Financial Discipline – Cost Saving Ideas for Christmas

Kelly Curtis - Professional speaker, writer and counselor*** Monthly Feature Column ***

Positively Speaking
Building Assets in your Kids

by Kelly Curtis, M.S., author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

America has come a long way from the Depression-era society that lived by this mantra. And few would argue the fact most of us don’t listen to the advice of people who survived those hard times. That’s one of the reasons for the economic shape we’re in now.

For many of us, this economic crisis has been a wake-up call, but it’s occurred at a time of year when we historically spend a lot. Last month I addressed some ways we can practice financial discipline, but how do we do this with Christmas right around the corner?

Search Institute has identified Responsibility and Planning and Decision-Making as two of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future. And financial discipline is one of the ways we can demonstrate these assets.

Here are a few ideas for making financial responsibility a family affair this Christmas.


Budget the gift-giving. Decide how much your family will spend during this holiday season. Encourage extended-family gatherings to reduce costs. Tell your children how much they can expect to receive and ask them to work their wish lists to fit within the budget (number of gifts or dollar value.)

Create a wish list. Ask kids to cut out items from magazines or catalogs, and glue them to a piece of cardstock. Stick it to the refrigerator, and as you get closer to Christmas, ask them to narrow their choices, based on the budget you’ve set.

Give one, get one free. We all have items we know we need to purchase throughout the year. There’s nothing wrong with going double-duty at Christmas. Consider giving basketball shoes, dance accessories, piano music or guitar tuner. It’s nice to have extra things to open, and you’d need to buy them anyway.

Buy pre-owned.
Especially for small children, buy pre-owned. While new may make a difference to preteens, I’ve never met an infant, toddler or preschooler who looked at tags. You can get just what she ordered for pennies at Good Will, Savers, Salvation Army or garage sales. Then work out a coop with your friends so you can rotate the toys. Your kids will never miss them while the trucks and Legos entertain another toddler for a while.

Think outside of the gift-box. Consider gifts that provide future opportunity to do something fun. These can be low-dollar gifts like “DQ trip with Dad” or “free movie rental” or high-dollar items, like concerts or museum field trips. Older kids may appreciate a gift certificate to use during the after-Christmas sales instead. Even a shopping spree at a second-hand store will be well-appreciated by kids who understand the bargains to be found. (I regularly outfit both my kids in brand-name clothes for a fraction of the cost I’d have to pay at the mall.)


Shop one-to-one. Make special time to shop with your child to purchase gifts for siblings, spouse or grandparents. Encourage your child to participate in choosing the gift. Shopping can be a joy for kids, even if they receive nothing material at the end of the trip.

Find fun without presents.
At large family gatherings, discover other ways to entertain besides giving gifts. Most kids would be thrilled to play board games, make crafts, watch movies or play Bunko for a white elephant gift exchange.

Start a family tradition. The holiday season is really built on traditions. Whether yours involves a menorah, midnight mass, baking a ham or helping at the homeless shelter, reestablish it this year. Help out at the church benefit, the soup kitchen, bell-ringing or caroling at the nursing home. Take a drive to see the Christmas lights, watch a holiday parade, bake krumkake or make lefse. Those memories will live on generations after the broken toys take up permanent residence in a landfill.

How will you practice financial discipline this Christmas?

Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.

Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.


  1. says

    These are GREAT tips! And “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” is something I need to remember. This time of the year, I tend to abandon my financial “rules” and now, more than ever, I need to be disciplined!!

  2. says

    I love to give gifts even if they are small. So I have a gift box and a gift closet. I buy things when they are on sale and put them in the closet. Slippers, pajamas and mittens are great gifts. Buy them after Christmas and save them for the next year. Over this next year a lot of stores will probably go out of business buy gifts and stick them in a closet for next Christmas. Don’t buy gifts that you have to worry about warranties in this situation.

    If you know someone who has lost a job probably the best gift you can give them is a gift card to a grocery story or a gas card.

    For Free Gifts I suggest FreeCycle. This is a place where people give away things they no longer want. A lot of very needy and very fugal families use this site as a trading post.

    FreeCycle was a God send when the adoption of our son happened within two weeks of submitting the paper work.

    I have a fabulous husband who is wonderful all year round and do not want Christmas gifts from him. This saves money as well.

  3. says

    I think “thinking outside the gift box” is so important! There are so many other activities we can do with our families, that are more important than the things we give!

    I am new to this site, and wanted to introduce myself. We write a blog that offers lots of money saving and frugal tips, plus bargains and freebies, and even some links to sites where you get paid to take surveys and search the internet.

    Feel free to stop by our blog at Engineer a Debt Free Life at

    Feature blogger at Engineer a Debt Free Life

  4. says

    We have been going the “pre-owned” router for awhile now, even with my pre-teen and teen-aged boys. Since they now see how it doesn’t really matter that someone else “broke it in”, they are actually pretty active in looking for things they want that are used. They use their own money to buy a lot of things, so they are also learning that this is great to stretch their dollars.

    We use Craig’s List together, and they are learning it can be fun to shop for bargains.

    Plus, it makes gift-giving that much easier!

  5. says

    Hey Kelly! You have some great ideas here. I posted some similar ones on my blog recently, but I just figured I was giving in to my inner cheapskate!

    I really like your idea of creating a wish list. That way, kids learn about prioritizing and managing a budget.

    Following you on Twitter.

  6. says

    Today I advertised new stuff on Freecycle that would make good Christmas gifts for people to give this Holiday Season. So far I’ve received 61 responses from good people. I can’t make up my mind to whom to give the stuff. Go to my site at Read about some of the folks who responded, and tell me to whom you would give the stuff. Then vote in my poll.

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