Our Children’s Christmas Gifts (and why we are OK with used gifts)

posted by Andrea | 12/13/2019

our children's christmas

Every year I get lots of questions about what we give our children for Christmas… specifically, if we give them used and second-hand gifts. 

As many of you know, we try to buy used items whenever we can. We have amazing thrift stores by us, and I personally enjoy finding things we legitimately need at rock-bottom prices!

When it comes to gift-giving, I truly don’t do much shopping outside of thrift stores, ThredUp, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or purchasing gift cards. Dave and I have no issues giving used gifts to our children — nor do we care if we receive used gifts from others.   

So yes, we did give our children several used and second-hand gifts for Christmas – along with a few brand new items. 

second hand gifts

her american girl doll

Since we usually celebrate our own family’s Christmas quite early (our attempt to simplify this time of year) we actually opened gifts with our kiddos last weekend. 

We sent them on a scavenger hunt through the house — finding candy canes with clues at each destination, until they eventually found their gifts in the back of the dress-up closet (behind the bins of hats and shoes). 

candy cane clues

finding their gifts

After opening all their gifts and then excitedly playing with their new things for well over an hour, Nora ran downstairs, gave me a hug, and said: “this is the best Christmas ever!”

Clearly the used gifts didn’t affect her all that much.

opening their second hand gifts

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Here’s a quick rundown of every gift we gave our children this year.

NOTE: We spent less than $100 on EVERYTHING for all 4 kids — and they each got 12 gifts! 

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nora's second hand gifts

simon's second hand gifts

james' second hand gifts

clara's second hand gifts

Clothing Gifts: 

Shoes:

Nora and Simon have been begging for “high tops” all school year. Simon specifically wanted black Under Armour high tops (which I found on Facebook Marketplace for $10!) Nora showed me pictures of what she liked and I found almost the exact pair via ThredUp!

I also found Clara an adorable pair of sparkly pink high tops from Goodwill for $2!

James didn’t need shoes, but he did ask for slippers. I found him a pair of clearance slippers at Meijer a couple of weeks ago (bonus points that they were Paw Patrol!) 

New Shirt: 

They all got 1 “new” shirt or sweatshirt for Christmas — all purchased from local thrift stores for $1 each (I washed them before wrapping).

Educational Gifts: 

School Lesson Books:

Our kids absolutely LOOOOOOOOVE playing “school”. It’s probably the most common thing they play together these days — Nora is always the teacher (shocking, I know!) 

They constantly ask me to print them school papers, so I figured they would all be excited about the large school lesson books I found on clearance at Aldi this summer (I believe they were $2.99 each). 

Our Aldi only had a few left, but I snagged a Preschool book, a Kindergarten book, and a 2nd Grade book! 

I was also sent this Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood book to review. Clara is now the proud owner of her very first “school book”.

School and Craft Supplies: 

The boys both wanted their own pair of scissors and Nora wanted new paint markers and highlighters — so I purchased these during the back-to-school clearances this fall. I think I paid around $0.50 for Fsicars brand scissors that look like a basketball and a football!!! 

They also got a personalized notepad from StuckOnYou. This company sells SUCH FUN products for kids.  

Toy Gifts: 

I’ll be honest, we didn’t do many toys this year — mainly because I know the kids will get several toys from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins! Also… WE DON’T NEED MORE TOYS!

Each child got 2 small “toy gifts” from us this year… ALL of which we purchased used.

Nora = a little craft kit and a small wooden drawer unit I found at our thrift store and made into a tiny dresser for her new American Girl doll (she decided on Julie who is the 1970’s “hippie”).

Simon = a small monster truck he’s been asking for and a set of dinosaurs 

James = a pair of mini nerf guns and a set of the same dinosaurs (it was a bag of 8 for $2 at the thrift store, so I gave 4 to each boy)

Clara = a mini stuffed bear and a teeny tiny guitar!

NOTE: I thoroughly wash all our thrift store toys prior to giving them as gifts!

Miscellaneous Gifts: 

Land’s End Drawstring Backpack:

I purchased these bags in a back-to-school clearance sale in August for $5.99 each. The website no longer carries the exact bags, but here’s a similar bag on Amazon

I love that the bags have a smaller zippered pocket on the front and TWO water bottle holders on each side. 

NOTE: We used these bags to hold the majority of their other gifts — sort of like a giant stocking. 🙂 

Key Chains: 

They all love key chains, so I picked up a few for $0.25 each during the back-to-school sales this fall. 

Contigo Water Bottles:

I found a BOGO deal on these Contigo Water Bottles (ours are different colors) at a local store several weeks ago — so I only paid about $18 for all 4 water bottles.

I knew the kids would be SO excited to use their new water bottles so I washed them all the day before and actually filled them with water inside the gift! 

NOTE: I know there are currently recalls on some Contigo bottles, but ours are good-to-go! 

Hand-held Mirror:

This might sound like a weird gift for children, but our kids ALWAYS take Dave’s hand-held mirror (and fight over it) so I got them each their own mirror from the thrift store (and I put their names on it so they can’t fight!)

Cash: 

We gave the older 3 each a $5 bill that they can either put in their money banks or spend after the holidays (if there is something small they feel they still want)

That’s everything under the tree for our kiddos this year!

gifts under the tree

Some of you probably think we totally deprived our children… others might feel we went overboard. 

There’s probably a case for both sides! 😉

One thing I will mention is that we almost never do things the same year after year. 

Some years we do stockings, other years we don’t. 

Sometimes we do a “gift from Santa”, other times we don’t. 

There are years when we do mostly new gifts and years when we do mostly used gifts. 

Sometimes we open all the gifts at one time, other times we spread them out and do a few each day for a whole week. 

Some years we give “experience gifts” or a bigger family gift (like a trampoline), other years we give them lots of cheapy toys that they play with until they break and then we throw them out. 

One year we did 4 gifts “want, need, wear, read”, this year we were much less intentional. 

I honestly don’t think there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to do holiday gifts as a family!

If you love spoiling your children with a big fancy Christmas — do it! 

If you like keeping things ultra simple (or if you need to for personal or financial reasons) I’m positive your children will still enjoy this special time of year! 

opening gifts

opening gifts

opening gifts

I’d love to know…

How do you feel about used gifts? 

How does YOUR family do Christmas gifts?

What are your favorite gift-giving traditions? 

our children's christmas gifts

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37 comments

  1. Hannah Beth Reid

    12/29/2019

    Used gifts are so great, especially if it is a specific item someone wants and the new price would prohibit us from buying it. Our families are also fine with giving and getting used gifts, which is a big blessing! And 3 of our children have birthdays near the local consignment sales in the spring and fall, so my mom usually goes birthday shopping there for them.
    We have had some years where we planned out very intentional, coordinated gifts for each child (all American Girl doll accessories, Paw Patrol things, etc.) and I found nearly everything used in the months before Christmas. And some years where I ordered most things from Amazon (like the year with a new baby and the year I was VERY pregnant at Christmas). This year we intentionally chose physically small gifts because we are limited on space in our home and nobody needed anything large. Everything went in a stocking, so that was challenging (in a good way). I have enjoyed all of the ways we’ve done Christmas gifts. Some years I have collected things all year and we popped open the box the night we need to wrap gifts and hope for the best!

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    Hannah Beth Reid Reply:

    Oops, I forgot to type that we also gave everyone in our family a new super soft blanket, which isn’t a physically small gift, but is definitely useful!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing what worked well for you and your family this year! Your list of ideas and specific gifts was super helpful and informative!

    Happy New Year!

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  2. Eileen

    12/22/2019

    Great ideas! I feel like I really have to hunt at our local thrift stores to find good items (and the prices can be really high here ) but we do have a great twice a year consignment sale where I have found a lot of the kids gifts over the years. I love used because then you don’t have a ton of awful packaging to get through too, have you ever tried to remove a Barbie from its original box? My kids are great lovers of Santa so we have one main gift from Santa that’s for the whole family like a baby doll crib (consignment find!) that’s out on the floor unwrapped, and Santa stuffs stockings too..usually chapstick, individual snacks I would never purchase, toothbrushes with characters and refreshed art supplies like crayons and watercolors I buy on sale in September. They receive a few small wrapped gifts from us, this year it’s a Melissa and Doug ice cream set, drawing pads, and a story book for each kid (three girls). We have a ton of family in the area and my kids are the only little people so they end up with too much probably, but our families love to gift them with craft supplies, coloring and sticker books, etc..items that need replenishing so it doesn’t feel like too much is coming in.

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  3. Misty Curn

    12/16/2019

    You did an awesome job putting together gifts for your kids and I loved seeing all the neat items you found for each one! This year, I purchased a cooler backpack from our local thrift store and some books at our library used book sale and put them with gifts for some adults. They are in like new condition and I feel like I’m giving back by supporting the library and local charities that run the thrift stores. I also am trying to minimize my global footprint, so buying used means one more thing doesn’t need to be manufactured for me to give it as a gift. The simple side of me also is aiming to intentionally give usable gifts instead of something that just sits on a shelf. I am all for a second hand gift Christmas!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I enjoy supporting local businesses, libraries, thrift stores, etc. too!
    I like your cooler idea too!

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  4. Allison

    12/14/2019

    You are an inspiration. I generally have good intentions but end up spending way more than I planned. In my defense, I gift a lot of experience gifts to my husband and daughter and those prices tend to add up quickly. I’ve been trying to get better but this year let it get away from me as we just moved to a new state and it has been difficult and stressful.

    I really like that you decide each year what you can and will do. I believe it helps kids not to expect everything to be so gift focused. For my daughter’s 13th birthday, we gave her a few books and 2 t-shirts and an acquaintance said I was lucky that my daughter accepted that with a problem. She said her kids would never let her get away with that and expect big gifts and a party. I gently replied that I’m the parent and my child’s expectations are usually determined by my behavior and I am not of the mindset that my kid will dictate my spending. It was kind of annoying because she said it right in front of my daughter and then went on to list everything everyone gave her kids and all the money they got from relatives. I don’t live near any family so my daughter only has my husband and I. It’s not easy to deal with the emotions of a child who feels forgotten by family as it is and this person made it so much worse. I appreciate seeing others who keep it simple as well.

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    Allison Reply:

    Sorry- my daughter gladly enjoy her gifts without a problem. Just a typo.

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    Gaynor Williams Reply:

    What an insensitive acquaintance! Your way sounds so much better!

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow! sorry your “friend” was so rude in front of your daughter — that’s totally inappropriate!

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  5. Christine Meurer

    12/13/2019

    I am totally on board with used gifts, especially when you have 4 or more kids! We do different things every year too, but the one thing I do love doing is taking each kids separately to the dollar store, or taking advantage of a trip when one kid isn’t with us, and each boy (we have five) picks out a super cheap gift for each brother. That means each kid gets 4 gifts from his brothers. That gets mommy and daddy off the hook for getting too many other presents! Haha 🙂 we don’t spend a lot of money on Christmas because our two oldest boys’ birthdays are the 19th and 20th. Busy busy!

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    Andrea Reply:

    you know, I was JUST telling Dave that my favorite part about more kids in school is that I don’t need to take them each shopping to buy little gifts for their siblings! 🙂
    I guess I do not love doing that, so the fact that they can buy those little things at the school Love Bazaar was SO great this year!

    And wow — 2 birthdays within a week of Christmas is rough! I thought it was “bad” to have one birthday at Thanksgiving… you’re amazing!

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  6. Mary

    12/13/2019

    My teenage daughter would have been shocked at second hand gifts but is now a huge thrifter and finds wonderful deals. She and her husband always tell us they need socks so Santa still puts a bag of new socks under the tree for each of them. Fun to not have to spend your own money on boring stuff.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thank you for getting them socks when they asked for them! I used to always tell my parents I wanted that type of stuff when we were first married and they literally refused to buy it for me because it was “not a good gift”. I hated spending money on socks or undershirts for Dave.

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  7. Debbie

    12/13/2019

    You have many great ideas! I like that you do things differently each year. If I had kids I wouldn’t have a problem giving them used gifts and I’m pretty sure they would like them. I just don’t feel comfortable giving others used gifts.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I love mixing it up every year — nothing gets “set in stone” that way and we stay more flexible!

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  8. Gillian E Delledonne

    12/13/2019

    I think you do what’s right for your family and that you and your husband are the only ones that can make that decision. Things this year have changed for me since I began to work at an auction house. My son currently works full time for one company and then runs his own business with the intention of opening his own studio. He’s a photographer and collects vintage and antique cameras. I was able to get him an unused almost antique camera (circa 1922) at auction for next to nothing. He and his wife entertain, and I found 8 vintage tiki mugs for again…next to nothing. I was able to purchase a Rocket Richard signed photo for my husband this year, and since the Montreal Canadiens are his favourite hockey team, I know he’ll be excited. These are things that I didn’t pay a lot of money for, but things I know they’ll enjoy and appreciate. My son does the same thing and we truly appreciate the thought and the love that goes into these gifts. People need to realise that it’s not about the dollar value, and that it truly is what comes from the heart.

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is awesome — look for a really big old vintage windmill for me please 🙂 LOL!

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  9. Jen

    12/13/2019

    Everybody does things differently and finds what works for themselves and their families! That’s great! It only gets awkward when people aren’t “on the same page”, I guess.
    I do have a couple of questions- how does it work that some years Santa comes and sometimes he doesn’t? Do the kids give each other or you or grandparents gifts, and how does that work?
    I think maybe you had said before that you and your husband don’t give each other gifts on Christmas, so kids just think that adults don’t exchange gifts? What do you do on the actual holidays? Forgive me if you already answered! Sweet to see those happy faces!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Jen,
    Here are my answers to your questions:
    1. Our kids never really believed in Santa — so we just joke about how there were gifts from him.
    2. The kids get us something at their school’s Love Bazaar
    3. We just give gift cards and photo calendars to grandparents (sometimes the kids draw them a card too)
    4. No, dave and I never do gifts.
    5. I don’t think our kids even realize we don’t do gifts — they are so excited with their own gifts!
    6. My goal is to always “do nothing” on the actual holiday 🙂 OK, well not really — but I’d love to just lay low if possible. However, we always have church in the morning and then at least one other Christmas party with extended family. So it’s nice to have our own family party much earlier as to not “compete” with time or attention from other parties that day.

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  10. Linda

    12/13/2019

    I love giving and receiving used gifts. There is something thrilling about landing the exact, or near exact item you need and finding it at a rock bottom price. Frankly, I don’t know how families can afford an all new Christmas. With children, they either break or lose interest in toys so quickly that I think used is the way to go. What a great way to make use of your money!

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    Andrea Reply:

    My thoughts exactly — I love the fact that I can give my children what they want, without worrying that they’ll ruin it or getting upset if they break it the next day!

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  11. Amanda

    12/13/2019

    I love the gifts you picked out for your children! There was a time I thought all gifts should be new, but I have certainly changed my opinion on that! I have a busy household with 3 in school and 3 preschoolers. I love thrift shopping, but it’s hard in this stage, so I did more online shopping this year. We usually stay with inexpensive gifts, but sometimes we get something bigger if we feel they will make use of it. Thanks for sharing, it’s encouraging to hear from others who don’t feel they have to spend big bucks for fun and useful gifts!

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — 3 preschoolers. You are amazing!
    And yes, thrift shopping is the best (but only when you have the time and energy to go — not necessarily with 3 preschoolers!)
    Maybe you can get back into it in a couple more years when everyone is in school again!

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  12. Tracy

    12/13/2019

    My kids always have books on their list. I hit the library used book sale first! I’ve grabbed Lego sets second hand and one year got a huge box of Thomas the train trains for $10! My kids absolutely do not care of their presents are used.

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    Andrea Reply:

    great idea — Nora is the only one who can read so far, but used books are a great gift idea!

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  13. Jen

    12/13/2019

    I have no issues with used gifts! Your kids look thrilled and that’s what matters! My issue (and this comes from my childhood!) is giving them things they “need” as Christmas presents. My mom and dad would never give us socks, underwear, etc. as Christmas gifts because it was something they knew they would buy us anyway. I haven’t totally followed that–I will put socks and underwear in a stocking–but I do struggle with it sometimes. I guess I want it to be more fun and less practical stuff we wouldn’t typically buy. (Please understand, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with giving things kids need for Christmas. I’m just mentioning how it was done in my house.)

    That being said, with one married child, one engaged child, and everyone moving on to the next stage of life, we told our kiddos that we would be cutting back this year. It’s time for them to start making their own traditions, etc, and not expecting mom and dad to be their “main” Christmas. It has been very freeing for me, I must say!

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    Andrea Reply:

    It’s actually really surprising that you don’t want to give practical “need” items as gifts. I do see where you are coming from — but considering we are basically the same person, I’m shocked that you don’t just LOVE these types of practical gifts! LOL!

    Also, you are giving your children SUCH A HUGE GIFT by stepping back and letting them do some of their own things during the holidays. Good for you! I already told Dave we are NEVER going to guilt or pressure our children into spending time with us over the holidays. If they want to go with in-laws, that’s fine. If they want to be with their own families or friends or go on vacation, that’s fine. We can get together any time — not specifically ON a holiday!

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  14. Ashley G

    12/13/2019

    I love these gift ideas! I’m totally okay with used gifts.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yay — thanks! 🙂

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  15. Meghan

    12/13/2019

    Thanks for sharing! It’s fun to see how other families do Christmas! My best friend does it similarly to you. We get our kids a mixture of things they want and things they need. Wants- games, building sets, dolls. “Needs” – ski gloves/ goggles, pajamas, hooded sweatshirts. We don’t buy them anything throughout the year besides clothes, shoes, and books, so I’m ok with a “big” Christmas (5-7 gifts to open and stocking stuffers.) Their birthday gifts are usually an experience or family gift like a trampoline (my boys’ birthdays are 9 days apart.) I’m not opposed to used gifts – the first trampoline and four wheeler were used. For most things, it’s not worth the time and effort to buy used. I do 99% of my shopping online and can’t imagine how I’d get it done otherwise.

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    Andrea Reply:

    sounds like a good system — and I’m amazed that you don’t buy your kids anything outside of birthdays and Christmas! I wish I could say the same. They are always talking me into little toys and games at the thrift store 🙂

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  16. Annette Silveira

    12/13/2019

    No problem with used gifts here! I wish I had better thrift stores in my area. When I was visiting relatives in Texas recently we hit a couple and I got such good stuff. Plus, they were clean, organized and really well-run.
    The main takeaway here is that your kids were thrilled!

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    Andrea Reply:

    come visit West Michigan and I’ll show you all our amazing thrift stores!

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  17. Linda M

    12/13/2019

    Sounds downright perfect to me! Seems that you are instilling an appreciation of receiving and gratitude in your children as well as providing gifts that nourish their creativity. You are also very in tune with their interests and cultivate them. Doesn’t get much more loving than that!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Linda 🙂

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  18. Chris

    12/13/2019

    Sounds like they had a fabulous Christmas! (and your pocketbook did too). 🙂

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