Thanks to JD at Get Rich Slowly for including me in this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance. Check out the carnival on his blog for more tips on saving money for the holidays! When I was a kid, my family still exchanged gifts with everyone else in the family. That meant my sister and I had to find affordable gifts to give all our cousins, aunts, and uncles. Once the adults switched to drawing names, my sister and I still bought gifts for everyone who bought us gifts.
To stay within our very limited budgets, we usually went to a local holiday boutique or fair to buy cheap ornaments or dish towels or other Christmasy gifts. None of them were very personal, but we mostly gave them out of a sense of obligation.
Now that my family has switched to a gift swap (like a white elephant, but with presents people actually want), my adult cousins have come up with idea for Christmas gifts their kids can make instead of having them buy us little trinkets. They’ve come up with some really great ideas over the years.
They made photo calendars with bound white paper and photo reprints. Then on the long drive down from their home, they had the kids decorated the pages and marked the family birthdays. When the year was over, I unstuck the photos from the pages and put them in my album.
Another cousin bought plain white tiles. She and her daughter spent an afternoon decorating them with rubber stamps, and then glazed the tops. I lay the tile on my kitchen table every holiday season and it always reminds me of them.
Another year, my cousins assembled foam frames during the drive down and stuck their school photos inside. They’ve also made construction paper frames. They usually attach a magnet to the back and then I put the frame on my fridge for the year.
One cousin sat down with her daughter and had her choose songs for mixed holiday CDs. They printed labels for the CDs and then had my aunt distribute them. We had three or four different CDs, and because they couldn’t be with us, we played them during the night.
When my sister was in school, she made a lot of photo ornaments. Some were clay, others were construction paper. They all had her school photo inside and are still hung on the tree every year. Some of my cousins have also given us photo ornaments. One year, rather than they use photos, they painted plain ornaments and gave those out. I still have one. Cookie dough ornaments are also great – but remember, the dough isn’t the same as for regular cookies. Cookie ornaments are definitely not edible.
Making candles can be dangerous for kids, but you can buy two or three inch white pillar candles at the craft store. Buy a few flat sheets of wax and help your kids cut out shapes to decorate the candles with.
Cookies or Fudge
For a few years, I decided to buy cheap holiday tins at the craft store and then fill them with homemade cookies. My mom and I spent an afternoon baking them. I made chocolate kiss thumbprint cookies, oatmeal, peanut butter, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, and other favorites. If anyone in your family is allergic to nuts, avoid making any with nuts so they don’t get cross-contaminated, but there are plenty of cookies you can make without them. My mom also has an excellent fudge recipe. Not only have we given it to relatives, but numerous teachers have received and loved the fudge over the years.
Christmas presents kids can make don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. In fact, the more personal they are, the better.