Note: I'm bumping this up to the top for the benefit of all you last-minute types desperate to fill those stockings (myself included)!
With the holidays upon us, the pressure is on to find small gifts and treasures to fill the Christmas stockings. And when the pressure mounts, we're tempted to spend too much.
Don't do it.
Here are 11 ideas to help you fill the empty stockings hanging at your house for under $10 each -- or even less if necessary. With coupons, sales and a little creativity, you still have time to get a lot of these for free or very inexpensively.
1. Play favorites. If your kids love Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, for instance, buy them a box or an individual cup. Right now, Kraft is selling boxes of winter shapes. You can also get boxes with Cars-, SpongeBob-, and Phineas and Ferb-shaped Mac. At approximately $1 a box, a very inexpensive stocking stuffer. Other suggestions: a large bar of their favorite chocolate, a pouch of cookie mix, a bottle of hot sauce or a small tube of Pringles potato chips.
2. Cheap thrills. Look for one-bowl cereals and individual packages of cookies and crackers. At about $1 each, they’re too pricey (and wasteful) for everyday use but a bargain for a stocking stuffer.
3. The sweet stuff. Candy is always a big hit in stockings. But don’t think you absolutely must buy Christmas candy. You often pay a premium for all that packaging. Your kids will be just as happy with M&Ms in the traditional brown package.
4. Be practical. You’re going to buy your kids new toothbrushes and toothpaste anyway so splurge a little and buy one featuring their favorite character or buy them a battery-powered brush. There are lots of coupons out on these right now. Other practical suggestions: kids’ flossers in animal shapes, a sleeve of disposable bathroom cups with a design or favorite cartoon character on them, a package of character underwear, a pair of colorful socks, a set of barrettes or hair ties, flavored chapstick and batteries for a favorite game.
5. Think small. Look in the travel/trial section of Target and WalMart or the supermarkets. Sometimes you can get free or nearly free items there with coupons. This is a great place to score things for teens’ stockings, such as small cans of shaving cream and pocket-size breath fresheners.
6. Recycled treasures. Look for trinkets you’ve saved from your childhood that you think your child might appreciate. Silver coins, polished rocks, a piece of jewelry or a special book all have potential.
7. Make-your-own coupons. Use a colorful piece of paper to make coupons for your child. Wrap each coupon in a small box and stick it inside the stocking. Ideas: afternoon baking with Mom, movie night with Dad, a vegetable-free meal, a sleepover with a friend, or a dessert-first dinner.
8. Recycled treasures, Part 2. Gifts don’t have to come from a store at the mall. Look at garage sales, consignment sales and thrift shops. If you have kids of varying ages, shop your own closets and junk drawers. Your older kids may have long-abandoned "treasures" from past birthdays or Christmases. If your friends have older kids, ask them for hand-me-downs. They would probably be thrilled to clear the clutter.
9. Get carded: Splurge on a $5 gift card to your child’s favorite fast-food restaurant.
10. Think outside the stocking. Cool office and school supplies make great stocking stuffers. Scented markers, pencils made of recycled materials and fun-shaped sticky notes are all ideas. The best time to shop for these is during back-to-school sales but you still might have some luck finding these items on clearance.
11. Get crafty. Go to Michael’s or A.C. Moore armed with 50 percent off coupons and pick up small treasures or craft supplies. Use the coupons on $1 and $2 items and you'll be paying yard sale prices at a major retailer. And don't forget, you can print these coupons on the Michael's and A.C. Moore websites.