Christmas present shopping for £23


Yesterday I decided to start my Christmas shopping, possibly a record headstart for me, as I am usually the one swearing and haring around the high street on the 23rd and 24th, cursing myself for not starting it sooner. This year, I promised myself I would be organised.

And as ever, thank goodness for Oxfam and Wilkinson, and the ability to do most of my Christmas shopping with a few fivers and a handful of change. Old habits die hard, I guess. 

First was Oxfam, and the princely sum of £10.65 for an astronomy book for my Small Boy, a stuffed hippo for a nearly-newborn, a shirt for my little brother, a cowboy hat, a sparkly scarf for my teenage sister, assorted crockery, a bag of marbles, a book of pointless things, a set of wooden scrabble magnets and a Mason Cash mixing bowl that may end up being a present to myself. (Obviously nobody who will benefit from the items pictured, is on my social media. In fact most of the recipients of the above are under 10!)

Next was Wilkinson, and a few craft sets starting from 70p, and a fibre optic minion lamp for my little brother. 

I find I shop more thoughtfully when I have less to choose from, with the recipient in mind rather than a panicked smash and grab in a department store. I may wander in to the British Heart Foundation shop before Christmas Eve, but I think with the haul above, I’m pretty much done.

Someone asked me if that was ‘really all I was getting’ for my Small Boy – and yes, it is. A book on astronomy, a cowboy hat, a bag of marbles, a craft kit or two, and a set of Scrabble magnets. He always gets a pencil case of new colouring pencils and a few small toy animals at the end of his bed, and my family will also give him gifts, and to be honest we spent the first 3 Christmases shit-poor, so he doesn’t expect the earth, and long may that continue.

I’m knocking up a batch of camomile gin tonight, and some other food gifts, and all will be wrapped in the best bits of newspaper I can find, and tied with string. Bonus points if I can get a (rare) good headline to exactly fit the gift:

It’s the simple things. May it always be the simple things.

Jack Monroe. I’m on Twitter & Instagram & Tumblr @MxJackMonroe


  1. fantastic haul! And yeh, give yourself a gift of the lovely mixing bowl, may it bring you joy every time you use it 😉

  2. Thanks for this! This makes me feel better about my christmas present efforts, I usually have time to plan and get things I think they’d all really like but this year I’m down to the wire and my last £6. Camomomile gin sounds amazing.

  3. This is music to my ears! I am so guilty when it comes to over spending and my 6 and 8 year old sons now expect the earth and beyond. My husband and I totally accept it is our fault entirely as we have indulged them constantly. Now though, having recently been diagnosed with arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease and having to give up my self employed job for a while whilst we get treatment right, we have pulled the belts in. The children are resisting but I am finding it so satisfying. It has made me realise (and cringe) just how much money we have wasted over the years. So, thank you chicky, your blog is pure inspiration that I shall now refer to often. 2016 will be our year of thrift, saving, family quality time and conversations, crafts and cooking and major satisfaction. Cheers and Merry Christmas to you and your little boy xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  4. Great entry! My sister in law got the kids a year long subscription to national geographic kids (best present!) and we’re using the old issues for Christmas wrapping paper this year. Super bright and lots of animals! Sounds like your small boy is getting an excellent haul!

  5. I think they are lovely gifts, with care and thought put into them. We invested more in experiences this year, so lessening on the gift front as well.

  6. Sounds great! I’m trying to cut down on the amount of presents for my son because I think they actually enjoy their things more when they get less. Not to mention I’m sick of mindless consumerism to make the bourgeoisie profit while wasting our planets precious resources.

  7. What wonderful gifts..!! Bet your little man will be over the moon with his gifts..! In my family we have always had a rule that you ncever spend any more than £10 per or child. ..!!! My aunt makes all her own gifts. Homemade gifts and gifts bought with care mean soooo much more. Am hoping Santa brings me the second hand sewing machine I have been dropping subtle hints about all year so next year will defo be handmade gifts all round.
    Also Jack check out Pinterest for amazing homemade gift ideas but be warned it’s very very
    Merry Christmas Jack to you and your son and thank-you from the bottom of my heart for wonderful blog am so glad I found it.(via your book which a lady at my local foodbank showed me 😉 ) It made me realise that I wasn’t alone in my struggle to feed my little family.

  8. It’s sooo much fun working on the little things, the memories you have made are priceless. Happy Christmas Jack you are making what it is all about. Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind.

  9. Well done with the Xmas shopping. When my little girl was one, we had a huge Christmas with grandparents and family getting loads of plastic stuff. I was quite shocked and said from then on one present each. My girl doesn’t expect much and would prefer making minced pies to running around the shops with me. She’s now 18 and still enjoys time with us. Don’t get me wrong she doesn’t do without, but she doesn’t want much and I see what happens to spoilt children.

  10. Love your present haul, especially the cowboy hat. Just proves you don’t need to spend the earth to get some great stuff.Have a lovely Christmas.

  11. Even though we weren’t short of money when my son was small, we spent the money on things that he really needed, like specialist clothes or kit for Sports. I bought good, expensive toys secondhand and cleaned them up so they looked new (he even had secondhand bikes in the early years) and then bought lots of little cheap games and puzzles as stocking fillers, which kept him amused for hours – some of those were secondhand or under a £1 and it meant that, wrapped up + presents from friends and relatives, he had a sack full of stuff to open. The most important thing was to give him our time by playing games with him or taking him out for walks as a family. The problem now is that children, and particularly teenagers, want all this electronic gadgetry but it’s still important to impress on them that they can only have what the family can afford. It’s not worth getting into debt for!

  12. I totally admire the ideas you have. It’s the thought that counts not the amount. I love charity shops and I know folk who do turn their noses up at it. Never thought about getting Christmas presents from there. Wilko is my fav store at the mo. Hats off to you. Hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy new year xx

  13. I want to be on your list! Seriously, what rhoughtful gifts, and that’s what matters. I heard a comment on NPR that one parent used the following for presents: one they want, one they need, one to wear and one to read. Thought that was a wonderful prescription for moderation and thoughtfulness.

  14. When my daughter was little, we spent ages making wrapping paper from newspaper and brown paper envelopes etc with gold paint and potato stamps. I’ve not thrown away a bit of ribbon from packaging for years and always pluck through the post christmas rubbish to recycle bows etc. Old tinsel and baubles come in handy too.

  15. Good for you Jack. Especially for bringing your lovely boy up to appreciate what and who he has around him, and to know that you can still have a fabulous Christmas celebration without debt/guilt/jumping on the consumer bandwagon. That’s got to be a gift for life! 🙂

  16. I most enjoyed Christmas shopping when I managed to do almost all of mine in one trip to the local Oxfam shop and the balance, on street markets. Having been brought up to make do and mend and living on a tiny budget make ingenuity and extra effort more important than throwing cash at the problem – and the results, more valuable to all but the greediest (and least deserving) of recipients.

    • Your gifts are wonderful, & it sounds as if your son will be thrilled with his. Very clever shopping trip! Merry Christmas to you & your loved ones!

  17. What a wonderful assortment of gifts for your lively SB.

    He will be thrilled and have the time to play with and savour each present, how much better is that than an enormous stack of badly thought out tat that little ones find totally overwhelming.

    And I always loved a brand new colouring book and new pencil crayons for Christmas 🙂

    And YES that bowl just has to be your gift to yourself!!

    All the very best to you both. Xx

  18. Well done Jack! We have shopped at charity shops, as a family, for the last two years and find it great fun. Plenty of surprises on Christmas Day as no-one has a clue what they’re getting. It’s pointless asking for ‘what you want’ as no-one knows what they will find on their charity shop treasure hunt. I make crackers out of newspaper trying to find a suitable page/ headline for each person. Have a lovely, frugal, Christmas!

  19. Simple things are always the best, I’d like to wish you and yours a very Happy and Healthy Christmas and New Year. Best wishes, Kate x

  20. Those are lovely and meaningful gifts. You’ve really got the spirit of Christmas figured out. Have a wonderful holiday with SB and your loved ones. xo

  21. Fantastic. Kids are usually happy with whatever they get – at least that’s what I found with my 2 when they were small. The fun for them was always in the anticipation the unwrapping and having new things to play with, whatever they were and wherever they came from. And charity shops provide a good haul of toys ☺ It does get harder as they get older but my 2 are still easy to please for not a great deal of money mainly because they’re not used to Christmas Pressies costing £100 s of pounds. Everyone will love them – and the mixing bowl what a find!

  22. Good for you. Children get way too much and are often completely overwhelmed. Kids in my family often get more fun with the boxes than with the presents. A Mason cash mixing bowl huh? Definitely keep that one for yourself…

  23. When mine were younger, we used to go to bootsales in the summer for gifts. One year the eldest got a £10 black sack of power rangers we had collected from a variety of stalls and the youngest got ablack sack of mega blocks for £5. Other than that some chocolates, books and that was plenty

  24. Jack Monroe, you are the BEST!!! While I make a decent wage and often have extra, your thoughtful approach to eating well and gifting from the heart on a budget, reminds me of all the things that are more important in life than have some extra cash in your pocket. Thank you.

  25. My friend has an excellent Christmas plan with her kids. She buys them one “big present” from Mum & Dad – usually something like a (second hand) bike or a Lego set or basically a big treat that they wouldn’t get the rest of the year and couldn’t afford to buy with their pocket money. Then they have “Santa’s Recycling Scheme” – which is a pillow case that the kids have to fill with old toys that they have outgrown or don’t play with anymore. On Christmas Eve, Santa takes their old toys and the elves clean them up and give them to other children (aka. The charity shop) and fills the bag with new recycled toys for them (aka. Second hand toys from the charity shop / boot sales etc). She has a lot of fun collecting loads of toys from charity shops all year to go in the Recycling Bag, and her house is very clutter-free – and the charity shop gets a big bag of preloved toys for other kids to enjoy. Win win! Plus she can recruit friends – I am on “dinosaur duty” so always look out for second hand toy dinosaurs in charity shops etc to go in the bag, which is fun for me 🙂

  26. We had years of not having two 2 pennies to rub together, it concentrates the mind and makes you realise what’s important and isn’t spending hundreds of pounds on stuff. I buy stuff in the sales all year round and end up with 2 suitcases full. Just bought next year’s Christmas cards today as they were reduced in m and s.

  27. My daughter always got more joy from pencils felt tips colouring books and a fat wadge of paper, than just about anything else. You know she’s 25 now and still she’s getting felt tips and a colouring book that she will chill out with, it’s never been about money because I never had any so wilco’s and car boots supplied our Christmases too.

  28. For the first time ever our immediate family (9 of us) are doing Secret Santa. The challenge is to make or buy one present to the value of £10.00 and that’s it. What a pleasure it’s been to not feel stress and worry about lack of money and time. It’s actually been fun!

  29. Too late for this year unless you’ve got a store near you, and possibly even then, but my sister introduced me to the joys of a couple of years ago. They’re fantastic for cheap art and craft things (particularly if you have several kids to buy for so can make use of their bulk discounts) and weirdly random books. I’m particularly fond of the little wooden boxes and chests they do, which you can gift as a “paint your own” job, or if you have the time, tart up yourself with some acrylic paint and thinned PVA glue as varnish.

  30. WELL DONE YOU. The best way is the way within your budget, whatever that budget may be !
    Have a fantastic Christmas and please keep blogging you are an inspiration and really keep me going when I loose my mo jo

  31. Most of my shopping got done in an Oxfam shop – I got loads of designer hats, scarves and ties that my adult relatives will love, for only a couple of quid each. They’ll love them, and my bank balance will love me, lol

  32. Great haul. Hurrah for Oxfam and Wilko! Camomile gin sounds ace – my friend has just given me some homemade quince vodka for Christmas, which has got to be the best gift ever :-).

  33. For the adults in our family we do a secret santa where we spend £15 on our chosen person but it has to be spent in a charity shop. It’s made Christmas shopping so much more fun. Every shop has different stock, so much more fun than going in the same old department stores. No one gets offended. If you don’t like something it goes back in a charity shop & the charities win all ways.

  34. Sounds brilliant – I do most of mine from charity shops these days. A bit miffed that my daughter made home-made gifts for relatives and was told by my ex that his step-daughter might not think it was ‘good enough’… Gobsmacked. In fact he might be. By me.

    • A home made gift is always the best because you know a lot of thought, time and effort have gone into it. If they can’t see that then they are the loses.

  35. Thanks for sharing this. We celebrate Christians in a big way because we follow Jesus so it’s really important to us. The kids absolutely love it. But we don’t buy them fancy things. This year I’ve bought a box of Lego for my 6 and 4 year old to share, and some bits of train track for my 2 year old to add to his set. They will be happy.
    I think you set a culture in your household, and if your kids see you spending loads on (and wanting loads of) STUFF they will want loads of stuff too. In our culture it’s hard not to get carried along, but so far we haven’t had many issues. I don’t say this to sound like an amazing parent, I just mean that I agree you don’t have to spend loads to make your kids happy. In fact, the less they expect the more content they will be, in my experience.
    (I’ve found that the shop Tiger is brilliant for stocking fillers, btw. I got my daughter a sequinned shower cap for £1! She’ll be thrilled!)
    Happy Christmas. x

  36. This year I made small bags out of old clothes from my children and in them i’ll put homemade boiled sweets, a card and a little decorative wool hat. Those are for family and extended family. I made some sockbears aswell for my children.

  37. Sounds great to me! Can I give a recommendation for the budding astronomer? Phil Plait has gorgeous pictures on his Bad Astronomy blog and his Youtubing led me to the Crash Course Kids series which have all kinds of fun ideas which are deceptively educational. And the ISS passes over the UK on Christmas Eve as a great proxy for Santa’s sleigh. Merry Humbugs and all that.

  38. well done for not buying heaps for your son, i’d bet he would be happy with a cardboard box! my husband used to spend hundreds of pounds on our 2 every year even though i would ask him not to, they were completely overwhelmed with it all and ended up not opening half of it and playing with boxes instead! My family stick to a ‘£5 per person’ budget, so you have to be inventive! Have a good Christmas! X

  39. I have spent too much on Christmas again this year. It’s hard not to though… My boyfriend has a big family so even though I spent around £3 a head it really added up. I decorated tote bags as hampers- booze or hot chocolate for the adults, some pet treats, and then I made a little bag of chocolates with glow sticks in it for each child (16 nieces and nephews) because I figure that the teenagers will enjoy those as much as the little ones! They always sing karaoke at Xmas so it’ll be like a disco.

    My family is smaller- went overboard for my parents, but they always spoil me too and the gifts are things they need like homewares, winter clothes. I also hoarded gift cards from my birthday and last xmas and spent them on their gifts. Likewise overboard for my boyfriend but mostly stuff he really needs like socks and a new belt!!
    The rest of my family are getting organic wine and brownies I baked. For my nephews (I have 2) I got a small selection of wooden toys and bubble wands and made them felt stockings with their names on =].

    I have a handful of friends to buy for, budget £2 a head plus cookies I baked.

    Still feeling horribly poor and upset that I’ll have to delay my annual charity donations. I’m going on uni fieldwork on the 3rd of Jan and have to pay all my costs upfront. I’ll give my donations when the uni processes my receipts for the grant they are giving me.

    Next year I will plan ahead better so I can get some of the little bits throughout the year so the burden is spread- and I can get more in charity shops!!

    Have a very Merry Christmas, I think you brought wonderful gifts =]

  40. Great post and lovely to hear that you stick with your budget. At the end of the day we just want to spend quality time with our loved ones. Have a lovely Christmas x

  41. Well done Jack. It’s the thought that counts not the amount or the price. I’ve handmade most of my gifts for family and friends this year. I started sewing in January and will finally finish today, all of my materials are sourced from charity shops (duvets sheets jeans and shirts )then I make them into something else. All part of the recycling process and an entirely unique gift. Wishing yourself and so a very merry Christmas xx xx

  42. Charity shop gift buying can be great! I volunteered at Red Cross for some years and met a group of people who’s present buying was solely from charity shops or home made. Now I wouldn’t dream of giving my friend Gloria anything but home made food – and she even got her “order” in early! ) and a home made card, and I thought of her as I made everything.
    Post Christmas in a charity shop you see all the gifts bought and given mindlessly, because they arrive by the bag load, some even unopened. I always feel that if a gift has to be “that’ll do” for someone, it might be an idea to re-think why it’s being given at all.

  43. I love your attitude to Christmas. My husband and i spend £5 each on gifts for each other. Usually we hunt charity shops (80s CDs are always a hit) but last year i got five crafty things from Poundland. They have really good craft stuff. I got heavy card for card making and offcuts of beautiful paper as well as some cute little hessian birds to stick on cards.

    For friends we give the gift of time and homemade food. They come for dinner or coffee and cake and we have a nice chat.

    My friend has a rule with her children–they get three gifts. That is what baby Jesus got and if it was good enough for him, then it is good enough for them. They are the least spoiled kids i know.

    Happy holidays!

  44. still one of my favorite posts from you…it definitely is the simple things and long may they remain the most important! 🙂

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