How to Afford Christmas When You Can’t Afford Christmas

List of Affordable Christmas IdeasAffordable Christmas Ideas
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When you're short on funds, but your friends, family, and especially kids, still need Christmas gifts, you have to get creative if you're asking how to afford Christmas.

We all know that Christmas isn't just about gifts, but it seems that the number one question I'm asked from August through December is “Will you adopt my family for Christmas?”. I have to budget to afford Christmas for our girls. We work really hard to pay our bills and save money for everything, including holidays.

How to Afford Christmas When You Can't Afford Christmas

Affording Christmas when you can't really afford Christmas is about planning. Don't wait until the last minute or you'll end up frantic. If you DID wait until the last minute, we'll talk about that, too.

Don't forget to PIN it!! Or Bookmark this list!!

List of Affordable Christmas Ideas
Affordable Christmas Ideas


How to Afford Christmas: Change Your Mindset About Christmas

What is Christmas really about to your family? Most likely, it's about spending time together. You can do this without spending a dime. Exchanging gifts is fun but it doesn't have to be an over the top kind of thing, you know?

You've also gotta be inventive when you're broke. Hell, even when you aren't broke, being inventive is a good thing. Think outside the box! How can you MAKE their Christmas amazing? It can be an experience you give them, it doesn't have to be unwrapping gifts.

LAST MINUTE Christmas Ideas

If you only have a few weeks until Christmas, or even a week, I recommend going with handmade gifts from recycled things such as toilet paper rolls and newspaper. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out! If you search Pinterest for “recycled crafts” or “upcycled crafts”, you'll get a gazillion ideas thrown your way.

Even if you aren't crafty, you can buy $20 worth of baking ingredients and make salt dough handprints for the grandparents, and cookies for Santa. You can put a book together with scrap paper.

Honestly, the key to having an awesome Christmas when you're down and out is: ditch the pity party and get to work! Keep reading for TONS of ideas.


The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, but we you are broke it can be rather stressful! Learn how to afford Christmas on a budget and get inspiration from other parents who are struggling with the same thing!

How to Afford Christmas

REAL Stories

I've been unemployed since June (layoffs at my office), so I am cutting back this year I already let my daughter know not to expect much. I have been taking advantage of online sales (and using coupon codes for free shipping or free site to store pick up). So far I bought her 2 board games she has been wanting and some clothes. That is probably all I'm going to buy, I am making a “coupon” book for her with things in it like “one extra hour on iPad” “slumber party night (she can invite 2 friends over I'll make pizza and popcorn and let them watch movies, do makeovers and whatever else, within reason, 13-year-olds do)”, “day off from chores (she can choose one day that I will do her chores for her)”. – Dawn

I couldn't afford to give my husband a gift one year, so I made an origami box and filled it with hearts and love notes. He loved it! – David

I don't have any money really, single with 3 kids. But I have been selling stuff we don't need. Stuff the baby has outgrown, clothes we don't use, etc I am going through my kids books soon, we have 4 bookcases full and my bookcase is slowly breaking. – Carissa

Prior to opening our own business, we were very materialistic. Well, we learned real quick how to be frugal, and pay what bills we could. When we were flat broke with a failing business, we never asked but our friends volunteered and gave our girls a few great Christmas. After closing the business and having a job for a year, my husband and I gave the girls a stupid crazy Christmas. I think we were more excited after 3 years of broken misery we could do it ourselves again. That same year, I also sponsored 2 of my friend's families so they could have a Christmas. Now my husband works a great paying job, but we have slimmed Christmas Gifts down. We have a blanket tradition, so the girls get that. Otherwise, we use the need-wear-want-read system. After we get 1 or 2 gifts from each category, I share the list with my parents. They are old enough now (7 and almost 15) to understand quality over quantity. So we teach that. They still have their gifts from last year, and they took care of them all year. The kids will tell you they do not get as much, but what they get, they love more than a bunch of stuff that will break. – Stacy

Coupons, clearance, give multiple inexpensive items instead of 1 expensive item. I bought an “unboxed” fragrance on and it was a few bucks cheaper and comes in a plain package instead of the brand box. I bought 2 books “like new” on Amazon instead of new and those were each a few dollars less. Space out purchases, like 2 per week for however long you need. I could go on and on! – Courtney

I start early and stretch out the gifts. Never buy everything at once! We know Christmas comes the same day every year. So each month I buy a $25 gift card and use it when I need something for Xmas! I use coupons and Target cartwheel saves me a ton of money!!! – Barbara

I thrift and buy used on buy sale trade sights. I also sell things I don't need anymore like clothes or old toys. – Ashley

Lots of homemade items! I also look for lots of free holiday things to DO, rather than buy. – Marissa

Quit eating out and buying stuff we don't really need. Amazing how much comes up available when you do this! – Ashley H

Paycheck to paycheck is our middle name. We get by just fine but I could never afford to go out and start Christmas shopping in December. Therefore, I start in April! I hit clearance sales, cut coupons, do surveys, Ibotta, I'm signed up to do surveys with Amazon prime in which I earn gifts cards, I've even done focus groups. Shopping little by little over a span of months is what I find most useful – Nicole

homemade gifts, including baked goods, maybe use a credit card to pay for some things, if needed. you can also just do things for people, take someone grocery shopping, give a massage or other service you can provide. the local community center here, where we get food from, also has special things for the holidays, like extra food & gifts for the children. I always also start shopping in advance, throughout the year, clearance, special deals, use coupons, etc., so I don't have to spend so much at once, and also b/c I find things that someone will like. – Gracie

Black Friday is a necessity. I pare down the list to find what my kids really, really want, and a couple of small-dollar extras. We go to extra free community events around the area to make sure they still get lots of Christmas experiences. We take our own photos when seeing Santa at the mall (or if you live near a Bass Pro Shop, they have huge free family Christmas events and free photos!). Homemade gifts– usually cookies because we love baking- for family. – Wendy

Sales!! Thrift store and homemade gifts! My kids have known Christmas with more gifts that they can use but have also know Christmas where mommy can only get a couple of small things for each of them….. they have enjoyed each and every one of them!! It not what they get that matters and they understand that! – Monica

I have made extra money in previous years by mystery shopping. And rewards programs are amazing- sign up for any free ones you can. Apps like Ibotta and Shopkick give you money back on things you already buy; saving up all year and cashing out in December gives you a nice little bonus. – Wendy

Themed Basket Ideas

The basket ideas listed below were submitted by Slap Dash Minions (more than 100 responded – thank you!), and most can be put together for $20 or less. If you're really strapped for cash, get a basket from the Dollar Tree. Fill it with shredded up newspaper, and then add things that you can find either at Dollar Tree or another dollar store or make your own. Dollar Tree also has the cellophane basket wraps for $1 but you can use colored Saran Wrap (even the cheap brand) and tie off with some ribbon to save even more cash.

cant afford christmas, frugal gifts

The links in the lists take you to DIY posts or to Amazon so you can see the products if they are not DIY. They will open in a new window.

Movie Basket

$5 movies
— popcorn
toppings for popcorn like white cheddar etc
— candy
— soda

BBQ Basket

— apron
homemade BBQ sauce
recipe book (make your own with recipes from Pinterest!)
— tongs

DIY Spa Basket

— body spray (Bath & Body Works has sales!)
— body scrub (make your own)
— candles
— soap (make your own)
— aloe socks ($3 at Walmart)
whipped body butter

Baker's Basket

(Put stuff in a Pyrex dish or a cake pan)
measuring cups
— pot holders
— cook book (make one!)
— cake mix
— cupcake liners

Cooking Basket

— Pot Holders
— Cooking Spoons
— Towels
Measuring Cups
— Cook book (make one!)

Art Basket

— crayons, markers, and/or colored pencils
— sketch book or coloring books
— construction paper and scissors
— clay or play-dough (make your own)

Crochet or Knitting Basket

— Patterns (free printable ones online – make a binder full of them!)
— Yarn
— Crochet hook or knitting needles

Sewing Basket

— Needle & thread
— pins
— buttons, snaps, etc
— cross stitch hoop
— embroidery floss

Date Night Basket

— movies
— wine
— candles
— lotion

Date Night Basket 2

— Big pot for spaghetti
— pasta noodles
— cheese
— jar of gourmet pasta sauce
— potholders
— bottle of wine
— romantic movie

Girls Night In Basket

— wine
— wine glasses
— chick flick DVD
— game (like Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, Jenga, etc)
— chocolate

New Baby Basket

— washcloths
— baby shampoo
— baby lotion
— detergent (Dreft)
— baby book

Crafter's Basket

— Glue gun & glue sticks
— Felt, yarn, or other craft supplies
— Beads, wire, etc
— Tulle, ribbon
— crafting book (or make a binder with printable ideas from Pinterest!)

Teen Girls Basket 1

— iTunes gift card
— band posters
— journal and fancy pens

Teen Girls Basket 2

— their favorite shampoo/conditioner
— razors, shaving gel, deodorant
— hair accessories (hair tyes, brush, etc)
— makeup
— lotion, perfume

Teen Boys Basket

— DVDs
— iTunes gift card
— headphones
— books
— cologne

New Years Party Basket

— hats
— sunglasses
— poppers
— noisemakers
— wine or sparkling grape juice

Sundae Basket

— sundae toppings: chocolate, caramel, strawberry, etc
— sprinkles
— ice cream scoop
— cute bowls

Snuggle Up With a Book Basket

— books or gift card to Barnes & Noble
— relaxing tea
— mug
— soft blanket
— reading light

Bath & Body Basket

— shower gel
— loofah
— candles
— fancy soaps

House & Home Basket

— Small laundry basket
— laundry detergent (make your own laundry detergent)
— dryer sheets
— paper towels or wash cloths
— dish soap, cleaning supplies

Pizza Basket

— recipe cards for dough and sauce (or a cookbook – make your own!)
— pizza stone or cookie sheet
— pizza cutter
— pot holder
— pizza-shaped plates

Popcorn Basket

— popcorn popper basket
— coconut oil
— kernels
— popcorn salt, seasonings, etc
— chocolate to drizzle on top

Mani/Pedi Basket

— foot soak (make your own!)
— nail clippers
— aloe socks ($3 at Walmart)
— nail polish ($1 at Dollar Tree or use coupons to get for less)
— lotion

Scrapbooking Basket

— scrapbooking paper
— photographs
— sticker letters
— stickers to match scrapbook paper
— mini album

Fitness Basket 1

— workout DVDs (walk away the pounds are my fav for beginners)
— 2 pound dumb bells (Try a store like Five Below for these)
— sweat towel
— protein bars
— fitness/health magazine subscription

Fitness Basket 2

— yoga DVDs (as low as $5 each at Walmart)
— yoga mat
— socks with grips on the bottom
— sweat towel
— yoga block

Leave Me Alone Basket

— wine
— chocolate
— ear plugs
bubble bath

Music Basket

— head phones
— iTunes gift card
— magazine
— sheet music scrapbook paper
— some type of music book (depends on instrument)

Healing Basket

— honey
— soothing tea
— mug
— rice pack (make your own!)
— epsom salts

Memory Basket

— photographs
— frames
— mini photo album
— trinkets that have sentimental value
— hand-written journal/notes

Cartoon Character Basket

— blanket, pillow, shirt, or something with cartoon character on it
— DVD of cartoons

How to Afford Christmas

Lego Basket

— Lego crayons (make your own Lego crayons)
— Legos (just buy a small set and build them into buildings or characters)
— Lego mat
printables with ideas on building Lego buildings, characters, etc
— Lego book (depending on budget)

Gardening Basket

(Put in a hand-painted flower pot)
— mini gardening tools
— seeds
— gloves
printed info on growing certain plants/flowers/vegetables

Coloring Basket

— use old crayons to make new ones
coloring books (Dollar Tree)
— plastic container so crayons don't get lost
— printed connect-the-dots or other fun print-outs to color

Pet Basket

— brush
— lint roller
— pet shampoo

Duct Tape Basket

— rolls of duct tape (tons of patterns available!)
— folders
— pens
— print outs of duct tape craft ideas (See my duct tape crafts)

Do you have any other basket ideas? Leave them in the comments so we can help everyone figure out how to afford Christmas this year!

handmade christmas gifts

Also, be sure to PIN THIS POST and share it with your friends! I want these posts to help as many people as possible. I know what it's like to not be able to afford bills, much less holidays.

How to Afford Christmas When You Can't Afford Christmas

Around the holidays, it's difficult to get help because so many are asking for it. It's better if you can collect things year-round instead, but if all else fails you can post a “searching for” or “wanted” ad on your local Freecycle.

Some crazy horror stories have been on the news about Craigslist, so I don't want you hitting up some random creeper and heading to their house for a free TV.

Local Churches

Call around to local churches, food banks, and other social services and ask about Christmas help. It's best to do this in October, so there are still funds available.

Shop with a Cop

When I was a kid, I was chosen to do “Shop With a Cop” – they gave us a $100 budget and had a police officer take us around Walmart. See if you have a similar program in your area.

Use Coupons

There are literally thousands of coupon blogs, so I'm not going to try and list them all. I have my favorites, and you can easily find favorites of your own by using Google and Facebook.

Earn Gifts

Sign up for Swagbucks. Earn points and trade them in for gifts.

If you enter giveaways year round, you could win enough gifts to cover Christmas for free!!

Local Charities

This website has a list of local charities that help, organized by state.

Goodwill Outlet

The regular Goodwill can get expensive, but the Goodwill Outlets are super cheap. If you live in St. Louis, there's one on Market Street. Pay less than $1 a pound for books, clothes, glassware, etc. Get big-ticket items like couches for less than $5. Phoenix has one, too – most big cities do.

Projects from the Goodwill Outlet:

Duct Tape Suitcases – Total cost: less than $5 each
Duct Tape Boots – Total cost: less than $3 each pair
Play Kitchen – Total cost: less than $15
Tie Dye Jeans – Total cost: less than $5
Bra Purses – Total cost: less than $2

See also: 40 Duct Tape Craft Tutorials

Wrapping Gifts When You're Broke

There are many ways to wrap gifts that don't cost an arm and a leg. Collect newspapers and save them for a few months and you'll have MORE than enough to wrap everyone's gifts. You can buy tape at the Dollar Tree, and even use scraps of twine to make bows.

You can also make origami bows to put on top with a little dot of tape or glue.

Use white or brown craft paper and stamp or draw designs on.


Obviously, the easiest way to afford Christmas is to make more money. If you've got a few weeks – or better yet, a few months start looking for side hustles and/or seasonal jobs if possible. Even if you're reading this post on Christmas Eve, if you don't want to be in this same situation next year, now is the time to make a change.

What to do when youre broke at Christmas. TONS of ideas from 100 readers.

Laurie Bennett

Laurie Bennett

Site Owner
I share delicious, Weight Watchers - Friendly recipes and chat regularly about online business & blogging!!


  1. Love this! Just a heads up that yes, the dollar store has the cello gift bags for $1, but if you go to Michaels you can spend only a couple bucks more and get 5-12, depending on your size. This is helpful if you’re giving a few baskets, not just one.

  2. Great ideas. I’d also add that for baking/ cooking tjemed baskets, you can use bowles as a basket. For my sister’s bridal shower, I got a silver mixing bowl, tied a really cute clearance double ribbon ruffle trim around the rim,.and then filled it with measuring cups/spoons, a cookbook I got on ebay (sentimental value as it was the same one my mom got at her wedding), whisks, wooden spoons, and viola…a very thoughtful gift for under $20. Best part is everything is usable…no garbage or cheap baskets.

  3. chocolate lover basket: home made fudge, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, cocoa…….check pinterest for recipes, last year the rocky road fudge I made was a huge hit.
    Spy kit basket: My grandie was totally ‘into’ spy stuff…….I used an old briefcase, made a fingerprint kit with paper and an ink pad, made ‘top secret’ folders with paper to write clues, invisible ink (lemon juice), a magnifying glass, dollar tree handcuffs, a cleaned out chapstick tube with rolled up paper inside to pass secret messages, dollar tree mustaches and glasses for disguises, along with thrift store hats. He loved it!
    Beverage basket….sample sizes of coffee, tea, cocoa, and flavored creamers, marshmallows for the cocoa, chocolate coated spoons, a nice mug, and a mug cozy. DH loves the single size tea, punch, kool aid packets, so you could add those and bottled water as well. Chocolate and strawberry syrups if they like flavored milk.

  4. My sister made my son a doctor bag. Pushed got a stethoscope, a used blood pressure cuff, some hair nets, band aids, a thermometer, and she emptied pill bottles and put candy in them for pretend meds (I do not advise this for younger children that are still learning that medicine is NOT candy. My son is a very responsible 6 year old that knows the difference and he respects medicine because we taught him early).
    My grandparents also made my sister a veterinarian bag when she was a child (hence the inspiration for the doctor bag). Pretty much the same items minus the blood pressure cuff and band aids. She added little beanie baby stuffed animals to be the “patients”.

  5. I did the movie themed basket for my mom last year. I picked out 5 DVDs she loves but never bough for herself. I grabbed a couple of the dollar boxes of her favorite movie theater candy at Walmart. And I added a box of popcorn. She loved it. (I know you already posted that idea, I just thought it would help for readers to hear from someone who has actually tried some of these ideas out)

    I am also going to continue to make apple pie jam and can them for loved ones. If anyone is good preserving food, a gift basket full of homemade canned goods is a great idea too.

  6. My mom sometimes puts together gift baskets with a clothes basket and she’ll put in items we use for around the house such as dish washing liquid, laundry detergent, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.

  7. These are all wonderful! I save money by doing swag bucks and instant win games for gift cards. I have 12 more gifts to go and 13 gifts down and spent only $29.95.

  8. With things` being tough for so many these ideas are awesome….there is something to fit everone and ides for even more…thank you so much

  9. Great ideas :)

    Maybe a college student basket: schedule book/agenda, thumb drive, mechanical pencil & refill lead/erasers, granola bars, caffeine tablets or energy shots (tablets are way cheaper), sticky notes, etc.

  10. I did a work/play gift basket one year. On the work side I put a planner, a black polo, a pen and a gas card, and then on the play I got a huge mug, a six pack, and slippers. It was a little costly, but I’m sure someone could take the idea and make it cheaper!

  11. I do a movie gift basket for my dad every year! The first year I didn’t have a lot of money so I bought him a used movie at our local auction and then added popcorn, soda and a few movie theater candies. It was a “cheap” gift, but now he asks for it every year lol He said the best part is that my kids and I come watch the movie with him :)

  12. Sorry double commenting I have had so many cheap Christmas’s I may even comment again if I think of something lol I have money this year for Christmas but I still love to save.
    I wish I saved the photo so I could give the original credit , but I found a cute idea for kids. You get a small metal container (Bucket shaped) they are only $1 at Target. Anyway you can buy dum dum pops and make a small cute stocking stuffer by putting them inside.

    This is not the one I first found, but this will give you an idea of what i mean
    My bucket is smaller and has no where near that many pops lol

    I used some plastic wrap and tape around the top. So I don’t have to worry about them dumping out.
    I think my kiddos will Love it.

    And I seen cute idea’s for mason jars where you layer dry ingredients for a cookie recipe and then attach the recipe on the outside. They look cute

  13. I would seriously love to receive any one of these baskets, but I think my favorites are the art and teen girl baskets for the kids and the fitness baskets are such a great idea. Most people at Christmas are vowing to get in shape once the holidays are over – these basket ideas are great for motivation!

  14. These were lots of great ideas! I have also created a gift baskets for family members and the folks in the nursing homes by using samples and throwing in a few full sized products to create a bath & body basket or other themed basket. Add some ribbon and maybe pretty paper and they turn out great! No need to spend fortunes!

  15. I’m in the process of creating a “Let it Snow” basket. I haven’t done it yet – but here are my ideas – pick the ones you like: Blankets, socks, gloves, hot chocolate, mugs, soup/stew/chili ingredients w/recipe), candles, movies, popcorn, blocks/signs/pictures that say “Let it Snow”, wine, wine glasses, deck of cards, snowman kit, snowball fight kit, lotions, lip balm. Basically stuff you need/do – to help you get thru the winter.

  16. Hi I am curious if you have posted part 2 or 3 series as I just found this and there are some great ideas. Please let me know and also let me know where I can find the additional series. Thank you so much! Happy Holidays!

  17. Love all of these ideas!!!

    * few other ideas i have had
    ***HE IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON BASKET- A beautiful framed picture of Christ to hang in their home, a DIY nail ornament to hang on the tree and remember what he did for us, a printed poem of his love for us, candles, a book, small blanket, A spiritual movie, chocolate.

    *** HUNTER & OR FISHING BASKET – camo odds and ends, magazine, keychain, multi-tool lighter, outdoor mug, beanie or hat, sportmans warehouse DVDs.

    ***SPICY UP YOUR MARRIAGE BASKET- fun card or dice games, chocolate, whipped cream, blanket, oils, lotions, printed love poems, little sentiment printables about the things that remind them of their sparks they share or good memories.

  18. A travel basket with travel magazine(s), tote, travel mug, repair/emergency kit. A basket of Christmas decorations (especially for people just setting up house.). A ” wrapping” basket-wrapping paper, scissors, greeting cards, ribbon. I made cheese balls one year and gave them on cheeseball plates, or a cake plate with cake. Or a “party in a box”-snacks, dips, cupcakes, streamers. One year I found a cool book at Ollie’s, a ballerina book, that had ballet slippers, and I found a leotard on clearance, or you could make one of those tutus from tulle.

  19. Does anyone have an idea for a christmas tree if you can’t afford one?

    Though about chopping a cedar down… but we don’t own any woods! LOL.

    1. Ellen: You could do a paper one on the wall? I know it’s not a real tree but it would be cute and fun for the kids to make. Or check Goodwill! Ours has half-off days, so the trees would literally be like $10. Pinterest has some fun, crafty ideas for paper/DIY trees.

  20. Tons of great ideas! I am on the broke train this year too. Luckily it has been a super big discussion here because of our upcoming house purchase and I think they are on-board for a tiny holiday. Nevertheless, I want my kids to have the world, so thank you for tons of inspiration!

  21. A personal touch I did for the “movie themed” basket. Sent it to my best friend, who lived far away. In addition to the movie, popcorn, M&M’s and tissues (it was a sappy chick-flick) I made a flat paper doll and put a photo of my face on it, so we could still watch the movie “together!” She loved it so much, she repeated it for her grandmother, buying old western movies from the Dollar store and added her favorite candies from childhood time with her grandma along with her cut-out version of herself. It was a big hit with her grandma, too. Thoughtful gifts don’t have to cost a lot.

  22. For those that can’t afford a tree… Definitely try thrift stores and Facebook swap/sell groups in your area where you can even request cheap or free.. Many people have artificial trees they aren’t using but haven’t taken the time to get rid of. We gave our smaller one away when we got a larger one. You can also make one from a wood pallet… Many stores give them away for free. I just got 5 free from a Facebook post and they wanted me to take more! Lots of ideas on Pinterest too. Good luck!

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  25. Christmas is not something you “afford” as you can’t pay for it. It’s a holiday. Anyone who thinks Christmas is all about gifts doesn’t deserve to receive any. I do not feel sorry for people who say “I can’t afford Christmas this year.” Go volunteer at a soup kitchen or go sing Christmas carols in a nursing home. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves because your kids want a Nintendo or Nike Air Jordans and please don’t bilk your aging parents to buy this stuff either.

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