Christmas with Teens Can Be Expensive! Here’s How to Make the Holiday Special Without Breaking the Bank

You really CAN make the holidays special and memorable without blowing the budget out of the water...

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Christmas with Teens Can Be Expensive! Here’s How We’re Making the Holiday Special Without Breaking the Bank


“Mom, I really want these Lululemon leggings. They’re not that expensive.”

“So Mom, I think I want an Apple Watch and Airpods for Christmas.” 

“Dad! I just gotta have this cool new gaming chair I saw on Amazon. It reclines and everything!”

I get it… I was a teenager once and it feels really cool to sport around the latest and greatest name brands, tech gadgets, and accessories. But as much as we’d all love to indulge our kids (at least somewhat) by surprising them with their “gotta haves” on Christmas morning, we also know that sometimes, our budget just won’t allow it.

I mean, who knew our kid’s Christmas wish list would end up costing more than a Prius?

If you’re struggling to make Christmas special for your teen without blowing the budget out of the water, here are a few tips to keep the magic of Christmas alive without going broke in the process.

Christmas with Teens Can Be Expensive! Here’s How to Make the Holiday Special Without Breaking the Bank


Here’s how to make the holiday special without breaking the bank. 

Set a Budget From the Get-Go (and Stick with It)

It’s easy to get caught up in the flurry and excitement of the holidays and end up spending a little here and a little there not realizing how much money you’re actually forking out along the way. That’s why it’s a good idea to set a budget and stick to it.

Before you drop a dime, write down (yes… write it down!) exactly how much you plan to spend on each child. Then, every time you purchase anything for them (no matter how small), add a brief description and the cost of each item. That way you can keep a running total for each of your kids and when you’ve maxed out your budget, just stop spending. (I know it’s easier said than done, but I’ve used this method for years and it really works!)

Cut it To Your Teen Straight

Our kids aren’t little anymore. They’re growing up and it’s okay to clue them into the fact that money might be tight this year or that you’re tightening the reins on Christmas spending for another reason.

That doesn’t mean you should burden them with the details of any financial struggles you might be having. It simply means that they’re old enough now for us to cut it to them straight. Not only will it help establish their expectations so they’re not disappointed on Christmas morning, but it will teach them financial literacy which is a life skill they need to learn.

Have Them Provide a (Reasonable) Wish List

After I set the tone for the Christmas budget, I always ask my kids to give me their reasonable “wish list.” Quite often they send me specific links to the items/products they want, which is SO nice because it takes the guesswork out of shopping for them.

I’ll always try to buy them a few things (or one thing if it’s expensive) on their list and then layer on a few extra gifts they’re not expecting so they have the element of surprise when opening gifts. 

Get Creative with Your Shopping

When the budget is tight or you’re trying to curb your spending you have to get creative. Shop sales, use available discounts, take advantage of Black Friday deals, and don’t discount the idea of thrifting or buying gently used items. Keep your eye on Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s List or check out second-hand stores – you might be surprised how many “new with tags” or barely used items you can find at a deep discount. (I can’t tell you how many “new with tags’ Lululemon and Nike name-brand items I’ve found thrifting!)

Get Crafty

One Christmas I made each of my kids a homemade fleece blanket with fringe. I had a blast making them because I was able to buy specific fleece fabric and colors I knew they’d love and they loved the idea that I took the time to make them something special. (Plus, when you’re a teenager, you can NEVER have enough blankets.) Bottom line, if you’re crafty… use your skills to save a bundle!

Scale Back on Expensive Stocking Stuffers

Oh, those little stocking stuffers can really add up! A gift card here, a small bracelet there, or perhaps cologne or perfume – yikes! Before you know it, you’re dropping well over $100 on a simple stocking. With some creative planning, you can fill your teen’s stocking to the brim (if you give them a stocking, that is) with awesome gifts that won’t cost a fortune. Need ideas? Check out these cheap stocking stuffer ideas!

101 Cheap Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Teen Boys

101 Cheap Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Teen Girls

Focus on “Needs” Versus “Wants”

The Christmas before my oldest daughter left for college, I bought her quite a few things for her dorm room that she had her eye on. I was happy because it cut down on future spending and she was thrilled because she was getting things she actually wanted (and needed) AND it ramped up her excitement for college.

If your teen needs new athletic shoes, pajamas, slippers, or a new laptop for school, Christmas is the perfect time to focus on those “needed” items versus peripheral things they might “want.”

Consider an Experience Gift

While some experience gifts might end up costing as much (or more) than tangible gifts, there are actually plenty of reasonably priced experience gifts that could outshine “more stuff.”

Think concert tickets, theme park tickets, a day at a ski resort, a spa day, a mani-pedi gift card, a musical or play, or even a cool tech class. Think about what your teen might love and price it out – you might be surprised to find you can give an awesome experience gift that’s not too overly expensive. 

Focus on Giving Instead of Receiving

The beauty of Christmas is truly in giving, not receiving. And, even though our kids LOVE to get, they might not realize how much satisfaction they can feel by turning the limelight off of them and giving.

Volunteer at a shelter, shovel a neighbor’s driveway just because, offer to watch a neighbor’s kids so the mom can holiday shop in peace, or go through clothes, games, and tech toys and donate what they no longer wear, need, or use. 

Keep a Holiday Gratitude Jar

One mom told me that starting on December 1st, she had her kids write down one thing per day that they were grateful for and she put all their hand-written pieces of paper into a holiday grateful jar. Then, on Christmas Eve, when the family was gathered around munching on holiday snacks and opening a present or two, they passed the jar around, took turns reading what everyone was grateful for, and tried to guess who wrote it. What a great idea!

Make LOTS of Fun Memories

When I look back on my own childhood, I don’t remember what I got for Christmas when I was 13, 15, or 18. What I DO remember is how my mom and dad made the holiday special.

Our special holiday activities and traditions like visiting a tree farm and cutting down our tree, gatherings with family, opening one or two special presents on Christmas Eve, going to midnight mass, and the way the house smelled when my mom was making Christmas breakfast – that’s what I remember.

Whether money is tight this year or you’re just committed to spending less because you have a tendency to go overboard, (ahem, like I do), focus on making memories…because it’s those special memories that will rest in your children’s hearts forever. 

If you enjoyed reading, “Christmas with Teens Can Be Expensive! Here’s How to Make the Holiday Special Without Breaking the Bank,” here are a few other posts you might like to read!

22 Christmas Traditions for Teens Who Need a Little Nudge to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

December Countdown: 31 Christmas Activities for Teens (That Aren’t Totally Lame)

My Teen Needs the Magic of Christmas Now More Than Ever

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