Create Some Christmas Spirit With Frugal DIY Advent Calendars
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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.
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.
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.
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 Box, Birchbox, 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
- Single-use masks or sheet masks — check Dollar Tree for brand name options or buy in multi-packs for a discount.
- Hair treatments — find single-use packs in the Target Beauty Box or Beauty Brands Discover box.
- Beauty minis — in addition to the boxes above, you can find samples from Birchbox or Amazon sample packs (and you get a credit equal to the value of the pack when you purchase these!).
- Lip balm — grab a multi-pack for a cheaper, per-piece, price.
- Makeup remover cloths — I snagged these when they were offering 40% off with Amazon Subscribe & Save!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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!