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Ashley’s Christmas Budget


It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a detailed budget or financial analysis. In all honesty, I’m trying to keep some of that private while I’m going through the separation process, as we’re in negotiations and I don’t want to publicly post about anything related to that until its set in stone (aka: has been agreed to in writing in a legally binding document).

I do think we’re making headway in that regard (much more than in previous months), so hopefully I’ll be able to share more long-term financial plans soon. But in the meantime, I wanted to talk about Christmas budgets.

Since I moved out of the marital residence, I’ve been on a pretty strict budget. I’m trying to save as much as possible, as the financial future is a bit unpredictable at the current time. Unfortunately, I don’t feel comfortable making any big allowances for Christmas, so this year’s Christmas budget will be pretty minimal.

Our big gift from my Mom was to purchase the three of us (me + both kids) plane tickets to come back over part of the winter break. We’ll remain in Tucson for Christmas (hubs and I will split time with the girls on Christmas day), but we’ll be able to visit family in Austin over the New Years holiday timeframe. This was a super generous splurge from my mom, as we’ve always driven back as a family in the past and, while I know I can do the 14-hour drive solo, it’s certainly not preferable (especially in the winter when conditions can range from just a bit cold to downright snowy. I’ll never forget the year we almost got stuck in El Paso, as the highway shut down due to high snowfall).

Usually, our Christmas budget has been at least a few hundred dollars. This year I budgeted $125. That’s it. For everyone. The whole family: Grandparents, Great-Grandparents, My kids, My nephews, My sister, and My Kids’ Dad. Getting gifts for this many people on such a small budget is going to be tough.

Grandparents & Great Grandparents (Budget: $5)

We have 2 Grandmas and 2 Great-Grandmas. I plan to do small/sentimental picture gifts for them (e.g., the kids’ new school picture in an inexpensive dollar store frame). I already bought pictures back in October, so I’d only need to buy frames.

My Nephews (Budget: $40)

In the past, I’ve gotten small gifts for my 2 nephews (age 2 + 5) PLUS made a donation to their 529 college accounts. Not sure what to do about that because I really liked the college donation, but I’m really short on cash sooooooo…..yeah. Going to have to figure something out there. I’m only budgeting $20/nephew.

My Sister (Budget: $25)

My sister is one of my best friends and has always had my back through thick and thin, but perhaps more this year than ever before given the ongoings in my personal life. I know we’re adults and a lot of people will say not to get her anything, but I would like to do something for her, just to let her know I love her and am thankful for having her in my life.

Kids’ Dad (Budget: $15)

I don’t feel the need to send a gift from me, personally, but I think it would be nice to let the girls pick out something small to give their Dad for the holiday.

My Kids (Budget: $40)

Last but certainly not least, I’ve got to get my kiddos something! To be fair, on Black Friday I bought tickets (no expiration) to a local fun-park called Funtasticks. I like to do experience gifts so I think that will be fun and it was paid in November so it’s not part of the gift-giving budget for December. But I have literally zero presents under our tree right now and I’ve got to figure out some inexpensive but fun items I can have for them to unwrap. It’s going to look pretty barren this year already given that my Mom’s gift was the plane tickets and hubs’ Mom will send her gifts to Hubs’ house. The only gifts under our tree will be the ones I personally purchase. So even if it’s small, I need something for them to unwrap under there.

Looking at this long list of people to buy for, I’m feeling like it may be an impossible task to keep to $125 budget for everyone.  I was texting a friend the other day who said she’d just finished all of her holiday shopping and I wanted to yelp. I literally haven’t even come up with a gift list yet, much less bought anything from it!

Help me out! What are some ideas of inexpensive gifts I could get for the people on our list to help me stay within my tight budget?




  • Reply Den |

    Play doh!!!! You can get different sets – dentist, hair salon, kitchen creations, dinosaur, Tonka trucks, etc….and we love the Play doh Plus dough – it’s softer and easier for young kids to use.

    This would be great for your nephews too!

    Can usually get for $5-15.

    Related gift – kinetic sand – fun and easy for young kids to play with.

  • Reply Heather |

    Assuming that you already looked to be sure you don’t have any unused store credits/gift cards/store points you could use towards gifts?

  • Reply Hope |

    I can certainly relate to where you are at this year. And am also big on experience gifts!

    Here are some things I’ve done in the past, especially when the kids were younger:
    -Brownie or Cake mix for a baking day with mom, and it ends with a yummy dessert
    -Kids cook book and a “gift certificate for the groceries” they need to cook a meal for the family
    -Craft kit that includes yarn, those circular knitting kits are great and can keep them occupied or hours and grow
    -Sidewalk chalk and the promise of a day in the sun (maybe not something you want to do in Arizona) making art in your parking lot
    -Tie dye kit
    -McDonald gift cards – they used to make them look like dollars and the kids loved to go “spend” their money on an ice cream or fries
    -Empty CD case/microwave popcorn bag or their favorite candy with a “gift certificate” for a movie night from RedBox

    It’s amazing how much we stress over this and how much our kids will enjoy the simple things especially when they include time with mom.

  • Reply jp |

    oooo, I like the playdoh idea above! Also, coloring books and puzzles (those are still my favorites to get under the tree! a new set of crayons….ooooh man!) Also, skip the gift from the girls to the ex….that’s his issue now. Or, if you feel you absolutely must, do the same thing as the grandparents…get a $1 store frame and a picture of them, or have the girls color something for him and frame that.

  • Reply Andrea |

    Have the girls make ornaments for their Dad–using craft supplies that you already have. Or bake cookies that you can give to him AND to other family members as part of their gift.

    I would hit the dollar store or 5 below to pick up a few gifts that can bulk up the number of presents under the tree without breaking the budget.

    Sometimes TJ Maxx or Marshalls type stores have great deals on Melissa and Doug Toys. Might be a good place to check for things for your nephews and your girls.

  • Reply Shauna |

    Don’t worry about not being done with your shopping yet. Photo gifts for grandparents are great. I think for your sister you could write a nice letter and plan a day together doing something you both enjoy.

    As others have said a “free” homemade gift from the girls to your ex should be fine. (or photos).

    Oh for the girls you could make up Project packs from things you already have. (Paper doll kit, Oragami kit, https://papertoys.com/ ,etc.) Do you have any friends/ family that may have hand me down toys/ dress up clothes/ etc. that you could give for Christmas?

    • Reply Cwaltz |

      I looooved paper dolls as a girl. I think getting ones you could color would be a double bonus. I would totally have loved a pencil case with safety scissors and crayons with paper doll pages I could cut and color. You could even hit Michael’s for card stock to make them a little sturdier fairly cheap.

  • Reply Julie |

    Search your local Facebook marketplace or Craigslist for cheap toys or toy lots for cheap or if garage sales still Running in area look for those I still buy most of my kids toys used and they could care less they are not new in garage sale season i can get so
    Many $20 plus toys for $1-3 each

  • Reply Julie Monroe |

    Also H.M has cute girls sleeveless dresses for $2.99 in their clearance section of their online site some with cats and others more natural prints free shipping if u sign up for their emails which I’m sure u can unsubscribe once you get the coupon got a couple for my daughters for Christmas as they are starting to get to the age where they enjoy new clothes

  • Reply Brandy |

    I have an idea for your girls if you think many things for them to unwrap would be fun. I went to the Dollar Tree this year and created a few fun themed gift boxes for my son. I made an arts and crafts box and filled it with things like coloring books, markers, paint, school supplies he’s like to play with, play doh, etc. I also made a bath box with bath finger paint, bubble bath, and bath toys. You could also do an outside play box with things like bubbles, chalk, garden supplies jump rope, etc. You can get the gift boxes and wrapping paper from dollar tree too and make it something really nice and fun to open!

  • Reply Cwaltz |

    Target has Melissa and Doug jewelry small sets for $5.99 in the craft section. Lego has unikitty Lego set for $6.99 as well friends bedroom. My kids loved legos 2 of them still do as adults. They have hatchimal 48 piece puzzles where you build a “surprise animal you hatch for $7.99 or Lol surprise 60 piece puzzles for $6.99 with stickers to personalize. I love Hope ‘s idea of taking cake mix and wrapping it (maybe adding their own oven mitts and a wooden mixing spoon to the mix. You can also find recipes for play doh online (skip to my Lou has one)maybe with child 1 You have oven mitts mixing spoon and box mix and with child 2 you include a bowl, alum and some 3 for $1 cookie cutters.

  • Reply Hawaii Planner |

    For your friend, I’d write a really nice card. As an adult, I’d far prefer that over a gift, especially with your financial situation.

    For the kids, I second the recommendation to check on local Facebook swaps, BuyNothing groups, etc. There’s a ton of inexpensive stuff currently being posted on my local groups. Short of that, I’d do craft projects, baking projects (baking mix, etc), a puzzle & a book for each, perhaps a few hair clips. I think it would be reasonable to spend less than $50 & have 5 or so gifts for each.

  • Reply Katie |

    For your kids, they are young enough that not everything needs to be “brand new”, I second the idea of yard sale sites, thrift stores, etc. You can pick up clothes, books, toys, etc. at a fraction of the cost! They will just be happy to open some things, it doesn’t all have to be shiny and new! I also love the idea of something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read that a lot of people do.

  • Reply MP |

    Nail polish, to have a mani/ pedi at home. Coupons for use throughout the year – choose inexpensive activities – go out for ice cream, trip to candy store, go out for dinner. Allows to spread out spending, rather than putting out money all at once. Dollar store photo booth/ fashion show? Dress yourselves up on Christmas morning with crazy stuff from $ store, take pics.

  • Reply Laura |

    I third the suggestions to check your local swap groups for toys for the kids. Buy small stuff from the dollar store. Kids that age like having stuff to unwrap. Buy candy for stockings, if you do those.

    This won’t help you this year but check out after season and holiday clearance racks throughout the year and save it for birthdays or Christmas. Flip flops or swimsuits after summer is over, glow sticks and dress up stuff after Halloween, crayons, markers, and backpacks after school starts, etc.

    Let their Dad’s family worry about getting him a gift from the kids. You don’t have the money to spare. Or have them draw a picture or do a craft with supplies you already have.

  • Reply Libby |

    Can I suggest your local used bookstore, maybe even for the majority of the presents? Most used bookstores charge 1/2 the cover price (sometimes less for kids books) BUT if you have credit the credit usually will knock the price down to 1/4 the cover price. ESPECIALLY for the girls it would let you get them a lot of high impact, low price books. I’ve heard that Booksmans is fantastic!

  • Reply Anon |

    For the nephews, look at bath colors. They’re little tabs you toss in the tub and they turn the water the color of the tab. For them and for your kids, don’t underestimate the Target dollar stop. One of my kids favorite gifts from a few years ago was a ball that lit up when you bounce it. $3.

  • Reply andrea |

    Oh–check out whether your local library has a book sale or if there are any of those little free libraries in your area see f they have kids books. Those would be free (or nearly free) and a great gift for kids.

    And look for something for yourself too if you like reading. Now that I’m divorced I always buy myself a gift!

  • Reply Walnut |

    Craft supplies coupled with coupons! A little bit of cash can go a long way and it provides lots of activities. If you think ahead, you can choose stuff that will translate to DIY valentines in a couple months.

  • Reply Megan |

    Is your sister a wine person? You could pick up a nice (not crazy $) wine and card for that price. It sounds like one of the most impactful things you could do would be to spell out just how much you appreciate her being there for you in a note/card.

    For nephews… I am pro play dough. Also, I just my two year old Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow! Reusable Water-Reveal Activity Pads. They are great for coloring skills but don’t let a kid color the walls and are about $5 a pop so you could pick up more than one or pair it with something else.

    I have seen brand new board games at goodwill (still wrapped) but you could also pick up some fairly inexpensive games that are good for 3 or 4 year old and up. That would be a nice nephew or daughter gift because then some of the family could play. Chutes and ladders, Candyland, jenga.

    I think a crafting gift for the girls dad would also be nice. Something made by your kids is always close to the heart and often cost-effective.

  • Reply Rachel |

    A few more ideas:

    Another blog, The Prudent Homemaker, has lots of ideas for cheap/homemade gifts in her Gift a Day series that she did for a few years: http://www.theprudenthomemaker.com/make/a-gift-a-day
    Most of these are way above my sewing/crafting skill level but there are lots of other ideas that could fill up under your Christmas tree (e.g., homemade pretty bookmarks, Dollar Tree puzzles, homemade headbands/hairbows).

    My Dollar Tree usually has fun activity books (Mad Libs, word searches) that would be fun for the kids. You could also try to use a JoAnn’s/Michael’s coupon to get some pretty beads and stretchy string to make fun jewelry with the kids.

  • Reply dh |

    I think you’re doing great, but one thing I would consider would be group gifts with your siblings. Not for most of the people on your list, but maybe for the grandparents.

    Your parents are not on this list, perhaps you’re already planning to do that for them.

    Our kids often give us group gifts. We LOVE having fewer, more thoughtful gifts, and knowing that pooling their money makes gift-giving less expensive for each of them.

  • Reply Reece |

    Do you have a half priced books store near you? They always have a ton of like new or new items like books, dvds, games, craft kits, and etc.
    for your sister maybe a lovely ornament for her tree with a handwritten card?

  • Reply Ann |

    I’ve been thinking and thinking about your Christmas, Ashley. My kids are grown now, but some of their favorite gifts were not purchased new or were not purchased at all.
    I found that scarves were such fun for them to play with — they can become entire dress up outfits, or they can be used to tie things, to pretend wrap presents, etc. So if you have any ones you don’t use any more that would be a cheap gift. And they are usually available at Goodwill and other used clothing stores.
    A puppet theater can be a no-spend gift. I’m making one now from a box, although on pinterest you can find quite a few made from tri-fold boards (think science fair boards). Then making puppets is almost as much fun as playing with them. The easiest ones are made with lunch bags — so a few brown paper lunch bags and a few markers can provide a ton of fun for the girls.
    And I would just make play-doh or give the kids a “Play doh making kit”. So easy — flour, salt, water and cream of tartar. SO CHEAP! They can use food coloring to make any number of colors.
    I know your Christmas will be lovely — with those great kids of yours. Sending good thoughts.

  • Reply Jazz |

    This is a little delayed, but I kind of like the idea of the 4 gift rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. You could do that from either you or Santa (I’d personally do it from you) and then 1 gift from the other. That gives each girl 5 gifts with a special meaning.

So, what do you think ?