The gift of giving (anything but toys): Christmas ideas that won’t break bank or require batteries


By Cherie Lowe

True confessions: my children are hoarders. Lest you think this judgment to be cruel, this fact reflects poorly only on one party — me. In a recent clean-up project, I aided my 9-year-old and together we took out five full bags of trash. Her room is not large and so the knowledge that there were five bags worth of broken toys, art projects, textbooks from the previous school year and more somewhere within the walls is more than a wee bit embarrassing.

And yet, since both of my children are under 18, I can really blame no one except myself. After all, I do the lion’s share of purchasing for our household and I help them as they bring items in and out of the house.

Even still, I’m dreaming of a no-toy Christmas. It’s a little bit like a white Christmas but with less wrapping paper to throw away and fewer items to organize after the goods are put away from underneath the Christmas tree. Space is finite in child’s room. And if your youngest child, like mine, seems to be given everyone’s hand-me-down items in addition to their own gear, the mess escalates quickly.

There are plenty of wonderful gifts to be given that don’t require batteries or an enormous toy box. Over the years, we’ve both given and received a number of treasured presents from friends and family that our girls loved and didn’t end up in a trash bag in the months following Christmas. Check out this list of non-toy ideas for the special child in your life.

Museum and zoo memberships

If your budget allows, giving an entire family a membership to the children’s museum or the zoo is a fantastic Christmas gift. Most families consider an annual fee to be a bit beyond their regular budget but would love to take the kids to these destinations more than once a year. Even if you can’t afford an annual membership, consider giving tickets for a trip.

Movie gift certificates

Even if you hit the matinee, the cost of going to the theater continues to climb. Provide a gift card toward the experience of a child going to the movies or treat the entire family to a flick. Consider adding extra money for snacks, too.

Movies at home gift basket

Have less money in your budget to work with but still want to provide family fun? No problem. Put together a basket with a DVD or a gift card from Amazon so a family can rent or buy a digital flick instead (hooray for nothing to store!). Add some popcorn, candy and other favorite snacks. Wrap the gift in a cozy blanket for the family to snuggle together under.

Bathing beauty bag

Bath and shower time become more like playtime when a child has a character towel and/or character themed body wash. Give the gift of a kid spa with all of the bath time extras parents love for kids to have but hate to spend the extra money buying. Bonus points if you include bath bombs, nail polish or lotion for girls or body spray for teen boys (even if they overuse it).

Cooking kit

My girls have always loved helping in the kitchen. Having a few items in the cabinet of their own allows them to own the experience and enjoy whipping up a treat a little bit more. Put together kitchen utensils, a mixing dish, and maybe the ingredients for their favorite treat.

Dine time

Younger children especially love a plate graced with their name, fun colors or a character. But even tweens and teens love a special fun mug or water bottle decorated with the emblem of their favorite superhero or TV show. Ask a parent what their child is into right now and find some coordinating dishes to delight this Christmas.

The bare necessities

Socks and underwear probably aren’t on the top of a child’s Christmas list but once again if they don the faces of their heroes, you might score some awesome points.

College fund money

Sure you may not be the fun aunt or uncle right now, but putting back a few dollars for the future instead of dropping $25 to $50 on Legos might be the very best gift of all. Consider establishing a 529 account for a child. You can start one with as little as $10 and add the money you’d spend on gifts there. You’ll have less to wrap but you’ll be giving a greater gift, for sure.

Spend time together

While certainly we all have childhood memories of opening an amazing gift or two on Christmas morning. Hello blue Barbie eye shadow, short cowgirl boots and faux rabbit fur coat Christmas of 1985. However, we probably all would admit we’d much rather have the people from our childhood over the toys any day. Instead of giving a gift, plan a special day. Go out for lunch. Read a book together. Color or create something. Serve and surprise someone with a blessing. You’ll give a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to