Kids love Compact-y Gifts

That’s my adorable 7-year-old niece, modeling the hat we gave her, and her new cat from Santa.

When I started on The Compact, I was most nervous about what I would do for gifts. I was sure I could go without new stuff, but didn’t want to be ungenerous with friends and family. Well, I had no problem with that this holiday season. Everyone seemed to enjoy their handmade, consumable, and used gifts.

That was especially true for our niece and nephew. She’s 7 and he’s 11, and the past few years we’ve loaded them down with gifts because my husband and I had both had done well financially. But sadly, I can’t remember much of what we gave them. Tellingly, I can only recall a shirt for her with an embroidered butterfly on it that I found at a kid’s secondhand shop.

We were a little worried about how they would react to this year’s more modest, Compact-y gifts. This is what we sent:

For the 7-year-old girl, the hat was a regift. My friend knitted it for me a few years ago but it had always been too small and I thought it would look cute on my niece, which it does. She also got a bracelet with wooden beads that I made for her, a “like-new” used copy of “Little House in the Big Woods,” and a DVD of “Sleeping Beauty,” which I received as a work freebie.

For the 11-year-old boy, my husband found a super-cool African mask on ebay after our nephew had admired my husband’s collection, and I gave him a “like-new” used copy of a book about race car drivers (his passion) and a handmade bag filled with foreign coins from our travels because he’s a collector. My friend Tammy from The Frugal Musician made the cute “Robin Hood style” drawstring bag for me.

Their reactions to these almost quaint gifts? According to their mother, they loved them. She wrote that “in particular, the beanie and the booty bag with coins were winners.” Ha! A handmade bag filled with old coins and a knitted hat!

He also loved his mask and she was very excited that I’d made the bracelet and seemed in awe when I told her my friend made the hat. She also said she’d been wanting to read that book but that it was always checked out at the library. How it warms my heart that little girls are still reading Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So do kids really expect expensive state-of-the-art gifts? I don’t think so. Maybe it depends on how they’re raised and where they go to school, but I think that kids still love old-fashioned toys like Legos, and thank goodness they still like books. I’m not a parent, so I won’t go too far out on a limb here, but I think their attitudes about gifts and “stuff” are formed partly by our attitudes.

Sure, kids love video games and wii, just like we love our computers, ipods, and iphones. But they don’t need or even want every new bauble that comes along if we show them there are other ways to spend their time and other things to enjoy.

The lesson? You don’t need to have deep pockets to make children happy. Isn’t that great news? Please share some of your favorite Compact-y or frugal children’s gifts in the Comments section.


  1. Non Consumer Girl says

    It sounds like you gave a lot of thought into what your niece and nephew liked, for example your nephew had mentioned that he liked the african mask collection at your home.

    And that cool beanie! A must have fashion accessory for a 7 year old.

    Sometimes the Compact-y gifts take more time and thought and planning (like searching on ebay for the mask), but if you are thinking about what the person's likes and interests are, you can find great, creative gifts.

  2. Vegan Good Life says

    I love Laura Ingalls Wilder. Little House on the Prairie was my sister's and my favorite show growing up.

    I attended a 2-year-old's birthday party once and asked my friend if her son had a savings account which he did, so I gave cash. The room was packed full with toys for him, but I thought, how many does a toddler need? It's not as exciting as a gadget, but the gift of financial security in the future, in my opinion, is under-valued.

    That said, all your Compact-y gifts sounded inspired and great! -Catherine

  3. Compact UK says

    ha ha yes, I know exactly what you mean.

    I surprised my best friend last year by turning up on her birthday (we live 300 miles apart). I was also laden with gifts for her daughter. I had toys, stationeries, etc. The most popular gift? The box her mum's necklace came in, THE BOX! She had hours of fun with the box, decorating it, putting different things into it, etc.

    Your hat looks made-for for your niece :)

  4. This Thrifted Life says

    I absolutely loved receiving books as Christmas gifts when I was a child (and still do!). All of those sounds like wonderful gifts.

    My mother has some foster kids right now, and another relative showered them with lots of cheaply-made, trendy gifts. What did they enjoy the most in that gigantic bag? The huge bows on top–they played with them all day.

  5. Leasmom says

    This was our first more modest christmas too. We did it differently. I gave my daughter $100 to buy her own Christmas gifts with and gifts for others. She got me Mariah Carey's new cd-which I love. She got herself a new shirt from the mall and some earrings, and a punk type bracelet. But she bought everything else at the thrift store-(clothing)-except makeup at Sallys and my cd. We wrapped up the gifts and put it under the tree. She was more excited for me to get my cd than herself because she knew what it was all but two surprise gifts I got her and a gift from her dad and a gift from a friend of mine. I thought she'd be disappointed but she was relaxed and grateful this time, something she never was before which meant I was more relaxed. We watched movies and had a delicious dinner I cooked and ate desserts we had made the night before together. We also read Appreciations to eachother-(first time we'd done this)-before we even opened the gifts, which made it really special. I'm saving mine forever…I cried. But my daughter said she liked that she got exactly what she wanted-(shes 13)-because I would've gotten what she wanted and I liked that she shopped wisely learning from me. But all that she got was just 4 things from me under the tree-(2 surprise gifts) and the two boxes filled with the thrift store clothes and her other small purchases. We filled the tree with fake gifts to make it look like more than it was and we were both very satisfied. This was the first year I really LIKED Christmas.

  6. Lisa says

    You gave wisely in that you considered what things the recipients would enjoy. When I think back on my own childhood Christmases, I really don't have many clear memories of what I received each year. More so, I remember the family gatherings, the feasts, and the atmosphere of joy and love.

  7. annet says

    Years ago I was a single mom with a four-year-old son living on less than $10,000 a year. His "wow" gift that year? An appliance box that I made cut-out windows for and decorated with wallpaper samples. It could fold up for compact storage but when it was set up it was a space-ship, a fort, a cabin in the Old West, a camp. A blanket, a pillow, some favorite toys and his imagination would keep him entertained all afternoon long!

  8. Donna Freedman says

    My friend Linda gave a "dress-up kit" to her goddaughter, who loved playing make-believe. Linda filled a box with scarves, strings of beads, hats and other odds and ends from her own wardrobe. The girl LOVED it. Her favorite gift that year.

  9. thesavedquarter says

    I love your gifts! Laura Ingalls Wilder is a favorite of mine, too. I actually just reread the whole series and a biography of her. The whole series has a different feel now as an adult, and reading the behind-the-scenes stuff was fascinating.

    We've done a scaled down Christmas for our kids, and each one gets 4 gifts from us: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read, plus one gift from Santa and a stocking. Grandparents and friends give things as well, so we don't go overboard. We gave some second hand and some home made gifts to each kid and they have played with everything they got. The hit of year was a toy camera purchased used for $.99.

  10. Angela says

    Oh, what fun comments! I absolutely love all your creative ideas!

    annet- that is an absolutely brilliant idea!

    Donna- I am SO going to do that for my niece next year- that's an awesome idea. She'll be eight and that is the perfect age. I'm actually really excited about putting that together. I already gave her all my mardi gras beads, so I'll have to be on the lookout… thanks!

    thesavedquarter- That sounds like a great Christmas. I love including a book and also keeping the stocking, which was always my favorite. I remember a couple of years ago when my friend's little boy was 2 or 3 and she had lost her job, she said he got so many gifts from friends that he didn't even notice she hadn't gotten anything for him!

    Thanks everyone for commenting!

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