What are good cheap gifts for kids this year?
October 19, 2006 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I've got too many nieces and nephews to buy christmas gifts for this year and not enough money. Please, oh great and wise collective hive mind of the metafilter abyss, grant me some wisdom as to some great cheap gifts.

Ages range from infant to 18 years old. I'm even willing to make things myself at this point. I'm crafty, if need be. I'm not going to limit any further than that as I don't want to cramp anyone's creativity.
posted by killThisKid to Shopping (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Cinema gift vouchers for a movie, popcorn and coke.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:21 PM on October 19, 2006

How many? Boys? Girls? I have 4 young boy cousins and one year I got them ping pong guns from the dollar store and they loved them. Dollar Stores can have nice selections of fun toys and craft materials.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:24 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Please give us ages and $ amounts to work with.

Children's books at a used book store. Bargain rack video games, or previously owned video games that are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years out of date (only useful if you know a lot about your nieces/nephews tastes in games, and what hardware they have available). Toys that can be shared. Homebaked cookies, cakes, muffins, etc...
Art & Craft sets that you put together such as paper crafts.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:27 PM on October 19, 2006

Every year, I get a christmas tin of home-made chocolate-dipped little pretzels from my step-sister. Her family doesn't have a lot of money to spend, and my family is huge. Everyone loves the pretzels!
posted by youngergirl44 at 5:36 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

A couple years ago, I was too broke to afford gifts for my dozen tiny cousins. So I dug into my old comic collection and came back with a nice fat stack of issues I wouldn't miss. Instead of designating which comic went to which child, I simply addressed each box of comics to every boy in the household.

I won't lie, they were shit comics. But kids aren't picky about creators or storylines. They're still at the magical age when Spider-Man and Wolverine are totally badass. They had a blast with them, reread them til the covers fell off. I got to be cousin of the year and be rid of a bunch of Clone Saga nonsense that never should have been in my collection.

Assuming you haven't a massive archive of mediocre comics to draw from, you could always hit up the quarter bins at your local retailer. You might even score a bulk discount if you try and buy a big enough stack.
posted by EatTheWeek at 5:38 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

15+: customized usb pen drive
merry christmas 2006
uncle killthiskid

14 and under:
everybody loves coooookiess mmmmm
specially marked as "special magical kids only not for grownups"
posted by amethysts at 5:39 PM on October 19, 2006

I've found that the cheapo "filler" gifts I've given nieces and nephews over the years have been the most popular; one year the biggest hit was a Costo-sized package of Dentyne Ice gum.

I think it's easy to forget the little things they want but can't buy for themselves. Don't worry about buying the latest and greatest; just think about what they would buy if they had a few bucks to spend in Target or the grocery store. Consider Wacky Package stickers, Shrinky-Dink plastic (sure, they have the oven, but they always run out of the plastic), fuzzy socks (big hits with the girls), and any other little stocking-stuffer things.
posted by stefanie at 5:40 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am cheap and I don't care about their teeth - so for all the kids I need to get presents for; I just make huge giant batches of fudge (chocolate & russian) and give the kids a whole plate full each. Relatively cheap, very satisfying for them (yum) and it's all theirs. Plus there's no comparing gifts, as always happens with kids, because everyone got the same thing. Mmmmmm and I get lots too...
posted by teststrip at 5:44 PM on October 19, 2006

One game from Cheapass Games and a few Mini-Ninjas (or any other random piece of junk from Archie McPhee) per kid allows you to be as silly or subversive as you want and should still be fairly cheap.
posted by cog_nate at 5:51 PM on October 19, 2006

Are you all getting together for the Holidays? If so, you could all do a White Elephant gift exchange for the kids.

Here's how it works:
1.Everybody brings a small inexpensive gift wrapped up without a name.

2. The kids draw a number to see what order they will choose their gift.

3. Each person has the option to pick a prize from the pool of prizes or take the prize of someone who went before them. If they take someone else's prize, that other person gets to pick a new prize from the pool.

4. This continues until everyone has a gift.

Good (and timeless) gift ideas:
Travel versions of games like Trouble and Guess Who


Generic game-boy type handheld games

Even an iPod Mini Shuffle (you can get them for about $15).

Good luck this year!
posted by mynameismandab at 6:21 PM on October 19, 2006

Don't forget the classics - yoyo, spin tops, harmonicas, Slinky, Silly Putty, Ant Farm, kaleidoscopes, Frisbee, Hula Hoops, pocket knives, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, jump ropes, lariats, magnifying glass, headlamp, etc. For older teens, an iTunes gift card, or a book they'd like, if you know their interests.
posted by paulsc at 6:22 PM on October 19, 2006

Response by poster: Ages of the kids: infant, 2, 5, 7, 9, 13, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16, 17.

So there's 12 kids or so all together. Obviously, we can spent a chunk of change with all of them combined... so anywhere from a few bucks up to 20 or so maybe for the older kids.

Thanks so far you guys/gals, I knew Mefi would have some great ideas. Please keep them coming!
posted by killThisKid at 6:39 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is a crazy number of kids to buy for. For the future, maybe you should do what my family of cousins did. Everyone's name went in a hat and each child drew a name. Everyone gets one nice present, and the aunts and uncles don't go crazy.

For this year:
Younger kids: Magic Markers, Crayons, Paper, Play-dough, all things that get used up or lost easily.
Older kids: Gift cards from McDonalds, 7-11, etc
posted by saffry at 6:49 PM on October 19, 2006

For the kids that live together, consider getting a single gift that they can all use/play with together. For, say, 2x money you might get a 4x benefit.
posted by Cardinal Fang! at 6:52 PM on October 19, 2006

I second movie vouchers and homemade cookies or candy. Put the movie voucher on top of a chocolate bar and wrap it in red ribbon. I would love that gift, and I am 34!

Good ideas for tween and teenage girls--lip balm, nail polish, fashion magazine, anything girly. You can buy a few "girly" make-up things or hair ties at places like Walmart or Target. Group it by color--pink nail polish, pink lipstick and a little pink shower gel in a pink Christmas bag. It looks cute and thoughtful. People are suckers for packaging and color coordination. I know I am. (Ga! I just checked your profile. Since you are male, I don't know if this is your cup of tea). I also like to do themed gift bags for kids. Ex) Superman bubble-bath, Superman toothpaste, Superman toothbrush, Superman art kit.... These can be done cheaply.

If you are going to see them at Thanksgiving or other occasion snap some pics. Frame the pics in frames that you make or buy on sale.

Keep your eye out for economic gifts. You would be surprised. I am always seeing superhero and Disney Princes alarm clocks and wrist watches in the five dollar range at discount department stores. Little kids LOVE that stuff.

For babies--board books. You can find a board books for cheap. Come to think of it, books would be great for all of the kids.

Toddlers and Preschoolers-- bathtub fingerpaints, playdough, fingerpaints or watercolors, crayons, tablet of paper.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:05 PM on October 19, 2006

For the kids that live together, consider getting a single gift that they can all use/play with together. For, say, 2x money you might get a 4x benefit.

This is a great idea. Last year, I got my nieces and nephews a couple of seasons of Little House on the Prairie on DVD, as a family gift. They loved it.
posted by donajo at 7:44 PM on October 19, 2006

Seconding Cardinal Fangi - if any of them are siblings, you might try an interesting board game (or video game, if they have any systems you know about). The Scene It games are fantastic; my family has the Disney edition, and it's guaranteed fun. Balderdash is also great, and can work for any age; younger kids can get goofy with their answers, while adults who might want to join in can actually try to make plausible definitions. Throw away the game board and don't keep score, and you can go literally for hours.

If any of the older kids are girls (or open-minded guys), you might try some knitting supplies. Hit up a craft store and see if there are pre-assembled starter kits, or ask an employee to help you put one together.

If you get movie passes, make sure they don't have to go far to use them! It may sound stupid, but I've gotten movie passes from people who just went to the chain theater near where they are, and there weren't any theaters in that chain near me. Kind of useless.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 7:49 PM on October 19, 2006

For tweens and up, we've subscribed our nieces and nephews to their favorite magazines.
posted by Jujee at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2006

Do you have a Five Below near you? They are chockful of stuff for under $5.

Last year I gave all the nieces and nephews big ol' beach towels. They were fairly inexpensive and have gotten more use than anything else I've given. You can even personalize them if you're feeling crafty.
posted by jrossi4r at 8:44 PM on October 19, 2006

This is my secret Xmas strategy this year: Silver Jewelry Club.
I found out about this site from an LJ community I'm on and I love telling people about it, but I can't tell half the people I'd like to since I'm gifting them and I don't want to spoil it by letting on how little I spent!

There's four pieces up at any given time, and they are up for 15 minutes apiece. All you pay for each piece is the $6 shipping & handling. They're real sterling silver, real semiprecious gemstones and lab-created stones, and there are men's/boys' pieces too (stainless steel bracelets and titanium rings, etc.). They're high quality and very sparkly/shiny, pretty girlie. Some of the settings are weird-looking to me but others are quite nice. They have more sophisticated pieces and some that would appeal to little girls (heart-shaped pendants, one of which I got for a young cousin of mine in her birthstone).

I've already ordered over 15 pieces. I've kept a few that I really like, given away some more, and stashed some for Xmas gifts. It's addictive to watch the rotation and spot something that would be great for so-and-so. And the people I've gifted already thought I'd overspent on them; I had to tell my MIL it really did only cost me six bucks.

The site is attached to a jewelry wholesaler (Peora). You can see the same pieces that show up in the rotation in their catalog (which has pretty low prices, but can't beat six bucks). Any rings, pendants, or earrings in their catalog that "retail" for 49.99-69.99 eventually end up in the rotation, it seems, so you can scope out what you like ahead of time and keep an eye out for it, which is what I've done.

Standard probably necessary defensive MeFi disclaimer: I am not a shill. Heh.
posted by Melinika at 9:38 PM on October 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

If the kids fall into convenient family groups, board games are a nice group gift for the family. I'll just recommend a few good games; Funagain games has pretty good recommendations on their site so you can get a feel for each game. They also run sales, so you might be able to find a bargain that way.

- Settlers of Catan is a great game (3-4 players; there's an expansion you can buy to take it up to 5-6 players) that's excellent for the 9+ set; it's $30. Adults and kids loove this game, there's trading and strategy and building and dice-rolling. There's no combat, but there is the chance to stab your opponent in the back by not trading resources they need. Players need a bit of an attention span, but this is the game that people have raved about to me more than any other.
- Blokus is a simple but fascinating geometric strategy game for 2-4 players. Will work for about ages 7+; $30.
- Ticket to Ride is a nice boardgame where you collect sets of colored cards to allow you to claim railroad routes of the matching color -- all to get you closer to your destination. The board is a big map of the US and some Canadian cities. It's $37, for 2-5 players, again for players age 8+.
- Carcassonne is a tile-laying game (you build the "board" as you go, out of 1" square tiles with pieces of a map on them), where you're exploring the area of Carcassonne and collecting points for claiming different landscape features. It's $20, for 2-5 players, ages 8+.
- Apples to Apples is a wonderful party game for all ages. Anyone who can read can play; great for a group of mixed ages; can accommodate as many players as you have (more than 2). Super-easy, and easy to jump in in the middle and drop out before the end -- great for holiday parties with a big family. It's just silly word-association fun, no skill, no strategy, no combat, etc. Can't miss fun, if anybody in the group has any sense of humor at all.
- Gulo Gulo is a great game for younger kids. You are racing along a colored track toward a nest of colored eggs. To move forward, you have to remove an egg of the matching color from the next -- without knocking over the top-weighted stick precaiously balanced upright in the nest. It's fun because kids with smaller hands have an advantage in egg-snatching, so they can sometimes beat older players fair and square. It's $32, 2-6 players, ages 5+.
- Go Away, Monster is an adorable game for very young kids. It's $10, ages 3+.

Card games are much cheaper than board games, because of production costs. Here are some nice ones:
- Bohnanza is a trading card game. You're a bean farmer, trying to collect sets of beans, but desperate to trade away beans that don't fit in the sets you're working on now. Fun, interactive (there's never a time when you're not needed for 10 minutes at a time, so you can just go away to get a sandwich). Another nice thing about Bohnanza is that it plays well from 2-7 players. I would say about 11+. It's $14.
- Bang! is $8, western gunfighting card game for 4-7 players. Fun for kids over about 8; a big hit with the unversity crowd where I live.
- Munchkin is a whole series of silly combat card games with funny takes on different geek subcultures. Original Munchkin is Dungeons and Dragons-type fun (you're an elf, or a troll, etc, you learn to cast spells, etc). There's a vampire version, a kung-fu movie version, a superhero version, and on and on. Silly, fun, a big hit among teenagers I know. $20, for ages 11+.
- Rat-a-Tat Cat is a fun quick card game for younger kids, mature 5 year olds can play. Requires counting; it's $8. This manufacturer makes a bunch of fun kid's card games that are all great -- silly pictures, play in under 15 minutes, all under $10.
- Hisss is a cute snake-building game for ages 3+, one of my favorites with totally adorable art and nice sturdy cardboard tiles. It's $8.

Another possibility is video games.
- Katamari Damacy is great for all ages -- sweet and simple, no violence, but weird and Japanesey enough to appeal to teenagers -- and the sequel We Love Katamari has multiplayer mode so you could have a group play together after the Christmas party.
- Lego StarWars is great, my husband plays it with our neices and nephews (4-8) whenever they get together.
- Shadow of the Colossus would be great for older kids, 14+.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:51 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

remember being a kid? did whether or not an aunt/uncle or anyone for that matter gave you a present really change how you felt about them? love is the best gift and will affect their lives and yours in a positive way...
posted by ella at 10:11 PM on October 19, 2006

Ok, a few more. You've got me thinking about my own Christmas shopping, here.

Aquarius The beautiful cards set this one apart. Dominoes and Uno combined - fun, easy. $8, 8+.
Coloretto, $10, 8+ one of my favorites.
Quiddler - $10, 8+ word-making game
Kleine Fische - $10, 7+ fast, with cute fish
No Thanks $8, 8+. fast game of "chicken"

Good for a bigger group too:
Once Upon a Time - $16, 6+ storytelling game, depending on the person could be great for mixed group or teens too; has "Dark Tales" expansion
Set $10, 6+. Logic/matching game. Works for a big group, and for all ages; some love it, some don't like it. Good for an abstract thinker.
Pit, the age-old fast, loud stock market game. This version is $16 but comes with a bell. You can also get a version without the bell for cheaper.
Perudo aka Liar's Dice -- as seen in this summer's Pirates of the Caribbean movie. This set comes with all the dice and cups and a tin, and is $16. Certain kids and teens looove this game, bluffing and betting to get one over on their elders.

For the older kids:
Luck of the Draw party game similar to Pictionary, but you get extra points for having the drawing that matches some later-revealed category, like "most like a Picasso", etc. $16.
Battle Line great poker-like logic game, $16, 10+.
Chrononauts is the time-travel card game where you mess with US history. Very cool game for a history buff, probably too involved for others. $16, 11+.
Lunch Money $15, 13+ a judgment call - this is a totally vicious street-fighting game (with attack cards like "Jesus doesn't love you and neither do I"). For the right 16 year old it would be really cool.
Citadels, on the complex side, but I've heard raves about it for teenagers. $17.

Ones I haven't played but have heard good things about. Choose among these based on the theme (eg if you know one of the kids loves princess stuff, then Sleeping Queens is a good bet).
Ugly Doll - based on a popular line of stuffed toys. $8, 6+.
Frog Juice, $8, 8+. making magic potions, for the Harry Potter fans.
Mamma Mia - pizza - $10, 9+
Frank's Zoo - zoo animals - $10, 10+.
Sleeping Queens - queens - $8, 5+.
Loot - pirates, $8, 8+.
Thing-a-ma-bots - goofy robots $6, 5+.
Top Speed- race-cars $6, 7+
Match of the Penguins - penguins - $8, 6+.
There's a Moose in the Mouse - misplaced moose - $8, 5+.
Wig Out - hairstyle matching - $6, 6+.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:13 PM on October 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Archie Mcphee? I mean, who doesn't want their own Tub of Ninjas? Or Dashboard Pirate? They even have a Surprise Package (not to be outdone by the Jumbo Mystery Box) -- an assorted grab bag of pirate / ninja / cowboy / devil duckie / monkey / bacon related stuff.
posted by Famous at 11:46 PM on October 19, 2006

Thrift shop. Stuffed animals, games, little toys, & books. Often you can get a big bag of toys for very little. Several years ago I gave a big box of thrift shop scarves to a group of little girls. It seemed to go over well. They use them for dress up.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:43 AM on October 20, 2006

Get the older ones magazine subscriptions on ebay. Super cheap, often more than 80% off the blow-in cards in the magazines (which are themselves ~80% off the cover prices).

Pick a seller with 99% or greater positive feedback, & more than a thousand positive ratings.

If you do this, you'll need to do it soon cause the ebay layer adds weeks to the processing time.
posted by aerotive at 2:02 AM on October 20, 2006

Also, Oriental Trading sells most of their stuff in bunches... usually by the dozen.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:21 AM on October 20, 2006

I, too, have a large number of nieces and nephews, and presents are always a challenge, especially since I see most of them only a few times each year. When I'm with them, I try to tune in and really get them so I'm not just going scattershot with their presents. I like to make as much as I can, partly for frugality's sake, but largely because I know the gift will be unique or unusual and because the kids really seem to like the idea that I've been investing time and thought.

Some of my most successful presents over the years:

A handmade traveling pente set, for a seven-year old nephew (with exemplary skill in games of strategy). I cut a piece of canvas into a square, bound the edges, and painted on a grid with fabric paint and a T-square. For the tokens, I used glass planter beads, some black and some white, which I bought at a craft store for a dollar. I printed out the rules and packed everything in a small drawstring fabric gift bag. He loved it, and it was the only game he routinely carried back and forth from mom's house to dad's.

A dress-up box, one for a girl of four or five: a sturdy carboard box, taped up to make a cube, then cut along three sides to open like a trunk. I reinforced the "hinge" side with heavy-duty tape, then covered the whole thing with wood-print contac paper. I went the extra mile and picked up brass trunk corners and a lock from the hardware store, which I glued to the covered box; that was only a couple of extra dollars, and the transformation was surprising. I filled the box with items culled from my long history of crazy clothes, lots of old costume jewelry in old jewelry boxes, kooky hats, some vintage velvets and silks from the thrift stores, and a few hats and shoes from the toy store. I don't think I spent fifteen bucks on it, and it was a big present that I still hear about, seven or eight years later.

A grown-up (pink and purple) nail buffer kit (about five bucks, I think) and a dollar's worth of kid-friendly nail polish, for a six-year old niece who kicked and whined whenever her mom trimmed her nails, but who was fascinated by my pink emery board and therefore let me trim them while she sat quietly. This gift was given in desperation, but she was charmed, and spent the morning going around the room buffing everyone's nails in turn.

A cool brocade-covered box filled with fancy (inexpensive) candles, one inexpensive but nice piece of jewelry, and many little packages of Japanese chewing gum, pocky, and the like, for a fifteen-year-old girl. The box and jewelry were the real presents, of course, and she loved having nice candles, but the exotic candy filling up the nooks and crannies was what made her beam and say "cool!"

For a two-year-old boy: A toy fireman's hat and a pair of tiny little red suspenders rolled up and packed inside of it. He loved the hat, his mom loved the suspenders.

For a six-year-old boy: a six-dollar book on scurvy pirates, a drugstore eyepatch, and a pirate rubber duck stuck on top of the package in lieu of a bow.

For an 18-month-old: First Book of Sushi, wrapped up with a packet of nori crackers for the parents. (This was part of a larger theme gift for the parents: I gave mom & dad a gift certificate for sushi and another handmade certificate for babysitting of all three kids for the night. In this vein, I find that a winning combination: a certificate for some restaurant or theater, plus the promise to babysit. Then, the present for the infant can be some small thing that fits with the theme. When I send them out to a seafood restaurant, the kid gets a tiny stuffed lobster or a crab puppet or a board book about the seaside. If they go to the ballet, a tiny ballerina mouse! And so on.)

None of my nephews have reached their teenage years yet, but I remember from my childhood a very successful gift I sent to my brother, who was in boarding school: a good-sized shoebox lined generously with tinfoil, packed tightly with homemade brownies and cookies. Similarly, one year my mother gave another (bigger, more ravenous) brother his own box of chocolate chip cookies which he didn't have to share with anyone. Both gifts are still fondly remembered by those former teenage boys.
posted by Elsa at 8:02 AM on October 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

A classic game and the time to play it with them. Dominoes, Parchese, Chess or even Checkers. All the classic games are available in really cheapo versions. The key is teaching the kids and taking the time.
posted by Gungho at 8:05 AM on October 20, 2006

I Nth the One-All-Encompassing-Present per family, if you can find one that makes sense. What are the age breakdowns for each household? You probably know better than we whether these kids would ever play a board or card game. Of the non-classics listed above, I endorse Apples to Apples as the most accessible, non-age-specific choice. Some of the others may be considered too nerdy by the average teen, but a simple card or board game might be perfect for a household of younger kids.

I also like the suggestion others have made of the movie combo passes. Just be sure to check with the parents about what corporation owns their local theater (Loews, Nat'l Amusements, etc), so you get passes they can use. In the USA, AAA has good discounts on these.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:51 AM on October 20, 2006

Nothing specific here, but if you are strapped for cash and have a Target store nearby, there are often some great toys on clearance at up to 75% off. Fatwallet.com's Hot Deals forum has a thread logging all of the Target Clearance items and I often see toys listed there.

Here is another thread about cheap toys on clearance at Amazon.

Famous' suggestion of Archie McPhee is a great one if they (and their parents) have a sense of humor. Stupid.com also has small silly gifts in the same vein.
posted by sciatica at 6:21 PM on October 20, 2006

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