An Affordable Holiday: Creative Ways to Celebrate with Teens

The holiday season has somehow changed from the spirit of giving to the spirit of excessive spending. During this period of recession and financial uncertainty, it is not a good time to increase debt or spend beyond our means. Although creating a meaningful holiday without spending too much may feel impossible, there are ways to make the people in your life, including your teenagers, feel special without breaking the bank. Today we suggest you consider budgeting and creative gift giving.


Consider taking the time to review what you spent during the holidays last year. Be honest and thorough, including items such as holiday cards, postage, gifts, food, travel, teacher gifts, entertainment for kids while school is out, and decorations should be included as well. Do you feel this amount was excessive or appropriate and does it fit with your current budget? Try to scale back any amounts that increase financial hardship and/or stress. Set a budget and then communicate this target to your family so that everyone buys in to the idea. This can help prevent arguments when your teen wants to join the impromptu ski trip over the holiday break.

Write down everyone on your gift-giving list. Set a spending limit for each person. Write down gift ideas before you go shopping. Then force yourself to stick to the budget – if you overspend for one person, that means you must underspend for someone else. Remember, the point of gift-giving is to show your appreciation for that person, not to give them everything they ever wanted and/or get yourself in debt.

Creative Gift-Giving

Besides creating a budget and sticking to it, you can also be creative in your gift-giving. Although teenagers do like the latest high-cost gadgets and name-brand trendy accessories, a low-cost holiday gift can truly be valued and appreciated.

First, there’s no rule that says gifts have to be bought new. Scour thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets and other second-hand sources for gift-worthy items at prices well below retail. Adolescents often love “vintage” items.

Second, consider making your teen a gift. You can find instructions online for a variety of homemade gifts.  Consider these ideas:

  • Denim pocket quilt (take the pockets of old jeans and stitch them together into a quilt that looks neat and holds treasures – if you don’t have a lot of jean pockets, you can make a smaller quilt to hang beind the door for your teen’s cell phone, change, Ipod, wallet, keys, etc.)
  • Jewelry (use thread, safety pins, Scrabble tiles, beads, and more)
  • Purses or tote bags (use old sweaters, towels, jeans or curtains)
  • Coupon booklet (include things you know your teen will like such as a trip to the mall, a family night with the movie of his/her choice, and getting out of a chore – but be sure to budget for any items that may cost money, such as a “free tank of gas” for the driving teen)
  • Photo frames (spruce up an old frame by distressing it, adding some scrapbooking elements and including a picture of your teen with the family or their best friend)
  • Candles (candles are not hard to make – ask for instructions through Google)
  • Tie-dye t-shirt

Final Thoughts

A final couple of ideas to reduce your holiday spending. If you tend to give your teen’s teachers gifts, consider having your teen make something such as an ornament or a mosaic coaster or a handwritten thank you note. Finally, don’t waste money on holiday wrapping paper. Use brown paper bags from the grocery shopping and decorate them with stamps or drawings.


If your family is suffering with significant financial problems, there are many community resources that offer holiday help. It may feel hard to ask for this kind of help, but it certainly has the potential to improve the holidays for your family. Below are resources in Somerset County, New Jersey you can contact for assistance, but even if you are not in our local area, you can still reach your local food banks, United Way and churches by searching for them in the phone book.

  • Food Bank Network – (732) 560-1813
  • DYFS (Division of Youth & Family Services) – (908) 526-5030
  • United Way First Call for Help – (908) 725-6640
  • Local churches often have special programs to help families in need

We wish you luck in all of your holiday preparations!

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