Help me be a good (cheap) aunt!
November 27, 2011 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out *cheap* gifts for a ton of nephews and nieces. Caveat: I want to buy gifts, but I don't want to spend too much or work too hard.

I'm feeling daunted by the number of nephews and nieces who need Christmas gifts. Some of the littler kids who I'm closer to will be getting things they've actually requested. But there's a bunch of older kids--some I'm related to, some part of our extended friend-family--who we would also like to give gifts to.

Problem: we are super busy and also pretty broke. I really don't have time to make gifts. Yes, I really do need to give them things (this is probably not the time to discuss anti-consumerism).

There are about 15 kids, boys and girls, between the ages of 7 and 26.

Last year I got some of the older kids Fandango gift cards so they could go see a movie. I felt kind of lame, but that's about the price range I'm looking at.

(Because I feel like kind of a jerk, I just want to say that I really love these kids; this is just a really bad year for both money and time.)
posted by devotion+doubt to Shopping (52 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I've never seen a kid be unhappy with receiving a brand new sketchpad and depending on the age, crayons or drawing pencils.

One trip to Target (or similar), piece of cake.
posted by kinetic at 10:27 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

A pretty Christmas ornament. Maybe you can find one that you can paint (or write with a thin sharpie) their name and the year on each one.
posted by artychoke at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Art/drawing consumables (pens, paints, paper, etc.) are always needed and there are a variety of price ranges for those kinds of things.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:33 AM on November 27, 2011

What about getting some attractive, good quality journals? Kids as young as 7 can benefit from and enjoy being able to write about thoughts or feelings they're having, and teens and young adults can get a huge benefit from having that outlet for their private thoughts. Get a bunch of nice, bound blank books, and maybe some good quality pens, and write each of them a note letting them know that you wanted them to have a special place to record and think and dream.
posted by decathecting at 10:38 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Homemade hot chocolate - something like this (could use regular marshmellows if short on time) - all kids are going to love it. I got some last year and enjoyed it (as a big kid - 27 year old). You can buy mason jars online by case.
posted by quodlibet at 10:43 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Beyblades are hot in our house with the seven year old. About $8:00 each at Target. Smaller Lego kits run from 8-12 bucks. You can find Caldecott and Newberry award winners on Amazon for not a whole lot. Play dough smells but doesn't stink. A trip through the stationery section will land you lots of goodies for small people.
posted by firstdrop at 10:43 AM on November 27, 2011

I'd have to disagree w/artychoke and emphatically oppose xmas ornaments as xmas gifts. They are totally useless, especially when you are receiving them on Christmas. It's not like kids appreciate the delayed gratification of being able to put those suckers up next year. Sorry for the rant, but Christmas-related Xmas gifts were always worse than getting no present at all, in my opinion.

I think the Fandango gift cards were a good idea. I rarely got gift certificates as a kid, but always appreciated them, no matter how small. Depending what they're into, maybe an itunes or amazon card? You can get a book or a few songs for not much money. Or maybe a book you enjoyed (again, depending on the kid, this could be super lame for some, but I'm thinking the older ones)?

Homemade candy (like fudge) or cookies can be nice too.
posted by butterteeth at 10:48 AM on November 27, 2011 [13 favorites]

For our younger nieces and nephews I find cheap ($6-%10 bucks) DVDs of classic cartoons on amazon. Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle... Don't have to leave the house, usually get free shipping, and they're easy to wrap. (Speaking of which...I need to get orderin' soon!)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:49 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Itunes gift certificates.
posted by empath at 10:50 AM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

(for the older ones, natch)
posted by empath at 10:51 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I heard your need not to make anything, but you may be able to find these cheap: Marshmallow Shooter I think even the older ones would enjoy it too!
posted by JacksonandFinch at 10:57 AM on November 27, 2011

Also, you could make this very easily: Money Soap. It's pretty basic - melt glycerin soap, maybe add a scented oil, pour into a soap mold and insert the rolled up moolah! And you could be a lottery wizard and insert varying denominations!
posted by JacksonandFinch at 11:01 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

No ornaments! That would be the worse gift for me personally.

I've decided, now that I have two nephews and a niece, that kids are getting books from now on. Classic, well-known and loved books only, of course! Reading is important at any age!
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:04 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I loved getting scratch tickets!! Super cheap&fun for the under 18 crowd. You can get those little stockings for cheap, and buy a couple of dollar scratch tickets for everyone, and be out <5 a kid!
posted by katypickle at 11:08 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

An aunt of mine gives all of the cousins Barnes and Noble gift cards every single year. She'll generally pair it with some type of Christmas treat (e.g. chocolate, cocoa, etc.). It's a great gift on so many levels . . . even kids who aren't into reading still get a trip to the bookstore to pick out new magazines, a journal, a game, or something from the coffee shop.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 11:21 AM on November 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I made Quarter Brittle for a nephew a couple years ago. Scatter quarters on cookie sheet, melt sugar, pour. His sister got a box full of cupcakes with a coin in each one.

Target has a neat Lego Gift card this year. You can put as little as $5 on it. Free Lego set if they're into that.
posted by chazlarson at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2011

My initial thought was to get everyone a nerf gun, 15 of those might be too expensive. How about squirt guns.

Whatever the case, Oriental Trading Company might be a good place to look for cheap silly gifts.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:24 AM on November 27, 2011

I like the book idea, especially if you write a unique little note inside each to make each kid feel special ("I thought you would like this book because [reference to some particular trait or interest]). You could always pair it with a bit of candy, a neat bookmark, a cool pen, stickers or something else to make it a bit more fun.

There are often new-looking books at used bookstores, so you might start there to keep the cost down.
posted by BlooPen at 11:37 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Looks like the Lego gift card, if ordered online, will require $25 to get the physical object.

In the store they told me it had no minimum, but that apparently doesn't apply to online.

Apologies for the misinformation.
posted by chazlarson at 11:42 AM on November 27, 2011

The tweens probably collect something: trading cards or bakugan with expansions that cost <$10- ask their parents for ideas. High school students would appreciate a gift card for a coffee shop or similar. College kids can always find something to order on amazon and if nothing else, you'll be subsidizing their textbooks for next term.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 11:43 AM on November 27, 2011

I totally agree with the art supplies. I got my teenage cousins those $10 kits that come in a plastic carrying case and they loved them. It was an add-on present that I just grabbed at the last minute and they were thrilled. Lots of teenagers like coloring but feel like they should be too old for such things. Grown up coloring books and a set of colored pencils are a great gift for all ages.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:44 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sketch pads and graphite pencils might be popular with some of the older kids. I would have been psyched to get a Barnes & Noble gift card, and homemade or deluxe candy would have been awesome too. Tasteful, inexpensive jewelry might work for some of the girls, depending on how picky they are.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:48 AM on November 27, 2011

I think movie tickets and gift certificates for Itunes or Barnes and Noble are great ideas. Journals, art supplies, and ornaments sound great in theory. The reality is that for young people, that kind of stuff just becomes junk they'll have to move or store for years to come. Kids who write these days do it on twitter or Facebook.
posted by vincele at 11:52 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could get each family one board game -- things like Pictionary and Cranium have a large age range.
posted by xo at 12:09 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ditto consumable gifts like gourmet candies with small-denomination B&N gift cards (you can do Starbucks or iTunes gifts for the older kids). I'm normally firmly anti-gift cards, but those stand the greatest chance of actually getting used.
posted by litnerd at 12:10 PM on November 27, 2011

Dry erase boards are fun and useful.
posted by oceano at 12:14 PM on November 27, 2011

Iwako erasers for the younger kids? My nephews (ages 7, 9, and 12) went through a huge phase of collecting them a year or so ago.
posted by scody at 12:15 PM on November 27, 2011

I like lots of the gift ideas above, but I think you should go with a larger present for each family unit rather than individual gifts for each child. I can't imagine buying presents for 15 nieces or nephews! A board game for the family, or a family movie night package with a movie and box of microwavable popcorn, or a set of sundae cups and an ice cream scoop... that's the route I would take.
posted by aabbbiee at 12:15 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Older kids love gift cards -- I remember clearly being 16 or so and telling a high school friend of mine how much I loved them, because it meant I HAD to go shopping, and wasn't ALLOWED to save the money. I feel like, 12 and up would love a B&N or a Starbucks card.

For littler kids, I think it's nice to give them each something to unwrap. You could put together a gift bag of all kinds of cheapy-but-fun stuff for not too much money at somewhere like Cost Plus (I get a lot of stocking stuffers there): Silly Putty, a couple of those small rubber balls that are REALLY bouncy, some awesome pens and pencils, candy, PEZ dispensers! those Chinese finger traps, etc. I agree that, if their parents (and you), don't have an anti-gun rule, buying some of them water guns will go over really, really well. Fun, silly stuff.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:19 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have loads of nieces and nephews. I've been broke for a few years. Several spend loads of time online, some don't spend any. Here's what I've given that has made them smile along with inexpensive things I've done in the past that were hits:

> Art supplies - markers & paper were most popular, but novel paints and other items were also appreciated.
> Craft supplies - Fimo, beading sets, plain boxes with a tube of craft glue (I threw in some magazines I'd meant to collage but hadn't had time to cut up).
> Personal grooming items - the masculine appreciated cologne, hats, cool wallets. the feminine appreciated crazy nail polish, bath potions, hair ornaments, costume jewelry. both enjoyed bandannas.
> Stationary - stickers, interesting paper, cool "calling cards".
> Books - mostly things that catered to their interests or were very meaningful to me; generally given with a bookmark. a couple I knew were interested received comic books I thought they'd like and that was huge.
> Gaming supplies - dice, cards, miniatures, containers/bags.
> Misc. Pandering - favourite snacks, low-$ gift cards (music, books, movies, Target, food, crafts, and even thrift stores), indoor-friendly potted plants, funny colouring books, easy recipes with ingredients, bubbles (even for bigger kids), bouncy balls, nifty knick-knacks (ceramic animals somehow win every time).

Shops I've relied upon include Ross, craft stores (Michael's covers every price point, if you have it), Claire's Boutique, local used bookstores (Half Price Books is fabulous, if you have it), Target, Sanrio, game stores, comic shops, and even thrift stores.

Good luck! Remember that no matter what, they'll love you for remembering them!
posted by batmonkey at 12:33 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you tried Oriental Trading for stuff for the little ones? They have awesome and inexpensive gifts. Restoration Hardware has all sorts of cool stuff or the older ones. They can ship right from the site. Also, my favorite is I have very science and gadget loving nieces and nephew who enjoy the crazy stuff from think geek!

Happy shopping!!
posted by Yellow at 12:55 PM on November 27, 2011

Get a really good board game, and get everyone playing it together. And give each child a card with as many dollars as their age: 12 year old Sam gets $12. Kids like cash.
posted by theora55 at 1:20 PM on November 27, 2011

Can you get to a Trader Joe's? They have lots of fun food items that my nieces and nephews love. Favorites are boxes of microwave instant pudding. Toffee popcorn. Small boxes of jelly beans. Animal crackers. Cat cookies.
The packaging is pretty nice. These kids never go to Trader Joes, so they like the novelty.

+1 on gift certificates.
posted by valannc at 1:58 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was little and we had hardly any money, my mum used to send away for cheap magic tricks/items for Christmas gifts. I loved them from the whoopie cushions on. Maybe something silly like this? They're disposable but entertaining and they are often the sorts of thing parents won't buy.

I second I-tunes/Starbucks gift cards for the older ones - you always end up using them, and you can actually buy something even with a $5 gift card.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:23 PM on November 27, 2011

My solution this year is pajamas. You can get them for about $10-$15 per person if you shop, and you can get them in all the different sizes (buy larger; it's nicer to have baggy PJs, and the little kids will grow into them).

And everyone always needs PJs.

(The other little kids in my family are after Beyblades and lego ninjagos, fwiw, and they're in the $10'ish range.)
posted by wenat at 2:45 PM on November 27, 2011

Funky socks, gloves or scarves.
posted by desjardins at 3:05 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Silly Putty, a Slinky, a Koosh ball, etc. Inexpensive things that people rarely (if ever) buy for themselves, but are a surprising amount of fun.
posted by epj at 3:22 PM on November 27, 2011

Seconding empath: my nieces and nephews in that age bracket do really seem to appreciate iTunes gift cards. At that age, they don't really care whether it's a personal gift, it's quite enough that it's an instant-gratification gift.
posted by bricoleur at 3:35 PM on November 27, 2011

Putting my vote in for gift cards - especially for teens and above. What teen wouldn't love to choose something from iTunes, Barnes and Noble, or even Amazon? I got my niece a gift card to Sephora so she could have fun choosing something for herself. Maybe add some candy to the gift for an added something they can instantly enjoy? I feel for you. That's a lot of gifts!
posted by LilBit at 3:40 PM on November 27, 2011

Wait, I meant <$5.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:41 PM on November 27, 2011

Board/card games -- which ones depend on the ages involved, but if you shop on Amazon you should be able to find a ton of different ones. Older kids might like Fluxx. Rory's Story Cubes are fun for a range of ages. Set Game is good.

Comic books or less expensive graphic novels would also be good.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:55 PM on November 27, 2011

Nthing art supplies, gift cards, games, Oriental Trading Company, Trader Joe's and also try Archie McPhee. Spot It is fun and not expensive. Another fun thing for the younger ones would be a kaleidoscope kit like this one.
posted by gudrun at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2011

We have scads of nieces and nephews and we buy books every year (mostly books we grew up reading). Happily we can reuse some books from previous years for new families so we don't have to come up with an entirely fresh stable of literature every Christmas. We track the books in a spreadsheet from year to year, which also helps us keep track of how old the kids are.
posted by troublesome at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2011

Nthing iTunes or Amazon cards, especially the older kids.

Other ideas:

Family Movie Night: Get each family a movie on DVD or Bluray (or a Netflix subscription if they don't have one yet). You could even get a TV series on DVD (Firefly!) .Then give each neice or nephew some movie candy (most grocery stores have Twizzler, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, etc., in the movie sized boxes for under $2, so you could give a few boxes). Wrap theirs separately, put their names on them, then put the DVDs and their wrapped candy in a basket with some bags of microwave popcorn

Breakfast baskets: lots of jellies, pack of English muffins, tea, maple syrup, pouches of pancake mix.
posted by misha at 5:34 PM on November 27, 2011

We did bookstore gift cards for our young relatives. About $10 each lets them get their own book, AND it gets them into the bookstore, which is a habit we would like to cultivate. And there are other things you can get at a bookstore.

Alternatively, you can get a magazine subscription for under $20 (some for as little as $10). National Geographic is always family-friendly (unless they are really anti-science or something).
posted by elizeh at 7:45 PM on November 27, 2011

I'd stay away from the cheap stuff at Oriental Trading Company (bouncy balls, koosh balls, etc). We get so much cheap plastic-y stuff, it's terrible. If you want to veer away from gift cards, I'd stick with simple games and, if you want to add something to it, you could pair it with a little bag of fun candy.

Other people have mentioned them but here are our favorite games:
Pass the Pigs

with candy...
Wax lips, saltwater taffy, pop rocks, Dubble Bubble, Lik-m-Aid Fun Dip, Zots Sour Fizz Candy, Cry Baby Extra Sour candy, 20 Dollar Bill bar, etc
posted by biscuits at 10:15 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a bit surprised at all of the expensive suggestions. Even a $5 gift card given to each kid will set OP back over a hundred dollars.

If you're not going to go homemade with something like the hot chocolate mix (which is a cute idea), figure out if you have either a Five Below or a Dollar Tree near you. Five Below is probably better--they're a store aimed at tweens, and every gift is below five dollars. Most stuff there is pretty decent--they have books, clothes, accessories, candy, toys. But so do Dollar Tree stores, and usually of a slightly better quality than you'd get at Oriental Trading Company.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:11 AM on November 28, 2011

I'd steer clear of any of the clothing items people are suggesting, I've never known any kid to open up a gift at Christmas and be happy that it's a new pair of socks, even if they're "cool" socks.

Entertainment is definitely the way to go. If you can find a DVD box set or video game they'd all enjoy, maybe you can lump their gifts together.
posted by gregoryg at 7:18 AM on November 28, 2011

One of the traditions when the cousins gathered at gran's for christmas was that someone gave us all a big group toy, and we'd go out in the yard (this was in Alabama, not maine, that makes a difference in December) and play like crazy, and stay out of the kitchen while stuff was getting done.
Favorites over the years: Nerf boffers, Potato Pellet guns and a bag of spuds. Velcro ball catch game which went from strapping the pads to our elbows and knees, to velcro patches ripped off the paddles and attached to butts, chests, etc.
posted by aimedwander at 8:37 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

ps: I only did Oriental Trading Company once, and never again - their items regularly turn up on recall lists and the most of it ends up useless flotsam.
posted by batmonkey at 7:58 PM on December 2, 2011

If you want to go the book/graphic novel route, perhaps second hand might be your friend. It would save tons and graphic novels in particular seem to be a lot cheaper and in very good condition. Perhaps find a good second hand store and just buy there. The same it true for DVDs and if anyone has particular interests it might mean that you get something that is not easy to get new, so you won't look cheap - just like you took time to scour for something they wanted.

If they support particular sports teams then socks or something else cheap with that sports logo on it might work. Or if they support a major league team that has a minor league affiliate the minor league's stuff is usually far cheaper and has the appeal of not being all that easily available.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:42 PM on December 4, 2011

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