Saving Money

Get Last-Minute Gift Ideas Without Drowning in Debt!

Santa sneaking with last minute gift ideas without drowning in debt!
Written by Steve Horton

Still haven’t made all your holiday purchases this year but don’t want to break the bank? Take a look at these 14 tips for last-minute gift ideas.

If you’re like many Americans, you haven’t done much Christmas shopping yet. Maybe you haven’t had the time, or you’re waiting for one more paycheck. According to NRF, 17% of shoppers don’t start shopping until December, and 91% of shoppers still have things to buy.

You may be tempted to break out that credit card and just throw all your remaining holiday purchases on it. Don’t do that. Instead, listen to our panel of 14 couponers, lifestyle bloggers, budgeting experts and healthy living professionals. We asked them this question:

Do you have any tips for last-minute holiday shoppers to come up with the gifts they need without going into serious debt?

Learn from the best, don’t go into serious debt, and get everyone gifts that come from the heart.

More With Less Today

The grownups in our family participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange. There are six of us, so it really helps to cut down on the number of gifts to buy, as well as the time to search and shop. We have a limit of $100, so each person gets one nice gift. We email a questionnaire, listing several things we would like, and there is also a spot for “please do not buy me ___.”

This year, we are using an app called ELFSTER Secret Santa Generator, which randomly assigns the names and emails of everyone with their assignment. Everyone’s lists are shared, which provides great insight too. It could not be any easier! We get together to exchange our gifts and spend quality time together.

Lori Felix

Dagmar Bleasdale

Definitely don’t go into debt when shopping for the holidays! I’m all about frugal living and have written gift guides about affordable gifts ($50 or under), and posts about easy gifts you can make yourself without having to be a DIY expert. There are more gift guides like that on Pinterest. Also, take advantage of when you shop online to get cash back — it’s free.

Dagmar Bleasdale


Give photo gifts

Photo gifts have lots of value beyond the actual cost of the item. Find a clearance photo frame and pick out the perfect picture to gift. Even better, watch for the photo freebies from Walgreens and CVS to score an even sweeter deal! Custom photo sites like Shutterfly also offer really awesome deals this time of year.

Consider homemade gifts

It doesn’t have to cost a fortune in order to be a thoughtful gift! Homemade gifts like cookies, candies, breads, food baskets, or other prepared foods are fun, creative, and budget friendly. You can find some adorable Christmas treat containers at Dollar Tree and other dollar stores.

Put together gift baskets

Find lots of inexpensive items that are perfectly suited to the recipient. Check clearance aisles and watch for door buster sales on smaller items. Grab a cute basket from the Dollar Store and some candy to finish it off.
And one final tip! NEVER pay $4 to $5 for a gift bag. Check the dollar store for $1 gift bags that are just as durable and cute as the more expensive ones.

Collin Morgan

Lauren Greutman

Put items up for sale from around your house that you no longer use to earn money for Christmas gifts. You can post these items Facebook, eBay, postmark, or Mercari. Use the money from the items that you sell towards paying for Christmas gifts!

To save money in other areas, purchase gift cards ahead of time for the stores that you are going to purchase your gifts. Purchase these gift cards at stores that give you points towards gas or groceries, then use those points for free gas or groceries. This can help you stack your savings to save in other areas.

Lauren Greutman

Thrifty Northwest Mom

  1. Think outside the box with gift ideas for meaningful, yet affordable gifts. One gift idea is a box of pre-planned monthly date ideas for your child, spouse, parent, friend, etc. Plan a unique date idea for each month with the day set aside and create a printable or certificate detailing each date to put into the box. The dates can be as simple as a hike in the mountains with a picnic lunch, a day at the museum on a free museum day, and more. You won’t be spending the money for the date until that month, too, so you can set aside money each month to pay for the dates.
  2. Buy gift cards to places you would spend money at in the coming months to save after the holidays. Gift your spouse or teen with a gift certificate to their favorite salon to use for upcoming hair appointments. Or give them a gift card to their favorite restaurant to save on dining-out costs in the future. Take advantage of retailers’ bonus gift card offers to make your money go further with their gift card. Or, check your grocery store app for discounts. Stores such as Safeway offer nice gift card discounts in their Just 4 U coupon app to help you save more. If you’re buying more than one gift card, put them in a small wallet and wrap up for a fun gift to open.
  3. Give experience gifts to members of your family. Not only are they making lasting memories, but you can save on entertainment costs for the future. Many of these can be purchased online as vouchers for last-minute gifts. These can be low cost by giving of your time and talents. For example, grandparents can gift an apron, small cooking tools, a book of family-favorite recipes and a day of baking together with a grandchild.

Jen Dotson & Sia Hills

The Frugal Navy Wife

Think of some of their favorite everyday things. Coffee lover? Pick up a funny, cute, or sarcastic mug and pair it with their favorite coffee. Do they like to cuddle up and read? Get then a month of Kindle Unlimited and a cozy pair of socks.

Danielle Leonard

Real Everything

Our family switched from overspending at holidays, on tangible toys and things they outgrow, to instead focusing on experiences. By “gifting” family Spring Break vacations, or tickets to a show, it becomes a gift that extends the day to all year long and gives memories forever.

Stacy Toth


In our family, we embraced the tradition of something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. A tradition like this sets you up for focused shopping that makes staying on budget so much easier to achieve. This tradition isn’t just limited to our kids, though; this is a tradition we do with all of our family members to help our budget stay on track. I would also suggest that as soon as the holiday is over, consider setting up an automatic withdrawal of $10 to 25 a month to put away in a separate holiday account. I have an account set up, through Ellevest, that automatically takes out $25 each month so we don’t feel the pinch when the holidays come around again. Your best defense against debt is always building out automatic buckets for savings.

Amy Clark

Recipe This

I am a frugal person, so Christmas is a time when I make sure my kids have plenty of Christmas presents and wonderful Christmas food, but without the same price tag that my friends choose to spend.

For buying gifts, I watch a selection of local Facebook groups and look for bargain presents in a similar way that people use eBay. Last Christmas, I got my daughter a huge teddy bear from her favourite TV show for just $3, yet it would have cost $30 if I had bought it from the shops. I also got a huge collection of Lego for my son for just $5. And the list went on and on. The best time to follow the Facebook strategy is just before Christmas when people are selling old gifts to fund new ones. You could also use that as your own savings method, too, and sell the kids’ old toys, or your old clothes, to fund Christmas.

My other big tip is to make a food basket for older family members – those family members that have everything, don’t need anything and are impossible to buy for. I always make my parents a food basket, and buying food in to make it with costs less than $10. I will often make chocolate chip cookies, homemade jam, and often some pies.

Samantha Milner

Faith Filled Food for Moms

It’s easy to “spur of the moment spend” at Christmas. So many great bargains and so many temptations! If you have last minute gifts to buy, one of my biggest tips is write. it. down! Have a list of who you are spending for. Keep track of who is getting what. Inexpensive gifts most everyone enjoys could include homemade candy in a pretty mason jar or apothecary jar from the thrift store! Yes, you can give beautiful, fun, and not yucky gifts from the thrift store! Check out 16 Fantastic Ways to Buy Thrift Store Christmas Gifts for more secrets to saving money on last minute gifts for everyone!

Shari Lynne

Financial Best Life

  1. I buy $20-$25 dollars worth of trial-size beauty products and split these into small holiday gift bags with candy for girlfriends, teachers, or hostess gifts.
  2. I also buy sets of items and then break them up, so everyone I need to gift gets a small treat. It’s really the thought that counts, and by tying a ribbon around it or doing some creative packaging, no one will know it was part of a larger gift.
  3. Those with culinary skills really don’t have to buy a lot; some of my favorite holiday gifts are cookies and candies made by those far more adept in the kitchen than me.

Lauren Bowling

Creative Money

My best tip is: don’t shop! Keep in mind that the people who care about you don’t want you to go into debt to buy them a gift. And, it’s less important to hand over a physical gift than for them to know you’re thinking of them. If they have a beloved pet, you might make a donation to a pet-related charity in the pet’s name, and then do a joke letter from the pet.

Or, offer a service like pet sitting, babysitting, yardwork or something else you know that they need. One woman I know went over a few times per week to her friend’s home who just had a baby, and did laundry and dishes for them. The people in your life who care about you want time with you – not what you can buy them. My best friend and I don’t exchange anything except for a small, token coffee card. But it’s symbolic, because our personal holiday thing is to get together in early December before the craziness starts, get out our calendars, and book time together every 6 to 8 weeks for the next 12 months. And if your first thought is, “Gah, I don’t want to spend more time with THEM,” then you might reassess your holiday gift list!

Mindy Crary

One Cute Couponer

Rebate apps are quickly becoming one of the easiest ways to earn extra cash with little effort. The great thing is, most of these apps offer instant gift card rewards, which come in handy for purchasing last-minute gifts on a budget. Apps like Fetch Rewards offer gift cards when users snap a quick pic of their grocery store receipts. Ibotta is similar, but boasts the option of gift cards or cash. GetUpside rewards its users with cash back on gas purchases at most major gas stations. The best part is, most of these apps reward you in cash for referring your friends – no limits! Users can quickly earn hundreds through referrals alone and cash out immediately. How’s that for last minute holiday cash?

Erica Miller

Smashingly Ashley

As a huge advocate for shopping secondhand and finding the best deals, I highly encourage others to step out of the “usual” corporate stores and branch out. You can find one of a kind, and unique items for those you love while shopping secondhand. Also, places like Hobby Lobby often have constant sales that you can also combine with coupons (all about big savings). Lastly, shopping small businesses at Farmers Markets or popups usually gives you a great bang for your buck. When shopping small, most items or pieces get hands on, quality care – which is often reflected in both the price, and attention to both the buyer and customer in mind.

Ashley McNaught

About the author

Steve Horton