8 Ways to Give Gifts When You Have Little to No Budget

8 Ways to Give Gifts When You Have Little to No Budget via KosheronaBudget.com

I love finding great deals for you on toys, jewelry and housewares. It makes me happy to know that my readers aren’t paying retail for their Chanukah gifts!

But what happens when 50% off is still 100% too much?

As I say often here on KOAB, it’s not a bargain if you can’t afford it! I know, from personal experience, that sometimes even the best price in the world can still be out of reach.

With Chanukah right around the corner, some of you may be finding yourself  in this predicament. If you are, here are eight ways that my husband and I have dealt with this situation over the years.

#1. Be honest with yourself.

There’s no shame in saying, “Hey, a flashy Hanukkah [or birthday, or anniversary, or any gift-giving occasion] just isn’t in the cards this year.”

If the money isn’t there, it’s not there.

The worst thing you can do is pretend that something is what it isn’t. If the money isn’t there, be honest with yourself about this — and consider sharing that information, in an age-appropriate way, with your children. This is especially important if they are older and have come to expect more lavish gifts.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you freak them out by screaming, “Mommy and Daddy have NO MONEY THIS YEAR!!!”

But I do think it’s perfectly okay – and even healthy – to tell kids that something “isn’t in the budget”. My children and I have had lots of talks about how budgets are a useful tool for prioritizing how to spend — and save — our money.

More so, they now know that increasing the amount that we spend on one of those priorities means that we have to decrease the amount we spend on another one. After all, as my 10 and 12-year old can tell you, “income is finite.”

I’ve found that my children are remarkably receptive to these kind of frank talks – and I think it’s helped them to understand that there is always a reason behind a no — and a yes.

#2. Give of yourself.

If your shul or children’s school is participating in a food, clothing or toy drive, this would be a wonderful opportunity to go through your pantries, closets and toy shelves. Everyone can participate!

Even when our finances have been tight to the point of breaking, I’ve learned that giving what I do have is the best way to forget about what I don’t.

#3. Get creative.

I love gawking at Pinterest, but when it comes to implementation, I’m not always the best. That said, there are tons and tons of Hanukkah craft ideas online (here are just a few) — many of which utilize supplies you probably already have at home.

If, like me, you’re not so good with the arts and crafts, there are lots of ways to get great deals for a whole lot less.

We often make photo books for my family, for example — and I try to take advantage of the many free photobook deals. There are lots of bargains on photo gifts like canvases and mugs as well – and I know those make great gifts for grandparents!

Of course, if you’re not good with crafty gifts, there are lots of ways to get great gift deals for a whole lot less at My Jerusalem Store.


#4. Experience something. Together.

As a mom, I know that the thing my kids appreciate, more than anything, is spending TIME with me and my husband. TIME when we’re not on our computers or phones, when we’re 100% focused on them.

What about having a movie night one night of Hanukkah? You can rent a movie for free from most public libraries or there are always Redbox free rental codes. Pop some stove-top popcorn (practically free) and snuggle under the blankets.

#5. Shop the second-hand stores.

Do you really want to give your loved ones a tangible, hold-in-their-hand gift, but just have a few dollars to spend? Why not shop in a second-hand store?

Not only have I unearthed fantastic finds on clothing, housewares and toys, but I’ve even discovered some of them brand new with the tags still on!

I’ve also learned that my kids, at least, are just as happy with a new-to-them sports jersey from a second-hand store like Savers (yes, my kids are sports obsessed) as they are a brand-new-one from Dick’s Sporting Goods.

If you’re new to second-hand shopping, read my post with Tips for Saving Even More at Second-Hand Stores.

#6. Use Swagbucks to earn Amazon gift cards – and then use them sparingly.

For those purchases where new-in-the-box is a must, the best way to save money is by paying with someone else’s! I have saved hundreds of dollars over the years by shopping at Amazon using gift cards I’ve earned for free.

My favorite way to earn those gift cards is from Swagbucks. Those little $5 gift cards sure do add up — especially when you are shopping strategically (and sparingly).

If you want to learn more about Swagbucks, check out this post where I introduce my favorite online reward program.

#7. Search your stockpile.

Are you a couponer? Whether you have a basement filled with stockpile, or just a few items stashed away, most of probably have enough on hand to put together some nice “health & beauty”-themed gift baskets.

If you have a gift closet, you may not even need to spend a dime at the store.

You know all those free samples that I like to post? Those can also be a great way to make up a gift basket — and, by the way, they also make good items to donate to women’s and homeless shelters (see #2).

#8. Spend cash, not credit.

The best advice I can give you is this: Don’t ever put gifts on your credit card without a clear plan for how you are going to pay off that card this month. Better yet, take actual cash out of the bank, and spend only that. The worst deal on a gift is the one you’re still paying for months from now!

If your family gives Hanukkah gifts, how do you handle the budget side? What are some of your suggestions for no-cost gifts that still mean a lot?

This post originally appeared in 2013, but the advice is still current and I wanted to re-share before we get into frenzy of Black Friday.


  1. Mara, I LOVE reading your posts -daily and try to make a habit of ‘conscious and rationalizing purchasing’. Thanks so much for all your tips, advice — especially these freebie ones. I especially love the movie night! I’m totally stealing your idea :)Thank you!
    Another idea – purchasing books/ recipe books (even some kosher ones in the Jewish communities), girly purses, etc at the Scholastic book fair warehouse sales – they are 1/2 price ($2 and up) after the book fair season has ended.
    I purchase gifts/toys throughout the year and like you, stack it in my gift closet so I’m not spending it all at once. Plus, I hate paying full price when it always goes on sale!

    • Mara Strom says

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, Atara! I love those ideas – plus they are a great way to support your community institutions.

  2. galileegirl says

    Great post, Mara! Lovely ideas.

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