When we’re budgeting for Christmas, sometimes we forget to take into account the costs of wrapping. It may seem like a small cost, but like any small cost it can add up quickly.

Welcome back to Frugal Festivities: 25 Days of Christmas Cheer on a Budget.  Today I’m going to share my top six tips for saving money on wrapping.

But first I want to remind you that in January I’m hosting the Frugal Fresh Start Challenge!  Every weekday in January we’ll be tackling a new way to be more frugal so you can reach your financial goals.  When you sign up for the challenge you’ll get the workbook emailed to you for free!

Okay, now let’s talk about saving money on Christmas wrapping. I’m sharing my favorite tips here, but I would love to hear your great ideas in the comments.


What’s black and white and read all over? There are a whole slew of answers for that, but the one I’m looking for is the newspaper! Not everyone gets the newspaper these days, but I bet you can find some newsprint pretty easily. Use some red ribbon or a red tag on a package wrapped in newsprint and it will look classy and festive! This is especially great for those big packages that are wrapping paper hogs!

Make Your Own

A couple of years ago someone gave us big rolls of paper. It’s actually newsprint that’s not printed on. They got quite a few rolls of it for a project and shared the leftovers. Give the kids some festive colors of paint and they will turn huge sheets of paper into lovely wrapping paper. And it’s got a personal touch.


Wrapping paper is one of my favorite things to stock up on after Christmas when it’s 75% off. If you buy your wrapping paper after the season every year, then you’ll never have to pay full price for it! Wrapping paper is super easy to store in an attic, garage, closet, or under a bed. I am always quick to grab the clearance wrapping paper that isn’t overly seasonal so it can double as birthday, wedding, or baby shower wrapping.

Check the Thrift Store

I have found lots of great wrapping paper at thrift stores, even in the Christmas season when you would think it would all be gone. It’s usually priced at $.50- $1 per roll and I’ve found some pretty big rolls!
A sub-tip here would be to check thrift stores and yard sales in the off season too. Like I mentioned earlier, wrapping paper is easy to store.

Make Reusable Fabric Gift Bags

You can find both sewable and no-sew versions online. These are great when you’re giving gifts within your immediate family, you can just collect them up and use them for next year. There’s no waste and no future purchase necessary. My kids do a less fancy version of this for family birthdays sometimes. They’ll sometimes just wrap presents for the siblings in in pillowcases.

Be a Smart Shopper

If you need to buy wrapping paper this year, be sure to BE SMART ABOUT IT. The rolls of paper may look the equal, but there are lots of rolls of paper that have very little actual paper on them, especially in multi-packs with a variety of prints. Look at the number of square feet on the roll and the price so you can figure out the price per square foot.

If math wasn’t your forte, you’ll take the price and divide it by the number of square feet on the roll. The answer will be the price per square foot. Compare the price per square foot of several rolls. It’s likely (but not definite) that the larger rolls will be cheaper.

What about ribbons and tags and bows? If they’re necessary for your wrapping style, you can use many of these same tips for ribbons, tags, and bows. If you’re not overly concerned with aesthetics, the easiest thing to do is just write right on the gift with a sharpie! I don’t think anyone will complain. In fact, in our family at least for the gifts from mom and dad, we use a different wrapping paper for each child, so a tag or writing isn’t even necessary.

With these 6 tips you should be able to reduce what you spend on Christmas wrapping. I would love to hear your best tips in the comments!


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Would you give a second hand gift for Christmas? Does the thought of thrift store Christmas shopping make you cringe?  It’s kind of a controversial topic.

Today in our series of 25 Days of Christmas Cheer on a Budget we’ll talk about WHY you might consider doing some Christmas shopping at the thrift store and WHEN it’s okay to give a second hand gift (and when it’s not). We’ll also talk about WHAT kinds of things to look for at the thrift store as a potential gift.

If you ask around, you’ll find strong opinions on the topic of giving gifts purchased second hand, so some of you may be wondering WHY in the world you would want to buy Christmas gifts at the thrift store?

WHY you might want to shop for gifts at the thrift store

The most obvious reason would be because you have a TIGHT BUDGET.  Your dollars will go much further at a thrift store than they will at a regular department store.  You can cover Christmas gifts at a fraction of the price that you would pay if you bought everything new.

Another reason might be because you want to FOCUS ON YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS.  Just because you’re frugal and choose to budget your money does not mean you’re broke. You might have the money to buy expensive new gifts but choose to buy more economical gifts instead so that you can reach your financial goals (like getting out of debt or saving for a house) faster.

You might also choose to shop for presents at the thrift store because you want to be able TO GIVE MORE.  If you’re sticking to a certain dollar amount for each person on your list, you’ll be able to make those dollars go further if you consider second hand gifts.

As a society, we’re bigger consumers now than we’ve ever been. We have lots of stuff and we waste a lot! Shopping second hand is a way to BE MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE than buying brand new stuff.

Plus, you can find some pretty UNIQUE TREASURES at a thrift store that you wouldn’t be able to find or afford at a traditional store.  This makes for some memorable, one-of-a-kind gifts.

WHEN a second hand gift is the right choice

Is it socially acceptable to give a second hand gift? Can you go Christmas shopping at the thrift store?

The answer, of course, is… it depends.

It’s not cut and dry. Whether it’s appropriate to give “used” gifts as opposed to new depends on who the gift is for, so your answer will depend on the person and the situation.

In addition to providing something tangible for someone else, the purpose of a gift is to show love.  If your recipient will feel love from a gift that is used, then definitely go for it!

If, on the other hand, for whatever reason you think a used gift would have the opposite effect for your recipient, then buying used may not be a good idea for that person.

When it comes to kids, it will depend on what precedent you have set.  If shopping at second hand stores is a normal thing in your family, your kids probably won’t think twice about a Christmas gift that isn’t brand spankin’ new.  In fact our kids have started doing some of their own Christmas shopping at the Thrift store.  I’ll tell you more about that in a second.

HOW to find great gifts at the thrift store

Once you’ve established that a beautiful used gift would be appreciated by your recipient, how do you choose one?

There’s certainly an art to finding great gifts at the thrift store.  Gifts from the thrift store often take more thought and time than just having something shipped from Amazon, but you will save a lot of money.

Let me share with you a few general tips for getting great gifts from the thrift store then I’ll share some categories of gifts that are great to look for at the thrift store.

My first tip is to START EARLY.  Thrift stores are hit or miss. Shop all year long and pick up future gifts when you see them. Back on Day 6 of this series I mentioned taking a stroll past the game section of the thrift store every time you go in to see if there are any  great games in excellent condition. Expand that advice to anything that you would consider gifting. Maybe the picture frame aisle is one you want to check out on a regular basis all year long.

My second tip is to KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.  If you’re just blindly walking through the store for a gift, you probably won’t find one. One of the huge differences between a regular store and a thrift store is how they’re marketng to you. In a department store you have signs and displays to grab your attention. Brands pay big bucks to have their product placed at eye level or on a prominent endcap.

At the thrift store you’re pretty much on your own to come with ideas of what you’re looking for for the people on your giving list. You’re way more likely to be successful when you’ve put some thought into the gift that you’re looking for.

INSPECT and inspect again. There’s nothing worse than thinking that you scored big at the thrift store then realize at home that that pair of designer jeans has a hole (where there isn’t supposed to be one) or that game is missing a piece. This is even more important when you’re giving a gift!  Be super critical when you inspect something from the thrift store that you’re considering giving as a gift.  You’ll want it to be in like-new condition.

Another tip is to ask yourself, “WOULD I WANT TO RECEIVE THIS?”  Would the potential gift be something that you would happily receive?  I’m much more likely to give a thrift store second hand gift than I am to regift something that was given to me. The reason is that I want to be able to stand behind my gift and give something that I love. If I’m regifting something it’s mostly because it was something I didn’t love. Unless I know the recipient would love it, then why would I give the recipient my castoffs?

WHAT to buy as a gift from the thrift store

Here are some tips about what to look for.

Books– You can find SO many great books in great condition.

Games/puzzles– Find ones that are either unopened or that you’re sure have all of the pieces.

Purses/Bags– You can often find high quality handbags in good condition for amazing prices.

Toys– Find toys that work, have all the parts, and will clean up nicely. Your kids won’t care that it’s not covered in plastic packaging.

Jewelery– You can find a huge variety of jewelery priced very inexpensively.

Sports/outdoor equipment– Look for items with little wear and use that were possibly donated just because the original owner didn’t use them.

Candles, home decor items– You’ll find candles that are brand new and a wide variety of beautiful home decor items.

Mugs– Add some hot chocolate mix and mini marshmallows for a quick gift.

Glassware, vases–  Add some treats to a serving plate or flowers to a vase.

Frames– If you can look past what’s currently in the frame, you can find great frames at thrift stores. Replace what’s in the frame with a family picture, a chalk board or dry erase board or search pinterest for upcycled frame ideas

Clothing– You have to be careful buying clothes as gifts because thrift stores usually don’t have returns or exchanges if the item doesn’t fit.  I probably wouldn’t buy clothes for most people, but for my kids and husband I totally would (and do) buy and gift clothes from the thrift store.

In the past our kids have done their shopping for members of our family at the dollar store. Before they had their own money, I would allot them each enough money for a gift for each person in our family. It was good practice thinking about what other people would enjoy and helped them focus on and get excited about giving. As our kids have grown and now have their own money to spend, they prefer finding gifts at the thrift store because they can get more for their money and give what they consider a better gift than they would otherwise be able to give.

This year one child bought another a pogo stick for $3.50 at the thrift store on half-off day.  Another child bought some fun games for the younger kids.  They also found some great books as gifts.  And some of the clothes that I’ll be giving the kids are second hand.

If you haven’t thought of looking for gifts at the thrift store, don’t be afraid to give it a try!

How about you?

  • Have you ever shopped for a gift at the thrift store?
  • What are your thoughts on second-hand gift giving?


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One of the things I love about the Christmas season is the abundance of homemade treats!  Our 25 days of Christmas Cheer on a Budget wouldn’t be complete without sharing one of my favorite holiday treat recipes: my grandma’s Molasses Sugar Cookie recipe.  I love the way these molasses sugar cookies are soft and slightly chewy.  The molasses with along with ginger, cloves, and cinnamon just tastes like Christmas to me!

Not only are they delicious, they’re simple too. When I was in elementary school I made these to enter into the fair and came home with a blue ribbon.

If you’re a visual learner, the short video below will show you exactly how to make them, or you can continue reading the instructions below.  At the bottom of the post is a printable version of the recipe.

The ingredients are pretty basic things you probably have in your pantry with the possible exception of the molasses.  Not everyone keeps that on hand.  I really only have it to make these cookies.
Besides molasses, you’ll need sugar, an egg, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt, and shortening.

Shortening isn’t my favorite kind of fat to bake with. I only use it for this receipe and for pie crust.  I prefer to bake with butter. I’ve tried substituting butter in molasses sugar cookies and they don’t turn out the same.  They still taste good, but they are very flat.  So we use shortening.


3/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teapsoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt shortening over low heat until is is completely liquid.  Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool completely.  I’m honestly not sure what this does or why it’s a step in the recipe, but this is how my grandma (who is an amazing baker) taught me, so I do it.

When the shortening has cooled, add in 1/4 cup molasses, 1 cup sugar, and 1 egg.  To minimize dirty dishes, I just use the pan instead of a bowl.

In a separate bowl mix together the remaining ingredients: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the pan.  This will make a somewhat stiff dough.
Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 min.

Roll dough into balls then roll balls in sugar.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

Cool on the cookie sheet for one minute then transfer to cooling rack.


I wish I could share some with each of you, so you would know how yummy they are, but you’ll just have to trust me and go make a batch or two to see for yourself.

What is your favorite homemade holiday treat?

Print Recipe

Molasses Sugar Cookies


Soft and chewy Molasses Sugar Cookies are a holiday favorite!


Recipe type: Cookie

Serves: 2.5-3 dozen


  • ¾ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teapsoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt


  1. Melt shortening over low heat until is is completely liquid. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
  2. When the shortening has cooled, add in ¼ cup molasses, 1 cup sugar, and 1 egg. To minimize dirty dishes, I just use the pan instead of a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl mix together the remaining ingredients: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in the pan. This will make a somewhat stiff dough.
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 min.
  6. Roll dough into balls then roll balls in sugar.
  7. Bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.
  8. Cool on the cookie sheet for one minute then transfer to cooling rack.




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Hands down, the single easiest way to improve a holiday meal is to add homemade cranberry sauce.

Please don’t make the mistake of associating this special treat with that jellied cranberry stuff that comes in a can. The two aren’t even related. Real homemade cranberry sauce is to canned cranberry sauce what freshly sliced garden-grown tomatoes are to canned stewed tomatoes–they each claim to have some of the same stuff, but you would never make the mistake of pouring stewed tomatoes onto your ham sandwich.


The unmistakable splash of deep red and the distinctive sweet tartness of fresh cranberry sauce is unlike anything else on your Christmas table. The good news is that homemade cranberry sauce is also probably the easiest thing you’ll make.

It’s almost as easy as boiling water.

Homemade cranberry sauce has just three ingredients:

1. 12 oz bag (about 3 cups) of fresh or frozen cranberries
2. 1 cup water
3. 1 cup sugar

That’s it.

The directions are just as simple as the ingredients.

1. In a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the water.
2. Add cranberries and bring to a boil.
3. Boil softly for five or ten minutes, until almost all of the berries are popped. There will be a few whole berries still, but the sauce is done if those whole berries pop when you gently squeeze them against the side of the saucepan with a spoon.

Set the sauce aside to cool. When it’s down to room temperate, stick it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to put it on the table.


Eat your homemade cranberry sauce on your meat, on potatoes, with rolls, as it’s own small side, or on sandwiches with holiday meal leftovers. You really can’t go wrong combining it with anything.

Because cranberry sauce is best after being thoroughly chilled, it’s a great dish to make the day before, or even a few days before, your big meal. That means it adds to your dinner without adding to your kitchen work on the day of dinner itself.

We usually use double or triple the recipe to make sure we have enough to feed everyone and still have some leftovers.

So when you’re getting ready for Christmas dinner this year, grab some fresh cranberries and enjoy homemade cranberry sauce!


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We’re nearing the end of the Christmas season.  Did you stress about money?  Are you dreading your upcoming credit card bills?  Want to be in a better financial position next Christmas?

You can be in a completely different financial situation by next Christmas.  Imagine not being burdened by Christmas expenses before or after the holidays.  Think about how nice it will be to just enjoy the season and spend time with loved ones without being overwhelmed by money stress.

I’m going to share with you 3 things you can do now that will put you in a better position financially for next Christmas.

1- Calculate your total Christmas spending from this year

While Christmas is still fresh, go through all of your receipts and think back on everything Christmas-related that you spent money on.  Add it all up to find out how much you spend on Christmas this year.

Here are some categories you’ll want to be sure to include:

  • Christmas cards— Include price of cards and postage
  • Travel— Driving to Grandma’s house? Flying to New York? Staying in hotels and eating on the road? Include all expenses for your trips
  • Gifts— Who did you buy presents for? Immediate family, extended family, neighbors, teachers, friends, bosses, co-workers? Include:
    • Stocking stuffers
    • Wrapping supplies
    • Mailing gifts
  • Holiday Treats— For your family and to share
  • Food— Are you hosting a meal or attending a holiday potluck?  Do you go to a certain restaurant every Christmas Eve?
  • Decorations— Be sure to include the tree if that’s an annual expense
  • Charitable Giving— What special giving do you do during the holidays?
  • Other— Does your family have another tradition that involves an expense?  Maybe you go see the Nutcracker or ride the Polar Express.

When you’ve written down an exhaustive list of spending in each category, add everything up to get a grand total for Christmas spending.

This might sound tedious. You might feel buyer’s remorse.  You might think that you really don’t want to know how much you spent.  And you might be shocked when you see how much you really spend on Christmas! But knowing how much you spent is important for making a plan and being prepared for next year.

2-Make a plan for next year

Now that you know how much you spent on this year’s Christmas, it’s time to make plans for how much you want to spend next year.  Would you like next year’s Christmas to look the same as this year’s as far as spending goes?  Do you plan to scale back?  Or do you want to have a bigger budget to work with?

There’s not a right answer.  It’s completely up to you– it’s your holiday and your money.  Make any adjustments to your Christmas plans for next year and come up with a dollar amount for next year’s Christmas budget.

Now that you know how much your Christmas budget will be, we need to make a plan to come up with that amount of money.

–I think the easiest way to do it is to just take the total, divide by 12 and budget that amount in each month.  You don’t have to do it like that though.

–You could set aside a certain amount out of every paycheck.

–Maybe some months you get an additional paycheck (like when a month has 5 Fridays) and you decide that your Christmas fund will come from one of those paychecks.

–If you’re a cash user you could even do one of those $5 challenges where you save every $5 bill that you get.  Do what works best for you, but make a plan.

Decide where you’re going to keep your Christmas fund.

–You could get a free saving account that you transfer money into.  One of my blog readers, Rebecca, said that her bank offers a “Christmas Club” for this purpose.

–If you use budgeting software like YNAB that acts like a digital envelope system, then you can just leave the money in your checking account.  Since you spend according to budget category balances instead of your checking account balance you won’t accidentally spend that money that’s earmarked for Christmas.

–If you’re a cash envelope user, you could have a cash envelope designated for your Christmas money.  You could even have a wrapped Christmas gift box where you stash all of those $5 bills!

3- Start tracking your expenses

When you first start budgeting it’s hard to know how much money to allocate to each category.  If you haven’t been tracking your expenses you might not have any idea how much you’ve been spending in each category.

Not only will you set a better budget when you know how much you spend, you’ll also become much more aware of each and every time you spend money.  You’ll see how all of the little expenses add up. Sometimes you’ll find that what your spending money on is completely unrelated to what you think your actual priorities are! Knowing where your money is going is the only way to start making more intentional decisions about how you spend.

Much like tracking food intake when you’re on a diet, tracking your spending makes you hyper aware THAT you are spending.  Knowing you’ll have to write the expense down may prevent you from making it, or at least  make you think about it before you make the purchase.

Join the Frugal Fresh Start Challenge

We’ll talk more about tracking expenses, budgeting, and improving your finances in the Frugal Fresh Start Challenge.  When you sign up for the challenge, you can download the free workbook.

I’m so excited for you to get your finances in a better place for next Christmas.  I’m excited for you to be able to relax and enjoy the special season without the financial stress you may have felt in the past.

Making big changes won’t be easy.  It will take discipline to create new habits.  You’ll have to make sacrifices.  But staying in the same place you’re at right now? That might not be easy either.

I hope you’re feeling hopeful.  You can make huge financial strides between now and next Christmas.  You’ve got this!


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I love hearing about different families’ traditions on Christmas morning.  The beautiful thing about Christmas morning traditions is that most of them don’t cost a thing.  If your family is looking to adopt some new traditions for Christmas morning, then stay tuned because that’s what we’re sharing today!

Let’s talk about simple, frugal Christmas morning traditions.  I would love for you to share your family’s favorite Christmas morning traditions in the comments!

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Whip up a batch or two of your favorite cinnamon rolls to bake on Christmas morning.  If you have a freezer version, you can make them ahead of time so you don’t have to stress about them at all on Christmas Eve.

Reading Luke 2

Before we start opening presents, we read together the story of the first Christmas as recorded in Luke chapter 2 of the Bible.  We’ll usually sing a couple of Christmas carols together and have a family prayer. We remind the kids that we give gifts to one another in memory of the greatest gift that God gave to the world, his Son. This sets the tone of gratitude for our family.

Opening presents one by one in age order

We always open gifts one by one.  Not only does this make the magic of gift opening last longer, but it gives everyone a chance to see what everyone got and gives them a chance to thank the giver (if they’re there).  We go around from youngest to oldest and everyone opens one gift on their turn.  Sometimes mom and dad will skip rounds since we usually don’t have as many gifts as the kiddos.  If there is an uneven number of gifts (which there often is), the children who are out of gifts will open one of the family gifts (usually a game, movie, or something to be shared by the whole family).

Calling Family

When I was growing up we lived far from family (like two thousand miles away), so we rarely got to see them. Christmas was a time when we talked to grandparents on the phone.  With all the advances in technology, our kids have many more options for communication with far away family, but it’s still special to talk to everyone on Christmas day.

How about you?

  • What Christmas morning traditions does your family have?  Please share a favorite in the comments below!

Tomorrow, we’ll be talking about teaching your children to receive with gratitude.


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Merry Christmas friends!  It’s the last day of our Frugal Festivities series and today we’re talking about gratitude.  Specifically let’s talk about how to teach your kids to receive with gratitude.

If you’re reading this on Christmas day, then you might have a renewed desire to teach your kids about gratitude after watching them plow through piles of presents.   Or you might be appreciating how gracious and grateful your kids have been.  Either way, I hope you will share your ideas and your struggles in the comments.  I’m no expert, but I want to share what has helped in our family.

Helping kids to feel and express gratitude is something that should last all your long, not just around the holidays. And not just about physical gifts.  Helping kids to notice and really think about their opportunities and privileges, gives them a perspective that will lead them to be more appreciative and less entitled. It really is an attitude that we can model and cultivate that will lead to a happier life.

So what can you do?  Here are 5 ideas:

Recognize Blessings

As you recognize blessings in your life, point them out to your children.  You might have an inner dialogue of “Gee, I’m really thankful that…” or “What a blessing that….” but if your kids don’t hear that dialogue they won’t know.  Hearing your daily expressions of gratitude will instill thoughts of gratitude in them.

Model Gratitude

Let your kids hear you saying thank you for both big and little things.  Thank them for the things they do to help your family.  Let them see you writing thank you notes and expressing gratitude both to people in person and behind their backs.

Pray together

When we pray we give thanks out loud for blessings and tender mercies we have received from God.  Praying daily both as individuals and as families gives us a chance to reflect on what we are thankful for.  We often discuss things we are grateful for before family prayer and will often remind that child who has been asked to be the voice of the prayer, “remember to thank Heavenly Father for…”

Write thank you cards

Help your children write thank you cards for gifts they receive from anyone on any occasion. When you give a teacher appreciation gift, have your child think about the reasons they are thankful for their teacher and express those thoughts in a written card.

Don’t over-gift

Be careful not to give so many gifts so that your children are overwhelmed with stuff and can hardly even remember what they should be grateful for.  When we give our kids everything they want, we help breed an entitlement mentality.  Sometimes the best way to teach gratitude is to NOT give our kids everything they want, so they can focus on all that they DO have.

I hope these five simple tips help you build grateful character in your children.  When children (and adults) truly have an attitude of gratitude they see the world with different eyes.  I love the Alphonse Karr quote, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns, I’m grateful that thorns have roses.”

A perspective like this will increase happiness and self worth, and reduce insecurity and entitlement in kids and adults.  It may be a good thing to focus on in the new year.


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Having trouble thinking of the perfect gift? Stop considering "stuff" and give an experience instead. Here are some great ideas for gifts of experience for all ages!

If you’ve ever had trouble thinking of a gift for the people in your life, I have the perfect solution for you!

In a society where excess is so prevalent, one of the biggest gift-giving worries is knowing what to give the person who already has everything they want or already has enough.

It’s not just seasoned adults that fit into this category.  While our parents might not want for anything, our children could also have plenty.

There are even lists of ideas for people who “already have everything,” full of wacky new gadgets or new items to add to ongoing collections.

But the truth is, most people don’t need more stuff.

For kids, stuff is exciting for a week or two (a month if you’re lucky), but then it starts to gather dust (on the shelf, if you’re lucky).  Kids rooms and play areas become cluttered with the toys, games and clothes they are showered with.

While your house may not look like an episode of Hoarders (thankfully), you still probably have more stuff than you need.

What can you give that isn’t more “stuff”?

Give gifts of experience instead!

Gifts of experience are consumed, instead of turning into clutter, breaking, or gathering dust.  The experiences and memories created from doing something can far outlast the pleasure of getting something.

Having trouble thinking of the perfect gift? Stop considering "stuff" and give an experience instead. Here are some great ideas for gifts of experience for all ages!

They could be tried and true like a gift card to a favorite restaurant or a season pass to a local zoo the family loves.

Or they could be totally new like tickets to a cultural event or lessons to learn a new skill.

Gifts of experience can be adapted to whatever your budget is.  I’ll start with some you can spend money on and then share some great ways that don’t cost a dime!

Spend money on gifts of experience instead of “stuff”

Here are some great ideas to get your creative juices flowing!

Tickets to a one-time event

Think sports events, plays, musicals, concerts, etc.

Last year, my in-laws received tickets to a symphony.  That’s something that they both totally enjoy, but not something they would ever buy for themselves.

The hard part about this is that you usually have to pick a certain date for tickets when you have no idea what their schedule is.  Usually you can get tickets far enough in advance that they can plan for it though.

Admission to fun places

Think zoos, museums, amusement parks, etc.

Instead of a ticket for a specific concert, you could also give a one-time admission to somewhere fun.  Most fun places that are open year round allow you to buy admission tickets ahead of time that are good for anytime (or at least have a wide variety of options for redemption).

Having trouble thinking of the perfect gift? Stop considering "stuff" and give an experience instead. Here are some great ideas for gifts of experience for all ages!

Lessons to learn something new

Have you ever thought of giving the gift of learning at Christmas?  Whether it’s a one time pottery or painting class, a series of dance classes, or a year of piano lessons, the gift of learning is a gift that sticks.

You can often find deals on gifts of learning on Groupon or Living Social.  My dad, an avid golfer, got my mom a series of golf lessons from a deal on Groupon.  She was excited to learn and he was excited to have someone (that wasn’t him) teach her.

Last year my friend’s husband totally surprised her with a cello and lessons for Christmas so she could fulfill a lifelong dream to learn to play the cello.

Gift certificate for a restaurant

Whether it’s a restaurant in the area that is already a favorite, or something new they haven’t tried, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with food.  Keep their personalities in mind.  Some prefer dining in (and don’t mind covering a tip), while others would love getting takeout instead.

My parents can be tough to buy for.  They surely don’t need any “stuff.”  When they need something they just go and buy it.  Last year we got them a gift certificate for a restaurant we thought they would enjoy.

Membership or Season passes to a fun or educational place

You can get a membership or season tickets at many zoos, aquariums, museums, science centers, and amusement parks.  In fact, the price is often not much more than a one- or two-time admission.  Depending on the location, the price may be individual or by family.  When it’s a family pass or membership, sometimes the price is the same no matter the number of family members, making it a great gift for big families.

Unlike tickets to a specific event, a season pass can completely work around the person’s or family’s schedule.  They can go as often as they want.  In fact, it may really help the entertainment category of their budget to have something fun to do that’s already paid for.  And the bonus is that they will think of you every time they use their passes.

Having trouble thinking of the perfect gift? Stop considering "stuff" and give an experience instead. Here are some great ideas for gifts of experience for all ages!

Gifts of experience that don’t cost much

Giving an awesome gift of experience doesn’t have to cost much.  Think back to the “coupons” or “vouchers” you made for your mom for mother’s day when you were young.

This coupon is good for one free hug.

Redeem this certificate for a free car wash.

Turn this ticket in for breakfast in bed.

Gifts of experience can be as simple and sweet as your mother’s day coupons from decades past.  Think about a service that the recipient would really love and offer it to them as a gift.  Think of how you can use your own talents and skills.  Here are a few examples.


Homemade candlelight dinner for two


Car wash and detail

Guitar lessons

The list of services you could perform goes on and on.  The key is that you are giving something that isn’t a physical item that takes up space.  You are offering something that, while it may have a physical aspect (like pretty nails or a clean car), focuses on the experience or the process.

You could also give many of the experiences in the first list, only adapt them to be free.  Here are a couple of examples:

Instead of giving a gift certificate for a restaurant, you could create a restaurant atmosphere and try your hand at some copycat recipe.  Just search (on Google or Pinterest) for “copycat” plus the name of your favorite restaurant.  You can also add in the dish to get even more specific results.  I bet someone has done a hack on the recipe!

Instead of buying your grandchildren tickets for an event, host them for a “grandma camp” where you teach them something you’re good at (gardening, baking cookies, sewing, etc), share a yummy treat, play a favorite game and read a book.  You could create “Grandma’s theater” and have a fun movie and popcorn.  The best part is spending quality time with YOU!

Having trouble thinking of the perfect gift? Stop considering "stuff" and give an experience instead. Here are some great ideas for gifts of experience for all ages!

If you have some people that you’re planning to give to this year, why not come up with a gift of experience instead of stuff?  I bet it will be a hit!

I have a gift of experience up my sleeve for this Christmas, too!  But I can’t tell you about it yet!

How about you?

  • Have you ever given a gift of experience?
  • What gifts of experience have you received?

Originally published 13 Dec 2016, but updated to be included in the Frugal Festivities series.


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Homemade brownie mixes are perfect for your pantry and layered in a jar make great gifts. My kindergartner made these for teacher gifts.

Homemade brownie mix in a mason jar is a fast, easy, and inexpensive gift.  Plus the fudgy brownies are delicious!

Brownie mix in a jar is a great neighbor gift, teacher gift, or hostess gift.  Mixes in mason jars are quick to make, especially when you do them assembly line style.  I love gifts like this that are consumable and don’t create clutter.

Brownie mix in a jar is a gift that children can help make too!  Your kids will love being able to give their teachers a useful, delicious gift that they made themselves!

Homemade Fudgy Brownie Mix layered in a jar makes a frugal, thoughtful and delicious gift! Kids can even help make a teacher's gift.

I have a quick video below that will show you exactly how to make brownie mix in a jar along with tips to make your gift in a jar turn out beautiful.  Or you can keep scrolling for the details along with a printable recipe (for you) and printable tags (for the recipient).

Tips for layering brownie mix in a canning jar

  • This recipe is for a QUART mason jar.
  • The funnel that I use for canning works great to make sure everything gets into the jar without a mess.
  • Adding the ingredients in the order listed works best.  The chocolate chips need to be on the top, otherwise they will be buried and hidden.  The cocoa gets on the side of the jar, so it’s a good candidate for going near the top.
  • Shake each layer down so it’s flat before adding the next layer.  For brown sugar, you’ll want to use a spoon.
  • If you prefer brownies without nuts, leave them out and fill their space with more chocolate chips.

Homemade Fudgy Brownie Mix

  • 1 cups + 2 Tablespoon flour
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions for Using Homemade Brownie Mix

Mix contents of jar with:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cups water
  • 2/3 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour into a greased 9″ square pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean.  Cool and enjoy!

Click here to download the printable PDF of the tags/labels.


Printable Recipe and Instructions for Making Brownie Mix in a Jar

Homemade Fudgy Brownie Mix


Homemade brownie mixes are perfect for your pantry. They also make great gifts when they’re layered in a jar!


Cuisine: Dessert


  • 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons flour
  • ⅔ cup packed brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅓ cups cocoa
  • ½ cups chocolate chips
  • ½ cups chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Add ingredients to a 1 quart canning jar (or quart-size zip-top plastic bag) in the order listed.
  2. Include the following instructions for using the mix:
  3. Mix contents of jar with: 2 eggs, ¼ c. water, ⅔ c. oil, 1 t. vanilla
  4. Pour into a greased 9″ square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!



Click here to see the rest of the series Frugal Festivities: 25 Days of Christmas Cheer on a Budget series

Homemade Fudgy Brownie Mix. Make your own brownie mix from scratch instead of buying boxes at the store. Layered in a jar, homemade brownie mix makes a frugal and delicious gift!

Originally published 30 May 2014 but updated to be included in the Frugal Festivities series.


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Want to simplify Christmas and make it more meaningful, while saving money at the same time?  Today we’re going to talk about why you might seriously consider staying home with your immediate family for Christmas.  You might not be able to change your plans for this year, but as you’re considering plans for future years, here are some great things to think about.  At the end we’ll share some ideas to handle sensitive family situations.

We’re on day 19 of our Frugal Festivities series.  If you missed any of our 25 days of Christmas Cheer on a Budget posts you can see them all here.

Ok, let’s talk about why you might want to forgo the trip over the river and thru the woods to grandma’s (or anyone else’s) house for Christmas.  Sounds kinda Grinchy at first, doesn’t it?!  But this is something I’ve heard over and over from my blog readers that has really helped them to scale back their Christmas budgets and increase the joy and meaning of Christmas.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have wonderfully successful Christmases with extended family– I’ve had them, both as a child and a parent– but it’s definitely something to think about if your Christmases with extended family are causing you stress, overspending, and sadness.

Consider staying home instead of traveling

Here are four reasons you might want to consider staying home instead of traveling. I’m not even going to mention the actual travel costs, but you’ll definitely want to take them into consideration.  If you have additional ideas please share them in the comments.

Traveling with kids over the holidays is EXHAUSTING.  Well, traveling with kids is exhausting period, but doing it over Christmas is even more overwhelming.  You have to pack all of your Christmas gifts up and squeeze them into your car or luggage while keeping them a secret. Depending on where you live, the weather may be treacherous during the Christmas season. Just thinking about driving in the snow makes me feel stressed!

Having Christmas morning with extended family can be STRESSFUL and AWKWARD, especially when there are cousins or kids from other families there.  We all want Christmas to be special and magical for our kids, but that can be hard when opening gifts side-by-side with family members who have different Christmas budgets and expectations.  Even just the fear of how kids will handle the inevitable comparisons is enough to be stressful.

Having Christmas with extended family might make you feel PRESSURE TO BUY MORE GIFTS.  Whether it’s buying a gift for great Aunt Sue just because she’ll be there at the family dinner, or feeling like you should buy more or bigger gifts for your kids because they’ll be opening them alongside their cousins, a gift that’s given out of duty or reluctance isn’t good for your budget and will not put you in the Christmas spirit.

At home you can establish your OWN FAMILY TRADITIONS. Those years we have traveled, our own traditions, even decorating our house, have fallen by the wayside.  There’s just something about decorating your own home, putting up your own tree, and just taking the Christmas season in without having to add travel to the itinerary.  One of the main reasons we stopped traveling at Christmas was so we could really establish our own Christmas traditions.

How to say no to holiday travel

So how do you say no to holiday travel without being seen as a scrooge or grinch?

Give reasons that won’t offend.

Don’t blame others in your reasoning.  Use “I” or “we” statements to share how you feel rather than point fingers at others.

Say you want to try something new this year and want to have a more relaxed Christmas at home.

Explain that you feel it’s best for your kids and your family.  No one can argue with how you feel.

Try making a compromise by waiting until after Christmas to travel so you can still have your own traditions and a more intimate gift exchanging in your own home.  You won’t have to pack up the holidays and have the travel stress before Christmas, you won’t have the gift giving pressure or expectation to spend that you might have with extended family, but you’ll still have the opportunity to visit family and build strong family relationships.

How about you?

I would love to hear how you’ve handled traveling to spend Christmas with family.

  • Do you do Christmas morning with extended family? Is it a great experience?
  • What advice would you give to others in similar situations?


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