How I Come Up With Great Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids

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Great Christmas gift ideas for kids can be useful, creative and easy on your budget. Here are four rules to follow to deliver thoughtful, fun holiday gifts.

I wish I could say that the holidays are all joy and cheer for me. The truth is that I, and a number of other parents I’ve spoken with, feel immense pressure this time of year to come up with great Christmas gift ideas for kids. If I’m not careful, I can let that pressure suck the spirit out of the season as well as drain my motivation to stay on budget.

I know for us personally, it’s the one area where we really have to discipline ourselves budget-wise. Whereas we’re awesome about staying on budget for giving gifts to the adults in our lives, when it comes to kids, especially our own, we find it quite easy to convince ourselves it’s okay to be over budget “just a bit.”

Because of that, we’ve implemented some “rules” if you will, about how we can be more productive and thoughtful about the gifts we give to the children in our lives, and still stay on budget. Here are some thoughts on creative gift ideas for kids:

1.  Be Creative When Working to Stay on Budget


Start making your gift idea list early in the year, and then shop the clearance sales to get the best deals on things the kids in your life want or need. For instance, we were at Target this summer when the kids found these super cute 4th of July flip flops in the clearance bin. Yes, they were only $2.36 each, but we’re on a serious mission to get out of debt, so I said “no” to the purchase.

However, when I was back the next week, the same flip flops were still there, for $1.18! I picked them up and they’re now wrapped up as Christmas gifts for our two younger girls, in sizes that will fit perfectly by next summer. By planning ahead and keeping a list handy, you’ll be able to stretch your dollars further, and take the time needed to get stuff they love instead of just “stuff” for the sake of getting something. You can also find ways to make extra cash before Christmas so as to help stretch that budget further or have funds to supplement your budget in other ways.

2.  Buy Experiences, not Just Things


There are so many great Christmas gift ideas for kids that involve experiences instead of things. One family I know gives their annual summer vacation as part of the kids’ Christmas gifts each year. This allows them to have their money do “double duty,” and the kids LOVE opening the boxes that contain the surprise info about where the family will go the following summer.

Another idea? Give the gift of a day or an experience together. Buy tickets to an amateur showing of The Nutcracker for your kid who loves the ballet. Give a date to a fancy restaurant for lunch to the kid who loves to cook. Buy tickets to the local farm team for your kid who loves baseball.  Buy a game that your whole family can play together. Think in terms of each child’s interests and talents, and then find creative and inexpensive ways to turn those interests into a gift that will be an experience and not just a material item.

3.  Some of the Best Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids Can Be Necessity Items


Some families are staunchly against giving necessities as Christmas gifts, but if done right, they can really provide some great Christmas gift ideas for kids. If your kid needs socks, maybe instead of giving them tube socks for Christmas, find some colorful and fun socks.

Last year we gave our oldest daughter some much-needed winter boots for Christmas. We found some super cute (and warm) boots, and she still got a sparkle in her eyes when we pulled them out for her to use again this year. Giving necessity items for gifts can be fun and exciting if it’s done with thought and creativity.

Great Christmas gift ideas for kids can be useful, creative and easy on your budget. Here are four rules to follow to deliver thoughtful, fun holiday gifts.

4.  Be Thoughtful about the Toys you Buy


Great Christmas gift ideas for kids can include toys, but I would encourage you to be thoughtful about it.  If they’ve already got five remote-controlled cars, do they really need another one? There are ways to get new toys for gifts without increasing the amount of “stuff” in the house.

For instance, we’ve got friends whose kids want the newest version of gaming systems, the PS4, for Christmas. Mom and dad agreed, on the condition that the PS3 and all of the games that go with it be sold, and the profits go toward the purchase of the PS4 and some games. The kids get the newest system, yet no additional “stuff” is added to the house.

Another thought? Encourage your kids to give away or sell gently used toys they no longer play with. Sell them on the gratification that comes from helping others, or on the cash that comes from selling toys they no longer use, in order to get them eager to clear the toy bin out and make room for new stuff.

Gift giving can be so much more meaningful when a little thought and creativity goes into the gift-giving process, as opposed to just buying what’s on “the list” or what fits into the budget at the time.


What are some of the best Christmas gift ideas for kids that you’ve come up with in holidays gone by? What advice do you have to parents trying to shop for Christmas on a budget?


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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.


  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I like your example of the PS3 and PS4. Kids get SO MANY TOYS I don’t know how parents keep them all organized/stored/decluttered. It seems like after one birthday & Christmas kids already have a roomful of toys from relatives and friends. Great tips, Laurie!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      So true, DC! We’ve always had a rule of never buying our kids toys except for at birthdays and Christmas, but yet we still ended up with an entire toy room that was stocked full of toys from grandparents, etc. It can get out of hand real quick.

  • Travis @Debtchronicles says:

    I love the idea of buying an experience, Laurie. The last two years (this will be a our third) we’ve notified our kids that part of their Christmas gift is a trip to the Wisconsin Dells in January. We go as a group with some of our neighbors and have a blast. Kids outgrow stuff and then it just sits in the corner or on a shelf….but family vacation memories last forever.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Travis, that’s such an awesome idea! And you’re right about the memories – they are much more gratifying than the toy you’ll likely forget about after six months.

  • Matt Becker says:

    Planning ahead for gifts is something I need to get better at. It’s a great tip for saving money AND actually getting something meaningful, but one that I’ve never made the effort to really implement well.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      When baby number two comes, you’ll likely get more into planning ahead, out of sheer necessity. πŸ™‚

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    This is the first year I’m giving my kids niceish stuff. Some of their gifts are from Goodwill (clothes) but I bought a family Kindle (from Santa to all of us) and some other nice things. I did stay within the bounds of my budget but my kids are a little older this year so I upped the budget slightly.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I know you’re great at buying quality used stuff to keep those costs down, Holly, and you’re always a great example for me. Love the idea of buying a family Kindle instead of one for each kid/person. Technology with boundaries. πŸ™‚

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I can’t imagine playing Santa for four kids! I like the idea you had on your blog about making a list but naming the top things you really want. Kids want everything when they are little.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, lots of work, but super fun too. πŸ™‚ Yeah, the “top five” thing works well for us. Since we’re on a limited budget, it helps me to be able to pick stuff they really truly want.

  • Andy | Income by Example says:

    It would be interesting to tell your kids that Santa needs old toys for the parts so he can make new toys out of them. The more they get rid of, the more he can make. I don’t have kids, but do you think that would work?

  • Stephanie @ Six Figures Under says:

    We found bikes at the thrift store for a couple of dollars each last year. We fixed them up and gave them to our 3 and 4 year old last year. They loved them and didn’t even notice they weren’t brand new.

    Since we’ve never buried them with packages and packages of brand new things, they are just as happy with new-to-them toys as ones that come in boxes with tags.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Wow, Stephanie, that’s a great deal! Yeah, we don’t bury our kids in packages either. We try and pick out five or six things that fit into our budget that we know they’ll really like, and they always seem happy with that.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    Since this is my first Christmas with my son, I don’t know what I am getting him. I don’t think I am really getting him anything because the grandparents are already going a little crazy. It should leave me free and clear this year!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I remember Maddie’s first Christmas: she was 3 months old, and we got her a big teddy bear and that was it. We let doting grandparents do the rest. Maybe you could put a little extra in his college fund or something like that this year – a beneficial present while he’s still too young to realize you didn’t hook him up with toys. πŸ™‚

  • Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life says:

    Love the ideas about experiences, but also about using old devices to fund a new one. Even though we don’t have any kids, there are quite a few nieces and nephews that we have to get gifts for. It’s hard to get them something they will enjoy if their parents set the bar so high though.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yeah, that is a hard situation, Amanda, and we’ve been there too. It’s hard to be giving on a budget sometimes when parents or others are spending thousands of dollars on each kid at Christmas, but it can also be a good lesson for kids about money. Thanks for the comment!

  • Mackenzie says:

    Love this post, Laurie! Kids accumulate so much stuff, and half of it, they don’t even play with. Less toys, more experiences πŸ™‚

  • Lindsey @ Sense & Sensibility says:

    Hi Laurie! I also really like the idea of selling the other gaming systems to put towards the PS4. It teaches kids that money doesn’t come from a magical tree and that parents aren’t wizards – it’s the give and take that shows kids a realistic way of managing money.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Exactly, Lindsey! Love what you said about “give and take” – it shows kids that life isn’t just an endless cycle of taking.

  • Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions says:

    This year, instead of buying fancy ornaments for nieces and nephews, I sewed them cute little reindeers with their initials on them. Most of my nieces and nephews are under 6, so they’ll like having what is kind of a doll / figurine to play with, in addition to it being their 2013 ornament from Aunt Rebecca πŸ™‚

    As for the necessities — judging for how excited my son was to get Ironman sneakers, I could have wrapped them up and given them to him for Christmas and the fact that they’re practical would not have phased him!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Rebecca, I love that idea! That’s something the kids will cherish for years to come. LOL, funny about the Ironman sneakers – I got our son Batman boxers for Christmas. πŸ™‚

  • Joe Morgan says:

    These are great ideas and it’s nice to see non-consumer focused gift ideas.

    My wife and I have made a concerted effort over the years to not get our girls the hot new toy every year. I think it’s paid off a little too well – they’ve become thoughtful, thankful and non-entitled young girls but now they have a hard time finding something they want for Christmas!

    We don’t deny them everything, but we also don’t spoil them with everything. They’ve just become content with what they have.

    It’s a great thing to see but does make gift giving a challenge, albeit a welcome one.

    This year, we’re going to really focus on the experience aspect of the giving. We’re treating the family to weekend at an indoor water park. Great times, and good memories await! (I hope πŸ˜‰ )

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      “We don’t deny them everything, but we also don’t spoil them with everything”. LOVE that, Joe. The waterpark sounds like a wonderful gift idea – have fun!

  • anna says:

    Love your tips, Laurie! I agree about being thoughtful/purposeful for gifts – I like giving kids toys geared to learning, or my favorite, books!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Rick had an aunt who would give the kids piles of books each year (from thrift stores or garage sales) and the kids always loved getting those books. To this day they still remember which books Auntie DeeDee gave them. πŸ™‚

  • E.M. says:

    I absolutely love the idea of buying experiences for Christmas. I imagine it would be fun opening up clues about a vacation and having to piece them together to find out where the destination is. I never minded getting necessities for presents.I enjoy getting apparel I want when I might not splurge on it myself. Lots of my boots have been presents, actually.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I always have my mom get stuff like that that I don’t buy for myself either, E.M. It’s nice getting a treat like a new sweater when I know I wouldn’t spend that money on myself.

  • Kyle | says:

    Love this list Laurie! My wife and I are huge fans of buying experiences and have been doing this with our kids for a couple years. Last year we got my 8yo daughter a set of horseback riding lessons and got my son tickets to see a local college basketball team. Both HUGE hits!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Kyle, those are awesome ideas!!! Love the idea about giving the lessons as a gift – that’s something that families seem to buy as a necessity most times.

  • Micro says:

    Your last bit reminds me of a situation a friend of mine went through every Christmas and Birthday. Every new gift had to be met with an old toy being donated to Goodwill. This helped out the parents because it kept the toy clutter down, it helped out some folks in need, and it taught a good lesson of placing value on what you have. I think it’s a great way to teach kids to cherish what they have and learn the value of giving.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      What a great idea, Micro. I agree – teaching kids the importance of cherish what they have and of giving to others too is a crucial thing – it prepares them for an abundant adult life!

  • says:

    We coordinate a theme with my daughter. This year it is Ariel and The Little Mermaid. We have a have found that she is much better working with a few items from the same genre, background, etc then with piecemeal gifts of different types. They keep her interest longer. They spur her imagination into using them for other things. Best of all, the gifts end up costing less.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s a great idea, Chad! I would’ve never thought of that before. You could use the theme idea to do so many different things too!

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