Mom Saves Money: Gift wrapping on the cheap (and the sly)

It’s Monday. That means it’s time for Nicole McDonald of to tell us how to be, well, better (at least when it comes to our finances!).

Today, she offers tips to save money on gift wrap and stave off the kids’ curiosity.

Nicole McDonald,

The thought of buying $3-$4 gift bags and $2-$3 worth of tissue really bothers my frugal side. That’s more than $5 just to wrap a present! Crazy.

I would rather use that $5 and buy a nicer gift, especially when a kid will just rip the package open anyway.


So I am sharing my frugal wrapping ideas to save you money and still stay in the holiday spirit. I also included some tricky ways to fool those curious children.

  1. Reusable bags – Instead of buying pricey paper gift bags that rip and get thrown out, buy a $1 reusable bag for the gift. You can find really cute ones at many stores. The best part is you are giving an additional gift with the present, a new reusable bag.
  2. Recycle gift bags – Anytime I get a gift bag in good condition, I save it for later use. I consistently reuse old gift bags to wrap new presents. Usually, the gift bags will last for several uses and the recipient never knows it’s been used (unless it’s one they gave you.)
  3. Paper bag wrapping – Next time you grocery shop, grab a few extra paper sacks at checkout. Cut along the side of the bag so it is flat and turn it inside out. You now have a plain brown paper sack to use to wrap a gift. Have your kids color it, paste collage pictures or paint it to dress it up. Add a cute ribbon for the finishing touch. Grandparents absolutely love this when their grandkids color the paper.
  4. Newspaper/comic/advertisements – If you subscribe to the paper, these are free and you can find colorful comics or advertisements to wrap presents.
  5. Use corresponding container – Wrap a tool in a tool box with a ribbon, jewelry with a jewelry box or beauty items in a cosmetics case. Add a ribbon and viola, it’s wrapped and useful.

Here are some fun ideas for tricking those sneaky kids who like to shake, poke and figure out their gifts early!

  1. Use multiple boxes – If you have a small gift, collect several larger boxes and start putting the small gift in the increasingly larger boxes with some old newspaper as filler. Really trick them by adding a brick or two for weight or marbles so it will rattle when they shake it. My parents did this to me all the time when I was young. I would get really excited when I saw a box under the tree big enough for me to fit inside and was always surprised when I got to the real gift. This works great for electronic games or jewelry.
  2. Cereal or cracker boxes – Put a present in an empty cereal box or cracker box and tape it up. Your kids will think you got them a box of food and never be the wiser.
  3. Make it a treasure hunt – Use small gifts to represent a larger gift. For example, if you get your kids a bike, wrap a bell with a small note directing them to the garage, basement or truck to search for the real gift. You can even make it more fun by placing envelopes with clues around the house. Each envelope sends them to another location with another clue until they finally arrive at the location of the real gift. Not only is this fun, but it’s really hard to wrap a large gift, so it works out well. You can also do this with your spouse or other family members.
  4. Use a deceiving box – Do you have a box that came with a tool, coffee maker or something else boring? Place the gift in that box without rewrapping the box. This way they think you got them a tool or some other boring gift. They will be surprised when they open it and it’s actually something fun.

Have other frugal gift-wrapping ideas or ways to hide the real gift from your kids? Send ‘em our way! (We can use all the help we can get sometimes, right?!)

Nicole McDonald writes about freebies, coupons, deals and product reviews and hosts giveaways at

9 thoughts on “Mom Saves Money: Gift wrapping on the cheap (and the sly)

  1. I haven’t put this to use for Christmas yet, but for say a baby shower, I will wrap the gift in a receiving blanket or towel. Same for Wedding shower gifts, wrap up the couples photo album in one of the bath towels they registered for!

  2. Great ideas! I use paper bags all the time and since I get all kinds of free magazines, I usually clip out fun phrases and pictures and paste them with a glue stick to the presents as well. I have a friend who keeps all of the papers I use to wrap her gifts with because she has liked the messages so much. :)

  3. I know of a few ways-some that my mom used when she was little and when we were little and on a tight budget. Take the cards you get for Christmas, birthdays, etc. and use those to wrap presents. Pretty neat to see the old stuff again. She did the newspaper too because because our hands were always black if we tried touching the box before Christmas!!! Ha!

    I head this one at a pampered chef party-don’t have one though. You use their can opener on a can and save the lid and can, wash them out, and then stick it back on the can once you fill it with a gift. Bigger cans can hold a t-shirt! I just don’t have the nice opener that won’t cause edges, but it sounds totally cool! My mom used paper tubes from toilet paper and paper towels for things like socks and underwear in a similar fashion.

    • I love the idea of reusing a card as gift wrap. I know there are some charities that do this, right? Take old, donated cards, cut off the fronts and the messages from the inside and then glue them onto different paper/cardstock to send to troops overseas, etc. Pretty great.

  4. What a fun brainstorm! Our little guy is only 3 now, but I’m sure that gift camouflaging is in our future once he gets observant enough.
    : )

  5. I am one of those people who walk around the room picking up the floor looking for “trash” to use to wrap my next gift. When my kids’ were smaller, I would wrap birthday gifts with plan brown grocery sacks, and have the kids draw a picture or write a message to their friends to dress up the wrapping. I often use plan white wrapping paper, and then attach something to the front of the package to dress it up. White works for every occasion. Love these ideas!

  6. I have a friend who upcycles cans. Pick a can with a pull-tab top. Use a can opener (like Pampered Chef) that breaks the seal and open the BOTTOM of the can. Peel off the label (or leave it if you like) and replace with a homemade label/gift wrap. Place the gift inside the can (with padding if needed), then glue the bottom of the can back on.

  7. I forgot… recycle Christmas cards into gift tags or decorations for wrapping paper/bags. I save the Christmas cards we receive and “fussy cut” square, circle, rectangle, star, etc, shapes then use a hole punch in the corner to create one-of-a-kind gift tags. I write the “to/from” on the back. You can also use the card cut outs to decorate plain wrapping paper or bags.

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