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Create Some Christmas Spirit With Frugal DIY Advent Calendars

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diy advent calendar tutorial tips and tricks

Like many people, I love the holidays. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the holly, jolly time of year. Even now that I’m older, I’m happy to say I still enjoy the festivities and traditions surrounding Christmas.

Though I always looked forward to Christmas movie marathons, mounds of holiday sweets, or searching for the pickle ornament on Christmas day, there’s been one tradition that stood out above the rest — the countdown to Christmas! Specifically, it was waking up, overly excited, to check my stocking to see if I had a goodie waiting for me.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that advent calendars are my jam. And, luckily for me, retailers have been catching on to their popularity in the past several years. But being frugal, I always wondered if I could just make my own at a better value.

Rewind to last holiday season, I set out to make my first advent calendar for my family. This meant I was making a calendar for my parents and each of my brothers (including their significant others). Given the spirit of the holidays, I figured I’d make one for my boyfriend’s parents as well. Let me tell you, making advent calendars for everyone gave me the same joy that I had as a child opening my own daily treat.

diy advent calendars — 4 baskets for each couple

So, my game plan was to make FOUR advent calendars with gifts for both men and women to alternate opening — a.k.a. the men would open on the odd-numbered days, and the women would open their gift on the even-numbered days. Then on the last day (Christmas Day), they’d have a combined gift to open together.

Spoiler alert… the DIY advent calendars were a HUGE hit! So much so, my family asked if I could make this a yearly tradition since they loved having a little surprise to look forward to each day. Honestly, I had so much fun planning, sourcing, arranging, and delivering the sets that I was more than happy to craft them again this year.

diy advent calendar — 25 days instructions

Like these instruction cards? Click here for the PDF!

I kept the same plan: four calendars, one calendar per couple, with 12 gifts for the guys, 12 for the girls, and a combined gift for December 25th.

Alright, alright… you’re probably thinking, “Um, how much money are you spending on all of this?!” I am SO glad you asked! My goal was to keep these calendars frugal, but not be filled with useless stuff, so I aimed for roughly $1-$1.50 per gift. Factoring in the cost of wrapping supplies, each calendar comes to around $30-$35. Considering I’m the youngest in my family, and how much they all do for me throughout the year, this is such a small price to pay to boost their Christmas cheer.

diy advent calendar — advent calendar gifts

My best tip when crafting more than one basket? Work in multiples. Buying gift sets or multi-pack products is a great way to keep the per-piece price low. The Target Beauty Box, Beauty Brands Discover BoxBirchbox, and Birchbox Man are helpful resources to get sample-sized toiletries for around a buck a piece. Also, Dollar Tree and the 99 Cent stores have tons of $1 gifts, with some products containing multiples (which takes the price below the dollar price point).

Here are some of my goodies I’ve included in my calendars (either this year or last):

Women’s beauty products

diy advent calendar — beauty supplies from beauty boxes

Women’s gifts

diy advent calendar — etsy satin hair scrunchies

  • Satin hair scrunchies — I’ve had an Etsy obsession lately, and this set came with five, so I get to keep one for myself!
  • TJMaxx reusable bags — At $0.99, these bags are a steal and so practical!
  • Jewelry — Jewelry sets are the best way to get low-cost arm candy.
  • Candles — I swear these smell exactly like the Capri Blue Volcano candles, just significantly cheaper!
  • Christmas socks — The funnier, the better.

Snacks and treats

  • Sunflower seeds — This was a special request by my brother, and the snack pack size is perfect for the calendars.
  • Trident gum — Again, multi-packs are the way to go for a cheap price, but you can also check for discounted packs at the grocery stores, drugstores etc.
  • Ghirardelli chocolate squares — The holiday flavors are the best!
  • Tea bags or tea crystals — When you break down the tea bag packs, these are only $0.20 per piece!
  • Beef jerky — Individually-wrapped snack sticks are a hearty, inexpensive treat.

Men’s toiletries

diy advent calendar — men's toiletries from target

  • Bulldog face wash — I hadn’t heard of this brand, so I’m excited to hear how the guys like it.
  • Method body wash — Target has a promo for Buy 3, Get 1 Free, so the men’s toiletries are even more cost effective.
  • Duke Cannon cooling wipes — I have a feeling the guys will be hanging onto these for the summer wedding season.
  • Peppermint chapstick — The 5-pack makes these each a buck, and the flavor is spot on for the holidays.
  • Hand cream — A winter staple for only $0.99.
  • Goodwipes shower wipes — For the car, gym bag, office drawer… really anywhere.

Men’s gifts

diy advent calendar — dollar tree gift items for men

  • ArmorAll spray — Found this (and other cleaner varieties) at the Dollar Tree!
  • Microfiber cloth — When splitting the 2-pack, it’s only $0.50 each for these cleaning towels.
  • Multi-use tools — So handy, and they fit right into a wallet pocket.
  • Shout wipes — Life’s messy, and these cheap wipes help out with that.
  • Switchblade comb — We spotted these at an arcade prize counter, and the guys thought they were hilarious. Luckily I found them through a seller on eBay!
  • $1B chocolate bar — A chocolate billion dollar bill is just as good as a real one, right?
  • Screen cleaning wipes — I thought these came wrapped individually (just a heads up, it’s a single pack of 20), but they’re still a great deal at just a buck from Dollar Tree!

diy advent calendar — target stocking stuffer treats and gifts

There’s an endless number of goodies you could use to create these advent basket calendars. So, based on your recipients’ tastes and interests, you can customize the packages however you’d like.

The Target Dollar Spot and their Stocking Stuffers section are great when sourcing inexpensive gifts. Even sweeter, you can build up a stockpile of the freebies we post on Hip2Save to make your calendar cost next to nothing!

And then for the big day (a.k.a. Christmas!) you can get a little more adventurous and or generous with the gift. I’ve gifted mini bottles of Bailey’s to stiffen up that Christmas morning coffee, along with funny family pictures and inside jokes. Some other ideas for the 25th gift could be gift cards to Starbucks, Amazon, or other popular retailers, a National Parks Pass, Bryn’s favorite popcorn maker (perfect for a Christmas movie marathon!), or truly anything you desire.

Once the gifts are compiled, next comes wrapping. I’ve used Target Dollar Spot felt baskets in the past, but this year, I took it a step cheaper by spraying Dollar Tree baskets with metallic gold paint. I also picked up festive tissue paper while I was there to wrap each gift and stuff them inside a cellophane treat bag.

To make sure the gifts can be identified by the right recipient and which day they should be opened, I wrote the designated day number on these Office Depot tags in metallic Sharpie. For the smaller gifts, I used pop-up pillow boxes and taped the ends closed to make sure nothing slipped out.

When they’re wrapped and ready, I place the gifts in the baskets in reverse order, starting with number 25 and include any special instructions for opening. I like to deliver mine on Thanksgiving Day when my whole family gets together. It also gives me extra time with them to plead that they don’t open all the gifts at once (as my oldest brother has been extremely tempted to do). If you’re too short on time, you can always minimize it to 12 days of Christmas, which starts the countdown to Christmas on December 13th.

diy advent calendar — switchblade comb from ebay

As fun as it is making the calendars, the real fun begins when I start receiving texts from my family almost daily with excitement and gratitude as they open the gifts. Then on Christmas Day, we catch up on their favorite goodies. I’m already imagining the boys bringing their switchblade combs to slick back their hair at our family party on the 25th. 😂

I’ll level with you, these DIY advent calendars do require some work in planning, shopping, and wrapping — but they’re 100% worth it! This is only our second year of the tradition (and my gifting skills are getting better), but I have a good feeling this tradition will continue.

diy advent calendars — finished basket

Have you made your own advent calendars or plan to make them this year?

I’d love to hear what you use as inexpensive gifts and goodies in your advent calendars!

Make This Yummy DIY Keto Christmas Advent Calendar!

Join The Discussion

Comments 29

  1. Mios3

    Omgosh thank you for sharing! I have been trying to slowly put together my own advent calendars for my sisters (I have 5) and needed some inspiration. This is great because it also includes their husbands! Thank you thank you!

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      So glad it was helpful! I love the idea of setting them up for couples that way you’re including another person and only have to buy half as many gifts. I swear the guys like it even more than the girls 😂. Hope you enjoy gifting them!

  2. Supermom159

    NICE!!! I will be doing this, thanks!

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Of course! Glad you found the post helpful — have fun making them! 🎁

  3. Jessika

    Costco had individual shopkins and grossories 30 count bags marked down to 9.99 and 50 count mini play dough for 9.99. We are making some out of the shopkins. I’m thinking of a bucket and grab one each day with post it notes on the front counting down.

  4. Michelle

    I did beer a day advent calendars for my brother, hubby and best friends hubby. It was easy since this time of year variety backs are very common. I wrapped each beer in a brown lunch bag and one sheet of tissue paper and tied them shut with ribbon. I used Christmas gift tags to number them. I live your idea posted here and may steal it for next year. Thanks so much!!

    • Jessica

      Thank you for posting this! I was wanting to do this for my husband but my pinspiration used 25 empty Pringles containers. I was stumped at what to use because I was trying to come up with a tube, but DUH. Your idea is the perfect way to do this. Sometimes we just get stuck wit an idea in our head, do thank you! My husband will love this!

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      LOVE that idea Michelle, how fun! I have a local beer store that has some unique individual beer bottles so I actually may borrow your idea for next year too! 😄 Thank you for sharing!

  5. Rachel

    This year I did an alcohol shot advent calendar. I tried to pick out holiday sounding 99 cent bottles, like peppermint schnapps. My husband us so excited!

    • Jessica

      Where do you find 99 cent shot bottles, please?

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      I usually sneak a mini alcohol bottle in here and there with the gifts too. Everyone gets really excited for them, especially since I plan for them to be opened on Fridays when most of them are looking forward to the drink haha! 😆

  6. Ashley D

    This is such a great idea!!!! Im so excited to try this!

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      So glad, Ashley! Let me know how it turns out!

  7. Lisa

    I’ve been doing a homemade advent for my in laws for several years now. They always tell me it’s their favorite gift. I like to include activities, to help keep the cost down and to provide some extra fun. Things like phone caroling, a polar express trip around town to see Christmas lights, building gingerbread houses out of graham crackers. One year I took a nativity and wrapped up the individual pieces, added a scripture and had them open it on the odd days. Anyway, these are great fun for everyone involved!

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Ooo the activities idea sounds so fun! It’s frugal and gives everyone an excuse to get together. Thank you for the tip, Lisa!

  8. Jennifer

    Last year, I made frugal advent calendar that had a new joke each day. Lina may have posted the idea last year. I just printed off all the jokes, cut them out, glued them all onto a poster board, then partially glued a flip up number on top. Only took a few minutes to put together and cost practically nothing. However, I would love to receive the cheese calendar!

  9. Amanda S.

    This is so fun! I do something similar with my husband for “12 Days Of Christmas” and he loves it! But you’re right: it’s now an expectation every year. 😂

  10. Christina

    I do this for my mom each year! I buy her a jumbo stocking and my daughters and I have so much fun picking out little gifts for her. This is the type of gift that truly is more fun to give than to receive. We buy her ornaments, pretty dish towels, earrings, macadamia nuts, mascara, socks… She loves it and will text us a picture each day

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Getting the daily “I love my [gift]!” is one of my favorite parts of the calendar. It’s a sweet reminder of why I like making these gifts so much. ☺️

  11. Angela Heisler

    We do the book countdown, which for us is actually a book/puzzle countdown for our 3 year old.

  12. Jess

    What a thoughtful and beautiful idea! Happy Holidays.

  13. AC

    Thank you for sharing great idea. Any way I can get the printable cute card you have in the post?

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Of course, I didn’t even think to add it! Here’s the printable for a full page with 4 cards. So glad you like it!

  14. Jessica

    This is such a great idea. I want to do something like this for my boys when they are a little older. Right now, they would just drive me nuts wanting to open all the presents NOW! Lol. This could also be modified to the 12 days of Christmas if you don’t see someone until Christmas Day and the would have gifts until Epiphany.

  15. Tina F

    This is a great idea. We are doing a secret Santa so I think I might go this route so they have something small to open each day.. Thank you!!! Also, would love to get the note you used as a printable download. I love the font and image.

    • Emily (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Absolutely, Tina! I’m so glad you like it. I just added the PDF link into the post and included it here as well. Enjoy!

  16. Janelle

    My sister and I decided last minute to do a basket for my mom (she is a widow) and I think its such a great way to brighten her day! We are on day 4 and she is loving it! In fact she is already planning for next year. I can’t recommend this enough for older people or anyone who might be lonely. We did small things like candy, pretty gel window clings, and amaryllis…. It doesn’t need to cost much at all. We will be so much better prepared next year. Thanks for posting this!

  17. AB Gail

    Any ideas for that to put in an advent calendar for kids (boys 4 & 9)? Aside from candies and chocolates. Thanks!

    • Camie Madsen

      This is inspired! For little boys I’d include matchbox cars, Lego figurines, yo-yo’s, bouncy balls, silly putty, small things like that.

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