A beautiful display of thrifted glassware
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How to Give Your Kids a Thriftmas This Year

Dec 17, 2019

Our kids love Christmas.

They love everything about it. Because the holiday season can feel really magical.

But there is one thing that doesn’t feel so festive for me, the parent: holiday debt. 

Our Holiday Goal

On Christmas morning, we want happy kids and magical moments. What we don't want is debt, and loads of shiny new plastic that’s destined for the landfill.

Which is why we head to the thrift shop for our Christmas needs.

Our kids are still pretty young and don’t care if the toys or clothes they get are used or brand new.

We try to have a conversation frequently about how lucky we are to have so much. This helps the kids appreciate what they already have.

We also talk about the environmental and financial perks of shopping secondhand throughout the year. Just because you are buying from the thrift store does not mean you have to get a novelty item. You can shop secondhand and get your giftees what they really want. I swear.

How We Successfully Have a Thriftmas

Step One

Set a budget If you haven’t saved for Christmas throughout the year. Look at your budget and pick a realistic amount of money you can spend this Christmas and make a commitment to not go over it. It's easy to go overboard this time of year, so this is a good starting place to keep you honest.

Tip: Choose "Secret Santas" where possible. It beats shopping for every single relative on your list. Not on offer? Suggest it. The worst that could happen is people say no. 


Step Two

Make a list and stick to it. Keep the budget tight and the list even tighter. 


Step Three

Having a plan will help you stay on track. Does your dad love spy fiction? Don’t waste time in the tie section buying him something he’ll never wear.  My husband’s favourite Christmas gift to date is a Griswold-style hat I got him with the original tags on for $5 at the thrift store. He wears it every day in the winter. And that expensive watch I got him three years ago? Sitting in our dresser drawer.


Step Four 

Start early. Thrifting takes time. In an ideal world you’ve already planned and started your shopping for Christmas, but even if you’re behind, leave your kids with another caregiver and have an afternoon hitting up various thrifty shops (like consignment stores for clothes, antique shops for bric-à-brac, traditional thrift stores for everything, church bazaars for gently used, handmade pieces and library sales for like-new books on a variety of topics) to see what you can find. If you have the time to browse, online marketplaces have a lot of great finds that are often priced to sell because people just want pieces out of their homes! Also, remember: a lot of these shops are constantly changing their inventory, so make an effort to look back if you have the time. 

Tip: To make it extra fun, bring a thrifty friend! Sorting through racks can be challenging on your own, but having a second set of eyes is good for finding diamonds in the rough.


Step Five 

Supplement and improvise. For the kids we focus on sets, books or open-ended toys. Things we can add to over time like any sort of block set, lego or crafting supplies. My eldest daughter is really into sewing this year. I found a great little tackle box for $2 at the thrift shop as well as fabric, yarn and an embroidery hoop. I supplemented with some thread, scissors and needles but overall the present cost me $10 and will bring her so much happiness on Christmas morning and is something we can add to over time.

Tip: Don’t buy it "just because." Just because it’s cheaper at the thrift store is not an excuse to go overboard. I’ve noticed in past years that once we reach a certain number of presents on Christmas morning the kids are barely registering what they’ve received. Try to pare it down to 3 or 4 quality presents and a stocking. Or find an amount you feel comfortable with and work within your limit.


What about Santa?

I’m not saying my kids never get anything new because that’s not true. If there’s something very specific that they’ve asked for and is within our means (and values) to get, we will get it. We say Santa brings one present. My 6-year-old asked for an iPad this year which I promptly said no to (and would have even if we had the funds for it). Santa has to buy for a lot of children and won’t be spending that much money on one child. Is there anything else she wants? She wants popcorn and some paints. And Santa can deliver on that!

The season is truly about being together and long after the presents are forgotten, you are the one dealing with the aftermath of excess debt (and toys that may or may not ever get played with).

Think they’ll be bummed about not getting a brand new gift? They likely won’t even notice. Thrifting is a thoughtful way to show your love this Christmas with added benefits of being better for your wallet and the environment.

Article Author Rachael Watts
Rachael Watts

Rachael is a freelance writer whose current idea of a party is a Saturday night at home with a Harry Potter book or Netflix. She loves outdoor adventures, pumpkin spice lattes and any DIY project you can throw at her. She stays home with her three daughters and considers yoga a must for extracting herself from her kids’ beds or wrestling children into snowsuits.

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