Kellye Fox | 

50 Inexpensive (And Easy!) Elf on the Shelf Ideas

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The first day of December will be here before you know it, and you know what that means! Everyone’s favorite Elf will arrive in many homes for the holidays to start making mischief and keeping an eye on the kids for Santa. And are you already worried about running out of Elf on the Shelf ideas to spread holiday cheer around the house? Here are some of the best cheap, easy, or free Elf on the Shelf ideas from the Krazy Coupon Lady team.

Most of these Elf on the Shelf ideas can be done with things you already have around your house. Or we hope to at least give you some inspiration to use whatever you have on hand to create some of these fun and silly scenes for your kids each day. Our goal was to give you a resource for free (or cheap!) and simple Elf on the Shelf ideas you can do for your little ones this holiday.

For more ways to spread Christmas cheer this year, check out our Christmas DIY projects, holiday shopping secrets, and Hallmark holiday movies list. Download the Krazy Coupon Lady or text text HACKS to 57299 for more savings hacks and smart shopping tips.


1. Elf on the Shelf arrives from the North Pole using a box you already have.

elf on the shelf doll peaking out of a box from the north pole in front of a fake fireplace

Have Elf make a grand entrance using a free, empty box from one of your Christmas gift orders. Decorate it with bows and place her in a spot your kids will find her first thing in the morning when they wake up.


2. Elf helps himself to a snack in the pantry.

elf on the shelf doll standing on stacked cans getting into a tin of cookie in the pantry

Elf can get into a little trouble when he’s hungry. Build a homemade ladder out of soup and vegetable cans so he can reach some of the goodies in your pantry. Maybe he can even share some with the kids when they find him in the morning.


3. Elf gets herself into a pickle while decorating the bathroom.

elf on the shelf doll climbing bathroom mirror with Christmas bows on mirror

Make getting ready in the morning a fun surprise. Have Elf decorate the bathroom your kids use with cheap stick-on bows. Use the sticky tabs to help Elf climb the mirror. You could also use some washable makeup to write a message to the kids on the mirror glass.


4. Elf delivers a little after-breakfast treat.

elf on the shelf doll in costume in diy candy cane jail

Have Elf deliver some sweet treats to the kids. Candy canes are a fun and inexpensive holiday treat that kids can enjoy after breakfast. You can get a dozen candy canes from Dollar Tree for $1.25 and use them throughout the Elf’s journey this month. Target and Walmart also sell candy canes, but as of writing this article, Dollar Tree is the most affordable.


5. Elf relays a message from Santa using Play-Doh.

elf on the shelf doll sitting on top a playdoh box next to playdoh spelling out be good and other holiday playdoh supplies

Use your kid’s Play-Doh, clay, pipe cleaners, or other craft supplies you already have on hand to spell out a fun message from Santa. Remind them to be on their best behavior or let them know Santa will be coming soon with presents.

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6. Have Elf and a friend drop off some after-school snacks to share!

two elf on the shelf dolls with packaged cake trees and a cindy's tree farm chalk board sign

Have Elf and his helper (if you have one) deliver some snacks for an after-school treat. If you can find these cute little Christmas tree cakes, they’re delicious straight from the “Tree Farm” with a big glass of milk.


7. Use a trail of popcorn to lead kids to Elf and their favorite movie.

elf on the shelf doll laying inside a tray of popcorn in front of a tv with elf movie on screen

Have Elf set up a perfectly cozy movie night for the whole family. Pop some popcorn and make a trail leading your kids to the living room where they’ll find a big bowl of popcorn, warm blankets, pillows, and their favorite holiday movie ready to watch on the TV.


8. Take Elf with you on your holiday travels.

two images side by side of a suitcase at the airport and an elf on the shelf doll ready to be packed into a suitcase

Bring Elf with you wherever you’re headed this holiday. See if you can strap him to your luggage as a stowaway or just pack him up along with some snacks for the trip. Elf can cause mischief wherever he goes, so bring him along.


9. Dress Elf up in costumes to bring on the holiday cheer.

elf on the shelf doll in target tree costume next to toher games and costumes

Give Elf a makeover and have her surprise your kids in a fun costume. In 2022, Target had Elf options in their Dollar Spot section so you can stock up for cheap. Right now, I’m finding sets starting at $10. Try using old doll clothes for a unique (and free) look or pick up doll clothes from Dollar Tree. Let your kids swap out her costume for the next day if they want to help.

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10. DIY a Santa Cam ornament for Elf to use.

an elf on the shelf sitting next to a diy santa cam ornament hanging in a tree

Create a DIY ornament the Elf can proudly present to the kids when they wake up in the morning. It can be a Santa Cam to help Elf share stories about your kids with Santa or it can be a special ornament that your kids can help the Elf make themselves.

Supplies you’ll need:

What you’ll do:

  1. Pour glitter paint into the ornament and shake it to cover all inside.
  2. Take apart the lens using just the circle lens part and glue it on the middle of the ornament
  3. Stick on the alphabet stickers to spell out “Santa Cam” around the lens.


11. Elf brings new Christmas decor dressed as a tree.

elf on the shelf doll in tree costume

Pick up a couple of little decor items and have Elf (dressed as a Christmas tree, of course) present them to your kids in the morning. They can use these little decorations in their bedrooms to spread some holiday cheer. We found this tree costume on Etsy for $6.


12. Create a $2 travel case for Elf if you’re road-tripping to see family.

two images side by side of an elf on the shelf doll with a craft holder and a diy elf travel case

Create a DIY Elf travel case for just $1.25 by decorating this retractable container from Dollar Tree. Kids can pack Elf in their bags or you can pack her up in secret for a fun surprise when you arrive at your destination.


13. Have Elf and a friend playing a fun holiday game.

two elf on the shelf dolls playing tic tac toe on fridge

Find a fun holiday game that your kids would enjoy. Surprise it with them by having Elf and a friend play the game when they’re found in the morning. This would also work with holiday BINGO cards, craft kits, or other fun Christmas activities.

Related: Advent Calendar Deals



14. Elf making trouble in the fruit basket.

an elf on the shelf doll holding sharpie with faces marked on bananas and oranges in a basket of fruit

Have Elf get a little creative and naughty by drawing silly faces on fruit in the fruit basket. Just be sure to remind Elf to only draw on the fruit that gets peeled before eating.


15. Elf pops out of your child’s favorite cereal.

elf on the shelf doll inside a cereal box in front of a full bowl

Surprise your kids by having Elf pour them a bowl of their favorite cereal in the morning. You can find Kellogg’s Elf on the Shelf cereal at Target or Walmart. Or you can easily use your kid’s favorite cereal already in your pantry.

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16. Have two elves battle it out using a game you already have.

two elf on the shelf dolls playing a game of battleship

Use a travel game from Dollar Tree or Target’s Dollar Spot to have two elves duke it out. These travel games can also be used if you’re taking a trip for the holidays. Surprise them on the morning you leave for your holiday trip.


17. Elf covered in stickers from a sticker book.

an elf on the shelf doll sitting in a felt wreath covered in stickers with a sticker book behind elf

Present your kids with a new sticker book from the dollar store. But not before Elf gets into a little trouble and gets himself covered in stickers!


18. Elf Tangled in lights next to a $3 mini tree.

elf on the shelf doll tangled in a string lights

Elf finds herself tangled in a strand of Christmas lights while decorating a fun miniature Christmas tree. These mini trees can be found for under $5 at Michael’s and I’ve seen strands of mini lights for as little as $4 at Joann. Have the kids help untangle her and decorate the mini tree together for their bedroom or another area in your home.

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19. Hide Elf in a mini stocking with a candy cane.

an elf on the shelf doll in a mini stocking holding a candy cane hanging in a christmas tree

Have some mini merry fun by hiding Elf in a mini stocking ornament on the tree with a cute miniature candy cane.



20. Elf makes a peanut butter mess while making a PB&J.

an elf on the shelf doll sitting on a toaster with a knife loaded with peanut butter and peanut butter on its face with bread, jam, and jar of peanut butter next to the toaster

Have Elf whip up an easy meal for the kids, and make a mess while doing it. If you’re not afraid of a little mess, have the kids paint peanut butter mustaches on themselves to match their Elf friend before digging into lunch.


21. Elf creates Q-Tip art in the bathroom.

an elf on the shelf doll hanging upside down on towel ring in bathroom with qtip snowflakes around counter

Have Elf get crafty with some bathroom essentials by making little snowflakes on the bathroom counter using less than $1 worth of Q-Tips. Dangle a few from the towel rack using dental floss and, of course, have Elf acting silly or tangled in the floss himself.


22. Elf building trees using holiday Hershey’s kisses.

an elf on the shelf doll sitting on a cutting board with fake snow and christmas trees made out of hershey kisses

Create a winter wonderland with some faux snow and Elf building some fun mini Christmas trees using holiday-themed Hershey’s kisses. You could stack the trees or lay them flat in a Christmas tree shape.

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23. Elf gets herself tangled in wrapping paper.

elf on the shelf doll sitting under a christmas tree next to a wrapped gift holding tape and scissors

As you get closer to Christmas, you could present your kids with an early gift, like a new holiday movie or craft, and have Elf wrap it up herself. She will likely get herself tangled in paper and tape — wrapping is a difficult job. Stock up on wrapping paper at the dollar store so you’ll have plenty left for Christmas.


24. Have Elf build snowmen made of marshmallows.

elf on the shelf doll next to marshmellow snowman next to studded animals

Use some large marshmallows to build happy little snowmen. You can draw faces with edible marker pens and use a Hershey’s kiss for the hat. Toothpicks help hold the snowmen together if they have a hard time staying upright.


25. Elf’s gone fishin’.

an elf on the shelf doll sitting on a bathroom sink faucet fishing for goldfish crackers with a small toothbrsuh and floss

This is one of our favorite Elf on the Shelf ideas. Set up some fish crackers in the sink and have Elf use a toothbrush and some dental floss to catch themself a cheesy snack.


26. Elf makes breakfast for the family.

Take pouring cereal to the next level. Create this effect made by gluing cereal to a tin foil structure and then gluing that structure into the box. It looks like magic.


27. A mischievous friend helps Elf find some snacks.

elf on the shelf doll inside a huge jar of cheese puffs with the puffs spilling out on counter and a grinch doll holding the container

Use another stuffed animal or toy to help Elf make some mischief. Let him get into a messy snack in the pantry and the kids can have a little snack themselves when they find the naughty little helper.


28. Have Elf help with a gingerbread house.

elf on the shelf doll holding frosting next to a gingerbread house, a little cardboard house, book, and advent calendar

Elf can present a gingerbread house kit along with lots of decoration options for a fun holiday activity the whole family can participate in. Make it a friendly competition with several gingerbread house kits that the family can pick — and eat — the winning house.


29. Delivery Elf brings donuts.

an elf on the shelf pretending to eat a donut next to a funny kitchen towel

Pick up a dozen of your family’s favorite donuts and Elf can help himself to one before your kids come down for breakfast in the morning.


30. Have Elf sitting by the tree with a Christmas book on Christmas Eve.

elf on the shelf sitting under a tree with wrapped gifts and a tried up grinch doll with a grinch book, movie, and train

Elf can give your kids a fun book to read the night before Santa arrives. If Grinch wants to make an appearance to help with the fun, we can’t stop him.


31. Elf stole some sprinkles and got herself stuck.

an elf on the shelf doll inside a fridge drawer holding sprinkles

Have Elf get stuck in the fridge with a bottle of stolen sprinkles. She can hide in one of the clear drawers so she’s easy to spot.


32. Elf has a little fun with the dairy.

an elf on the shelf doll dressed like milk in a fridge drawer

Use a washable or dry-erase marker to leave a funny little joke in the fridge along with the milk. Dress Elf up in a fun DIY costume with felt and a blue marker.


33. Elf shares another fun holiday game.

an elf on the shelf doll playing pin the nose on the reindeer holding on a kitchen towel

Find this pin the nose on the reindeer game and have Elf surprise the kids when they wake up. The first person to pin the nose gets to pick what’s for breakfast!


34. Elf makes toaster breakfast.

an elf on the shelf doll sitting on a toaster playing with poptarts

Have Elf make an easy breakfast with these fun holiday Pop-Tarts. You can find these holiday-themed Pop-Tarts at Target and your local grocery store. It looks like Elf took a few bites before they were warmed up, though.



35. Elf suggests a pizza night.

two images of an elf on the shelf in a pizza costume insdie an empty pizza box

Have an easy dinner with pizza delivery. But uh-oh! It looks like Elf ate it and all he left us was a little joke in return. Keep the pizza warm in the oven while your kids try to figure out how Elf keeps such a slim figure after that huge dinner. We found this Elf pizza costume as a set of four on Etsy for $11 total — that breaks down to $2.75 per costume.

What to buy
Select one costume: Pizza Elf, Pineapple Elf, S'mores Elf, or Watermelon Elf

36. Elf shares a fun advent calendar for December.

elf on the shelf doll sitting in front of playdoh advent calendar and christmas count down

Have Elf help get the holidays started with a fun advent calendar. He can present it to your kids on Dec. 1 and they can make use of it up until Christmas day. We love advent calendars from Play-Doh and Chapstick.


37. Elf decorates with a snowman.

elf on the shelf hanging near decorated snowman on door

When in a pinch, place Elf by a craft your child recently did, or by a family art project. Let Elf stand back and admire the creativity.


38. Elf hangs with a tree.

elf on the shelf hanging with decorated felt tree on door

Felt Christmas tree and ornament sets can cost $15 at various retailers. A cheaper option is buying felt and cutting the tree shape yourself. Elf is happy to be propped up near any holiday decoration you have hanging around.


39. Elf has fun on a candy cane.

elf on the shelf riding candy cane zipline through living room

Use twine and a candy cane to set Elf up for the time of his life for this fun setup. Any candy cane will do, but the colorful ones make it extra festive.


40. Elf has more fun by the tree.

elf on the shelf riding candy cane zipline through living room

If Elf still has energy, let her take a spin in a different location at your house. She can admire your holiday decorations and Christmas lights.


41. Elf wants to color.

elf on the shelf with coloring book

Grab your kid’s coloring book and prop Elf there with a crayon or paintbrush. It might inspire your kid to color for a bit in the morning with their Elf.

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42. Elf spells out a message in Jelly Beans.

elf on the shelf idea making sentence with jelly beans

Grab any type of candy, or Jelly Beans if you prefer, and spell out a special message to the kids for the holidays.

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43. Elf goes camping.

two elf of the shelf dolls pretending to camp with a book, socks, and roasting a marshmallow

Create a fun camping scene by using Christmas socks as sleeping bags and a tea light as a glowing fire. Use a book to create a DIY tent for your elf to sleep under before your little ones find them in the morning. Bonus: You’ll also have new Christmas socks for the kiddos.

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44. Elf leaves a message on the microwave.

elf on the shelf hanging on the microwave with candy canes

Whip up a little something special in the microwave, like a mug of hot chocolate or a bag of popcorn, and have Elf direct your kids to check for their special treat. You can find chalk markers on Amazon that work well on non-porous surfaces like microwave glass and clean-up is a breeze.

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45. Elf gets into trouble with a friend.

a grinch doll pretending to grate a marshmallow snowman next to a elf on the shelf doll

With a little help from a mischievous friend, grate a marshmallow snowman into mini marshmallows and snow using a cheese grater and packs of marshmallows. If you’d like to eat the snowman, you can find food-safe pens on Amazon!


46. Elf chills in a giant ice cube.

elf on the shelf frozen in block of ice

Elf gets into an icy situation when he gets frozen in a glass of water! All you need is a plastic or disposable cup big enough to fit your elf and a lot of hours in the freezer. Give yourself plenty of time for this to set up by getting it into the freezer the morning before you want to surprise your kids. After your kids see Elf, send him directly to his icy room to get chilly until the following morning.


47. Elf comes down with a cold!

elf on the shelf doll in a stocking with tissues and cold medicine

Poor Elf! Elf has a cold or flu and is bringing kids medicine if they are sick, too. You just need tissues and your own cold medicine for this one.


48. Silly Elf dresses up photos with googly eyes.

elf on the shelf doll sitting on picture frames on the wall with googly eyes over the faces on a family

Grab some googly eyes at Dollar Tree and have Elf make silly photos by adding them to your family photo wall.


49. Elf plays hide and seek in a stocking.

elf on the shelf doll hiding in a stocking

Cheap, easy and free — Elf hides in your child’s stocking. Have your kids look for Elf by surrounding her with tissue paper.


50. Elf builds a snowman out of toilet paper.

elf on the shelf hiding in stacked toilet paper made into a snowman

Use markers to draw a snowman out of three rolls of toilet paper and then have Elf stand in the roll.


Printable Elf Ideas

Click on the images below to print the full list of Elf on the Shelf ideas.

elf on the shelf december calendar graphic with ideas for days 1-14
elf on the shelf december calendar graphic with ideas for days 15-25


Cheap Elf on the Shelf Accessories & Games

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