Giving Holiday Gifts on a Budget

Tightening the Belt
By Janice St.Clair, Nanny, Boston Area Nanny Support Group

How should nannies choose a gift for their employers without breaking their budget? Many nannies give their employers a homemade gift certificate (or set of certificates) good for one evening (or overnight) free babysitting. Anything handmade (knitted mittens for instance) or home baked is also appreciated.

A good way to reduce the scramble to produce many gifts in a short time is to make certificates promising gifts for the future, such as a dozen homemade cookies per month for a year, or a joint trip to the yarn shop and a handmade scarf of the recipient’s color choice.

Many nannies create child-centered gifts, such as photo albums or calendars from pictures they have taken of the children, or a casting of a child’s hand print or footprint as a garden decoration using a kit from a hardware store.

It is completely appropriate to give a gift to the entire family rather than individual gifts. Some examples include: a family board game, or a hand-assembled basket containing a family DVD and hot chocolate mix and microwave popcorn.

Alternative gift ideas that you can easily put together from Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE) include shoe box gifts. Shoe box gifts are collections of small, familiar items that are organized around a play theme and presented in an appealing way. They also show that expensive toys in fancy packages are not necessarily the best. See examples in this issue and consult the TRUCE Toy Guide (below) for other suggestions.

You can give a lovely and thoughtful gift that shows you care, without getting caught up in the spending frenzy that has increasingly characterized this holiday season. Your example may help the family you work for to make more financially responsible and emotionally healthy choices in upcoming years too.

We owe it to ourselves and also to the families we work for to remain calm during the increasingly demanding December holiday season. There is a lot of pressure on everyone to do and to buy more than possible or affordable. Try to balance social events with adequate rest and healthy eating. Set a reasonable budget for gifts, and be creative in order to stick to it. If old traditions are driving you and your loved ones nuts, create new ones together that connect you and restore you. If you are overwhelmed with obligations, pass on some of them. For instance, send holiday cards after the holiday, decline some gatherings with a promise to get together after the holidays, and decorate simply — even if you have lavish decorations.

Tis the season for people of all beliefs to come together and celebrate life, love, friends, family, and spirituality. This should really be a restorative, rather than a draining holiday season. Let’s make it so!

Janice St.Clair has been a career live-out nanny since 1991. She is the founder and on-going facilitator of the nine-year-old Boston Area Nanny Support Group (BANSG) and a founding member of the National Association for Nanny Care (NANC).


Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE). TRUCE, PO Box 441261, West Somerville, MA 02144 Email: Website:


  1. I took the kids to the mall and paid for a photo of the children. We had the store at the mall add the photo to an apron and a mug for me to give to the parents. For the children I spent a little more money on more expensive gifts. I know a lot of nannies say they don’t give gifts to the parents for the holidays. But, I just wanted something to give the parents. It’s hard to have them give me gifts with nothing in return.

  2. I liked the scrapbook idea. And to make it easier just do a digital one online. There’s no mess, inexpensive, looks better. Problem is, what do I do when I’ve already given the family a scrapbook? I have given them blankets, homemade treats, free night of babysitting which they never made me do! So cheap, dumb gifts this year since I’m out of ideas. Like the shoe box gifts though for activities during the year. Too cheap for my pretentious employers.

  3. As nannies we cannot be expected to spend so much on four members of a family when they only have to buy presents for us. It gets pricey. The shoe box gifts are inexpensive and creative. Good idea. Thanks, Dianne Friedman

  4. I am giving the mother a locket with photos of her children inside the jewelry. The father is getting tennis balls (he probably pays me the most but I know him the least well). I’m spending a fortune on the kids. They treat me well and I like giving them nice gifts.

  5. I only work during the week as a live-out nanny so I like giving the parents restaraunt and movie gift certificates sothe parents and free babysitting on a weekend evening. That’s more than enough for them. It’s the children that I spend too much on. Sarah from NJ

  6. I am letting the girls go shopping with me. I’m giving them each $50. They are so picky about what they wear so they can buy want they want and I’ll chauffer them for what they want. The parents just get a heart felt card saying thanks for letting me care for your lovely children. Weird but gifts are for the kids really. Melanie

  7. I think the shoe box gifts are a stellar idea. My only concern is that my employer is going to shower me in gifts. I don’t feel comfortable not buying them label, brand name gifts as well.I know there is something wrong with me. I spend more on the family I work for than my own family. I know, I know, it’s wrong. I just cannot help it. I couldn’t pay any of my bills without their employing me. This one time of year I want to show them I’m thankful with creative expressions of gratitude.Nanny Melanie

  8. Ladies, online scrapbooks are the way to go. No mess.

  9. Thank you Jancie and Best Nanny Newsletter for some great inexpensive ideas. Is it okay to pay so little on my employers when they spend so much on me though? I am afraid that the parents would consider shoe box gifts as activities to do during the year and want something “more manufactured” for holiday gifts. But I will consider these ideas nonetheless and share them with my nanny friends.

  10. Dear Janice and Stephanie: I tried the online scrapbook and it was a huge success! Now what do I do with my huge plastic tub of scrapbooking supplies?? Online was so easy to do I’ll be doing it often! Thanks Angie

  11. The parents would think I’m cheap if I gave shoebox gifts.L.D.

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