15 Advent Calendar Ideas for Counting Down to Christmas on the Cheap

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COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS

December is the month of the advent calendar, the traditional countdown to Christmas. There are countless styles and themes available for purchase, but those with a crafty side can also make personalized versions. Here are some money-saving ideas for advent calendars that are a little out of the ordinary.
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FILL GOODIE BAGS

A recent check of craft-marketplace sites such as Etsy found an array of advent calendars and kits featuring numbered brown paper bags for as much as $45. Save money and visit the dollar or grocery store to buy standard-issue brown lunch bags, colorful clothespins, and an assortment of treats for the bags, then arrange on the mantel or hang on a line.
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LAUGH IT UP

Make the holidays happier with a joke-themed advent calendar for kids. Print out a free calendar from the blog Modern Parents Messy Kids for 24 days of silly jokes like, "What's red, white, and blue at Christmastime? A sad candy cane!" Kids will love it even if grown-ups roll their eyes.
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LOOK TO THE MASTER

Unsurprisingly, lifestyle guru Martha Stewart has plenty of suggestions for DIY advent calendars. One of the simplest on her website starts with colored envelopes in a variety of sizes. Attach adhesive numbers to each, fill with lightweight gifts like stickers and gift cards, and attach to the wall in a tree-shape with painter's tape.
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MAKE A TRADITION

While it may seem expensive now, a sturdy advent calendar that can be used year after year saves money in the long run. A vintage-inspired advent calendar with wooden drawers from Hallmark ($60) looks like it's been around forever and just might become a family heirloom.
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HAVE A CUPPA

Instead of spending $40 on a 24 Days of Tea advent calendar from DavidsTea, try making one at home for less. Find decorative boxes or envelopes, attach them to the wall in a pattern, and fill each space by buying a tea sampler ($6 for a 24-pack of Tazo tea from Sam's Club).
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LET THERE BE LIGHT

A $30 Yankee Candle countdown calendar reveals a scented tea light for each day, but reviewers say the cardboard gets mangled when removing the candles, the fragrances don't complement each other, and the calendar isn't worth the money. For a cheaper way to light up dark December nights, insert standard tea lights ($6.50 for 100 from Target) into 24 small gift boxes. Open and light one candle a day and light them all on the last day for a big impact.
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BE A THRIFTY SHOPPER

An inexpensive advent calendar doesn't have to be DIY. Trader Joe's advent calendars come in different designs, complete with chocolates, and cost just 99 cents. Calendars.com has candy-free advent calendars for well under $10.
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CELEBRATE A MANLY MAN

The Man Crates advent calendar gives grown-up guys a jerky-themed calendar stuffed with alligator, buffalo, and other exotic jerky treats at a price of $60. Make a cheaper version by buying jerky sticks in a variety of flavors and tying each one with a numbered ribbon that can be attached to the wall or hung from the mantel.
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GIVE A CHOCOLATE KISS

The Godiva Advent Calendar contains high-quality chocolate but costs $35. Create a cheaper version by filling a wrapped gift box with Hershey's Kisses or other bite-size candies and gluing a calendar inside the lid for marking off the days.
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REMEMBER FAVORITE MOMENTS

Revisit favorite vacation moments with a scrapbook-turned-advent-calendar project. Start with a large post-bound scrapbook ($9 at Target). Number pages 1 through 24, attach a photo to each page, and invite kids to share any memories they have of the moment, which can be written on the page.
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FALL IN LOVE AGAIN

Make December your season of love by creating some heart-shaped cutouts from construction paper and writing a romantic quote on each heart. Number each one, then pin them number side up to a pretty pillowcase. Let your beloved read one each day.
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MAKE A TOAST

Masters of Malt offers a whiskey advent calendar for $156, but try a cheaper version at home. Head to the liquor store and buy a variety of single-serve bottles of an array of spirits and display them in a decorative box (for adults only).
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TRY VINTAGE FLAIR

A Santa magnetic advent calendar is $99 at Pottery Barn, but making your own would be easy. Pick up a plain magnetic board, like a $10 Nate Berkus chalkboard at Target; decorate it with numbered squares; and find a Christmas-themed magnet to count off the days.
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GIVE TOYS TO TOTS

For $30, get some extra bang for your buck with a combination lasting Christmas gift, fun group activity, and an advent calendar for girls 5 to 12. The Lego Friends advent calendar is loaded with mini-dolls, a fireplace, and tiny gifts for each of the 24 days.
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PASS ALONG THE PRETTY

A glamorous beauty advent calendar from the Vintage Cosmetic Company is $130 from QVC, so consider creating your own, cheaper version. Start with an all-white Karen Foster Design 3D Countdown Calendar ($13 at Walmart), which comes with number stickers and a template for decorating, then head to the local beauty-supply or dollar store for small treats like lip gloss, tweezers, and hair clips to fill the drawers.