Advent Calendar Ideas (that don’t cost a lot)

advent calendar ideas

My son is desperate for a Lego advent calendar. At $39, I can’t do it. But by the time I waver I’m sure it will be sold out.

There seems to be a trend towards increasingly expensive advent calendars. For both kids and adults. If you’d been quick enough, you could have bought a $499 Diptyque advent calendar. This trend has caused me to reflect on the whole advent calendar tradition. I love the idea of a countdown to Christmas. I also think there are plenty of ways to do it, without breaking the bank or losing a sense of wonder.

Advent calendars date back to the mid 1900s with one of the first ideas being the advent wreath. Lighting a candle each evening as Christmas approaches. I still think that’s a beautiful idea.

Here are some other advent calendar ideas. (That don’t cost the earth) …  

The Online Advent Calendar

Each year my boys enjoy the JL advent calendar. It’s an online, interactive advent calendar with plenty of nostalgic charm to keep me entertained as well. You can also order them for friends, making it a cute Christmas card alternative.

The Giving Box

Each day in the lead up to Christmas place a non-perishable item into a box. Once it’s full, donate to a food bank or other charity.

Scratchie Advent Calendar

This is a cute idea for a teacher you love. Buy 25 $1 or $2 scratchies and hang them onto some string via small wooden pegs, with a small card with the date in front.

Pokemon Card Advent Calendar

Similar to the above idea, but with a new Pokemon card each day. (It’s likely this will be our lego calendar concession).

Decorations Advent Calendar

This is a lovely idea for someone who is having their first Christmas after moving out of home. Use a box with dividers and place a decoration into each divider, one for every day in the lead up to Christmas. By the time the 25th rolls around their tree will be full of beautiful decorations. You can either make the decorations or buy them in bulk to keep costs reasonable.

Book Advent Calendar

I am completely in love with this book advent calendar idea from Artsplorers. The idea of exploring books together is such a special one. Particularly sharing that quiet time together in the lead up to Christmas. And you can keep it inexpensive by buying from Op-shops, wrapping old forgotten favourites or even borrowing from the library.


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The following ideas require an advent calendar you can fill yourself. There are plenty of gorgeous ideas on my Advent Calendar Pinterest board if you want to make one. Or if you aren’t feeling crafty, there are lots in store around this time of year.

Gratitude Advent Calendar

Rather than receiving something everyday, everyone in the family considers what they are grateful for. Write it down and put into your advent calendar. At some point during the Christmas to New Year break, read them together as a family.

Experience Advent Calendar

A beautiful friend of mine does this with her kids. She comes up with 25 experiences – things like going to the park, making decorations, Christmas baking, watching a Christmas movie etc. – and places them into her advent calendar. Each day her children have a new Christmassy experience to enjoy together.

Joke Advent Calendar

In the timeless tradition of Christmas “crackers” – place Christmas-themed jokes into the advent calendar and start each day with a smile.

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Do you have any other advent calendar ideas?
Splurged on any advent calendars?


Linking up with Kylie Purtell – Capturing Life and IBOT 


35 thoughts on “Advent Calendar Ideas (that don’t cost a lot)

  1. Lydia C. Lee says:

    I am a sucker for the advent calendars. I do have a reusuable playmobil calendar that comes out every year and you make a scene. This year I got some pokemon lego off ebay and that’s one of the kids advent calendar stuff. I used to love the picture one, and we only ever had one so every year I was opening the same pictures, but I still adored it. I got one for the kids but after the chocolate ones, it just didn’t cut it…I’ve been given a tea one! YAY!
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted…Post Trump World.My Profile

  2. Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid says:

    What neat ideas! I nearly bought a Lego one for hubby but I thought he might be just out of age range and the price tag was definitely out of my budget! We have had the same cloth advent calendars for years, we usually just fill them with chocolate or scratchies although last year, I saw a Random Act of Kindness advent calendar and would love to do that! Better for the soul and the waistline!

  3. Vanessa says:

    I love the idea of the jokes one. I never knew they had become such a big business and that’s kind of sad to me. I remember just getting a small (and frankly, crappy) chocolate was exiting enough!
    Vanessa recently posted…Easy DIY Bug Out BagMy Profile

  4. Bel says:

    I love so many of this ideas!! Love the scratchies for the teacher and the giving box! The books are always a winner and I have heard of people doing the activities. Really, you could do a mix of everything couldn’t you….a book to read one night, play a board game as a family another, clean out the toys and donate them etc.

  5. annette charlton says:

    What a timely and fab post. I received and was looking through the David Jones Xmas catalogue yesterday and came across the L’Occitane Advent Calendar. I must admit I had never seen an advent calendar before that was not just chocolates. I love the idea but think it is a bit extravagent to give oneself a gift every day before Xmas. Your family and charity oriented ideas are much nicer. #IBOT Annette
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  6. Nicole @ The Builder's Wife says:

    Oh I love the scratchie idea. This year my kids will be finding a note about a different activity or treat on the fridge each day.Now that they are all teenagers, I found it difficult to think of another way to put it together so that they didn’t “pre-open” them 🙂
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  7. Kylie Purtell says:

    I’m not really a big fan of the chocolate advent calendar. I don’t mind counting down the days but I know for my girls there is enough anticipation about Christmas that doesn’t need to be heightened with sugar, lol! My Mum has a handmade advent calendar that my sister’s Godmother made for her that Mum fills with chocolate and the girls get to eat the chocolates from the last week when we go round there for family dinner. I do like the idea of the giving box very much, and I think this is something I would like to do with my girls, it’s very easy for them, being so young, to get so caught up in getting stuff at Christmas and I’d love to do this to remind them to think about others and giving as well.

  8. Jo @ You had us at hello says:

    Oh I love these alternative ideas. I’m with you on lego one, as much as it sounds fun it’s rather pricey and I can see my boys arguing who got what….hmmmm, dare I? I have a cute bunting advent calendar with pockets but that too can getexpensive. I shall have to plan better for next year and be savy about it.Thanks for reminding me to get organised 😉 xx #teamIBOT

  9. Claire says:

    I make an advent calendar every year. They normally include a treat and a cheesy Christmas joke written on the back of a picture cut out from last years Christmas cards.

    I like your ideas above. I don’t think it really matters too much what’s in the calendar as long as it’s some kind of small surprise. It’s the guessing of what’s going to be inside that day is half the fun.

  10. Vicki @ Knocked Up & Abroad says:

    I’m not doing the expensive options. Never, ever. Christmas is $$$ enough without spending more on (often disposable) advent calendars. it’s a tad ludicrous. I like the gratitude calendar idea, but here, we do the book thing. I love the idea of reading a book together as a family that celebrates the festive season and often has a poignant message. I’m excited to get it started for this year again!

  11. Cat@lifethroughthehaze says:


    There are some really beautiful ideas here! I love the idea of lighting a candle each night in advent and just reminding ourselves that we have so much to be grateful for even though we feel hard done by (because I can’t buy myself the latest shoes or the kids can’t have something they want).

    We have in past years had the Lego Star Wars calendars but our kids are ok without them now.

    C xx
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