I’m Spendin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas: Kiddie Gift Ideas on the Cheap

15 Dec

Of the many many prestigious titles I hold (Domestic Macgyver, Queen of Sanford 2000, Person Who Knows a Surprisingly Large Amount of Information about B-List Actors), the one I’m most proud of is Favorite Aunt. Duties of Favorite Aunt include: rubbing your favored-ness in other aunt’s faces, keeping on top of Sponge Bob trivia, and providing awesome holiday gifts, the last of which, I’m going to discuss today.

Walking through the toy aisle during this time of year, it’s easy to fill your cart with big-faced dolls, computer games, and various movie-themed Lego sets. The problem is filling your wallet with the money to walk out of the store without getting tackled by a plain-clothed security card.

A girl can’t defer the student loan bill in the name of Bratz dolls. And she can’t spend Christmas hand-cuffed in the Target security office either. That’s why I’ve thought of some cheap but very thoughtful gift ideas for the little rugrats over the years. The following kiddie gifts are kid-tested and Favorite Aunt approved.  Because I have 9 nieces and nephews and another one on the way, I’ve given ya’ll 10 ideas:

1. Coloring/Activity Book

A coloring book and crayons is always budget friendly and there is one out there for everyone: superheros, teddy bears, princesses, you name it. But it’s even cheaper and more thoughtful for you to make your own coloring or activity book for the little one in your life.

You can use free downloadable programs like Kodak Easy Share to turn pictures of your kid into a coloring book page. I did it a few years ago and printed off several of them, then hole-punched the pages and strung it together with yarn. You can also print free regular coloring pages, mazes, and word searches from lots of websites. Another way to get creative with homemade activity book is to type or draw your own activity pages and personalize them to the child. Make a page that asks them to draw all the things they like to do on snow days or draw a picture of their favorite person or of their least favorite chore. If you know your cousin’s daughter is practicing her letters, put a few lined sheets in the book and ask her to write her name. If your son believes in aliens, print a picture of a planet and have them draw what kind of life he thinks exists on it. Etcetera, etcetera.

2. Dress-Up Clothes and Jewelry

Lots of little girls and boys love to dress up. One of the best places to go for dress-up clothes is the thrift store. You can find old prom dresses, frilly skirts, tuxedo t-shirts, a bevy of weird costume-y items for under $10. If you’re crafty you can cut pieces up and make them into something different or hem any frayed edges, but if you’re not, that’s ok too. Wash the clothes, then wrap them up and make them look really special, maybe tie a ribbon around each item of clothing, or pin a note to a great item that says “This dress will instantly turn you into a ballerina/ jazz club singer/ post rehab pop star.” or “This tie will turn you into a Ponzi scheme investor on the run from the law!”.

I like to get my nieces funky jewelry that they can also use for dress up. You can get cheap and kind-of out there jewelry from thrift stores as well. Rings, bracelets, and necklaces are usually between $3 and $8 and, dressed up in a fancy box with a ribbon, can make a kid who loves dress-up very happy.

3. Gently Used Books

Kids love books. If they don’t, they should and you should be the one to open up their world. But sometimes a hardcover children’s book can cost almost $20. And who wants to spend 20 bones on something the child is probably going to rip/slobber on/ stain with grimy fingerprints while they’re enjoying it?

While I do think kids should have special brand-new, just for them books, his or her entire library doesn’t have to have price-tags attached to it.  There are nice, gently used children’s books that you can find for not much money at thrift stores, library book sales, used book stores, etc. This year, I found ten nice Christmas stories in all shapes and sizes and bought them up for $7 TOTAL at a library book sale. I corrected a few imperfections (which I plan to write a blog post about later) and now each of my nieces and nephews have a story to read on Christmas Eve.

4. Rainy Day Box

A box of goodies for a rainy day makes kids feel special. Check out my former post on what to fill them with here. This year, I made one for a nephew, full up of coloring pages, candy bars, and those little army men with the Kleenex parachutes; then wrote on the top of the box: “TO BE STORED UNDERNEATH A DARK BED AND ONLY RETRIEVED ON GRAY MISERABLE DAYS!”

5. Embroidered Stuff

If you know how to embroider (and if you don’t, here are some instructions), stitching initials or tiny hearts or geckos or whatever on clothing items makes a unique, thoughtful gift. In the past I’ve embroidered hats, t-shirts, and blankets for the kids in my life. It’s something they know is made with love and, if they don’t drop it at the bus-stop, they can pass it down to whoever the next baby in line is.

6. Concentration Game

If you have access to a printer, it’s easy and free! to make the game Concentration as a gift. You may also remember this game as Memory. It’s where all the the cards are the same on one side and on the other side, have different pictures, each with one match. You turn over one card, then try to guess the match, repeat. The point of the game is to remember where the pictures you flipped over are and eventually match each card to it’s twin.

This game can be played with a deck of cards, but that would be a pretty lame gift by itself. Instead, you can personalize the Concentration game to the kid you’re gifting by printing off pictures of their friends faces in pairs or pictures of their favorite food (different kinds of ice cream for example), or even drawings of their favorite toys. Print out the pictures (make sure there are two of every picture), cut them up into cards, then stamp or write CONCENTRATION on the back of every card. Ribbon, tag, done!

7. Pirate Game or Homemade Board Game

Speaking of games, if you’ve got a piece of cardboard and a marker, you can make a kick-butt board game for the kiddies to play. You could make an All Aboard pirate trivia game like I did here. Or you could make your own theme up.

The general rules of making a board game: first, you need a board. Any piece of cardboard or posterboard will do. Then, decorate the board and add spaces and a start/finish spot. Then make up cards that the player reads that allow them to move up spaces. These could be trivia questions about dinosaurs or healthy food OR if your kid doesn’t like learning, they could be funny commands like “Give Dad a wedgie and move ahead 5 spaces.” Whatever you choose, you should probably make around 50-75 cards so people can play it more than once (if you can’t think of 50 dinosaur facts, you can just put “You’re extinct for the next 2 turns”). Lastly, grab up or make some game pieces like old marker caps, nuts and bolts, or even circles of colored paper.

To make the game really stand out as a thoughtful gift, you should name it something really important sounding and preferably with the word ‘tron’ somewhere in there. Kids like stuff that ends in ‘tron’.

8. Magic Holiday Blanket

Because this is a fuzzy cozy time of year, fuzzy cozy blankets are usually on sale. You could personalize a blanket by embroidering something on it (see #5); but if you don’t have time to stitch up something pretty, you can take your magic wand and make the blanket MAGIC!

Here’s how you do it. Tie the blanket up in a pretty ribbon. Tuck a note in there that reads something like: “This is your magical Christmas blanket. Every time you pull this blanket out, you’ll get to hear a magical holiday story and if you sleep underneath the magic blanket on Christmas Eve, Santa will leave a special present under the tree for you/keep you on his Nice list forever/hire you as an elf.” If you have the means, include a holiday children’s book in the gift so that they can read that story on Christmas Eve.

This makes a great gift because A) the kid thinks he/she’s got something magic and B) it’s a gift that the parents can get involved in and sitting under that blanket can become a new Christmas tradition. The only stipulation is that you have to really ham it up in the note because if you just scribble MAGIC BLANKET on a Post-It, someone’s gonna call shenanigans.

9. Thrift Store Tea Party

For little ones who like to play pretend, a tea party can last all afternoon. My brother loved to crash my tea parties and “drink” the water from my plastic teapot by shoving it up his nose. It prepared me for hostessing keggers in college…

Thrift stores have lots and lots of mismatched tea cups, platters and tiny spoons that, when presented with a little fuss on your part, can look mighty fancy to a four-year-old. To really make this present pop, present it with some homemade “pretend” food like this batch from Design Dazzle or the veggies from The American Felt and Craft blog.

10. Story on Tape

If there is a gift my father has it’s most assuredly the gift of gab. He’s also got a great voice for broadcasting [insert Dad joke about telling someone they’ve got a face for radio here]. So it would only make sense that he would record children’s books on CD for all his grandchildren to listen to before they go to bed. And the kiddos love it. What could be more soothing than listening to Grandpa tell a story before drifting to sleep.

It’s easiest to make this gift on a simple tape recorder with some blank tapes. But if you have access to a computer with a microphone, you can also record a CD or even a podcast of stories. Steal some favorites off of your child’s shelf or check some neat new books out from the library. It’s a thoughtful gift and the parents will love it because it doesn’t take up much space and might give them a little break from bed-time storyhour so they can get some quality reality television time in.

Hope these ideas give your wallet a break and put smiles on some faces.


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