It’s been a tough year financially for a lot of families. It’s also a year we want our kids to have the best Christmas ever.

Maybe we can’t be as extravagant as we’d like, but Christmas morning can still be festive and exciting with lots of packages under the tree. Here are some low-cost ideas for presents for kids and adults:

Ideas for kids

Join Buy Nothing: You know the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Buy Nothing is a hyperlocal Facebook group where people can post things to give away and ask for things from neighbors. The group started on Bainbridge Island in 2013 and has since spread around the world. Find your local Buy Nothing group by searching, and provide your cross streets to join. Kid stuff is a major giveaway category because they grow out of things so quickly; we’ve seen everything from tricycles to bunk beds gifted by the Buy Nothing community. If you’ve got something particular in mind, it doesn’t hurt to post an ask.

Search secondhand: Kids asking for big-ticket items? It’ll be more affordable when it’s been gently preloved. Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, Craigslist and Poshmark are all great sources for used and free stuff. It’s more work than one-click checkout, but it’s better for the environment and it’s much better for your wallet.

Temper their expectations: COVID-19 has been hard for everyone, including Santa. Tell them Santa’s supply chain got slowed down, too.

Pile on the presents: Dec. 25 might be the one day of the year when less isn’t more. Unwrapping is half the fun! Wrap things that aren’t expensive but still thrilling, like junky snacks that you’d never normally buy. (True story: I gave my kid a box of Froot Loops one year and he was overjoyed.) Or wrap fun activities instead of toys: Cookie baking day! Indoor picnic day! No bedtime day! If you want the bottom of the tree to look “fuller” but there aren’t a lot of gifts, wrap clues. Hide each gift in a different spot, and wrap three to four clues for each gift in different boxes.


Go for experiences: If all this time at home is making you resent the clutter that you trip over daily, don’t bring more stuff into your home for Christmas. Make it a day of family fun time instead: listen to Christmas music, play board games, dance, hold a popcorn and movie night, “camp” in the living room with sleeping bags and roast s’mores in the fireplace. It’s about memories, not stuff.

Take advantage of what the libraries do for free: After months of shutdown, the region’s library systems are now open for limited curbside pickup. Place a hold online and pick up the latest movie releases and hot books for free. It might feel funny giving a gift you’ll have to return, but here you can “shop” your heart out.

Shift their mindset: Look, we’re together and we’re healthy. With all the craziness in the world, not having a bunch of stuff under the tree isn’t the worst problem you could have. Teach the kids it’s just as fun to give as it is to receive. Bake cookies together to drop off on neighbors’ doorsteps, or make cards to send to nursing homes. The emphasis is on spreading kindness, not on gimme, gimme, gimme.

Plan ahead for next year: Save up any gift cards you get for Black Friday 2021, when you can buy everything cheaper.

Ideas for parents

Coupon book: Most kids don’t have jobs (i.e. money) so homemade is the way to go. Staple some strips of paper together and have the kids fill it out: Good for one … Their responses alone will be a treat. Help with laundry? One big hug? Absolutely.

Make 2020-themed ornaments: Picture frames are a go-to because they’re easy for all ages and abilities. Cut bubble letters out of cardstock, spelling out “2020.” Use the zeros as picture frames for the kids. Or fill the zeros with poop emojis and dumpster fires, if that’s a more accurate description of your year.
A snow globe in a jar is easy and cute. Give it a 2020 twist by making a “snow globe” out of an empty travel-size Purell bottle filled with glycerin, water, glitter and confetti snowflakes. A year to remember, that’s for sure.

If you can tie a knot, you can make a no-sew fleece blanket. (JiaYing Grygiel)
If you can tie a knot, you can make a no-sew fleece blanket. (JiaYing Grygiel)

No-sew fleece blankets: Here’s a useful gift that’s easy enough for young kids. If you can tie a knot, you can make a no-sew fleece blanket. Lay a solid piece of material and a patterned piece back to back. Cut a fringe along the sides. Double-knot the corners first to tack the blanket in place, then work your way around the whole blanket. The best part is snuggling together under the finished product.

A snapshot in time: Make a family time capsule, to be opened on a future Christmas. You can download some free printable pages to kick-start the project. Add some newspaper clippings and make prints of a few favorite photos from this year.

Hot chocolate jars: Kids can fill a Mason jar with hot chocolate powder, sprinkles, marshmallows and crushed candy canes on top. In the evening, mix up your fancy drinks and walk around with thermos in hand looking at holiday lights.