Between paying bills and the trip home for the holidays, your budget is looking too tight to get every family member what you’d been hoping. You don’t want to disappoint your little cousins/brothers/nieces/nephews, either, who have the latest technology, games and toys at the top of their wish lists for Santa.

Purchasing low-cost gifts doesn’t mean you are skimping on quality. Likewise, focusing on buying inexpensive materials to create handmade items doesn’t mean you’re resorting to making mac and cheese art. You also don’t have to spend hours going from store to store or sweating over a hot glue gun and tiny jewelry pliers to find or make something meaningful.


1. Bath-Time Crayons

Kids love to make the bathtub their water park, where pirates raid ships and other imaginings happen. They also love to use walls as a canvas for artistic creation. A better place is to draw in the tub with bath-time crayons. You can make crayons for the bath with white soap and natural powdered colors using hot water. The bars freeze in ice cube trays to create the crayons. Or you can buy them on Amazon instead!


2. A Tool Belt

Upcycle an older family member’s tool belt and make larger pockets smaller by sewing another seam up the middle. You could also snag a cute one for cheap online. Purchase child-friendly tools and slip them inside for kids that like to DIY fix-it, too.

tool belt

3. Mini Marshmallow Gun

Tired of watching your little cousins toss marshmallows and other food items into each other’s mouths as a sloppy form of basketball? Upgrade their games by making them each a mini marshmallow gun for a game of marshmallow wars with a PVC pipe, end cap, elbows and a T joint. Extra joints and a longer PVC pipe make its shape customizable to design the ultimate marshmallow gun.

Marshmallow guns use safe ammo, and you can also make safety goggles out of a strap, duct tape and 2-liter plastic bottle.

marshmallow gun


4. Doll Wipes and Diapers

Have a little relative that loves to play with doll babies? In a child’s imagination, dolls have lives just like people.

Of course, a baby doll must have its diaper changed, including wipes. Gather pieces of nonfraying material, such as felt or fleece, and pieces of flannel and cotton. You’ll make a doll-sized diaper template by laying down the doll and wrapping a piece of paper around it like a diaper. Velcro will allow the size to be adjustable for multiple stuffed animals and dolls.

Trace the template on the wrong size, leaving excess for sewing. You’ll stitch it up and add the Velcro. Spare pieces of cloth may be cut square for wipes.



5. Portable Lego Trays 

Every kid, including adults with childlike hearts, love playing with Legos. Portable Lego trays provide a construction site on a Lego baseboard for kids to build their creations without clutter. Avoid the risk of a single Lego stabbing the parent in the foot again by giving this gift. It’s a win-win for parent and child.

Portable Lego trays are found cheaply on online retail sites, like eBay or Amazon, or you can make your own with spare plywood or pallet wood. All you have to do is buy the Lego baseboard anywhere Legos are sold, which usually runs under $15, and create a frame for it. Secure the baseboard with Gorilla Glue to the square wooden board before adding side panels.

Felt circles glued to the bottom allow the tray to slide without scratching surfaces. You can also purchase a handle to make storage and display easier.



6. DIY Fort Kit

Fill a portable drawstring bag with fun fort items from the dollar store or thrift store. An old sheet creates a tent. A pillow makes a sitting spot. Coloring books, crayons, bubbles and puzzles offer fun games and activities for inside. Glow sticks and hanging lights can be added as age-appropriate. Or you could take this idea and buy a premade fort kit.

You may even find an old tea set at a thrift store or yard sale for tea time in the fort.

fort kit


7. DIY Playground Decor

Are younger relatives tired of a boring backyard or the same old plastic toys? Cut and glue cardboard boxes together to create different themes.

Engage their imagination by creating DIY playground decor. You can create the more involved parts, such as building a castle, while you print off pages for them to color to decorate the inside. Co-create the playground by engaging them in the transformation process. Create pirate ships, flags and swords. Make a cardboard dragon. The possibilities are endless


8. Fleece Tie Pillows

As kids age, they love to have their own blanket and pillow to show off their big kid status. No sewing skills are required for fleece tie pillows: You take a 12-inch square pillow and two bigger pieces of fleece, cut strips along the outside and tie the pieces together two by two like you’re tying your shoes.

Make these while binge-watching “Big Bang Theory,” and you’ll have a quick, handmade pillow in no time.

felt pillow


9. Clothespin Wrap Dolls

Use up fabric scraps and reuse old clothes by wrapping the pieces around clothespins with a rounded top, which is the head of the doll. These clothespins may be found in fabric stores or online retailers like eBay and Amazon. You can also use markers or paint to color block in hair, facial features, scarves and ties.

Start with the face to create your doll character, and draw shoes on the feet. Wrap various pieces of fabric around the doll until the piece suits. Glue in place. Repeat for each doll.



10. Felt Pizza Kit

The way to a kid’s heart is through pizza, and it’s one of the most customizable foods, no matter what dietary restrictions there may be. Light brown or white felt is good for a circular pizza dough base — you could also roll up and glue the edges to create the crust. Here’s a color palette for topping ideas:

  • White: cauliflower, onions and potatoes
  • Brown: meats, beans and mushrooms
  • Red: circles are pepperoni and long rectangles are red peppers
  • Purple: eggplant and onions
  • Blue: blueberries for the adventurous.
  • Green: spinach, kale and other leafy greens, and herbs
  • Yellow: cheese and banana peppers

You can use Velcro to make the pieces stick, or let your young relative move the pieces around freely. If you’re lazy or short on time  – you can buy a ready-made felt pizza kit on Amazon!

felt pizza


Kids can be difficult to shop for with their changing whims and endless wish lists. Their imaginations are vast and they love to create, so they’re not as hard to please as they appear.

Just because your budget is constrained doesn’t mean you have to restrict your creativity to engage their minds and imagination. From bath-time crayons to DIY playground decor, the sounds of your young relatives laughing will feel your heart with joy, and your wallet will thank you, too.


Jennifer Landis is a Jersey girl at heart and temper, but enjoys living life in Central PA. She drinks tea like it's going out of style because coffee makes her poop and she needs all the caffeine she can get to keep up with her toddler, puppy, and handsome husband. She loves writing, running, yoga, and peanut butter. You can check out her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or follow her on twitter @JenniferELandis.

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