My mom often tells the story of the first Christmas she and my dad had after they were married. They didn’t have any money, so they bought a sad, little Christmas tree on Christmas Eve that only cost a few dollars. It was so tilted that they had to tie it to the wall to make it stand up straight. She got my dad a warm wool pair of socks to wear when hunting, and he got her a tea kettle. She laughs about that Christmas now. In retrospect, the story does have a poignant sweetness to it. However, that Christmas, they didn’t yet have kids. When you’re struggling financially, not being able to buy a Christmas gift for your child can be heartbreaking. If your money is stretched and you literally have nothing extra, there are ways to make sure your children have a gift under the tree.
Ways to Get Younger Kids a Christmas Gift
Younger kids are easier to get gifts for when you’re in this situation. They have less specific wish lists than teens. Often they’re happy just having a gift, whether that be a doll or a truck.
Buy at Second Hand Shops or Thrift Stores
If you have a small bit of money to buy a gift, consider looking at thrift stores or secondhand shops. Or, you could turn in your kids’ outgrown toys and clothes for credit to purchase items at the secondhand store. Be warned, however, that secondhand stores usually pay just a pittance for items they buy, so you might not get much credit.
Exchange Used Toys with Another Family
Another idea that doesn’t cost anything is to exchange toys with family friends. You gather up the toys your children are bored with or have outgrown, and exchange them with another family who does the same. You can wrap these “new” toys and give them to your children for Christmas.
Ways to Get a Gift for Teens
Teenagers have more specific gift lists and are usually more aware that the family’s finances are tight. Still with a little creativity, you can find ways to get them gifts they will like.
Give Them Books and Jewelry
You can go to local thrift stores and find books in excellent condition to give for presents. You may also be able to find nicer jewelry for your teen daughters.
Give Them Gift Coupons
You may not have money now for a gift, but you might have money in a few months. You can give your child coupons for experiences. For example, a free one might be, baking and movie night with mom or dad. While this gift costs nothing, it does give your teen one on one time with you.
Another idea might be one weekend family camping trip. If you already have the camping supplies, you can go to a national park with a low entrance fee. This present will likely cost less than $50 for the whole family, and you’ll be building memories.
Gift Them Privileges
One gift that is free but will likely delight teenagers is to gift them privileges. For instance, if your teen still has chores to do around the house, give them a coupon for a week off from chores. Or, one coupon could be for an hour or two later curfew.
Give the Gift of Your Time
If you don’t have money for presents, take the time as a family to count all of your blessings. Then, spend some time helping others who are less fortunate than you are. Volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen.
Sometimes when you find yourself in desperate financial straits, you may start to feel sorry for yourself. Helping others can make you further appreciate your current situation, even though things feel dire.
Ways to Get a Gift for Kids of Any Age
There are other ways to get your children gifts, regardless of their ages.
Sign Up for a Free Gift with the Salvation Army
The Salvation Army works hard to give a gift to each child whose family can’t afford to buy one. Go to the Salvation Army website, enter your zip code at the locations tab, and find a Salvation Army near you.
You’ll need to prove that you are indeed low income. You can do this easily if you’re receiving food stamps, WIC, or Medicaid. There are also other requirements you’ll need to submit, which you can find on the website or when talking to your local office. Be advised that many people sign up for this service in October, so time is of the essence.
Sign Up on Santa’s Little Helpers
Reddit has a program called Santa’s Little Helpers. You must join the program, and then you share your wish for holiday presents. There are limits including $25 for an adult present and up to $100 for a child’s present. You can make gift requests for each of your children, but if you have more than four children, you will need to provide a picture of your entire family together.
This year, registration began on November 7th, and gift requests will begin on November 14th. You are allowed to register until December 12th, but obviously, the earlier you register and request a gift, the more likely your request is to be fulfilled.
Contact Your Local Church
Many churches run their own Christmas present giving operation. Contact local churches and tell them your situation. They may be able to help you or refer you to another church or agency that can.
If your budget is beyond stretched thin as my parents were on their very first Christmas, remember that there are nine ways to get your child a Christmas gift if you can’t afford to buy one. There are many services available to help assist families in a bad financial situation so that every child can open a present on Christmas.
What other suggestions do you have for families who cannot afford a Christmas gift for their kids this year?
Melissa is a writer and virtual assistant. She earned her Master’s from Southern Illinois University, and her Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan. When she’s not working, you can find her homeschooling her kids, reading a good book, or cooking. She resides in New York, where she loves the natural beauty of the area.