5 Ways to Give Great Gifts Without Breaking the Bank

Dollars & Sense on 03.14.11

Photo: Will Clayton/Creative Commons

While your kids can't get enough of pizza parties, afternoons at the bounce house complex, and afternoon tea in full princess costumes, you have the much tougher job: coming up with thoughtful presents for a whole classroom-full of kids -- without blowing your budget. But with a little planning and a little creativity, you can sit back and enjoy the party, too.


1. Shop Ahead

As with almost anything else in life, waiting until the last minute means you end up paying extra just to get it done <em>right now</em>. Keep an eye out all year for sales at your favorite stores and stock your gift closet with bought-on-clearance items -- like Halloween costumes that do double-duty in the dress-up chest, plain Easter baskets to fill with goodies, and pens, pencils, and stickers on sale after the start of the school year.


2. DIY

Whether you're handy with a sewing machine, a set of power tools, or knitting needles, handmade gifts that align with your recipient's interests are a guaranteed hit. Try making play food from felt; building a custom dollhouse; sewing a simple organizer for crayons and colored pencils; designing couture clothes for dolls and Barbies; or making a plain wooden box that kids can decorate themselves. Get your kids involved, too, by letting them choose colors, materials, and finishing touches.


3. Skip the Brand Names

Sure, Dora may be big right now, but classic gifts will outlast even the most famous cartoon character (don't believe us? Try to calculate how many years you've been buying up Boardwalk on that same Monopoly board at your parents' house.) Choose simple board games, playing cards, Frisbees, sidewalk chalk, hula hoops, or footballs -- these are gifts that kids will play with for years to come (in some cases, even into adulthood) so you're getting more for your money -- and you're also not paying a premium for licensed characters.


4. Choose a Theme

Narrowing down your gift by theme can help you save a lot of time when shopping (anything that doesn't fit the theme is automatically out!) and it also helps tie together lots of smaller, inexpensive items. Focus on the birthday boy or girl's favorite color and fill a jar or box with anything you can find in that shade -- pencils, erasers, bandages, candy, small toys, a jump-rope, a book, art supplies -- or choose items that coordinate with their hobbies to please the aspiring princess or train engineer in your life.


5. Think Outside the Wrapping Box

While you're noticing how quickly the gift costs are adding up, you might be missing another big expense: wrapping. Pricey papers end up in the trash almost immediately and can blow your gift budget way out of proportion. Instead, try using a roll of plain brown paper and letting your kids decorate with their own artwork or stickers; wrap small gifts in newspaper or magazine pages; or use spare pieces of fabric to dress up plain boxes.