35+ Things We’re ACTUALLY Buying for Christmas (in Case You Need Ideas for Real Humans)

OK, you’ve seen the lists, right? 100 Top Christmas Gift Ideas! Great Holiday Gifts for EVERYONE! 50 Stocking Stuffers Under $50. I mean, I’ve seen them. I READ them every year hunting for perfect presents for all the folks on my list. But I also spend a lot of time laughing at HOW RIDICULOUS some of the ideas are for those of us *ahem* on a budget (!) and I ALSO wonder if any of the list writers would Really, Truly, ACTUALLY spend their Very Own Money on those items for their humans. I LOVE my kids — to the MOON — and I’ve scrimped and saved in years past for Big Ticket Items like bikes and computers when the time (and job market) are right. I don’t begrudge any families that type of gift or spending. But I ALSO am Extremely Unlikely to purchase my teen daughter a $135+ face lotion from GOOP (or wherever), even if it does show up on every single “hottest items this season” list. I just… no. Nope. Not for us. And so, sifting through all the ideas lists becomes something of a slog, looking for a gem in pile of otherwise unusable info for me. 

I found myself wishing someone — ANYONE — would share their Actual, Real shopping list with me. Like, there are TONS of items I categorize as “good ideas” … for someone else. As in, they’re nice gifts that are THEORETICALLY lovely for a THEORETICAL person. But I wouldn’t buy them for MY people necessarily. And then I realized — duh — I can share MY Real List. And ask other Real People for theirs.


So! Just in time for Christmas, here’s a compilation of Real Things We’re ACTUALLY Buying Real People for Christmas. I’ve divided it into sections. Real Stuff I’M Buying This Year. Real Stuff We’ve RECEIVED and Loved. Real Stuff My Friends Are Buying This Year. 

Crossing fingers this helps those of you who, like me, search for thoughtful items AND have a strict budget and limited time. 

Here we go!


1.WHATShave Bars, Shampoo Bars, Lotion Bars, and CBD Balm from Simple Alchemy
COST: $9-$23
FOR WHO: Shave bars for All the Shavers in our fam, shampoo bars for the Travelers, lotion bars for the Humans with Purses, and CBD balm for me and my mama
WHY: Simple Alchemy is hand crafted in small batches by magical forest fairies* here in Oregon. ALL of Bee and Col’s products are high quality, eco-friendly, zero waste products. And they last FOREVER. I asked Col why her soaps last 3x longer than other soaps (they don’t advertise that — BUT THEY SHOULD), and she explained it’s because they use a third of the water other soaps do. There’s LITERALLY more soap in their soap. The shave bars work like a dream and mean I don’t have to buy those clunky metal cans of shave foam anymore (and clutter the landfill with them when I’m done.) The shampoo bars mean I can travel without liquid shampoo, and since I travel with only a carryon bag most often, that’s a game changer for me! The lotion bars come in the perfect tin for my purse, and I just heat it in my hands so there’s no gooey liquid lotion everywhere squirting out of plastic tubes (and lotion is SO helpful during dry winters.) And the CBD balm is ideal for muscle aches and pains… I’m sort of a zealot about it, so I’ll leave it at that except to say IT’S A MIRACLE and I LOVE IT and IT SMELLS AH-MAZING. I’m spending approximately 20% of my Christmas budget at Simple Alchemy this year. 
*BONUS: I asked the magical forest fairies if there was ANY CHANCE I could get a discount code to share with you, and they said YES. To my knowledge, this is the ONLY discount code they offer. They also said I could pick whatever code I wanted. For 10% off your purchase, you can use code: BETHSNAKEDGOODTIMESCLUB (aka, Beth’s Naked Good Times Club) because Simple Alchemy is guaranteed to make your naked time in the shower (or anywhere, really) AWESOME. 😉 ENJOY! 


2.WHAT: Absorbent Ceramic Car Coasters
COST: $6
FOR WHO: Humans with cars
WHY: Maybe you already knew about these, but I didn’t, and I love them. You drop them into your car cup holders and they soak up spills and condensation on cups. To clean them, you just rinse with water. Look, our family SPILLS STUFF. All the time. These little disks make clean up so much easier, and my cup holders aren’t constantly sticky and gummy. WIN!

3.WHAT: Flat Top Foundation Brush
COST: $9.85 (on sale right now, normally $25)
FOR WHO: Humans who put foundation on their faces
WHY: I fell in love with Mary Kay’s foundation brush last year, and then I LOST IT. Blerg. (If you have a MK consultant, do consider buying one from her for just $14 and supporting a local business, instead.) Once I started using a foundation brush, I couldn’t go back to sponges or my hands. The brush applies the foundation so smoothly, the finish is better, it’s faster, and my hands don’t gunky. 

4.WHAT: Old Spice Wild Collection Wolfthorn Scent Deodorant
COST: $9.52, package of 2
FOR WHO: All the humans who are more likely to use deodorant if it appears masculine and cool
WHY: Yes, we TOTALLY buy our young humans body care products for Christmas. They’re into it as long as they think the product is cool. So fine. I can work with that. I’M into it as long as I can stand the scent. (Read: no axe body spray. I’m gagging just thinking about it.) These go in our boys’ stockings, and they get matching body wash.

5.WHAT: Kissral Bluetooth Wireless Earbuds
COST: $49.99 (on sale right now, normally $129)
FOR WHO: My teenage boy 
WHY: He thinks these are awesome. He loves that they’re black. He loves the charging case. He loves the digital readout that shows how charged they are, etc., and *I* love that they’re on sale and not over $100 (which seems WAY TOO expensive for earbuds to me.) HOWEVER, for wireless earbuds, I actually prefer the following…

5a.WHAT: SoundPEATS True Wireless Earbuds 5.0
COST: $33.99
FOR WHO: Anyone who wants Apple AirPods without the cost
WHY: AirPods 2.0 are $130+, and that’s a tough pill for me to swallow. These are highly rated, Bluetooth enabled, wireless, adjustable earbuds with a charging case that do everything Apple AirPods do except at a $100 discount. For my budget, that’s a no brainer.


6.WHAT: Poprocks
COST: $15 for 18
FOR WHO: All my humans’ stockings
WHY: Perpetually popular! A cheap, fun “add” to the stockings. Everyone loves them. They disappear quickly. 




7-10.WHAT: Consumables!
FOR WHO: Everyone who’d rather not collect more THINGS
WHY: We just really, REALLY don’t need more STUFF in our house, and I’ve found many of the people to whom we give gifts don’t, either. That’s why I love giving consumable items (like Poprocks, above.) Some of my favorites this year are: Oregon Chai ($13 for pack of 2), Spanish Olives stuffed with lemon ($11), Oregon Truffle Oil ($15-$55), World’s Hottest Chocolate Bar ($17)

11.WHAT: How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe
COST: $16-28 depending on whether you can catch it on sale
FOR WHO: Humans who like to Know Stuff
WHY: Randall Munroe is an all time FAVORITE for my science-lovers (read: my partner + my 13yo children.) He writes the hilarious XKCD comic — “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” — and is the author of What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Scientific Questions, a book that kept my science geeks engaged and happy for WEEKS as they worked their way through reading it together. HIGHLY RECOMMEND either of these titles if you have curious Smarty McSmartpantses to find gifts for. 

12.WHAT: Supernova Era by Cixin Liu
COST: $28
FOR WHO: Adult SciFi fans
WHY: A few years ago, Greg read and LOVED Cixin Liu’s “The Three-Body Problem.” Now the author’s back with Supernova Era: “Eight light years away, a star has died, creating a supernova event that showers Earth in deadly levels of radiation. Within a year, everyone over the age of thirteen will die. And so the countdown begins. Parents apprentice their children and try to pass on the knowledge needed to keep the world running. But when the world is theirs, the last generation may not want to continue the legacy left to them. And in shaping the future however they want, will the children usher in an era of bright beginnings or final mistakes?” The thing is, when Greg reads, that’s ALL he does — nothing else can happen until he’s done with the story. So when I give Greg a book, it’s also the gift of Time to Read It. And this is the sort of all-consuming book Greg digs. Guess what he’ll be doing starting Christmas afternoon?

13.WHATSimple Modern 32 oz. Double Walled Stainless Steel Water Bottle 
COST: $21
FOR WHO: Teens, young adults, water bottle lovers
WHY: It’s a Hydroflask, which is all the rage in water bottles — like, EVERY teenager/young adult I know is carrying one — except at 2/3 the cost. Cold drinks stay cold for hours. This version has a straw and leak-proof lid. If you’re looking for one that has a handle lid, instead, and no straw so it works for hot AND cold beverages, this 24 oz. Simple Modern Water Bottle is also rad

14.WHAT: Audible Audiobook Membership
COST: $15 for 1 month, $45 for 3 months, $60 for 6 months, $150 for 12 months
FOR WHO: Ear readers, lovers of verbal story telling
WHY: I have two children who have mild dyslexia. Both thought they hated reading. They didn’t. They just struggled with decoding. I wish I’d embraced audiobooks years ago. Audiobooks have revolutionized their love of books and stories. As a family, we use our Audible membership to pick books for road trips, too. Our favorites this year were Artemis by Andy Weir, Armada by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, Eragon by Christopher Paolini, and (for just me) Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’ll be renewing our membership for Christmas this year. 

15.WHAT: Carhartt Men’s Black Beanie
COST: $15 
FOR WHO: Teens and Adults
WHY: My male humans love this classic black beanie. It’s durable and warm, both things we need this time of year.




16-20.WHAT: Small Items Suitable for Christmas Stockings
FOR WHO: Teens and Young Adults
WHY: These are some of our favorite stocking stuffers… bath bombs ($11 for 6), extra long iPhone charging cords ($12 for 2), extra long Android Micro charging cords ($10 for 3) — yes, we’re a mixed phone family 😉, PowerAdd Portable Charger ($15 on sale, regularly $25) is a highly rated, high capacity external battery, transparent cell phone ring holder/stand ($7 for 4) works like a PopSocket except more subtle and less expensive. 


21.WHAT: Kindle Unlimited Membership
COST: $10/month
FOR WHO: Voracious Readers who use an e-reader
WHY: This is MY annual Christmas gift. I read constantly. Incessantly. Relentlessly. And, as much as I sympathize with my many friends who prefer paper books for their feel and smell and heft, I ADORE carrying an entire library in my purse. To me, the only thing better than books is more books. AND, partly because I’m a writer so it’s important to me to support authors financially and partly because I suck more than the average person at returning library books, I REALLY love to BUY books. Unfortunately, I can’t afford all the books I want to consume. Enter Kindle Unlimited. For $10/month, I get unlimited reading of thousands and thousands of titles, and the authors get a cut. Oh, I still buy copies to keep of my favorite authors’ books — Kindle Unlimited doesn’t have everything — but this has been a great reading supplement for me.

22.WHAT: 23 and Me DNA and Ancestry Kit
COST: $99
FOR WHO: Humans who want to learn about their genetic history
WHY: We bought five of these kits for our family last year — one each for me, Greg, and our three kids by way of adoption. We left out the two bio kids because we figured getting our genetic history at least lets them know what they might have. I have to say, this was a DELIGHT for our kids by way of adoption. All three loved this and waited impatiently for their results. The findings were fascinating, too. One kid’s genetics were completely in one, small, Asian region without other genetic influences as far back as they can measure, whereas another kid’s lit up practically the whole world with hers — Native American, Sub-Saharan African, Iberian, Scandinavian, and more. For people who don’t have much information about their ancestry, this is a true treasure trove. 

23.WHAT: 15 lb. Weighted Blanket 
COST: $36 (on sale currently, regularly $110)
FOR WHO: Teens, and also humans who experience anxiety or feel more secure, comfortable under a heavier blanket
WHY: Weighted blankets simulate “deep pressure touch” which can calm people who experience anxiety. This has been ENORMOUSLY helpful to two of my teens, both for use during the day while sitting at a computer or reading a book and for use falling asleep at night. The blankets have been used for years for people with sensory processing disorders, as well. The one big drawback has been cost, since they usually cost upward of $100 (and easily $200 or more.) Fortunately, prices are coming down and it’s not impossible anymore to find a weighted blanket under $50. This one currently on sale for $36 — 48”x72” and 15 lbs — is a steal. 

24.WHAT: Ninja Smart Screen Blender / Food Processor
COST: $99 (on sale currently, regularly $129)
FOR WHO: Folks who enjoy cooking and/or making smoothies, margaritas, etc.
WHY: After my ancient KitchenAid blender bit the dust a few years ago, I just lived without one. I didn’t want to buy more plastic that would break quickly, and even though my KitchenAid blender was cute in a retro/50s way, it wasn’t the most durable, especially since I was pulverizing ice more often than not. But after my Cuisinart food processor also broke, I decided to do some research. I’d used mine for sauces and soups and dry rubs and baking blends, and I was pretty reliant on it. When I found the VitaMix blender, I was SO excited because it’s easy to clean, rugged, durable, and would do everything I needed from both a blender and food processor. Alas, at nearly $300 (more if you want the professional grade), I just couldn’t justify the expense. Hooray for this find! My sister-in-law clued me in to the Ninja blender, and it’s been PERFECT. Crushes ice easily. Leaves no prisoners when I’m making a smooth soup. And at $99, I could afford it as a Christmas gift last year. 

25.WHAT: Owl Socks
COST: $12 for 5 pairs
FOR WHO: Humans with feet
WHY: Like many of you, we buy socks for Christmas every year. Last year, these were for stockings, and they were a huge hit. They’re adorable, comfortable, and good quality. This was a win. 



26.WHAT: Emile Henry ENORMOUS Rectangular Baking Dish
COST: $80-$85
FOR WHO: Humans who cook for large groups of other humans
WHY: I looked for this baking/casserole dish forEVER. For YEARS. And then I had it on my wish list for MORE years. And then I finally broke down and bought it with several gift cards, and I’m SO GLAD I did. I have 5 kids, so when we have anyone over — holidays, birthdays, Saturday nights — I’m cooking for a crowd, and regular 9×13 casserole dishes just weren’t working. This one, though, is 10.6×16.5, and those extra cubic inches really add up. I use this pan for lasagna, creamy potatoes, roast and veggies. It’s big enough to fill people up and looks pretty going straight from the oven to the table. I have the “flour white” one, but it’s available in 8 different colors.

27.WHAT: Russell Hobbs Retro Style Electric Kettle
COST: $73-80
FOR WHO: Humans who like hot water, fast
WHY: I use mine for coffee (French Press) and tea several times every day. The temperature gauge allows me to heat water to different levels — lower temp for coffee so it doesn’t get bitter, higher for black tea. I have the white one, but it’s available in 5 colors. It looks pretty on my counter and it’s constantly in use. We’ve planned for years to put an instant-hot water dispenser in our kitchen sink, but this solution has turned out to be far cheaper AND more versatile. 


I also asked my friends what they’re Actually buying for Christmas this year. Here are their Real purchases:

28. “Bought my girls wrap towels for after showering.” Ryann Ge-Jo

29. “Gotta love Paper Clouds Apparel. Got my son a Logan’s skull and cross bones shirt. Designs by artists with disabilities that raise money for non profits that help people with disabilities or illnesses and employs people with disabilities to pack your chosen shirt, bag or other product.” Kristen Wilker

30. “My kids are getting Kiwi Crates in the relevant ages, then my son is getting a week of life saving training and a CD player. My daughter is getting jewellery making stuff and maybe a painting form a local artist.” Josie Yar

31. “My son is getting an overnight at Great Wolf Lodge! There are deals on Groupon :)” Catherine Danford

32. “The nieces/nephew are getting a yearly subscription to a worldwide snack box! It comes with snacks from a different country every month. 😍” Kristin Irwin

33. ”For sure getting a new family game (we have an 11 year old and 9 year old)- Telestrations– I tried the adult version with friends and it was hilarious!” Lindsay St John

34. Two years ago I started getting Snackcrate for my kids. With each country we also prepare a meal, read folk tales, do a craft, whatever. It has been a lot of fun! Last year I got them a ninja line, because please everyone go outside and leave me alone. This year, the entire collection of I Love Lucy episodes because TV is crap (and we already did MASH). A metal detector for my 8yo who notices everything tiny and has already found everything there is to find above the ground. Ami Segna Jones

35. “We buy our teen girls significant gift vouchers to our favourite bookshop, and in January we all go into the city spend hours and hours in bookshop – with half-way break at pastry shop or sushi train. This year we might stay overnight in posh hotel with indoor pool with starry roof to complete the whole “experience” gift. It will be the last proper conversation with them for a week or two till they finish their books…” Nicole Wulee

36. “If you are looking for a quality sci-fi book for middle school age (I think my oldest and your twins are the same age), The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson is great. He writes amazing sci-fi for grown ups, too, btw.” Genevieve Raines 

Agreed! We are HUGE Brandon Sanderson fans. We just finished Skyward, and the next book in the series, Starsight, just dropped TODAY. Brandon Sanderson books are a great idea. For ALL ages, since he also has childrens’ series like Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians. ❤

37. For those water bottles, this is a good addition! “STICON 100 Pieces Vinyl Waterproof Stickers for Car, Laptop, Luggage, Skateboard, Motorcycle, Bicycle Decal Graffiti Patches (Series A)” Amy Tift 

Alrighty, folks! There are a few more things I’m Really Considering for Christmas gifts like these men’s plaid shirts for $15, but for now that’s all I KNOW. I hope this has been helpful and maybe even saved you some TIME and $$$. If you’d like to share more ideas in the comments, I’m all ears! 

Signing off, and waving in the dark, always,




P.S. I know this whole blog post is about STUFF TO BUY. And I know that’s a real struggle for a LOT of reasons. Affordability. Consumerism. What we NEED vs. what we WANT and how we teach our children to handle purchasing responsibly and ethically. So I wanted to also share (below) this little exchange with a friend and one idea for how to tackle this in a meaningful way this season. FYI, EVERY school district in the U.S. is required by federal law to have a liaison who works with children and families affected by homelessness — connecting with that person is a great place to start if you’d like to help people in your community. 

“I’m struggling this year. The teen wants an updated bedroom, and the 9 & 7 year olds want every single thing they see in catalogs but need NOTHING. I can’t bear to buy more stuff! We live in a very small town, so “experiences” like movie tickets are limited. Travel with 4 kids is expensive, and having a 1 year old puts a kink in day-tripping to places. We even have too many books – a sentence I never thought I would say. Maybe they will all just sponsor a cow to a family or something.” Alexa Nowland

“We’ve BEEN THERE. My least favorite part of Christmas for years was all the STUFF it generated. Both because we didn’t need it and because 5 kids means a LARGE amount of “new stuff” clutter. It got easier for me as my kids got older. So much less “plastic toy” stuff! Having a broke college kid is the BEST because she appreciates EVERYTHING now… warm socks, a $5 starbucks gift card, etc. My other kids are pretty reasonable now, too — I guess the YEARS of me reciting how little we NEED and how much we have to already be grateful for FINALLY sunk in. 😀 🙌🏼 This year, we’ve partnered with some friends and are sponsoring two families in our community who experience poverty and houselessness. I connected with the local McKinney Vento liaison in our school district (that’s the person who assists kids and families with the federal homeless program/funding), and she provided Christmas lists for families. We don’t know who they are — their anonymity is fully protected, which I LOVE — but we get to love them and pick up some of the burden in our community. Consider asking your school district who their McKinney Vento liaison is and see if there are any needs you and your kids can fill — it’s a game changer for our family! And there are easy, inexpensive ways to help, too, like providing snacks and microwave meals for the liaison’s office so kids have something to eat when they stop by.”

P.P.S. Did you know I run a small number of retreats each year? I do! One of my very, very favorite things to do is hang out with members of our incredible, worldwide community and offer rest and respite from our regular lives. I would LOVE to have you join me. 

{HINT: A number of previous March retreat participants have asked for that as their gift for Christmas. #GiftIdea! If you need more info, always feel free to contact our retreat registrar, Maggie Peterson, at petersonm1@spu.edu.}

Click here for general retreat information

Or, if you want to head straight to the registration pages, you can register via my farm website, CAIRNS FARM:


Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this blog post. I belong to the Amazon Affiliate program, and if you purchase products via those links, I may earn a percentage of the sale. For example, I earned $33.14 in 2019 from affiliate links, of which I’ve been paid $24.83. (They only pay out once you’ve reached OVER $10, so $8.31 is sitting in my account waiting for another $1.69 to join it. YOU CAN HELP MAKE THAT DREAM COME TRUE.) FYI, $24.83 means I’ve been able to purchase more than 24 rolls of Presto Mega Roll Ultra Soft toilet paper, folks. MORE THAN 24 ROLLS! Of the FANCY stuff that does NOT feel like sandpaper on the arse. In conclusion, WE’RE ROLLING IN IT, friends. We’re living our best lives. And my family’s butts thank you.

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21 responses to “35+ Things We’re ACTUALLY Buying for Christmas (in Case You Need Ideas for Real Humans)”

  1. I got for Steven a great present that I found on some parenting group. It’s a personalized book that was custom made for him: He became a story hero along with us and his friends 😉 .
    I wanted a special gift so opted for a 3D book which has tridimensional effects on half of the book and it can be looked to with red/cyan paper glasses that I got from the store. But there is also a version which can be colored (for other ages, I guess).
    Got the book instantly into my email address and printed it but we’re having it on his Ipad also. Felt in love with the story as it is educative and fun to read to him.
    The book is beautifully drawn and the story is just great, Steven, who did not used to request anything in a politely manner, learned about a “magic dwarf” who appears and fulfills his wishes when called . Dwarf’s name is “Please” 🙂
    *Found it searching for “3D personalized book” on Google but you can go to http://www.carteamea3d.ro/EN directly and check them out.

  2. I just reread your blog post and all the comments as we are struggling for ideas for extended family to give our kids. Gifts so far:
    6yo daughter – sand art (I am going to regret that when I vaccuum it all off the floor), a glow pad (drawing with backlighting), a book, a digital kids’ camera
    12yo – rainbow cake baking kit, bluetooth speakers (the tinny sound of music from her phone is driving us mad), books, toiletries
    Husband – same as every year but he doesn’t complain! Photobook of a previous year, books (I watch the book reviews every year), fudge. I also got him some more colouring pens. Pillow sleep spray.
    Toiletries for all (shampoo and conditioner are great stocking fillers)
    Granny – flowers, personalised luggage strap, chocolate coated Brazil nuts, book
    Grandad – Amazon voucher so he can get his old favourites on his Kindle (struggles to follow a plot these days so I thought a well-known book would be more enjoyable)
    14yo godson – Amazon voucher
    Just feel like we are asking for presents for our kids for the sake of it. House is overflowing with barely touched toys 🙁

  3. Did you know that you can download raw data from 22andme and Ancestry DNA kits (these are currently on sale for Black Friday half off!) and upload it elsewhere to get helpful medical data? My favorite is Genetic Genie’s free methylation report. Or Promethease is helpful too for $10. You can find a lot of genes like the alzheimer’s Gene, braca Genes, MTHFR, etc.

  4. Last year I was struggling for ideas for my kids stockings. I stupidly made them extra large so they take a bit of filling (stocking stuffers under $50!!!! I need stocking stuffers under $5 thank you) so I used those fun single packs of sugary cereal, along with the usual undies and for those old enough, iTunes cards

  5. Thank you all for all these excellent ideas! I will definitely be getting some of these for my family. We have 2 teens and a 9-yr old so we struggle with making things equable. But, we found these soundbot Bluetooth beanies on Amazon SoundBot¨ SB210 HD Stereo Bluetooth 4.1 Wireless Smart Beanie Headset Musical Knit Headphone Speaker Hat Speakerphone Cap,Built-in Mic (BLK) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0163N2T38/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_apa_i_oB93DbMYY3JC3 (that are even more $ off today!) That we are buying for basically everyone, and we also like to give local goods to people who don’t live where we are– whether it’s apples, coffee, chocolate, beer, whatever. For teachers I ask the older kids to pick one out of their rotation and we usually get them a gift card, but our youngest’s elementary school started something really thoughtful whereby you give money to a Christmas fine that they distribute among staff so that everyone, including janitors, “specials” teachers, admins, who usually get left out, get some too. I also make a couple ginormous batches of pralines (what is your homemade speciality?) To keep in little gift bags for all those “oops” moments or for token exchanges.

  6. An overshare-y (but hopefully not guilt-inducing) personal story. SKIP TO THE END if you get bored………
    About six years ago, our family went through a year of contrasts financially: the first half of the year my husband got a bonus at work for generating the most profit at his company’s branch and we took two vacations. TWO. After ten years of mostly no vacations. This included our 20 yr. anniversary trip that mostly finished off our regular savings. (Poor choice. Of course, I’m not counting visits to family here or camping because I hate it) One trip was even on a plane (an experience I hadn’t had since my teens). Then in August, the branch president got promoted to the corporate office (for running such a profitable branch. Go figure!), and the new president decided to ‘cut costs’ by laying my husband off. (He just didn’t like him). The Wednesday before Labor Day. So he wouldn’t have to be paid for the holiday. AND our health insurance lapsed the end of August, which was three days later, and coincidentally, four days before my kidney stone surgery. So we were thankful for COBRA, and the fact that my husband had unexpected time off while I was recovering from surgery and complications, and the fact that due to his work reputation in his field he got rehired elsewhere almost immediately. But, we were stuck with a ginormous medical bill, two weeks of unpaid leave on not much financial cushion, and a new job that, while greatly superior in terms of location, office culture and coworkers, paid only about 2/3 of what he’d been making.
    I’d been raised in a family that did an over abundance of gifts to open for Christmas (my Mom’s love language I guess; I know some families really do just one gift from each person), and here I was coming up on Thanksgiving with nothing instead of my usual stockpile and just a few extras to polish off on Black Friday.
    A friend told me about the 4 gift rule: “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” And that’s it. Simple. And very customizable. And a really good way to reign in the excess. Or work with a small budget. Of course, I’m not always good with rules. I believe that rules are there to be of benefit to people rather than for people to serve the rules (to paraphrase Jesus). So I tweaked it a bit. I added a stanza to reflect our family customs (including different kinds of giving, ie ‘something to share’). But for that year, and several years after, we used that as our template. It reduced the stress, and helped us focus more on each other and the joy of the season. Maybe this idea will be inspirational to somebody else.
    And also I second the bookstore gift card idea times a million! That’s what we did for our ‘something to read’ category. We didn’t swing for a hotel trip or anything, but a family outing to Powell’s towards the end of Christmas break has become one of our favorite traditions.
    Since I loved the ideas here, And may be stealing a few I will share some of ours too.
    Subscription boxes have become a bigger hit than I would have thought. My youngest still likes Kawaii box which is basically a monthly box of Japanese snacks, stationary supply items and small toys. If you have a have a fan of Hello Kitty or Moomins, or Pusheen, Kawaii box might be your gift go to. There are tons of different boxes tho. I’ve seen some literature themed ones that I’m interested in.
    We also discovered 511 tactical gear. They make military/police grade clothes and my husband lives in their cargo khakis. Super Comfortable, practically INDESTRUCTIBLE (a very important feature for some guys) easy care, tons of pockets, but dressy enough for office casual.
    My pick for socks last year was Harry Potter themed for us girls (“Master has given Dobby a sock, Dobby is free” printed on the soles). I love Amazon.
    Speaking of Harry Potter themed stuff, I heard that Pottermore is doing a subscription box now. Looks expensive tho.
    I also have to give a shout out here for Clockwork Rose Tea Emporium. If you are Portland area local (or will be visiting), this steampunk themed tea shop is well worth visiting. They do a delicious high tea (reservations required!) and have seasonal themed tea offerings including Harry Potter and Charles Dickens, plus a nice gift shop. We went as a family to the Harry Potter one and it was incredible!!
    If you have makeup enthusiasts to shop for and a tiny budget, I could not recommend Colour Pop more. They are nice quality and super cheap and have collaborations with Safiya Nygard and Disney! Elsa themed lipstick for under $10 anyone?!!
    Oh and both my girls are interested in The Untitled Goose Game. Definitely a hot gift for online enthusiasts.
    For stocking stuffers, besides the usual suspects (socks, underwear, consumables), scrunchies are popular again. Yes it’s like it’s 1989 all over again. Or 1991. Or whatever year you were wearing scrunchies.
    The Downton Abbey movie is coming out on dvd imminently and there is an official cookbook out now.
    As mentioned above, subscription services are also nice. We gifted our college age daughter a Spotify premium one and the younger child an audible membership.
    I also know a local dog groomer who comes to your house so I’m thinking for some people (those with mobility issues for example) a service like that, or housecleaning would be really ideal.
    Hope someone else can use at least one of these ideas!

  7. We struggle with the too much stuff issue, and the affordability thing is really front and centre this year. We have our kids give one small gift from each sib to the other, one gift from the parents, and a Santa gift. So 4 gifts each and done, and some stocking stuffers. What has really gotten hard for us as our kids move into school age, is the gifts for folks at school. Between my three kids and their various issues, we’re buying 10 gifts for teachers, aides, SLP and OT. And we totally would love to buy them all the moon and then some because we are so grateful for their work and their love of our kids. We cannot afford the moon. We also feel weird giving home baked goods in case they’re not down with that. So it’s a box of chocolates each this year (as the number of helpers grows, the gift seems to be getting smaller) with a note of thanks. That still comes in at over $120 (which is a big stretch this year – we have salary rollbacks hitting our one salary). What have you all been doing for teacher/school staff gifts that are meaningful but not breaking the bank?

    • I SO FEEL ALL OF THIS. With 5 kids AND wanting teachers to feel appreciated AND having them involved in extracurricular like sports and plays and youth group (ALL of which do some sort of “Secret Santa” gift giving), it is OUT OF CONTROL. For years, I’ve wanted to write All the Groups and ask them to STOP with the Secret Santa thing. They’re all working so hard to be sensitive about it with letters home that say things like “you don’t have to spend money… a homemade gift is fine,” BUT OMG, I DON’T HAVE *TIME* EITHER. It’s exhausting and expensive.

      All of which to say, I get it.

      So, regarding teacher gifts, we’ve done 2 things that have really helped. First, we have our kids write letters of appreciation which turns out is what teachers really love anyway. If they can’t write (some of ours experience disability, so that’s not just an age thing around here), we have them draw a picture or dictate a couple sentences. Pair that with a giant candy cane, and VOILA!, teacher gifts are done! The second idea is to couple charitable giving with teacher gifts if you’re planning to do charitable giving anyway. One year, I donated $10 each in the name of every teacher we wanted to honor to a local charity that helped with medical needs and poverty. The charity provided a postcard for each donation which we gave the teachers to let them know about the gift. I had a HUGE number of compliments on that — several said they were glad to not get more “stuff,” felt really touched we’d thought of them in that way, etc. The charitable giving was already in my budget, so doing the donations “in honor of” people cost me nothing extra but was actually a thought that counts. I hope that helps!

  8. Thanks so much for this post. I’m totally checking out some of these ideas.

    For those who have been blessed with enough and to share, there are opportunities to give at select locations or online through giving machines. One hundred percent of the donations go to the sponsored organizations, and you choose what to donate – whether a pair of socks for someone in your own city or a chicken or a goat for someone on the other side of the world. There are also fun service ideas for those who may not choose or have the means to donate financially.


  9. OK, all my santa gifts and stocking gifts are officially done. Waiting to see if apple pods go on sale for black friday but if not earbuds will join the pile. Thanks!

    • I definitely do the affiliate program WRONG. You’re supposed to link to high ticket items and brands that are being officially “promoted” if you want to make money. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I like earning money! — but I just CANNOT promote anything I truly wouldn’t want to purchase myself. ‍So yes, I add the affiliate links because free TP is rad, but I also want to be super clear that I’m really promoting items I USE. Integrity is important.

  10. Santa goes “big” on the consumables for Christmas for our family. Everyone gets all the toiletries (deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, razors, lotion). If I happen to pick it up on sale, they get the fancy stuff. Our Santa wraps gifts, and a whole bunch of wrapped toiletries makes an impressive pile under the tree!

    Santa also does some fun treats that Mom doesn’t usually buy: cookie butter, hazelnut spread, Pocky, fruit snacks, gum, candy bars.

    Some other gifts this year:
    -Rocketbook and pens – this erasable, reusable notebook looks super handy for all my people. Adults can use it in meetings, my kids at school, everyone for to do lists.
    -Hiking socks from Costco. These are such a steal. Everyone gets a pack.
    -My kids go through sneakers like nobody should. They get new ones for the beginning of the school year and sometimes are duct taping them together by Thanksgiving. So they get new sneakers and soccer cleats for the spring season most years for Christmas.

    • Great ideas!

      I also grab toiletries/bathing essentials on sale. My favorite is the toiletries aisle at Grocery Outlet because I can almost always find super expensive/fancy stuff there for a fraction of the cost due to whatever weird surplus thing happened to allow G.O. to acquire it.

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