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Christmas On A Budget Series: Elf On The Shelf – On the Cheap

Most of us have felt the impact of this economy and with Christmas around the corner, finding extra funds to celebrate Christmas with can be tough. I’ve put together a few ideas on how I celebrate Christmas on a budget. I’m not super creative, so some of my ideas may bore you – but hopefully a few tips might stir some inspiration in a few.

First up  – my version of “Elf On The Shelf.” If you’re not familiar with this Christmas tradition, an elf arrives at your house (usually after Thanksgiving) and watches over your kids. The “real” Elf on the Shelf is available at Target for about $30 and comes with a toy elf and a book explaining the rules and the elf’s purpose. I’m too cheap to spend $30 (or even $25 with the $5 off coupon), so I made own version of Elf On The Shelf. I picked up an elf at Marshall’s (various priced from $5 – $15) and wrote my own letter from Santa instead of using the book. If $ is too tight to splurge on an elf you could  use an “invisible elf” and just have a simple letter arrive from Santa explaining the game.

My kids love this! The elf plays silly tricks each night (or every few nights) like leaving toilet paper all over or stacking chairs on the table. The kids are responsible for cleaning up after the elf (they actually like to!) and in return the elf occasionally leaves a treat for the kids to find in the morning. He only wakes at night and can be found in a new silly position each morning (like hanging from the ceiling fan). Our elf also writes notes in a magical journal each night and the kids write back. On Christmas Eve, the elf waits on the tree for Santa and after helping unload the gifts, heads back to the North Pole.

*My elf, named Elfred, arrived in an old shoe box wrapped in Christmas paper and magical glitter sprinkled all over. The journal is a $.25 composition notebook with more Christmas paper mod podged around the front and back cover. I hide the gift in my closet during the year so it’s ready to go each Christ,as. If you want to see my letter from Santa, click the “read more” option below.

I’ve got a couple of these I’ll post each day for the next week or so, so stay tuned!  I’m sure many of you are much more creative than I likely have a million more creative ideas on how to save this season, so please leave comments and share the wealth!

Dear (insert kids names),

Christmas is almost here and I’m so busy making toys for all the boys and girls, including some for each of you! Because your are both so special, I have sent you one of my favorite elves to stay with you until Christmas. He will help me watch over each of you and tell me if you’re being good or bad. If you’re good, I’ll bring presents on Christmas morning!

The elve’s name is Elfred and he only comes to life at night, when everyone is sleeping! He is very nice but can be mischievous and sometimes makes big messes when no one is looking! He is silly loves to write notes. You can use his special journal to ask him questions, and at night, he will write back and answer them!

You must be very careful with Elfred. You can NEVER touch him or play with him, only look at him. You’ll have to look carefully to find him in a new spot every morning! Do you think you can take care of him and help him clean his messes?

If you take very good care and follow these rules and be good boys, Elfred may even come back next Christmas!

Leave him on the Christmas tree on Christams Eve and I will take him back to the North Pole after I leave your presents!

Be good boys! Elfred is watching!

Santa Clause




  1. Helen in Meridian says:

    Your authentic Annalee elf is worth a lot more than that plastic Elf of Elf on the shelf. I like your creative ideas and Annalee Mobility dolls from Meredith NH are very collectible.

    • I know – the elf was a good find huh? My good friend Katie found it for me for under $15 at Marshall’s a few years back. It actually has wire limbs the shape into the “silly positions.” Any elf would work though!

  2. I have never heard of this but my kids will love it! Thanks for the idea!

  3. Thanks so much I love it…. my friends went out and got the book but I am loving this idea!

  4. Tamra — I had no idea what the Elf on the Shelf was! Thank you for this awesome fun and extremely budget friendly idea! I can’t wait to do it with the girls!