Economically Shopping For Christmas Toys

The following guest post was contributed by Christine Howell who frequently writes about Online Degree Programs and college related topics for Online College Guru, an online college directory and comparison website.

With the holidays quickly approaching, parents are starting to feel the pressure rise. The kids still expect to see a variety of gifts under that tree. However, with the recent economic upset, more parents than ever are experiencing serious stress in their family budgets. The good news is that you can have a nice holiday season without breaking the bank by learning the tricks that enable you to shop economically for Christmas toys. By making a plan and sticking with it, you may find that it isn’t as hard as you thought.

Keep It Simple

Kids can only soak in so much fun before it gets overwhelming and you are wasting your money. Three gifts per child is a very doable number and is plenty enough to keep most kids happy. Many parents categorize these gifts into something that their child can wear, something that is educational and one toy that is just pure fun. Don’t waste your Christmas budget on cheap fillers or things like socks. If they need socks, buy them, but confine the Christmas gifts to just a few high impact items. This is actually usually harder for the parents. While the kids are fairly adaptable and barely notice these types of changes, the parents feel social pressures to do more. Breathe deep! This will be great for both you and your kids.

Start Early

When you get the scope of holiday shopping under control, you can start to plan your strategy. One of the most economical ways to shop for Christmas toys is to start early. Set aside a certain amount of your budget each month and have it available when you happen to see a great price. For example, office stores have their major sales at back to school time in September, so if you’re child is really wanting a camera or MP3 player, check then. Don’t forget to browse through all the after Thanksgiving sales as well. Even if you don’t like to brave the crowds, you can get many of the same prices by shopping online instead.

You Don’t Have to Give to Everyone

While it can be fairly simple to shape your own child’s attitudes and the traditions that your family celebrates, the expectations of extended family and friends can really thwart those efforts and affect your budget. Don’t be afraid to take people off your list that you don’t feel a personal connection to. For families that you really want to recognize as special in your life, consider giving one gift that the whole family can enjoy. This could be something like an unusual board game. Food is also a big hit. Make a cookie basket or some homemade bread and jam. Finally, don’t be afraid to open a dialogue with your family. In all likelihood, you are not the only one shopping on a budget this year and your more frugal suggestions will likely be appreciated.

Focus on Quality

Any parent who has ever shopped for Christmas gifts for children knows the annoyance caused by a gift that breaks a few days after being opened. In simple terms, buying poor quality gifts is a waste of your money. Resist the urge wrap a bunch of cheap toys just for the impact. Buying a few quality toys that will last for years is much more economical.

Take Advantage of the After Season Sales

If you haven’t had the chance to do a lot of these things this year, don’t despair. You can get a great head start by shopping the after Christmas sales. Many of holiday decorations and toy sets are deeply discounted, often as much as fifty percent or more in the week after Christmas. Stock up and get a head start of next year.


  1. Paying for something earlier or out of season is always the best bet. You can save now before all the prices are jacked up. Plus you don’t have to worry about it when the rush comes, the peace of mind is worth it alone.

  2. This year we are doing homemade gifts only. So we are starting early. One daughter has been taking sewing classes so she is busy planning and conniving to keep sewing privately so no-one can see what she has going on. The other is into pottery and digital photography, I am guessing (and excited to see!) what she come up with as well. I am knitting everyone items that have been requested: a ballet tie top, pointe shoe leg warmers and fun sheep mittens.

    We also have for a family gift a trip we plan and unveil at Christmas. Two years ago it was Sea World so my daughters could swim with dolphins. The dolphin part was a huge surprise and a big hit at Christmas time.

  3. Many years ago in my family and my husband’s we started drawning names and purchasing only for that person rather than all the siblings and their spouses. We buy a gift (not extravagant) for the children in both our families, and kids go into the adult draw at 18. This year my husband’s family is proposing that instead of the draw, we all contribute the cash we would have spent and purchase a cow/goat/chicken etc for a family in Africa. None of us really “need” anything so instead we thought we’d help others.

    For our own children we normally purchase ~3 gifts along the lines of your post. From Santa they normally receive a sock (many practical items and a few novelties) plus 1 main gift and two smaller items. The socks are a pain but I haven’t figured out how to break that tradition without trauma. They were made by a friend. They are lovely but way too large, which means it takes a lot to fill them….

    I keep a spreadsheet to track the list of those I shop for, suggestions I’ve picked up, and what I eventually buy. Any unused suggestions get moved to the next year’s list – for adults a suggestion from one year is generally still valid the next year. I shop through the year as I find things on sale and track what is finished on my spreadsheet. I always aim to have my shopping done by Halloween if possible. I am NOT a shopper so I prefer picking things up as I find them and not spending hours in crowded malls just before Christmas. I’d rather just relax and enjoy the lead up to Christmas rather than racing through the mall like a mad woman on a mission.

    PS – does anyone else have a problem with gifts for your children’s teachers? I certainly value the work they do, but can you imagine the number of knicknacks and teacher coffee mugs they must get from a class each year? This year I’m trying to convince my 8yr old to write a poem in a homemade card and bake some cookies. At least then the cookies are consumed and the card can be recycled.

  4. I spent last Saturday wrapping Christmas gifts… when you have 3 kids’ families – 8 grandkids – it means you HAVE to get an early start on things! I flew out to FL 2 wks ago and took the gifts for my siblings at that point – so basicially, I am done 🙂 Except for the baking… 🙂

    The grandkids get two gifts plus a small sock or bag of little stuff I have collected over the year- a lot of freebies and garage sale stuff.

  5. In our school the parents all chip in on a class gift for christmas (usually gift card or something else useful) and the kids all make one handmade gift (apron with handprints, flowerpot with drawings, etc.) This cuts down on the amount of gifts and allows us to give something both practical and meaningful.

  6. I have to disagree a little with what Christine wrote in “Keep it simple”. My family has always kept to the low amount of toys (3 is a great number), but the point I would like to disagree with is to keep that as the only gifts one gives.

    My family’s memories are of the great, high quality toys we got, but the best and most numerous stories are of the fun we had wrapping and unwrapping gifts and doing the holiday activities associated (like finding our stockings). They weren’t filled with super expensive items but they had socks, underwear, chocolate, our favorite cookies, and things like new colored pencils that my mom and dad knew we needed throughout the year (maybe not the chocolate and cookies but they were very well received gifts 😉 ). We didn’t need them that second, but they understood the fun of the holiday is in the family activity of unwrapping, and not necessarily always what was in the all of the packages themselves.

    And to Jenn, regarding teacher gifts – I know many teachers and almost all of them appreciate school supplies as gifts. Most teachers have to spend at least part of their own budget to stock their classroom, and its usually a relief to get some stuff to fill that hole for the next year. Most every teacher I know groans at the mention of coffee mugs 😉

  7. I agree that it is great to get an early start, but only IF you form a specific budget and stick to it. This is exactly what our family does for our holiday shopping. However, my Mom (who struggles financially) has the same good intentions but ends up spending much more. The reason: she starts early but never stops until Christmas!

  8. I’ve already scheduled the Monday after Christmas as a vacation day from work so I can scour the clearance bins at our local stores for bargains for next year. It’s also a great time to pick up slippers, gloves, scarves, hats, etc. that were prepackaged for Christmas giving, but now are marked down as much as 75% just due to the packaging.

    Last year, I used my Christmas gift money and went to the Goodwill store and searched through the clothing clearance racks at our local stores and found some nice clothes to wear to work at rock bottom prices.

    I’d actually rather wait until after Christmas to get a gift if it means it costs less. Christmas to me is a rememberance of Christ’s Birthday, and if I don’t have a present to open on that specific day, it doesn’t matter to me.

  9. As a kid, it was the cheap widgets my parents picked up that I’d never heard of before that I thought were the most fun. A little glass prism, a $30 programmable microcontroller, a $20 set of K’Nex or Legos or the like. Especially with the construction sets, they’re gifts that keep on giving, and every year I’d get a few more parts.

    I also liked getting lots of smaller inexpensive items (more to unwrap!) than one or two large ticket items.

    Then again, once I stopped watching TV I stopped wanting new toys and started enjoying playing with the ones I had.

    Oh yeah, I agree: ALWAYS get your toys after Christmas. My parents used to give me a $10 budget each year to buy decorations, and I’d always wait until after. It was like spending $50 before! Talk about a hands-on way to teach your kids about timing!

  10. As with rebecca, the best tie to buy Christmas gifts is actually 1 day after christmas day. So i guess the way to have the most econimical of christmas’s would be buy this year for next year. Again though with the current economic climate how many people can afford to buy for next year this year? Anyway, here’s to a good one. I’ve got all my christmas gifts already this year, brought all from the same place to save on postage!

  11. I too disagree that gifts should be kept to toys only type things for kids. My daughter is 4 and loves necessities like socks. Maybe that is more true for an older child, but I think it more depends on the child. For many it is the joy that they get from opening the gifts and many to appreciate things like socks.

  12. I make homemade bread as teacher gifts and have received many compliments. Consumables are best, is what teachers have always told me. They take them home and share them with their family.

  13. Dustin, I know what you mean about relatives that shop all season. My mother is the same way.

    One solution I’ve found: Christmas lists. It feels weird and selfish to make a list, but if I do that I can tell my mother “Stick to only this list,” which usually includes some books and a pair of pants.

    If left to find stuff on her own she typically keeps buying and buying … often stuff that no one wants or needs!

  14. Sometimes it is the simplest gifts which make Christmas worthwhile and whilst I am no preacher man, I think this year has confirmed to me that it is definately about the thought involved and not the cost.

  15. Sorry Shannon, You may be a prefect cook- but I will not serve it if I am not sure of the maker….
    My #1 teacher gift? School supplies. I much prefer that the parents buy the stuff their children use- instead of me buying it! I spend an average of $500. a year on supplies. Can you think of another industry expects that?
    My #1 choice for gift back to students- packaged food for my families who have none. Almost all of the teachers in my building spend a great deal of their Christmas money on coats and food for our families.

  16. Good tips! Also, if you have young children (3 and below) there is nothing wrong with taken a “forgotten” toy or a gently-used toy from a friend and wrapping it up. Kids at that age are excited about opening the gifts (and playing with the box or paper) and won’t be upset at all. This also will save on extra clutter because most kids don’t need any more toys!