Oh No, Santa’s Broke!


Christmas is the holiday for giving and receiving. For kids, it’s a time for receiving, and receiving and receiving! They make their lists for Santa, hoping he will bring them exactly what they want, whether it costs $5 or $500. Most kids, understandably, don’t understand how much gifts costs and how little money “Santa” makes in comparison.

Every parent wants to give their kids the world and make Christmas a magical experience for them! Many parents, like their kids, equate magic and the spirit of Christmas with gifts.

I am here to tell you, Christmas can be magical even if Santa is broke.

You can help Santa buy great gifts for your little ones and offer your kids a special day filled with memories of the family spending time together without going broke yourself.

Buy second hand

A great way to buy the name brand items on just about every child’s Christmas list is to go to a thrift store with a great reputation, like Once Upon A Child in Deptford, NJ, or to a store that sells pre-owned video games, like Game Stop. With a little elbow grease and festive holiday wrappings, your child will have no idea the gift didn’t come directly from Santa’s workshop!

Don’t have a great thrift shop nearby? Some other places you can look for used items that look and feel new are Amazon, Ebay and Craigslist.

A little side note… My mom is famous for buying gifts at yard sales. Most of the time, she gets amazing gifts. Other times, well, let me just say, if you choose to go down this route, make sure the gift works and has not expired!

Gift of a vacation

Even though it is always fun to have tons of gifts to open on Christmas, the truth is that those items, toys and clothes will be forgotten within a short period of time. When I ask my kids what they got, they tend to stop and think and then respond, “I da’ no, I forget”. But if you give your kids the gift of a vacation (on the off season so it's less expensive), they will carry the memories with them for the rest of their lives.

There are oodles of websites eager to help you find inexpensive vacation options for you and your family, like Living Social Escapes.

Homemade gifts

I realize that your child who is hoping for Star Wars games or Justice clothes is not going to be thrilled with receiving a homemade gift, and I am not suggesting that you trade out their dream gifts for something you created. But, as we all know, gift giving does not stop at our kids. 

Our sisters and brothers, parents and in-laws all want gifts, too. Instead of stretching your wallet even thinner than it already is, treat the adults in your family to the gift of your craftiness. My sister and I get together every year and make gifts for the adults in our family, who always love and appreciate our efforts and enjoy the unique, one-of-a-kind items we make We have found Pinterest very helpful when we brainstorm what gifts to make and how to make them.

Inexpensive gifts

Santa always wants to get the kids what they want but can’t always fill the entire list. Pick one or two top items, and then treat the kids to lots of inexpensive gifts they will get excited about, like books, trinkets and inexpensive toys.

Shop all year round to hit sales and use coupons

My mom taught me a very valuable lesson growing up: Shop all year round! 

  • When you’re out and about or traveling, think about what your kids like. You may see items that would make perfect Christmas gifts! This is a great way to save money because your wallet is not taking such a huge hit at one time but being dipped into all year round.
  • Save those you get in the mail. Stick them in your bag so you always have them with you; some stores will let you couple the coupon with a sale to save you even more money.
  • Shop at the end of the seasons. Find great deals in February for winter clothes you can give to your kids the following Christmas.


Stockings are an integral part of Christmas. It is even in the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas: “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.” 

Santa doesn’t always have to fill the stockings with only A-rated items. Stockings can hold a mix of items like practical things, candy and small toys.  

I remember as a child, Santa would always balance out what was in our stockings by combining yummy chocolate and trinkets with tooth brushes and pens. Would I have liked the stockings to be overflowing with only great things? Of course! But then I wouldn't have treasured the special items that were sprinkled in the stocking. My most treasured memories of opening stockings are enjoying the experience of seeing what surprises lay inside!

Gift of giving: Help out at a soup kitchen

For families that like to mix things up a bit and open themselves up to new traditions, trading your gift getting extravaganza for volunteering at a soup kitchen is a great way to save money and reach beyond your own family to touch the hearts of other families who need a little extra love!

See page 2 for more suggestions on how to make Christmas special, not expensive.


Everything that surrounds gift giving

Christmas is a day for families to spend with one another, make cherished memories and bond. You can do a great deal together to make Christmas special beyond giving and getting gifts:

  • Make a special Christmas breakfast. In my house, I go all out with cinnamon buns, eggs, pancakes, fruit, bacon and sausages. In addition to a huge feast, dress the table with some special things for the kids. Put out Christmas-themed dishes, glasses, napkins and a tablecloth (found at discount stores).
  • Play board games in the afternoon or watch a special movie; perhaps one that was received as a gift.
  • Go to church together for a Christmas sermon.
  • Take a family walk at a park or through the neighborhood.

Stretch out the morning

Growing up, my parents taught us the valuable lesson of stretching out Christmas morning so we could learn to enjoy every part of it, savoring in the magic. First thing in the morning, we would run downstairs to see how large the pile of gifts under the tree grew overnight. Then we would turn to see the stockings over flowing with wonderful things. We would grab our stockings and run up to our mother’s bed, waking her and showing her that Santa had come! There, on her bed, we would open our stockings.

Before opening the gorgeous pile of gifts waiting for us under the tree, we would gather around the kitchen table and have breakfast together. My mother usually would prepare eggs, toast and wonderfully buttery cinnamon buns bought from the local bakery. Once we'd devoured breakfast and the grownups cleaned up the kitchen, we would gather back around the tree to open gifts.

This whole process, although drawn out, helped make Christmas morning and our anticipation for what was to come more exciting. We didn't go into a gift getting, blood sugar crashing (from not eating breakfast) frenzy and then get disappointed with post-gift depression (as bad). We still got to enjoy all that Christmas morning brought us and enjoyed the last bit of anticipation and excitement.

Christmas is a time for giving and getting but, most important, it is a period to enjoy time spent together as a family. Not having enough money to buy the “perfect” gifts doesn’t have to ruin Christmas as long as you are together!

Jessica Mungekar gathers and writes about party options and tips at Jessie's Party Stop, South Jersey's Guide to Kids' Parties. 


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