9 Holiday Ideas To Avoid A Capitalist Christmas (2018)

Presents.  Trees. Gift giving.  Just general overspending.  If you take a look around at how most people celebrate Christmas these days, it’s all about the spending!

Capitalism has officially taken over Christmas, and has convinced everyone that spending is the right way to do it.

Even the cultural mythos surrounding Christmas is supportive of this whole “spend with abandon” behavior… and social pressure is a very powerful thing.  You might get called a Scrooge or find a lump of coal in your stocking (and fewer holiday party invites next year), if you don’t partake in the orgy of holiday spending.

What can a person do about it?  Are we resigned to living in a Capitalist Christmas world?

I don’t think so!  Our family isn’t big on monetary gifts, but we do enjoy the spirit of caring that surrounds the holiday season.  Caring for others should NOT be about how much money can be spent.

The good news is, even today you don’t need to spend a bunch of money to show someone you care.  You can celebrate Christmaswithout racking up large piles of debt!

For the Tako family, we have a number of way we partake in the spirit of the Holidays and show caring without spending a lot.

Here’s a few of our favorite low-cost holiday ideas…

1. Gifts from the Buy Nothing Project

We’re big believers in the Buy Nothing Project (and other free communities).  We love our local Buy Nothing group.  We give and get tons of stuff from this community and it’s saved us thousands of dollars over the years.

There’s no rule that says a Christmas gift has to be new!

In previous years we’ve given the kids “new to them” bikes, legos, games, and even clothes from the Buy Nothing Project.  All completely free and in good shape.

Tako Jr.'s By Nothing Christmas bicycle
Tako Jr.’s first bike was a “Buy Nothing” bicycle we gifted to him back in 2015.  He learned to ride on this bike and has now passed it down to his little brother.

It’s worth mentioning that we don’t just take from this community either…. every year before Christmas we have the kids select a batch of toys they want to give back into to the Buy Nothing Community.  This perpetuates the giving cycle and makes certain that other kids get a chance to have a bit of fun at Christmas… completely free!


2. Make a Gift

Another great way to show some you care is to make a gift for your loved ones.  This is my favorite way to give gifts, but it should also be done in a fiscally responsible way.  (Sometimes homemade gifts can end up costing more than just buying them in a store!)

The key is to use resources already available to you, NOT something you’ll need to spend a bunch on supplies for.

This year I made fancy picture frames for all the adults we’re giving gifts to.  I don’t profess to be an expert woodworker by any means, but I have a few woodworking tools from DIY projects around the house.  I also know how to source free wood.  With a little practice I’ve learned to make some decent gifts.

frame small
One of the many pictures frames I created this year and gave as a gifts.

For the kids, I decided to make board games.  This style of game is affectionately known as a “Print and Play” board game.  Someone else designs the game, puts the files on the internet, and anyone can freely download and print-out their own copy.

pnp games for Christmas
A smattering of some of the “print ‘n’ play” games I made for my kids for Christmas.  From left to right: Otto The Octopus, Micropul, and Washing Lines.

Sure, making these games takes some effort, but the monetary costs are tiny — paper, cardboard, glue, one very sharp X-acto knife, and some Posca Paint Pens.  That’s it!

Before you dismiss these games as being “bad” or “unprofessional”, here’s one interesting fact — Even some of the hottest new games now have free Print and Play versions online.  One of this year’s hottest new board games is called “Root” and it’s completely sold out in stores.  You can’t find a copy of this game anywhere in stores… it’s that hot!!  Yet you can find the official (and free) print and play files online, right here.

How awesome is that?

If you’re not in to board games, there’s plenty of other homemade gift ideas out there too — cooking & baking, woodworking, artwork, homemade robots, sewing, or even a 3D printed gift!  With so many options at your fingertips and plenty of resources at your disposal, there’s no reason to buy a gifts anymore!


3.  Gifts from Thrift Stores & Craigslist

Put this one in the “gifts for very little money” category.  Some people don’t mind if an item is used or new.  If that’s the case for folks on your Christmas list, use your local thrift stores or Craigslist to find very lightly used items.

My kids love getting new toys and games, and they don’t mind if they’re used.  One year Tako Jr. #1 got some new rain boots from the thrift store for Christmas.  (He loves rain boots.)  We lined up all his rain boots and asked him which were his favorite.  He chose the one from the thrift store.

Kids simply don’t care as much about ‘new’ versus ‘used’.

Can you identify the thrift store boots? Tako Jr. couldn’t!

4.  ‘Free’ Amazon Gift Cards  

Gift cards can be generated for ‘free’ from sites like Bing Rewards or from trade-in items on the Amazon Trade-In program.

Free how?

In the case of Bing Rewards, perform Bing.com searches, and generate points.  Points can be exchanged for different kinds of gift cards.  I can generate about $10 in Amazon Gift cards a month, and we used a ton of these gift cards to help pay for Christmas gifts this year.

We’ve been generating free gift cards using Bing Rewards for years now, and I even did a post on the topic!

Besides browsing on the internet, you can also generate gift cards via the Amazon Trade-In program.  You simply send in you unused ‘trade-in’ items like old Books, Video Games, or Consumer Electronics.  In exchange, Amazon sends you gift cards, to buy anything you like!


5.  Homemade Holiday Cards

Apparently some people still *buy* holiday cards, but in recent years holiday cards from places like Costco, Snapfish, or Shutterfly have become very popular with our circle of friends.  These companies put out really slick personalized Christmas cards, and all you have to do is upload your own photos.

The thing is — these cards cost money!  Usually around $1-$3 per card (after taxes and shipping).

Really?!?!  It costs mere pennies to print something with an inkjet printer!  It’s easy enough to get a photo from your digital camera, grab some snowflakes from OpenClipArt, and maybe a Holiday font from DaFont.  Then, whip up a holiday card in you favorite vector graphics editor like Adobe Illustrator (or a free program like Inkscape)!

Easy peasy!


6.  Re-Gift

Re-gifting has something of a bad reputation, but I see nothing wrong with packaging up a unused gift from previous years and passing it on to someone who might make better use of it.  It’s a great use of resources already available to you at no cost.

In some circles however, regifting isn’t OK.  It’s a social thing, and you’ll have to make that determination for your personal social group.  Be sure to check if regifting is OK before you re-gift someone last year’s unused crystal candy dish and get all those requisite dirty looks.


7.  The Homemade Coupon

What’s a Homemade Coupon?  Exactly what it sounds like — The giver creates a neatly printed “coupon” stating that it can be redeemed for a specific personal service at a later date.  Back massages, home-made meals, free babysitting, or ‘Dinner And A Movie’ are favorites around our house.  This is also great gift idea for kids who tend to have more free time than money.

Careful though — This gift can backfire if it’s given to the wrong person.  Think carefully about the individuals involved!  Grandma might not want a Swedish massage.


8.  Dollar Store Stocking Stuffers

While not everything at the dollar store is a dollar anymore, it’s still an ultra low cost way to find stocking stuffers.  We love Daiso, the Japanese dollar store found on the west coast.  They have fantastic Japanese style goods at dollar store prices —  Perfect for stocking stuffers or small little gifts, that won’t break the bank.

The stockings are ready!
These stockings are ready for stuffing!  Dollar store to the rescue!

9. Last Year’s Holiday Wrapping Paper

Holiday wrapping paper is one of those things people put hardly any thought into.  It’s too easy to put a fresh roll into your shopping cart every year (at full price) and think nothing of it….  $5 to $10 per roll (depends upon the size) doesn’t register as a big expense.

In previous years iterations of this frugal holiday post, I’d recommended printing your own wrapping paper, but it’s actually far cheaper to buy discounted wrapping paper than it is to print your own!

Simply put, the best time to buy holiday wrapping paper is after Christmas.  You can find it deeply discounted after Christmas — from December 26th through January 1st.

Retailers typically don’t want to hold that gift wrap as inventory for an entire year, so they’d rather sell at a HUGE discount.  Take advantage of it!

Yes, you do need to hang onto it for a year, but the discount sure beats paying full price!


Got more frugal holiday ideas? Share how you keep your holiday spending under control!

16 thoughts on “9 Holiday Ideas To Avoid A Capitalist Christmas (2018)

  • August 12, 2016 at 8:35 PM

    Daiso is also a favorite of mine.

    We are traveling to Spain and were able to pick up neck pillows for $3 each, as well as, eye masks, ear plugs, slippers(the bathroom floor on the plane is gross) and a money belt all for $1.50 each.

    All those items would have come to about $100 each on Amazon or at Whole Foods.

  • August 12, 2016 at 8:36 PM

    I meant for each of us…not each item=(.

  • December 15, 2016 at 1:57 AM

    We went to Ikea last year after christmas. Holiday wrapping paper was on sale for 19 Cents/roll. Can’t beat that price. I think ink and paper would have been more expensive.

    • December 15, 2016 at 8:14 AM

      In that specific instance, yes. But far less fun than making your own.

  • December 22, 2018 at 6:15 PM

    You can get wrapping paper from the dollar tree for 10 cents a roll after Christmas!!!! Also, if you like to have the decorator, over the top tree and wreaths, when the craft picks, floral and ribbons get marked way down at the craft store, that is the time to get them. If you take care of them they last forever.

    Happy Christmas, Tako family!

  • December 22, 2018 at 8:12 PM

    I think *fingers crossed* that I convinced my sister not to get us anything this year, which was harder than you might think. I asked for homemade gifts from her kiddos. For my niece and nephew, I’m doing a mixture of small store bought and homemade gifts. I bought my niece a personalized rolling pin so that when she rolls out sugar cookies (or play doh), it will have her name on it. I found a few kid sized kitchen items (especially excited about the tiny powdered sugar sifter!) on sale and I’m going to make an apron, and bring over sugar cookie dough so we can make cookies. Same idea but a different theme for my nephew. Having a theme is helping me spend less money because I don’t get tempted by random, cute items at the store that they don’t need.

    I think the best way to cut back on cost and not hurt feelings is to have an honest discussion early on. I started the talk about no gifts with my sister in August and have mentioned it several times since then. My husband I talked about what we were doing gift-wise (stocking stuffers only) before Thanksgiving. I still wanted to purchase gifts for my parents (nice framed photos) but asked them several times not to get us much and they spent less than they usually would, which is progress!

    • December 23, 2018 at 12:06 AM

      Absolutely! An honest discussion and setting expectations goes a long ways toward paring down a expensive family Christmas celebration!

      Happy Holidays Bec B! 🙂

  • December 22, 2018 at 11:18 PM

    I know it’s still money, but we usually gift food, booze(for adults) or clothes(for the kids). At least that way, we know it’s a practical gift. My nieces and nephews would still need the clothes anyway, and all the chocolate, coffee and booze will always get consumed. Between me and one of my sisters in law, we cover the entire family: 15 people and counting, with stuff that they want and they would have bought anyway. It’s not perfect, nor free, but at least it’s not crappy stuff that would never get used and would have ended up thrown away in the landfill.

    • December 23, 2018 at 12:09 AM

      I like the idea of practical gifts! We often try to give practical gifts to the adults that will appreciate it, but for the kids they can only take so many pairs of socks. So, we try to be a little bit more fun for the kiddos and include some impractical things. 🙂

      Happy Holidays raluca!

      • December 23, 2018 at 1:55 AM

        Happy Holidays to you too Mr Tako, and a Happy New Year for you and your family.

  • December 24, 2018 at 9:02 AM

    Happy holidays Mr. Tako!
    I am starting to look at lowering my landfill carbon footprint significantly (having a moment to have these thoughts with the two year old-sad sigh looking at a baggie I just threw out that held my work lunch). My colleague and I spent more on gift bags or reused gift bags as 1/ can reuse them, and 2/ no time to wrap with small children!

    I am working hard to think of ways in a too busy life to reduce waste, as I enter the final FIRE laps!
    Many blessings, Tigermom, miracle baby and marshmellow dad

  • December 27, 2018 at 1:49 AM

    Oh wow. I had no idea you use Buy Nothing Project too! That’s awesome. My wife and I do a lot more giving than receiving through Buy Nothing. It’s a great community builder too!

  • December 27, 2018 at 3:57 PM

    Thanks for all the awesome gift ideas! I especially love the printed game idea. Way to save the environment by being so resourceful!

    • December 27, 2018 at 4:04 PM

      Thanks FIRECracker! I love the printed games too. We’ve been playing them all week with the kids, and they’re relatively cheap and easy to put together since we already have paper, glue, and cardboard around the house!

      Very little environmental impact, and when we’re done all the paper and cardboard bits can be recycled! 😀

      Good family fun!

  • December 29, 2018 at 12:59 PM

    Cut your own greenery! I’ve been cutting down branches for wreaths and cut my tree on our land. That pine smells like the holidays and gets me out into the woods hiking. Fun & free!


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