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Celebrating a Memorable Christmas on a Zero-Dollar Budget

Guest post by Brandy from The Prudent Homemaker

Many are wondering how they are going to celebrate Christmas this year. For them, there simply isn’t money for gifts. If that’s you this year, I have some suggestions to give you hope—and to help you give a few gifts to your family, without spending any money.

Just because you don’t have money to buy gifts doesn’t mean you can’t give anything. Look at what you already have. Do you have the ingredients to make candy or cookies? Those treats can go in stockings. Do you have items in your pantry or cupboards?

Don’t overlook the simple things. A child may love having her own bottle of shampoo, lotion, or a new toothbrush. Have you been buying clothes ahead of time at garage sales, or saving hand-me-downs from friends? Pull out a “new” clothing item for a child and wrap it up.

Look at what you already have that can be re-purposed. An old shirt, sweater, or sheets provides ample fabric for a gift (and don’t overlook the leather or vinyl on an old purse!) Don’t worry if there are holes; simply cut out your pattern around them.

You can make pajamas from a flannel sheet, or a hat and gloves from an old sweater. An old fitted sheet includes elastic that can be part of a skirt, and there’s enough left to make a nightgown, slippers, a headband, handkerchiefs, a doll, and cloth napkins for your Christmas table.

An old shirt can become a skirt, a jumper, a tie, a child’s toy, doll clothes, a scarf, or a purse. If you don’t have a sewing machine, ask someone you know if you can borrow one. (You may be surprised at how many offers will come your way when you put the word out!) Just a needle and thread is sufficient to make something. There are lots of very simple, free tutorials online.

Use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to remake an old unmatched earring into a necklace (perhaps on a ribbon for a chain). Turn popsicle sticks, dental floss, and cotton swabs into a miniature bow and arrows. Use what you have in a new way.

Give the gift of time. Most people, and especially your children, just want time. You can print up coupon books with promised activities, such as 10 cooking (sewing, knitting, painting, etc.) lessons with mom, or five stay-up-late game nights with parents.

Make your holiday bright with new traditions. Take the time to make cookies together, play games, pull taffy, read stories, and sing carols. Enjoy Christmas in ways you never have, and you will find that this may be your best Christmas yet.

Brandy writes at The Prudent Homemaker where you can find details and more information on how to make the items pictured and mentioned in this post, along with many more ideas for giving without spending.

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  • Jessica says:

    Excellent! Beautiful gifts, by the way. (I take it that the photos are your children’s gifts this year?)

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      Some of these are from last year; I’m not done sewing yet for this year!

      I also have a December birthday coming up for one child. The velvet rose scarf is for my daughter’s birthday. There will be a tutorial up on my site VERY soon for that.

      The composition book is for this year. Again, a tutorial will be up for this very soon (both should be up by Sunday).

      The leather bag, quiver, and arrows are for this year.

      The pillows are for this year. I hand-embroidered a child’s name on one a child’s initial on another. They are stuffed with the stuffing of an old pillow that was flat.

      The necklace with the blue ribbon is for this year.

      The doll coat, doll bonnet and bib, snowflake enbroidered handkerchief (link to the embroidery on my site), black handkerchief, flannel pajamas are from last year.

      This year I am making several doll dresses, more doll bibs and bonnets, a baby doll saque (jacket), library bags, flower slippers, necklaces, a dress-up cape, terrariums, flannel pajamas (plaid for the boys, and a blue flannel one with an embroidered little girl and flowers for a daughter), lots of bows and arrows, flower barrettes, and more paper dolls, toys, and bookmarks. I am also making a warm hat for a birthday gift for a child.

      Lots of hand-embroidery this year on these gifts this year, so I’m taking every spare moment to sew bulion roses, daisies, little girls, and even Harry Potter on gifts!

      • shar says:

        Do you ever sleep? When do you have time for everything and write here with all the ideas too. Wish I had all your energy, I guess maybe I did when I was younger. Thanks for all the ideas! Looking forward to the tutorials.

        • The Prudent Homemaker says:

          I do sleep 🙂

          Afternoon nap times and after the children are in bed are when I do most of my present making. Sometimes my husband will take the children for a few hours so I can get a little more done; he took the boys somewhere on Saturday so I could work on some of their presents while they weren’t here; I laid out the dress-up cape and made it that day.

          I love hand work because it can be done in all of the little spare moments. I took the velvet scarf with me to a bridal shower recently and sewed it while everyone was chatting and visiting. I’ve done embroidery while we’ve watched a show on Hulu in the evening.

  • Wendy says:

    Such wonderful ideas! I use the coupon book idea for my kids and it is one of their favorite things! This is such a great post with the way the economy is now and great ways to have the family get closer. Thanks so much for the ideas!

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      What children want the most is your time. Someone told me that she did coupons one year as the only gifts, since they had no money. Her children loved it SO much that the next year, even though they had money for gifts, they asked for the coupons again. They loved the acitivites! She had 12 coupons for each child; one for an activity each month.

  • Carrie says:

    This post is full of good ideas and a great attitude, and yet … it makes me sad. Feels like we’re in Scarlet O’Hara after the war territory.

    • Andrea says:

      Repurposing/upcycling isn’t sad. IMO, it’s frugal and good for the environment. Our holiday budget is far from zero, but we’re repurposing some items and using materials we already have on hand to stretch that budget further. Doing so gives us money to put in our savings/emergency fund.

      Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      I know what you mean. When I feel like that I try to pinpoint where the “sad” is coming from. I think is not so much that we can’t have more stuff but the feelings come from whatever hard time we have gone through that has brought us to this place. When we recognize what is causing us to feel the way we do it makes it easier to find the joy in the simple things and enjoy them for what they are instead of seeing them as reminders of hard things that we are learning to endure.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      Carrie, our income has been cut by 70%. My children will have needs and wants met this year. Why be sad? My son is getting a rabbit-skin quiver this year (in the photo). Not too many places you could buy that!

      • Darragh says:

        I agree…and really admire you….there are hard times but I find making gifts so much fun…right now I am making a blanket out of recycled wool sweaters. It’s a project from Martha Stewart’s craft book (which I got free via Swagbucks after much deliberation). Also framing engravings I got from a neighbor (for free) and finishing a vintage hankie throw. I love using things I had around the house. Our kids are grown, but we’ve been having some freelance income cash flow issues, so we have to do this. One of my favorite books as a girl was An Old Fashioned Girl by LM Alcott, where there is a situation just like this. For me, this is fun, although I do know how hard times are.

    • Kathy says:

      It makes me feel great- I envision a visit to Santa’s workshop where the elves are busy, busy, busy making presents! Only in this case, it’s a mom sneakily sewing and crafting and hiding half finished projects from curious eyes. Bet it gives the mom fun, too!

      • Kelly @ says:

        I think this is wonderful! 🙂 And you are so right Prudent Homemaker, what our kids want most of all is our time and love. Keep on being awesomely frugal. I’m envious of your creativity and sewing skills (maybe I should just jump in myself and give it a shot).

  • Jessie says:

    There are also some wonderful online printables. Last night I printed Bingo cards from DLTK. You could print game sheets or crafts to do with your children. They also have book marks and a ton of fun ideas

    Also, something my children love is a simple piece of paper that we wrote their names on and then a word about them for each letter.
    T- Terrific

    • Andrea says:

      One of my girls specifically asked for bookmarks for her (January) birthday. Some children are happy with the littlest things!

      • Brandy says:

        I used to teach second grade and after the Christmas break I would always let the kids share with the rest of the class, one gift they got. One year I had a child from a very well to do family and could have gotten anything. You know what gift he was most excited about? A package of pencils that had his full name on them.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      Jessie, I have links to lots of free printables on my site (toys, paper dolls–color and black and white, in case you don’t have color ink), games and more, and I have some of my own as well, including bookplates and dollhouse printables.

  • shawn'l says:

    When I was a child we did a service Christmas where we were only allowed to give “service” gifts. Mostly we hand made coupons for our siblings (I’ll do your chores for you one day, teach to roller skate or ride bike, read you a story, etc). My mom saved them and I have the ones my siblings gave me 30 years ago!!!

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      I love the services for siblings! The hardest part for me about making homemade gifts is that my children also want to make gifts for each other, and I don’t always know what they can make. I love this idea!

    • Linda G. says:

      Oh my goodness, I LOVE that idea! I will have to wait until my 1 and 3 year old are older though. Your mom was a wise woman 30 years ago, what precious memories you must have! I really try to instill a love in my children one to another.

  • Jessica says:

    I understand this is about zero budget gifts and I have a wonderful story that came from no money, only time and much, much love. It was a very poor Christmas for my Grandparents who raised me. My Grama made me a Laura Ingalls doll and clothes. She used scraps of cloth and yarn to make the doll and the many sets of clothes, even matching coats and hats and shoes. A lady gave her some tiny tiny beads and fancy shaped sequins. She trimmed out several of the outfits by sewing every tiny bead and sequin on individually. I played and played with that set. Oh and she even had the foresight to use wallpaper scraps to cover a box and lid for her “closet”. I still cry thinking of all the time and effort she put into that gift. It is something I only hope that stays in my family for many years. The poorest Christmas we had was the richest in my memories and the gift was the BEST I ever received!!!

    • Patti says:

      That is a sweet story and wonderful memory!! While my Grandmother wasn’t poor, she did make my doll clothes from scraps of fabric from her own dresses. She would mail them to me and it was always a big event to see what she had sent. I only had two dolls growing up so she knew the sizes of both of them. I still have my dolls and doll clothes and will treasure them always. Makes me wonder if today’s children will ever appreciate anything as much when they have so many toys.

    • Kimberly says:

      What a special story! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jessica says:

      That is so special! I would have loved that gift, too. 🙂

    • Amber says:

      How wonderful!

    • jessica says:

      your story just made me cry! :*)

  • Jessie says:

    What about printable paper dolls?

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      Jessie, I have links to LOTS of paper dolls on my site. I have color ones as well as black and white ones, so if you only have black ink, the children can color them. I have some printable toys for boys, too.

  • Colette says:

    I absolutely love these ideas! There were some great things I hadn’t even thought of before. I will definitely be trying some of these since it’s more than a little tight for us this year. Thanks for the post, and Merry Christmas!

  • Jane says:

    Brandy, you are always such an inspiration for me!!!! I love the ideas and can not wait to put some into motion for us. Already making that great cape I saw on your FB post a couple of weeks ago. Not to mention all the paper dolls I have printed out for our little girl. Thanks so much.

  • Natalie says:

    What a sweet post. It just goes to show how a little elbow grease can go a long way and how you can do a lot with very little!

  • susie says:

    Our church hosted a free yard sale last weekend. Many people were there shopping for Christmas gifts. I would love make this a tradition each year and see other churches join in.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      I have seen several churches doing this recently and I think it is absolutely wonderful. We were able to participate in a swap like this last year, and I was able to get several items for my family for free, including a pair of shoes, a wool sweater, a couple of dresses, a jumper that needed buttons replaced and stains removed, which turned out to be easy, a swimsuit and a pair of swim trunks in just the right sizes for this past summer, and a few other things. A friend of mine was able to get a warm coat for herself, and she does a lot of outdoor work. It was a great blessing to both of us.

    • Ac says:

      Our church does this and I love it! It’s a win-win for us to keep things simple and help those who have a need.

  • Lisa Guyer says:

    I’m doing this for our kids this year and for the other people on our list. I’m making a kids teepee out of a twin sheet (pattern found here: Then taking an old piece of fabric to make indian costumes for each of our kids. Using old necklaces to decorate the costumes with beads.

    Making a pvc pipe bow and arrow for the kids and nephew. (

    Also making a few of the winter busy bags that are made of felt and popsicle sticks that you’ve listed on here for my neice.

    Should be a fun (CHEAP) Christmas! 🙂

  • ronda says:

    Last Christmas I made my daughter an Ugly Doll. All by hand. She Loved it so much! She found out I was working on a 2nd one and wanted it finished right away. She also wants me to make more for her this year for Christmas.

    To make them I printed out a picture of the Ugly Doll (no pattern)I used fabric and buttons from her clothes that she had outgrown. I stuffed them with stuffing from a ripped open pillow.
    She is a bit of a Diva when it comes to her clothes, she wants to keep them all even when they no longer fit! So she loved that they were made from her own clothes.

  • Emily says:

    There were several years growing up where money was very tight for my parents. My three sisters and I were either in college or almost there and so we understood why we weren’t going to get gifts. Some of the best memories I have were of the crazy White Elephant gifts we wrapped up. We had a blast and it was completely free!

  • Caren says:

    Absolutely beautiful! What an inspiration!

  • Sarah says:

    Yes! I’ve been looking for her blog for the past several weeks because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I have it bookmarked for future reference. 🙂

  • Amanda says:

    All great ideas! I have always been the crafty type myself weather it be an expensive or free re-purposed project. Here are some of my ideas:
    What about the holiday decorations? Like tree garland made from strung popcorn? Or ornaments crafted from scrapbook paper or construction paper. You can even use scraps of material pieced together and glued on cardboard to make shapes like angels, bells, birds, etc.
    Don’t overlook your stockpile (for those of us who are couponers) for soaps and other mini (or even large size) travel size items for stocking stuffers. Make your own holiday treats like candies and cookies or even use a repurposed mason jar or spaghetti jar to make the “gift in a jar” things like cookie mix or hot cocoa mix.
    I found some really neat ideas on I made slippers that only cost me about $3 to make, but you could repurpose materials you have already to make them.
    Consider the dollar store when looking for gifts (not $0, but very inexpensive)
    I remember making the coupon books for my mom when I was a kid as well as bookmarks.
    Scrapbooks are also a nice gift. You dont even need to buy fancy papers and embelishments.
    Consider clipping images, words and other things from magazines you have (or ask friends and neighbors for their old magazines) and glue them into a hand made book (think of stapling together printer paper).

  • Jenni says:

    When this website first loaded and I just saw the title of this post, I thought to myself, “Oh, I hope it’s Brandy from The Prudent Homemaker doing a guest post . . .” and then saw that it was! I always love your ideas, Brandy, and this post as well!

    We thankfully have a bit of money to purchase some presents for our boys, but I want to include some handmade things as well. I am always inspired by what people can produce if they just think creatively.

    I had to laugh the other day too when my dad was visiting after Thanksgiving and wanted to give the boys his Christmas presents then. My older son got a Little Tikes basketball hoop, and he likes it, but guess what he’s been playing with the most? The box. I’m seriously wondering if I should just hit up Sears for appliance boxes and put them around the tree on Christmas morning :).

    • Jessica Lynette says:

      We made our {turning 4 year old} a cardboard box maze for his birthday. It was a HUGE hit!! Cardboard boxes are well used in this house – to play in, ride down the stairs on, to decorate… boxes are popular 🙂

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      My daughter has a huge cardboard castle that she built that has been up for several months in her room. All of the children love to play in it. You could ask for boxes from several places. My dad is a picture framer, so he gets huge boxes for deliveries of glass and matboards, so you might want to try asking at a picture framing place, too.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      My dad is a picture framer, and he gets large boxes for matboards and glass every week. You may want to ask a picture framer for boxes, too. There are some very large flat pieces.

      (Just ask first; dumpster diving where there are shards of glass, sharp mat boards, and cutting blades is VERY dangerous! My dad always worries when people have obviously gone through his dumpster).

    • Jennifer C. says:

      I got my kids one of those cardboard box playhouses (I know, not super frugal) – but I did get it pretty cheap with a coupon and it saved me time (4 kids under 4 years of age). My husband and I recently commented that the best part about it is that we can fold it up, put it away and don’t have “playhouse” taking up space in our house. Then, my kids ask again about getting the playhouse out and we set it up and they feel like they get to play with something “new.”

      • Patti says:

        This reminds me of a favorite game of my childhood that my son always loved, too… making card houses. We did it with decks of cards but I used to give him and his buddies index cards that I got cheap when school supply sales were on. Those things entertained for hours!!!

  • Jessica Lynette says:

    We are making those Popsicle stick bow and arrows for our boys, as well as PVC pipe (left overs from a project) for them for Christmas! We were given an outdoor spaceship toy from a neighbor and we asked them if they’d mind if we saved it and gave it to our boys Christmas morning – they thought that was a wonderful idea, so I am crafting “space outfits” from items we have to go along with their spaceship 🙂

    My 4 year old wants to give his 3 yr old brother “a trip to the play ground and I will play with him the whole time” – I think it’s so sweet! I’ll probably encourage the 3 yr old in that direction for his brothers gift.

    Previous years I’ve had the boys pick out a piece of {needed} clothing for each other as a gift.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      That’s great!

      I love when neighbors share. One year a friend of ours was getting rid of 4 scooters that her children had outgrown. We cleaned them up and put them under the tree that year. It was totally unexpected (she asked me just a couple of days before Christmas) but it was a fun addition to our homemade gifts.

      Spacesuits sound awesome!

      • Jessica Lynette says:

        Hopefully they’ll come together 😉 So far I’ve got soda bottles turned into jet packs… gotta get through this weekend of craziness and then sit down and do some serious crafting!

  • Andrea says:

    Don’t forget the class “mix tape” idea. We no longer have a tape deck, but we do have several CD players and portable devices, so we make mix CDs and playlists.

    One of my favorite freebies is MP3s from Amazon. Throughout the year, they have promo codes for two or three songs (Crystal posts about them!). They also have a changing selection of songs that are completely free, including 25 free holiday songs in December, some classical music. Those codes allow me to download free songs, which I can play on the computer, burn onto CDs or transfer to MP3 players that my kids have received as gifts.

    Blank CDs for burning cost about 50 cents each. We’re still using a spindle we bought years ago!

    • Andrea says:

      Oops, that should have read “classic” mix tape idea.

      I just checked, and Amazon has over 3,300 free MP3s right now, including several dozen holiday songs and parts of the Nutcracker Suite. My kids love “ballet music” 😉

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      I have a link to some free audio books that you can download on my Frugal Gifts page, and an MP3 editor as well, if you want to do your own (Grandma reading a favorite story to a child, for instance–a gift that you could send online, too!). I also have a link to several free downloadable Christmas songs on my Christmas page; most are instrumental, and they are very pretty!

      Amazon also has a large number of free downloadable books to read, as does Gutenburg.

    • Breanne says:

      We’re doing something along these lines for gifts this year. Our 5-year-old is getting a mix CD of her favorite songs that we sing during our family worship time. For our 2-year-old, we (and other extended family members) are reading his favorite books to him and then burning it onto a CD. We are also making CDs for each of them that will include information that we have been working with them to memorize: questions and answers to their catechism questions (read by my hubby and I), a books of the Bible song, other scripture songs, and probably our address, phone #, etc. Might sound a little boring, but we know that they will enjoy their “Mommy and Daddy CDs”…and we will enjoy giving nearly-free gifts that will also help them to learn important truths 🙂

  • Angi @ schneiderpeeps says:

    Great ideas! We encourage our children to give gifts that they have made for extended family – partly because they don’t really have much money and because there really isn’t anything that the adults in our family need (or want) that a child can buy. In the past they have made silhouettes, hotpads, personalized bookmarks, trivits, bread cutting board & cheese slicer and blankets. We try to keep the items useful so that they don’t just add clutter.

    I know that not everyone appreciates homemade gifts – thankfully in our family it is very appreciated.

    • JoannaTopazT says:

      My daughter does homemade gifts for family, too. She has made bookmarks by adding stickers; ornaments by putting stickers and glitter on the shiny side of old CDs and red or green construction paper on the label side, with a ribbon for hanging through the hole; and this year, I believe she’ll be doing magnets: her artwork glued to magnets (all the free ones that everyone seems to hand out or that come in the mail and I’ve been stockpiling for such a project).

  • Mary says:

    Such good ideas. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to give a hint of what can be done and the wheels of creativity start spinning. So many folks are really feeling the crunch this year, (yours truly included) I remind myself not to get caught up in the, “what are the Jones’ doing for their kids” mentality. Even so, I still find myself feeling down because I can’t spend much on gifts. Thanks for the gentle push to stop feeling sorry and start doing something, as it is said, “what’s in your hand?” Thanks again for helping me to remember it’s not about the money, it’s all about the LOVE. God Bless

  • Emily H says:

    The last few years our teenage daughters have asked for a TV for their bedroom. We were at the pawn shop looking for another item that was on a wishlist we were giving to charity and found an older (non flat screen) 36 inch TV f0r $20. They were so thrilled to recieved what they had been requesting for a while. There are plenty of almost new items at pawn shops and second hand stores that will save you money.

    • Melissa says:

      HAHA! That “older, non flat screen tv” is like the only TV we have in our house! My sister thinks we’re crazy but until it breaks……

      • Charity says:

        *BIG LAUGH* We have the same type TV, only a little smaller actually, and yes, every relative thinks we are insane! We don’t have cable and have never really watched TV so it is quite pointless for us to have a giant TV. Our favorite thing to watch is our Andy Griffith DVDs 🙂

      • Andrea says:

        Until last year, we had a 20-inch older model TV (it was so old that it needed a digital converter). People definitely laughed at us, but buying a new one wasn’t a priority. Last year, our in-laws gave us their “old” flat screen for a Christmas gift. It is nice to have on movie night!

        • Lindsey says:

          Yeah, lol, this is our only tv too. My sister has money and still has a box tv too so it’s not just for poor folk like us. And I thought every non-cable tv needed a digital converter. Huh, well, we have that too!

          • Stephanie says:

            The only reason we have a flat screen is because our 20 year old TV died a few years ago. We tend to keep stuff until it dies of old age too.

  • BEA says:

    Great ideas…I made my kids cell phones with two dixie cups and 10 feet of string!

  • Natalie says:

    Thanks for the ideas! Yesterday I printed out the Christmas coloring pages you posted on Facebook. They made a nice afterschool activity for my young children for just the cost of printer paper and ink. I appreciate your sharing your experience. Your website has tons of great information about buying, storing and growing food inexpensively. These are skills I am working to expand and I know I have much to learn.

  • Donna says:

    Great post Brandy! Thanks for continuing to help and inspire us all!

    Here’s some of what I’m working on for my kiddies from what I have or what’s been given to me:
    -slip-on socks in Christmas colors
    -and a pair that’s thicker, in grey
    -rice babies to be warmed for bedtime
    -a denim quilt for grown oldest son
    -lounge pants for 4 younger boys
    -pj’s for daughter

    We will also do our traditional celebrations; Jesus Box, Birthday Cake for Jesus, a huge banquet of food so all we have to do is eat and play games and work puzzles for 1 whole week. We’ll spend one week making crafts and decorations, baking cookies and gifts for neighbors and friends, and reading Christmas stories and the Bible.

    Brandy’s inspiration runs all through my home- from my grape vines out back, to my sewing projects on my desk, to my presents under my tree! – Merry Christmas Brandy- and thanks for making ours merrier!

    • allie says:

      What exactly are “rice babies??” If they are those things you warm up and keep your toes warm, can you PLEASE tell me how to make it? My little girls would probably LOVE that since we turn down our heat at night. 🙂

      • The Prudent Homemaker says:

        Allie, they are basically a pillow with rice inside (usually two layers, so that you can wash the outside layer, like a pillowcase). You warm the pillow in the microwave for a few minutes before putting in your bed. They’re also great as a heat pack for a sore back.

        I made these with wheat instead of rice for my parents one year. At first they thought it was a strange gift, but then my mom had some back trouble, and they tried using them to warm their toes at night, and they ended up loving them!

        I don’t know if Donna is making hers in another shape, but that’s how I’ve made them. It’s really easy, and you can make the cover with one piece of fabric, or with several pieces (like a quilt), which means you could use scraps to make it decorative, too. Just fill the inside “pillow’ over a big bowl or bucket so the rice doesn’t spill everywhere.

        • allie says:

          Thanks for replying so quickly! I do have a question…does the rice get moldy or smelly with the warming up/moisture, etc?

          • The Prudent Homemaker says:

            No, it doesn’t. There is no mositure in the microwave–just heat. Use white rice, however, brown rice can go rancid. White rice can be safely stored for 30 years. Wheat can, too (and it smells wonderful when being heated!) It actually smells nice when you heat it.

            If you live in a very moist climate (say, in the Deep South) you may have moisture issues over the long run. When you sew the bag closed that actually has the rice inside, you can sew it with a simple running stitch on the outside that can be unpicked, in case you needed to change out the rice.

            And if you need inexpensive rice, Walmart and many grocery stores carry 20 pound bags (and it’s even cheaper at Sam’s Club).

          • Andrea says:

            Some people I know have had trouble with smelly rice. I’ve had better luck with flax seed, which I bought at the grocery store using coupons.

        • Carrie says:

          Are these a fire hazard? I heard of the corn ones catching on fire before, but I don’t know if it is just a rumor.

          • The Prudent Homemaker says:

            I have never heard of anyone making them with corn!

            I have never heard of them catching on fire, either; it’s just warm, and it does cool.

            Here is the tutorial I used to make mine, it’s from Sew Mama Sew (which has Handmade Holidays round up of tutorials, including free printables, every November): There are gift tags there for them as well. I didn’t add the essential oil, so just know that you can leave that out.

          • Becky says:

            I haven’t heard of them catching fire, but I do have one made with corn (I think it’s called field corn?). It has a nice roasted smell to it when it’s heated.

      • Donna says:


        I’ll be cutting mine in a Gingerbread Man shape….like we did here with beans 4 years ago

        They can color the outside and when the rice gets and the cover gets dirty, I’ll pick the seam, dump the rice, wash the baby, restuff, and they can recolor! 😉

  • Melissa says:

    I made my mother-in-law a very simple gift. I bought 3 willow wreaths at dollar tree in graduated sizes, wired them together smallest on top to largest on bottom to make a snowman shape and added a hat and scarf (2 pc. set also from dollar tree but could be free if you have extras) $4 for a really cute decoration. I gave it to her early so she could start using it and she loved it! I painted the wreaths white but you can skip that if you don’t have paint.

  • Mary says:

    Brandy, I cannot tell you what a gift you are! Yours is one of my favorite blogs, it is so inspiring, full of hope. I first read “When Queens Ride By” on your blog, and it absolutely changed the way I think about woman’s role in the home. Thank you for your lovely post, a beautiful gift.

  • erin says:

    love these ideas. even if you are planning on buying your children toys and gifts this year, your children will want to give things to each other. teach them to make homemade gifts for brothers and sisters.

    if you can turn something that’s not being used into something useful, give each other presents, save money, and declutter all at the same time, that sounds like a merry christmas to me : )

  • Lana says:

    As parents of all grown children and trying to keep up with all the maintenance of the big house our five grew up in we would absolutely love it if our children did something like wash all the windows for our gift or a whole Saturday of helping Dad with chores that take him so long doing them alone. Costs no money but would mean so much!

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      Likewise, gifts for a spouse can be tackling the honey-do list that has been sitting undone for a very long time!

  • BethB says:

    What about Freecycle? I’ve given away a lot of kids stuff, toys and clothes, because I wanted them to go to someone who might really need them. You can request things too.

    • BethB says:

      I forgot to add, one of the best Christmas presents we ever got from my SIL was the year she made chai tea kits. They were AWESOME! I’m almost sad we don’t exchange gifts for the adults anymore because I have so many ideas for tea and spice mixes she would love.

    • Andrea says:

      I’m sure Freecycle is great in some areas, but where I live, it is mostly requests these days.

  • Kristy says:

    Bless you for this post. We are not having a zero-budget Christmas this year, but we have had them in the past, and these are great ideas to keep Christmas a magical time even when a family cannot spend any money. I’m glad to see your and others’ comments that the coupon books were such big hits. The Q-tip bow and arrow sets would be HUGE here. If I run short on gifts at the last minute, I am going to keep that in mind! You know, my son is in love with Legos, and this makes me think that homemade capes for the figures (cut out a teensy amount of material and make a tiny hole for the head?) and sword appetizer picks would put a new shine on old mini-figures.

  • Meredith says:

    When I was little, our stocking had shell on nuts, candy (typically hard candy) an orange and an apple. We were allowed to eat them at our leisure for the day without having to worry about meals. It was a special day! I still do that with my daughter. She loves it and since I already have those things, it’s win win. Whereas I do spend money on her, we have a gigantic family so I don’t have to spend much. With her birthday on the 26th she gets double duty.

  • kelley says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I have 3 teenage boys and a zero budget this year. It is so hard to get into the Christmas spirit when you have gone from a middle class family to an income cut by about 80% and a home in foreclosure. I’m trying to turn my Christmas spirit around, it helps to know I’m not alone.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      You’re not alone at all. Many of my readers are in similar situations.

    • Andrea says:

      Do you have access to any fresh greenery, Kelley? I just cut some pine and holly from our yard and put it in vases. It immediately cheered me and the kids.

  • Swappin' Spoons says:

    From the time my children were small, we have always made homemade gifts to give to family, friends, Sundayschool teachers, etc. We usually make home breads,wrap the loaves in foil and put a pretty ribbon around them. Here’s what we did last year, and what we are planning to do again this year.

  • Laundry Lady says:

    I like the idea of repurposing, but sometimes it feels like their isn’t much in my house to repurpose and my basic sewing skills and high cost of fabric preclude making anything from scratch as gifts, at least not yet. But I do knit when I can. (Though we do still spend money on Christmas gifts when we have it. Unfortunately extended family members do not appreciate hand made gifts as much, especially not when I’ve done them before). This year I wanted a gift for my daughter so I decided to knit her and her favorite bear matching hats, sweaters and scarves. It’s turning out to take longer than I thought, but hopefully she’ll like the end result.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      If people know you sew and that you’re looking for fabric, you may end up with more fabric than you can use in a long time! That has happened to me. Older women who no longer sew much have cleared out fabric to me. One gave me a jar of buttons that she had ben collecting for years; I used one on the composition book cover in the photo.

      My mom gives me her sheet sets and gets some from her friends when they wear through (the bottom sheet usually wears thin in the middle, or gets a hole, but the rest of the material is great to use; I have been given lots of old sheets and curtains that I have repurposed).

      Someone once gave me some fun scraps that she had leftover from making Halloween costumes. I was able to use them to make dress-up crowns.

      If you have a little to spend at garage sales, you can look for sweaters to make over. I was able to get some wool sweaters at garage sales in October that I felted to use for gloves and a hat. They cost me .33 each and $1 each. Thrift stores can also be a great source for repurposed clothing, as can hand me downs.

      My parents aren’t always big fans of homemade gifts, but we can always give them nothing instead 🙂 If your situation means that you cannot give gifts to extended family, they need to think about what’s really important to you. If they can’t understand that keeping the heat and lights on is a bigger need for you right now than buying gifts, then that’s too bad–for them.

      My mom bought gifts to send to my neices for years. When I was 22, I went to visit my cousins (they lived across the country). My cousin told me that she hated the gifts my parents always sent. My mom never knew. She said they didn’t need to send gifts at all; it would have been fine (they never had money to send gifts to us, and we knew that was the case, and we were fine with it). Extended family doesn’t always need gifts.

  • amber says:

    I love this post. I remember growing up we did not have a lot of money. One Christmas my dad made me a desk out of wood leftover from one of his projects. It is my favorite Christmas gift.

    Our Christmas will not be zero-budget but, I can say all the money we used to buy Christmas gifts was from selling stuff we no longer used on craigslist. I was also able to buy three nice gifts using swagbucks.

    A few of the gifts will be handmade. I already made an apron for my three year old niece. Before I wrapped it I let my four year old and six year old try it on to see if it fit them. Luckly, it did and I can use the same measurements to make both of them an apron.

    Free samples can also make a nice gift. I have several free bottles of bath and body work lotion that I plan on giving to my sister in law. My sister loves hot tea. I got a tea sample in the mail the other day and plan on putting it in the box I mail her for Christmas.

  • allie says:

    I always remember the story of Laura Ingalls being thrilled to death with the orange and a few other items in her stocking the Christmas they were all snowed in. An old story, yes, but a great reminder that the amount of money spent does not measure the amount of love we want to show…gifts of time and love always mean the most. I don’t want to “shelter” my kids in a negative way, but I do steer clear of toy aisles in any store and toss the catalogs before they see them. LOL What they don’t know exists (at this age – they are 4 and 5) doesn’t create a “want”. And with Christmas coming, keeping Christ in Christmas is a challenge in a world that can tend towards materialism.

    • Donna says:

      Well said. I was just saying elsewhere, in reference to Laura Ingalls, that we attended a Christmas service one year where they gave out paper bags at the end with an apple, an orange, nuts, 3 pieces of chocolate, and a candy cane- my kids thought it was grand! They had their “very own” apple and orange to eat whenever they wanted!

  • Natalie says:

    I’m going to repurpose some long sleeved hand me down shirts, and some stash fabric, into some pretty dresses my two year old will love. 🙂 I’m not that great at sewing so thankfully this will be an easy project that I can make 2 (or maybe more) of, and it’s something she needs anyway. I’m also planning on making her an apron.

    I was bargain hunting online for some Christmas presents today and getting a little stressed out about it… then I looked over and they were playing happily with a bunch of boxes and pillows. 🙂 Took the pressure off. 😉

  • Meg says:

    For those of you with boys, there is an amazing Star Wars craft book full of ideas like Boba Fett body pillows and an AT-T walker made from yogurt containers.

    I am just not crafty, so my boys will have to make do with store bought things I find on super-duper clearance, but they would Love anything from that book! I’m sure they’d be easy projects for all you crafty mommies!

    • Jiya says:

      Can you share the name of the book or a link to it? My son is a Star Wars fanatic and would love these! In fact, his Cub Scout pack might have a lot of fun making them.

      • Meg says:

        It’s this one

        My hubby actually found it at the library. Lots of clever stuff your boys will love!

  • [email protected] Family Moments says:

    I love the idea of mismatched earring (or one broken) into a necklace. Why hadn’t I thought of that? It’s brilliant – thank you!

  • Chelsea says:

    Thank you so much for this post, I really enjoyed it!

  • Ac says:

    How much do I love your site, your guest posts, and your Facebook updates, Brandy. Thank you for this.

    I wish I had a fraction of your homemaking talent.

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      Almost everything I’ve learned about homemaking has come since after I’ve been married. Start where you’re at and choose to learn something new!

  • Tricia says:

    I love how you make “cheap” and “homemade” look “simple” and “elegant”. It brings joy to my heart and projects to my “to do” list.

    Thank you.

  • Carrie says:

    This was a great post. Please keep them coming. One idea that my sister and friend have done is exchange toys that the kids no longer want. We all have boys that are bored with toys. We switch off back and forth and it saves a ton of money, it eliminates clutter. There is nothing wrong with used toys for Christmas.

  • Sonya says:

    Some of my favorite Christams’s were after my my dad left and my mom was trying to raise 3 kids on her own. We started a new tradition, that continued for many years. We did nto open presents on Christmas day. We set that day aside to have family time. Then my mom would pick a day after Christmas to have Christmas presents. We would never know what day it was so it was a surprise when we woke up to our presents under the tree (she would make sure it was before we went back to school so we could tell about our gifts too). We thought it was just for sake of family time, but realized after that it was because she would wait until all the Christmas items went on clearance so she could afford a couple of gifts. We would even wait until Christmas eve to get the tree since they practically gave them away that day, and we still got plenty of use out of it before we opened presents. Years following we had the money but kept the tradition with an addition. We would invite someone who had no place to go over for dinner to share in our family day.

  • Kimberly Smith says:

    My favorite Christmas memories were from a childhood Christmas where my mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money (or any at all!) to buy my 2 youngers sisters and I many presents. But, they did come up with the idea to paint several different scenes on an old refigerator box they got from a local appliace store. Then my mom sewed all kinds of hand puppets and we had the BEST puppet stage EVER!! I remember hours and hours of play with that thing and I’m sure it cost them next to nothing! Thanks for all of your ideas – great memories!! 🙂

  • Katie says:

    This is a truly wonderful and inspiring post. I would swap my bought gifts for any of your handmade ones – its a pity you don’t sell some. Items like yours would be very expensive to buy because of the level of work and detail.

    The doll’s coat is amazing. I simple adore those pillows – in fact all of the gifts are wonderful.

    Love your site too – have bookmarked it now:)

  • lindsey says:

    We have the money for gifts, yet my favorite gift was a few years ago when my gardening-hating husband tracked down a pickup load of horse manure and spread it over my garden beds. And my friend, that same year, gave me a coupon for 20 hours of weeding my garden. Absolutely nothing has thrilled me as much as those two, free for them, gifts did. And I don’t know a gardener who would not be happy with a coupon for weeding!!

  • Dana says:

    *Fingers crossed* that all the gifts you make for this year will be featured on your blog!!
    I love the Prudent Homemaker Blog, its so inspirational and encouraging!!
    Thanks so much for sharing what you do with all of us!!

    • The Prudent Homemaker says:

      The tutorial for the velvet rose scarf is up now.

      The composition book cover is real close to going up.

      I am making some bookmarks today for a child, and I will have several free bookmark printables up before Christmas.

      The other things I mentioned that I am making are mostly from links that you can find on my Furgal Gifts and Sewing for Less pages (terrariums, bows and arrows, barrettes, etc.)

  • wilson says:

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  • Penelope says:

    This year we are having a homemade Christmas, as much out of necessity as for an experience for our children/selves. Thank you so much for your links as I have been able to use many of them to help me with ideas/tutorials this year. I have used hand-me-down clothing from neighbors for fabric, as well as that “stash” I have. My husband has taken wood scraps laying around and has built a few things as well. I am enjoying it for the most part… just concerned about time.

    And thank you, Brandy, for the crepe idea at your site. I’ve been trying to figure out a faster way to replace tortillas in our meals with less effort. Tortillas are rather time consuming to produce, and crepes should take their place nicely.

    And I make ribbon bookmarks with beaded charms on the ends, but you could use bias tape, or bias cut fabric that was topstiched, and use those orphan earrings as charms. I’ve done that too.

    Merry Christmas!

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