How to Save Money on Holiday Presents for Kids

The holidays will be here before you know it. Here's how to stretch your budget without sacrificing holiday cheer.

The most wonderful time of the year will be here before you know it! If you’re shopping for kids, tweens, or teens this year, then you might feel overwhelmed about how to make their dreams come true without breaking the bank. Don’t worry; you can still have a happy holiday without putting yourself in debt. Just follow these practical, money-saving tips!

Wrapped gift for Christmas

Switch to Secret Santa for Your Extended Family

Before loading up your online cart with goodies for the kids, consider starting a new tradition this year. Instead of buying gifts for every member of your extended family, consider setting up a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Too often, we end up spending a big chunk of the holiday budget on gifts for nieces, nephews, cousins, and the children of family friends. And let’s be honest—half the time, we have no idea what they want and opt for a generic gift that they won’t enjoy, anyway. A gift exchange ensures that every kid gets a present they really want.

Make a Budget

Nothing could be farther from the holiday spirit than maxing out your credit cards. Sit down with your financial information and figure out how much you can afford to spend on gifts this year. Be conservative with your budget; it’s all too easy to get carried away, after all.

Over at SaveBetter, they recommend applying the trusty 50/30/20 budget to holiday spending. “For kids, plan 50% for what they want and 30% for what they need. Finally, 20% of your gift budget goes into a savings account for them. Or an investment account, a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan, an index fund, or simply a CD with a strong interest rate.”

Will kids necessarily get excited about having an investment account in their names? Well, no… but they’ll be thankful for it later when they fully understand the value of a dollar and the power of compound interest.

Child at Christmas

Ask for Wish Lists Early

To make the most effective and realistic possible, ask the kids in your life for their wish lists as soon as possible. Ideally, you should have an idea of what to buy before Thanksgiving, when the holiday sales start to kick off.

The earlier you know what their hearts are set on this year, the earlier you can move on to the next steps on our list. But there’s one thing to do first…

Manage Expectations

While we always want to give the kids in our lives the most magical holidays possible, it’s not always an option to buy everything on their wish lists. This year, in particular, will be tough for many people as inflation hits its 40-year high.

Older kids can understand that money is tight, but younger ones probably don’t need to be saddled with that information. Instead, you could try making up a bedtime story about how Santa is only bringing one very special present this year.

Ask kids to prioritize their wish lists so that you know which items are must-haves. As Sandy Kreps explains for Green Child Magazine, “Consistently giving in to a child’s gimme attitude can morph into selfishness and a sense of entitlement. Children hear they can have anything and everything they want. It’s your job as a parent to clue them into reality. Encourage children to prioritize their wish lists.”

holiday gift

Pay Attention to Sales Flyers

Now that you’ve got those wish lists, it’s time to start strategizing for maximum savings. Almost every store will run a major sale or two in the lead-up to the holidays, so make sure that you’re signed up for promotional emails from your favorites. It’s also not a bad idea to download store apps, as you can often unlock additional savings.

Set Up Alerts for Must-Have Toys

Make sure that you never miss a flash sale or doorbuster on a must-have toy! Sign up for Google Alerts on your top items to track prices and be notified the minute things go on sale.

You can also download shopping companion apps and plugins to track prices. In addition, these apps will automatically find coupon codes and other offers so that you don’t miss a single penny of possible savings. Check out our guide to the best ones here!

Christmas gifts

Take Advantage of Cash-Back Offers

Credit cards can get you into hot water if you use them irresponsibly, but they can also save you a ton of money. Let’s say you have a teenager who desperately wants a certain makeup palette. That palette is available at Ulta—great! You have a coupon for that store. But you could save even more if you used your credit card, which offers 3% cash back on purchases from Ulta. Score!

Go to the website for your credit card or download an app to see where you can save big this holiday season. As long as you can pay off the balance responsibly, those cashback offers can help extend your budget—and the holiday cheer.

Look for Refurbished Electronics

There’s a good chance that at least one kid on your list wants a new phone, tablet, or game system. Those are big-ticket items, and you might be wary of trusting a child with such an expensive gift. That’s when refurbished electronics can be a great option. Many manufacturers offer factory-certified refurbished electronics that’ll save you money. For example, Nintendo sells refurbished Switch gaming systems for about $50 less than retail.

Cut Back on Stocking Stuffers

On the opposite end of the spectrum big-ticket items are stocking stuffers. If your family tends to go overboard on piles of small gifts and treats, consider cutting back this year. Sure, each item costs less than $10, but when you add it up, you could be blowing a big chunk of your holiday budget on things that your kids won’t even remember getting in a month’s time. Use this as an opportunity to teach kids that more isn’t better—it’s just more.

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Save Money on Shipping

If you’re planning to order gifts online this year, make sure that you buy everything from each store at the same time! Shopping strategically during free shipping promotions or ordering enough to hit the free shipping threshold. However, make sure that you don’t overspend just to save a few dollars on shipping. If you shop online and have the option to pick your items up at a local brick-and-mortar store, you could cut out shipping costs completely.

Don’t Fall for Knockoffs and Lookalikes

When you’re trying to save a buck, you might be tempted to pick up cheaper versions of name-brand toys. One doll or plushie is just as good as another, right? While you might not be able to tell the difference between a Squishmallow and a no-name knockoff, kids absolutely can. They’ll probably be more disappointed with a knockoff than they would by not getting the item at all.

The same idea goes for suspiciously cheap lookalikes. If a deal is way too good to be true—especially if you found it on social media—then it probably is. At best, the items will be of lower quality. However, fake products might be made with harmful materials and pose a risk to kids.

Person writing on Christmas list near laptop

Get Crafty Together

Handmade gifts can be tricky. Some young ones will appreciate the care and craft that went into them… but many of them won’t realize how much time and effort it takes to make gifts from scratch.

Rather than making gifts for kids, consider having a family craft day. Get together to learn something new, such as this delightful step-by-step acrylic painting tutorial. Older tweens and teens might enjoy making candles, lip balm, or melt-and-pour soaps that they can use themselves or gift to friends. Check out Brambleberry for supplies, kits, and inspiration!

You can also use this time to pass on a skill to the next generation. As long as the kids are genuinely interested in learning, you can make memories and crafts together.

Prioritize Experiences Over Stuff

No matter which holidays you celebrate during the winter months, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, or Kwanzaa, the meaning behind the celebrations is often the same. It’s a time to gather with loved ones, get cozy despite the winter chill, and celebrate love, light, kindness, and generosity. Oh, and eat some tasty food—we can’t forget about that!

Explore the traditions and stories of the holidays… and consider making a few of your own, too. It doesn’t cost anything to go caroling or volunteer with a local charity. Go for a drive to see the holiday lights or invite your loved ones over for a night of mulled cider and board games. Bake cookies to share with the neighbors or learn a new festive recipe together while listening to holiday music. In five, ten, or twenty years, the kids in your life will remember the experiences they had and not the toys they received.

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