Dollar Store Christmas: How to Teach Gift-Giving Without Spending Much Money

Do the holidays sneak up on you and your budget? Even with the best of intentions, sometimes December rolls around and it becomes time to freak out about how to find enough money for Christmas. Especially if you want to have your kids give gifts to one another. That can double or triple the total outlay, depending on how many kids you have!

If this is you right now, take a deep breath. It's gonna be OK. I have an idea for how to keep the gift-giving going without a lot of money leaving your wallet. And the kids will love it! Mine did!

The Back Story

Many years ago the money was extremely tight as we were approaching Christmas. (Not that it hasn't been since then, lol.) In previous years there had been generous relatives who had sent gobs of things, and all we had had to do was fill in around the edges — but this year that was not happening, for one reason and another.

But what we had going for us then was that the kids were all pretty small. I think the oldest was maybe 12 or 13, which is big enough to want cool things but young enough to go along with it if no one else is getting anything super great. The littler ones just wanted things to unwrap; they didn't really care what they were. You can basically get away with murder for Christmas when the kids are young. :-)

On the other side of the coin (see what I did there? lol), one of the hardest things about Christmas with small children is how to teach them about giving to one another. Because it is important for them to learn that Christmas is about gift-GIVING, not just gift-receiving. But it's not like they have incomes of their own, right? And so that means the parents are gonna need to shell out EVEN MORE to buy gifts for the siblings to wrap and tag for each other.

So as Christmas approached lo those many years ago, I was pondering all these things. And it was probably the day before Christmas eve when I finally developed a plan. I don't remember what prompted me, but at some point I had a scathingly brilliant idea (although some might call it a wonderful, awful idea…) that just wouldn't go away. And it truly did make for a super fun Christmas.

What is a Dollar Store Christmas?

The kids and I took a trip to the local dollar store – the kind where everything really is only a dollar – and each one picked out presents for everyone else in the family. That's five kids, each picking out one gift for the six other people they live with, coming to a grand total of $30 (plus tax). This was doable financially, and it was even chaotically enjoyable! :-)

The older ones went in pairs for a little while, picking out for the youngers; the littles and I picked out for the olders; then we switched it all around and an older took a younger to help pick for the other olders… you get the picture. They all really got into trying to pick out the best thing for each person. Then there were the “Oh this thing will really be better than the other thing I picked out, so now I have to go put this first thing back” episodes; not to mention the trick of trying to hide everything so no one could see what they were getting – all of it added to the craziness fun. By the time we were done, we all knew that store from back to front, let me tell you!

Then it was home to wrap and get them under the tree, literally JUST in time for Christmas… But have you ever noticed that wrapping is also more enjoyable when you have picked out the gift yourself, rather than mom bringing something to you and saying, “This is what you're giving to your brother”? This is no less true for small tykes than for large ones. I love hearing the giggles from behind closed doors, and even the constrant cries of “where's the tape?” are not annoying when you have just been to the dollar store and stocked up! :-)

The thing is, Christmas doesn't have to be expensive. The littler kids really do NOT care, and they really do LOVE picking out things for others. And the dollar store is a great way to make that happen. Are the items “quality gifts”? Not in terms of craftsmanship or longevity, perhaps. But they are picked out just as carefully and lovingly as if from the grandest mall in the wealthiest city.  Isn't that the point?

You may wonder how the gift opening went; and the fact is it was also tons of fun.  It was so neat to see what each child had picked out for each other person, to hear their reasoning, and to see the joy when a gift was exclaimed over.  Nobody felt cheated or unsatisfied, and the gifts were played with and enjoyed.  The surprise of opening was just as exciting as if we had spent much more money.

In fact, we had so much fun doing our “Dollar Store Christmas” that the kids clamored to do it again for a few years after that. Now they are almost all teenagers/early 20's, and I hanker for the old days when $30 was enough to provide gift-giving for all of them.

What are ways that you have taught the idea of gift-GIVING to your children? I am really up for suggestions on how to make it happen with older children who still, for some reason, do not have any money of their own… :-)

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9 thoughts on “Dollar Store Christmas: How to Teach Gift-Giving Without Spending Much Money”

  1. Enjoyed this post, Ann! and how right you are!!! Some of my most blessed Christmas memories with my kids was back in the “poor” days (when we really were RICH!)!

  2. Thanks for this. I have a young one and this sparked ideas for me. What if you still had your kids do the dollar store thing only make it gag gifts! See what weird stuff they can come up with.

    1. Yes, that is a great idea, Sheila! Another one is to do a Secret Santa, where everyone picks one sibling name out of a hat and then has to choose things at the dollar store for that sibling and give them secretly over the days before Christmas… lotsa possibilities!! Thanks so much for the comment! :-)

  3. This is a GREAT idea! We have done similar things with our kids by going to the Dollar General store, or someplace else inexpensive. But, I like the idea of going to Dollar Tree or someplace where everything is only $1.00. Another idea is to have them all take the time to write out their own gift certificates for things the others will like. For example, a foot massage, shoulder massage, doing a chore for someone, or playing someone’s favorite game with them.

  4. We do something similar! My husband’s aunts and uncles used to buy all of the kids something for about 5 bucks each. It was always small stuff, but with several aunts/uncles doing it, we ended up with A LOT of little gifts. One year, we decided to pool the money and each aunt/uncle gave $5. The kids ended up with about $20-$30 each and they could buy one bigger gift that they wanted. (We all went shopping together and yes, it was chaotic!) The kids all loved it and it makes it so much simpler for the adults.

  5. Heya.

    In order to save money my parents tried a number of tried and tested methods. For example when my sister wanted a new bike they took her to the nearest cycle shop in town in question. In the bike shop, my sister was told to pick the cheapest one available from the options. They watched her try to decide, she was eight and a half at the time.

    I recall a day when I was eleven and I wanted a new plant to care for. Off we went to a garden centre two or three miles away. There I was asked to find two cheap ones to get. It worked.

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