Some Thrifting Hacks at Christmas

I enjoy saving money. Any time of year is great, but it feels especially satisfying at Christmas.

These are a few of those “satisfying” hacks that I’ve used at various times through the years; nothing here is likely to shave 100s of dollars off your credit card bill, but little things do add up (and I also love to reduce overall waste/consumption, and several of these suggestions pull double duty).

buy less

This may seem very Scroogey – and I know gift-giving can be a very important part of certain relationships – but I think the best way to save money over Christmas is to buy less. (I’ve mentioned this piece of advice before with regard to clutter – the best way to avoid clutter, is to buy less stuff!).

We’ve really narrowed down our gift exchanges over the year. I feel quite festive and giving, but we’ve mutually agreed to stop exchanging with almost all sets of friends, and only exchange with family who is visiting at Christmas (along with my in-laws who live out of province). We give teacher gifts and gift cards to our mail-carrier and the school crossing guard, but that’s about it (though this year included a very fun SecretSanta exchange)

Not buying (or shipping) gifts to distant friends/family saves a lot of money! I do send out oodles and oodles of photocards, though…

buy early/On sale

This one can be tricky – if you buy things all year long and don’t have a cut-off point, it could be easy to keep buying items right up to Christmas and spend even more money!

But…if you’re referring to a running list of gift ideas, this can be a great way to save money.

Since I know each Christmas Eve we’re going to exchange ornaments, I usually stock up in early January when things are reduced in the post-Christmas sales. This is also when I buy Christmas cards, wrapping paper and Scotch tape (which is always on clearance, but I use tape throughout the year for other purposes, too).

Also, some seasonal items are hard to get at Christmas (for example, if you want to gift a new bike or fishing rod, December 24th in Canada is not the time to find these items in store!)


My husband and I both come from very frugal households and, when possible, we prefer sourcing items second-hand. It feels like a game, and it’s a great way to get high-quality items for significantly less money. Our kids also love frugal finds, so our son will think nothing of finding an action figure from a thrift shop under the tree. Abby is getting a second-hand smartwatch for Christmas (off Kijiji, a Craiglist equivalent), there are a number of second-hand books making an appearance, and a nice sweater for another family member.

Regifting is a touchy subject and I understand people have very strong feelings about the practice. Mostly, I don’t regift but have no problem doing it when the situation is right. I tend to donate items that don’t fit a need, but occasionally I receive something that just feels spot-on for someone else [sorry Joy – that tea towel I gave you this year was a re-gift; somehow I know you, of all people will be okay with that, hence why we’re kindred spirits]. And I’ve given items to friends specifically for them to regift to their children (games, toys, clothes, even a few small kitchen appliances).

recycle christmas cards as luxury tags

I took this picture weeks ago without trying to highlight the recycled Christmas card tags, but they’re visible on lots of packages!

Maybe everyone does this? Maybe nobody does? It’s all I’ve ever known! Every year after Christmas my Mom would go through her giant stack of Christmas cards and cut off the fronts of most of them to be stored away until the following year when she would use them for large gift tags. It was so much fun to flip through her selection to find the perfect coordinating match between card and wrapping paper.

Large gift tags can be expensive and this is a great way to upcycle cards that would otherwise head straight to the garbage. I would say at least 1/2 our gifts have recycled card tags. (I tape them down, so if there was a message inside the card, it’s not visible). Most of the time I can’t be bothered…but if there is an especially nice card I will sometimes store the used tag for ANOTHER Christmas (I will, inevitably, always give a gift to Abby signed with love from Mommy and Daddy).

give experiences

While I’m a big fan of giving (and receiving) gift cards, free experiences can be a great gift option to save money and promote memories. I’m making a coupon book for the kids this year which is set to include:

  • A free pass from emptying the dishwasher (Abby)
  • A weeknight sibling sleepover (Levi)
  • Choosing the snack for the movie (Levi)
  • Adding one item to the grocery list (Abby) – she’ll probably opt for some expensive smoked gouda #cheesefiend
  • A day without any chores, even cleaning up your room (Levi)
  • Invite a friend over for supper (Levi)
  • Request chocolate cake with chocolate icing for a special Friday night dessert (Abby)

Even the ones that will cost money will be relatively inexpensive:

  • A trip to the local pottery painting store together (Abby)
  • Take a friend to a coffee shop and I’ll pay (Abby)
  • A breakfast date at Tim Hortons with Daddy (Levi)

Give the SAME gift (BUT DIFFERENT)

I’ve already talked about this – at length – but in addition to making gift buying easier, I find deciding once really helps keep costs lower as well. I can look for the particular item on sale and, also, if it’s tried-and-true, I don’t feel like I have to compensate or hedge my bets by buying multiple items.

consider pooling resources as a group

For several years I managed the staff Christmas gift at my children’s preschool. They were fortunate enough to attend a truly phenomenal preschool and parents always wanted to express their deep gratitude for a staff that went above and beyond. Over time it had been decided that what everyone really wanted was money (with 30 families or so with children in the preschool times 6-7 staff members, it would be…a lot for each staff member to receive individual gifts). I arranged the cash donations, divided them appropriately (based on hours worked which I accessed in consultation with the owner) and then distributed it within handwritten cards at the annual Christmas party. There was no influx of gifts to the teachers. No scrambling to figure out how much to spend for each staff member. Parents were happy. Teachers were happy. Win, win.

My siblings are rarely home at Christmas and so they don’t typically give gifts to my parents…but when we were all still gifting within the family, we would often pool resources to get one larger gift (e.g. one year we bought our parents a new TV – which was a HUGE step up from their 13″ model. Yes, I grew up on a 13″ TV!!).

Nothing revolutionary here, and I’m sure there are lots of great ideas I’ve never considered or have neglected to mention. So…

What about you? I’m all ears for any and all suggestions of little (or big) ways you reduce/reuse/recycle at Christmas – or the whole year through, for that matter.

Header photo by Visual Stories | Micheile on Unsplash

11 thoughts on “Some Thrifting Hacks at Christmas”

  1. We do a lot of the same things! I got our son’s train table off FB market place and she threw in all of their tracks/trains. I got that for him just before he turned 2, so he was a little young for it, but he has used it more and more each year and now Will loves standing at it and playing with (err, destroying) the tracks Phil put together. Ha! This year Paul is getting a refurbished iPad mini. Phil is very good about getting refurbished phones (both of his iPhones were refurbished ones and they worked great) so I tasked him with finding an iPad mini for Paul. He got one for $109 which I think is very reasonable. It’s kind of dated but it’s fine for what we will use it for, which is educational aps and downloading movies from Netflix for plane/car rides.

    Our daycare also pools gifts for the support staff. For our boys’ teachers, we give each a card with cash in it. I know that’s what they want/need – more than anything else we could give them. We also pool together among my siblings to get a gift for my parents. For several years, instead of buying them a gift, we would use the money to sponsor a family. That has fallen by the wayside the last couple of years – I don’t have the bandwith to manage that (it was a ton of work to shop around to maximize what we could give the family w/ the pool of money). My parents loved it as there wasn’t anything they needed. Last year I donated to the sponsor a family charity but this year my siblings decided to get a gift card to use towards some patio furniture my parents want to purchase. So I know it will be well-used and appreciated. But I really liked it when we sponsored a family so I would like to go back to doing that and maybe just my little family will do it and I’ll get the boys involved when they are older.

    As you know, for us, the big thing is cutting down on what we buy. And I definitely feel very scroogy. But I know my kids have everything they want and need. I did not put any toys on their wish lists that I sent to the grandparents. I did include fun things for Paul, like activity books and sticker books. I don’t mind buying consumable activities like that. I really hope someone gifts us a zoo membership. If not, that will be Paul’s birthday gift in March and I’ll probably try to take a day off to do a mom/son date to the zoo to make it extra special.

    1. Memberships are a great idea!

      Sometimes similar…a few years ago another family (who we call the kids “aunt” and “uncle” even though they’re no blood relation) gifted us a set of fun adventures. They had cash in little envelopes with ideas of how to spend it. They gave us money to take the kids to a local science centre, attend a local play (they even gave us a printout of the play they were suggesting and the dates it was being performed), and money for a specific local treat (BeaverTails). We ended up doing exactly what they had suggested with the money. On our own, given the cash with no direction, we would have just put it in the bank. But having someone else think through potential fun options for a family was a really great gift idea.

      I’ve never gotten around to doing it…but I’ve been intrigued by StoryWorth for years and just might bite the bullet and try it next year for my parents/in-laws. My mother and father-in-law both love to write and have oodles of stories, and I think it would be a fun gift and project and help preserve elements of family history that would be lost without having it recorded first-hand. Plus, the end result of the gift is a book which would be easy to store and of high sentimental value!

    1. Heading out to get the kids from school, but I have these all lined up for some relaxing evening reading šŸ™‚ Legit excited.

      Thanks, Lisa!

  2. I love a good regift! Why not send something on to a place it will likely be valued and enjoyed? Love the tea towel, love this post (I’m adding a reminder to save card fronts for gift tags!) and love you, friend!

    1. Somehow I knew you, of all people, would understand and support me in this venture and not be at all perturbed that I re-gifted you that tea towel.

      Glad I’ve inspired you re. the card fronts (how have we not discussed this topic before?!) and, of course, I love you too šŸ™‚

  3. Lots of great tips! My son is doing a “secret santa” with friends from his swim carpool AND another one at school and he is super excited. He’s never done a secret Santa before and they are so fun! We’ve never tried doing anything like that with family, but we don’t have a very big extended family we exchange with, anyway. I also like the idea of recycling the Christmas cards! I’d never thought of that before. I always like the idea of gifting experiences, but I can’t say I’ve ever really done it for the kids! (Unfortunately?) I feel like my kids are probably a little spoiled with “going out to eat” type experiences, because that is something we tend to do a lot, even on a normal week… so they would probably not be super excited if I tried to gift them a meal out. hahaha. That’s probably bad on our part. Oops. I definitely have gifted experiences for my parents, though- things like a nice restaurant (one they might not splurge on often otherwise) or movie theater gift cards, or even taking them to a Broadway show, etc. I want to think more about the idea of “decide once” for gifts. I don’t currently do this, but I’ve heard this tip in several places and I think it’s a great idea! I just don’t generally buy gifts for too many people, really, besides my immediate family, but I think something like that would work especially good maybe for nieces or nephews. My sister kind of does this for my kids- she always puts money in their college fund (boring maybe to them, but great!) and then usually a book set/ box set for something to open. She lives abroad and we don’t see them usually on Christmas anyway, so it’s not like she really cares to see how excited they are! lol! They always love the books though and we ALL will appreciate the college money, some day.

    1. I love the college money idea; no one currently does this for our kids (except us, and it just happens automatically every month without them knowing…) but agree it’s not the most “exciting” gift. I remember one of my grandmothers always sent books for Christmas; as much as I loved books, I remember sometimes wishing she would branch out…but she always came up with such great books every single time and I have very fond memories (now at least) at seeing what treasure she had uncovered at the book store.

      My kids eat out WAY more than I ever did (I would eat out once/year growing up, for real; our kids eat out several times a month, though usually a breakfast or lunch on the go when on an “adventure” with Daddy, so pretty low-key) but do still find that stuff exciting! I wish it was easier to give experience gifts right now, but with COVID restrictions it takes more creativity.

  4. Gift giving is my love language, so I just try to plan for outrageousness on my part during December. That being said, I’m a thoughtful gift giver and try not to buy anything as a gift unless I know the person will love it. I appreciate a lot of these hints, but I also know myself well enough to know that I’ll never take the time to thrift shop. I’m actually starting to worry that I’m never going to feel comfortable browsing in a store ever again. Sometimes it’s just about what your own priorities are!

    1. Absolutely – it’s all about priorities! While gifts aren’t my love language (acts of service is my primary one), I really do enjoy giving (and receiving) gifts! I think I’ve actually ended up being more “creative” this year – we’ll see what the recipients think on Christmas morning.

      I LOVE thrifting; not just as a way to save money, but it legitimately feels like a game. Certain things I always source new and it is a bit like playing the lottery as it can take a while to find the right item thrifting (part of the game). I also think I’m really fortunate to have a lot of opportunities to thrift in my local area – great consignment and charity shops within 5, 10, and 15 minutes ranges.

      Hope you post about the gifts you give/receive this year!

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