Kids and Money

Ask the Readers: Affordable Christmas Gifts for Teens

November 21, 2011

A reader named Sakura sent me an email asking the following question: How do you keep costs down with teenagers? I have 18, 15, and 7 year-olds. The first 2 are getting harder to shop for because they are wanting and needing bigger items.

Great question, Sakura, and one every parent of a teen can relate to.

First a couple of things about teens to ease the pain:

  • Teens should be mature enough to understand that requesting big ticket items means fewer gifts. Maybe even a single gift.
  • Teens often want practical things, like clothing. I’ve never run the numbers, but I’m sure we spend much less on clothing for our kids than we did when they were younger, simply because they buy much of their own clothing or they ask for it as gifts.

Having said that, even the practical items that teens request today often come with a name brand price tag.

Think North Face and Vera Bradley.

The way I usually handle gift giving for teens is to give one big ticket item that is within our budget, and then fill in with a few inexpensive items so the kids will have things to open on Christmas.

Some gifts we’ve given our kids that were popular with them but easy on our budget include:

  • Gift cards for movies, iTunes, Starbucks, and gas stations.
  • Colognes and body sprays.
  • Books
  • Car accessories (air fresheners, license plate frames, jumper cables)
  • Room accessories (posters, picture frames)
  • T-shirts, sweat pants and other casual clothing

But I know that the readers of this blog have wonderful solutions of their own. So Sakura and I would love to hear from you:

How to you keep gift giving for teens affordable?

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.
















  1. Think about the activities and hobbies that interest the teen. Then list the accessories that could go along with that activity or hobby. The swimmer could use swimming goggles, a runner could use an armband or nice water bottle and a basketball player could use a new net or ball. For the musicians, a book of sheet music, an instrument stand or a tuner would all be useful.

  2. This is a subject I know a lot about! Teenagers and money! : )
    I prepare all year long for Christmas as well as birthday gifts for my 2 teens who have December birthdays….(I know, what were we thinking, right? LOL!) I’m registered at many different sites where I earn cash and gift cards for places like Amazon, Starbucks, American Eagle, Old Navy, etc. I try to do most of my shopping online thru rebate sites like ebates and shop at home so I get a little extra in return for my purchases. I also follow the advice given here by Julie and get the kids one pricey item that they’ve been asking for and a few other inexpensive stocking stuffers. They are definitely okay with this and since my oldest is now working and trying to stay on a budget, she is more appreciative of any gifts that come her way. The “big gift” will most likely be smart phones which I hope to purchase with my Amazon rewards. If I do shop at the mall, I always come prepared with coupons I’ve found online or in sales flyers. Also some stores will give you additional discounts for using their credit card. Just make sure you have the discipline to pay off the balance before finance charges hit. Basically, my strategy is to sign up for anything that can help me save money and minimize what comes out of my pocket. (AKA hubby’s paycheck)

  3. Teens love gift cards. While it may not be the most personal gift in the world, I have found an iTunes gift card to work very well. They can download songs, movies, games, or apps. It is a very versatile gift, and you can give in very small increments if money is tight! (Great conversation going on!)

  4. You guys have great ideas. I just checked my bank account online and noticed I had “reward points”. I had no idea I’ve been earning reward points for using my debit and credit card all these years. With that being said I just ordered about $400 in various gift cards that cost me zero dollars!!! When I say all these years, I mean it’s been accruing for about 4 or more years.

  5. I think this question needs to be ask for kids of all ages. My 10 year old wants and wants and wants. Big ticket stuff – PS3, games for PS3, kayak, cell phone, etc.. Anyway, cash and/or a gift card to the mall works. That way, they can prioritize what they truly want/value. Plus, it also teaches them to make their own decisions and to realize that money doesn’t grow on trees. Even though the money/GC was a gift, they still feel that it is their money and they need to spend it appropriately.

  6. My kids are 15 and almost 12. For my oldest, I am starting to make a list of supplies he will need when he goes off to college in a few years. Then I will start looking for those items when they are on sale and just tuck them away. Right now, my list consists of things like stapler, three-hole punch, etc. I have been watching to see what supplies he uses the most.

  7. Many games cost only $10-$20 but provide hours of fun with no batteries to charge! Looney Labs makes some great ones. They’re especially good for a Christmas gift because they can give teens something to do with family members of various ages.

    For Shannon’s list of essential supplies for college, I’d like to mention a manicure set–not necessarily anything fancy, but basic nail trimmers and file in some type of dresser-top case or box. I was given one as a high school graduation gift and wound up loaning my trimmers to a lot of girls in the dorm who hadn’t thought of that until they broke a nail!

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