Budget-Friendly Elf on the Shelf Ideas


It is that time of year for the Elves on the Shelves to make their appearance! But there is no need to break the bank to make him/her magical!

I’ll admit, I LOVE our Elf and coming up with ideas from November to Christmas Eve! I let my Pinterest mom side shine and give no F’s about how extra it all seems. It is fun for me and fun for the kids!

However, If you are not an Elf fan and want to find alternatives you can take a look at this article I wrote last year “Not Elfing around: When Elf on the Shelf isn’t for You” It has five different ideas for things you can do that are NOT the Elf!

But if you do love the Elf like me, or you have just resigned yourself to the fact that your kids love it and it isn’t going away just yet I wanted to give you some inspiration for this year that are simple and budget-friendly! I never buy kits or a ton of props I just use things we already have!

Here are a few of the things I have done with our Elf over the years that are simple, budget-friendly, and can be done with items already lying around the house!

Elf on the Shelf Returns 

This one is really simple, I bought the kids their favorite powered doughnuts while I was at the store and hid them. Then that night we read our Elf on the Shelf book hoping to signal to our Elf that it was time to return. Once the kids are in bed and I am confident that we are done with trips to the bathroom or to get water I will set up the scene.

This one is just placed on the kitchen table, the use of my letter board makes it sooo much easier to write out messages without worrying that the kids will notice that it is my handwriting. I sprinkled some leftover fake snow I had in my decorations around the sign and gave our Elf “Rumple” a half-eaten doughnut and that was it!

Hot Chocolate and Cookies for the Elf

If you are already baking cookies with your kids. That night have the elf take a few for him/herself. Then if you have the Hot Chocolate K-cups you can get a used one with the hole in the top already, stick a straw in it, and BAM, Hot Chocolate, and Cookies for your elf!

Mission Impossible Elf

If you have any type of string or fishing line this one is pretty simple to set up. Get a line long enough to reach from your tree to a fan or light fixture. I had my husband help me make sure it was secure enough to hold, then I just taped the hands and feet so our elf hung on the line like he was trying to to to the fan.

Happy Birthday Jesus

While we love our Elf, and Santa we always try to keep the true meaning of Christmas front and center. That means our Elf knows that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus and focusing on things like giving and kindness throughout the season! Last year we had some extra paper that was big enough for a large sign, so our elf made a giant Happy Birthday Jesus sign. The best part is all you really have to do is have him sit somewhere near with a marker!

Gingerbread House Construction

A few years ago my parents started the tradition of building gingerbread houses with our kids when they come down to visit for the holidays. Last year we all got involved and each one of us made our own house.

That night I got the leftover icing from everyone’s houses,  some graham crackers and marshmallows I had in the pantry and made a little house, set it up next to the others, and just had the elf sitting in the middle to show off his own creation!

Wrapped Elf 

This one is SUPER simple. Grab some scrap wrapping paper, wrap up the elf, and stick him under the tree. Bonus, you can grab a few toys from your kid’s room and set them up like they did the wrapping. This is what I did here with a few of my son’s pokemon stuffed animals.

Bow Climbing Wall

Grab that bag of bows from your wrapping paper box, stick them on a wall or door. And BOOM Elf Climbing Wall. The best part is if you just use tape you don’t have to waste the bow and can use them later once the climbing wall has been taken down. I don’t think I even needed to tape the elf, I am pretty sure I just stuck his hand and feet in the bows and it held really good.

You’ll Shoot Your Eyes Out Kid

One of our family traditions is that on Christmas Day after gifts have been opened we watch A Christmas Story. (We also watch it a few hundred times leading up to Christmas Day too) The kids know it is one of Mom’s favorites so it was only right that our elf wanted to watch too. I found an image by googling last year and was able to print and cut out the famous bunny suit with glasses and taped it to our elf, along with my leg lamp ornament and a great quote on the letter board! The kids thought it was so funny that the elf was dressing up as the bunny from the movie and that he had taken my ornament from the tree for his set up!

Elf Mischief

No Elf of the Shelf series would be complete without a LITTLE mischief. Our Elf got some old streamer out of the Birthday decorations stash and had fun taping them to the outside of the kid’s doors that way when they woke up they would get quite the surprise. He wasn’t very sneaky though cause he was caught holding evidence.

elf on the shelf 18
elf on the shelf 18.5

Jurrasic Park Elf 

I can not take credit for this one, this idea is from a night that I asked my husband to take the lead. And he did not disappoint. He gathered the kid’s dinosaur toys, tied up the elf, and even printed the Jurrasic Park sign!

Nativity Scene Elf 

This is another example of letting our Elf remind the kids that there are bigger reasons that we celebrate this Holiday. One night I got one of the kid’s picture bibles and printed some simple nativity scene characters. Then had the elf reading the Christmas Story from the Bible. (When I am trying to get the elves hands together, I usually use some fishing line)

Elf Goes Sledding

If you already have a decorative sled this one will be SUPER simple. I did not so I got some cardboard boxes out of my garage and made the slope and the sled out of cardboard. The longest part was cutting the sled shape and using craft paint we already had to paint it red. Then I gathered some extra toys up and they went sledding.

elf on the shelf 9.5
elf on the shelf 9

DJ Marshmallo Elf 

My son who is 7 thinks DJ Marshmallo is the coolest. If you have never heard of him he is a DJ that wears a giant mask that literally makes his head look like a Marshmellow with a face. I do not think my son has even heard his music but he is popular amongst elementary kids so my son talks about him all the time. One night I got paper and some markers then made our elf his own mask and his own Elf-sized DJ equipment. Then I set him up next to some colorful LED lights my husband has in his office.

Breakfast with your Elf 

I don’t do sugary breakfasts often for the kids. Mostly because I know if things like Lucky Charms are in the house I am likely to eat them more than the kids. But the kids go nuts when I buy Lucky Charms because it is so rare. So one day I bought them, hid them, and let our Elf be the fun breakfast bringer.

Roasting Marshmallows by the Fake Fire 

We do not have a fireplace, but we did purchase this amazing Faux Fireplace/ TV stand a while back. Our Elf was a little confused so one night he tried to roast his tiny marshmallows next to the fire. (The stick is a paperclip that I unfolded and taped into his hands)

Baking and Napping Elf

One night I stayed up late baking breakfast muffins for the kids to have the next morning. So I grabbed some baking supplies and the doll bed from my daughter’s room. And when they found the Elf the next day he was so tired from baking all those giant muffins that he needed to take a nap. You could do this without the baking as well! Grab some doll furniture and let your Elf take a rest day!

Budget-Friendly Elf of the Shelf Ideas

Making a Video for Elf Tube 

My kids like most of the kids in the world love watching YouTube videos. One night I grabbed our GoPro set it up like the Elf might be filming his own video. I went one step further with some leftover cardboard I cut out a big square and with markers put an ElfTube logo on it!

Budget-Friendly Elf of the Shelf Ideas

Good Luck Elf 

Last year my son won Second Place at this school’s Science Fair which meant in December he advanced to the District Science Fair. The night before I made our Elf some glasses. And made a little replica of the Tri-Fold board from my son’s Science project. You could do this with any test, or game, or anything going on at school.

Budget-Friendly Elf of the Shelf Ideas


I hope you have enjoyed seeing these budget-friendly Elf on the Shelf ideas that I have come up with over the years. Which one do you think you will try this year? What things has your Elf done?