for the holidays - pile of money with a golden bow.

Giving gift cards has become so common these days they appear on the wish lists of 61% of people in the U.S. And 93% of gift-givers have given a gift card this year. Purchases of gift cards are expected to reach $160 billion in 2018 – that’s up from $130 billion in 2015.

And the most requested gift cards are from Amazon followed closely by Walmart.

Retailers love that we purchase so many gift cards because 30 percent of gift cards go unused. And those who do use their gift cards usually spend 46 percent more than the total value of the card. Any way you slice it, retailers win with gift cards.

So, how can you use your gift cards to make this Christmas magical? Here’s what we recommend.

18. Use up gift cards with Small Balances

Take those partial gift cards and use them up as credit toward gift purchases. If you only have a few bucks left on a card, use it to buy a gift or another gift card. Hey, it’s a savings, and it’s also one less thing you need to carry in your wallet or purse.

For example, if you have $23 left on a gift card, purchase a $20 gift card with it to give to someone else, and use up the remainder on smaller items for yourself that day or another time.

19. Trade-in Unwanted Gift Cards

Getting rid of unused or undesired gift cards can net you extra cash. Trade them in for more desirable ones.

Companies like Exchange and will make you an offer on your gift cards. You’ll lose some of the value, but if it’s you end up with a gift card you’ll use, then you win. Here’s how much it might cost you (

  • Trading in Itunes, Walmart, Target, and Amazon gift cards will cost you between 2 and 5 percent.
  • Trading something like Fandango or Victoria’s Secret will cost you between 11 and 20 percent.

20. Give eGift Cards

eGift Cards are becoming more and more popular. In fact, we get them regularly through our Swagbucks account (read how we earn Swagbucks here).

A Swagbucks eBay eGift Certificate.
  • We regularly trade in our Swagbucks points for Amazon, Walmart, and eBay eGift Certificates. These certificates can be printed out and given to anyone we want. They even allow us to personalize them with a “To:” and “From” field that we can fill in.

If you sign up for Swagbucks here you can earn signup bonus by using our link.

Buy Gift Cards and Get Bonuses

Buying gift cards often come with perks – check out these bonuses you can get.

21. Buy Gift Cards and Save on Gas

Another way to “save” money with gift cards is to purchase them from a grocer who gives you multiplied fuel reward points. Every year Kroger runs a promo where they give 4 times the value of your gift card purchase in fuel points.

This means that a $25 gift card to Home Depot earns us 100 fuel reward points or 10 cents off of a gallon of gas. For us, when we fill up the gas tank on our van that means a savings of $3.

If we bought $100 worth of various gift cards our savings at the pump would be $12. Hey, it’s not a huge discount, but 12 percent cashback is a saving nonetheless.

So if you’re going to buy gift cards anyway, why not buy them where you can get something in return that will save you money?

22. Buy Gift Cards and Get a Bonus

Many retailers are incentivizing the purchase of gift cards by giving the buyer a bonus. Here are a few examples from an article on the website in June of 2022 – many of these offers have expired, but you’ll get an idea of what the possibilities are for getting gift card bonuses.

Many of these deals occur during the summer to boost traffic to the stores. So, it could be a great time for you to start doing some of your holiday shopping.

  • Applebee’s: Free $10 bonus card with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Bonefish Grill: Receive a $10 E-Bonus Card when you spend $50 on gift cards
  • Red Robin: Get a $5 Bonus Buck Reward with a $25 gift card purchase 
  • Harris Teeter: Earn 4X Fuel Points on select gift card purchases
  • Kroger: Earn 4X Fuel Points on select gift card purchases

Can “Homemade” Gifts Make Christmas Magical?

Remember earlier we said, if you don’t have the money, you’ve got to make the time. Well, taking time to make a homemade gift is one of the nicest things you can do for someone and for your budget. That is unless you do like we did the first year we were married and try to make whole-wheat bagels (they went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter).

23. Baked Goods

A silver knife and fork being used to cut a loaf of chocolate chip zucchini bread.

Making homemade baked goods has been part of our holiday gift-giving for decades. These breads and cookies are always a hit and cost very little to make. These baked goods are given to teachers, coaches, mail people, service providers, and people we serve with when volunteering.

Quick Breads

Get the recipes for these quick breads on our favorite bread recipes page by clicking below.

Cookies – these are just a couple of the recipes we have on the website. We usually bake several more varieties at Christmas time.

24. Crafts and Sewing

Plastic grocery bag wreath on an oak door.
Pinecone firestarters christmas gift inexpensive

Try some of these ideas that we have made:

25. Create Special Memories For or With Someone Special

Create a photo book, bake a favorite dessert, cook a meal, plan a special outing, or take them shopping at a thrift store with a specific dollar limit.

ReGifting—Is it Acceptable?

Our answer is a resounding YES … but you’ve got to be careful.

26. Repair Things to Gift 

Years ago when we didn’t have much money we wanted to give a gift to a dear friend of ours, so Steve gave him a certificate for time doing home repair projects. Our friend wasn’t very handy, but Steve was.

If you’re handy why not look for trash picked or garage sale furniture that you could refinish and give as a gift?

We’ve done this with

  • A wooden sewing box
  • An Old Wheel Barrow that we repainted.
  • A Piano Bench that we reupholstered.
  • A Rocking Chair we found priced very inexpensively that just needed to be clamped and glued.

27. Gifting Used Things

Does thoughtfulness only apply to things that are brand new in box? We don’t think so. A used book, in good condition, contains the same story as a new book. The same applies to movies and clothes.

  • Books and Movies from Thrift stores, Rummage Sales, Half Price Books and eBay
  • Family Heirlooms – Jewelry
  • Gently Used Small Appliances (just test and clean up)
    • Bread Makers
    • Chaffing Dishes
    • Punch Bowls
    • Fancy Stemware
  • Home Décor Items
  • Serving Platters and Bowls
  • Christmas decorations
  • Collections (if a family member has loved them) like Precious Moments, Music Box Collections, DVDs of favorite TV Shows like “I Love Lucy” or “The Carol Burnett Show”

28. Regift With Discretion

If you’ve received a gift that just wasn’t your thing and you can’t return it, put it in your gift closet and hold it for someone who will love it. If you might have a hard time remembering who gave it to you, put a sticky note on it to avoid potentially embarassing regifting scenarios.

Shopping Differently – Is this Crazy?

We buy gifts or procure things to give at some of the most unexpected places.

29. Shop at Thrift Stores

Shopping at thrift and consignment stores can be a huge way to save. And the awesome thing is that we’ve found brand new or almost brand new items there… and usually, we’ve found them discounted below the store’s normal prices.

Most thrift stores have special discounts like

  • Military Discount
  • Senior Discount
  • Half Price Days
  • Dollar Days
  • Colored Tags Sales
  • Student Days

Go to their website or ask the manager about their sales days and shop then.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to Find Thrift Stores Nearby

30. Shop at Consignment Stores

Some of our favorite consignment stores use dated or colored tags and regularly mark down the items based on the date of the tag. We’ve found awesome deals at up to 90% off of the discounted prices.

We also consign items we’ve purchased at thrift stores or household items that we want to get rid of. This gives us a balance of credit that we can use to purchase new items or gifts.

31. Regift from Friends Who Have Moved

We can’t count the number of people we’ve helped move from one house to another. And recently it’s been people who are downsizing. The stuff they want to give away or throw away is amazing. And we often find books, movies, decor items, bedding and more that our adult kids would appreciate. Or vintage toys or games that our grandkids would love.

32. Holiday Traditions Make Christmas Magical

Having traditions that you do each year, even simple little things make Christmas an event that is anticipated and relished. These are gifts of your time and thoughts that create lasing memories for your kids and friends.

We do things like:

  • Christmas morning Cheese Blintzes
  • Driving around looking at Christmas lights
  • Go Christmas Caroling to the homes of friends
  • Play Christmas music (CDs, Pandora or the Radio)
  • Host Families who are away from home for Christmas
  • Make Gingerbread Houses
  • Go to a free concert at a high school or college
  • Sing in a free performance of The Messiah

One kind of silly tradition we had was playing the Chipmunks Christmas album while we set up and decorated the Christmas Tree. The goofy part was that the kids would start dancing around the room as the music played. One year Abbey (our youngest) grabbed the Christmas tree skirt and put it around her waist like a real skirt and started dancing.

Abbey wearing a red and green Christmas tree skirt.
Daughter Abbey wearing our Christmas tree skirt while dancing to the Chipmunks’ Christmas

Learn about more of our holiday traditions here.

A Magical Christmas on a Small Budget. 26 Creative & Out of Box Ideas!

The Final Way to Make a Magical Christmas on a Small Budget?

And of course, the last way to make your Christmas more magical is to check your couch cushions and in and under the seats in your car.

And if you collect coins in a jar, now is the time to take it to the bank and use it up. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find in unexpected places.

Having less money to spend on gifts can really be a blessing. Nothing inspires creativity more than having a lack. And creativity can be spurred along by visiting our Pinterest Page where Annette has been collecting loads of beautiful craft and gift ideas for years.

Make the magic happen in your gift-giving this year by living within your means and giving gifts from the heart.

Watch this YouTube Live video presentation where we talk about most of these ideas and share an Amazing Cranberry Orange Bread Recipe.

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