Image via WikipediaWith the unemployment rate at a record high and the economy doing so poorly, many of us have resigned ourselves to giving and receiving less this holiday season. But that doesn't have to be the case. Homemade gifts are more thoughtful and personal, as well as more frugal. There's no reason being on a budget has to mean toning down the fun and festivity of the giving season.
Making homemade gifts for kids can be more challenging. They've likely had a list of expensive toys or video games ready for the past month. If this is the case, choose one or two of the less expensive items on their list and combine it with one or more homemade gifts from the "Especially For Kids" section below. This way they get just as many presents as they're used to, but you spend less money. Plus, it's a great way to introduce children to being creatively frugal and ushering them away from consumer comercialism.
The key to creating fantastic, frugal, homemade gifts is to know your strengths. What do you do well? Cook? Bake? Sew? Build? Knit or crochet? Draw? The following are a set of lists of inexpensive, easy-to-make homemade gifts your friends and family are sure to adore, organized by talent. I haven't seen this type of organization before; I hope it's helpful.
- Homemade preserves, jams, and spreads. Make a variety, put them in cute jars with printed or handwritten labels, and arrange the jars in a basket. You can often find small inexpensive baskets at garage sales, craft stores, or home and garden stores.
- Homemade sauces, condiments, and marinades. Package as in #1.
- Homemade cookbook or recipe cards. Know someone that loves your cooking? Compile recipes of their favorite dishes (or ones you think they might like). Print them on paper and arrange in a decorated binder or write them by hand on homemade recipe cards. If you're not strong in the art department, you can usually find cute sets of inexpensive blank recipe cards at Marshall's. If you can find or decorate a cute box for the cards, even better.
- Loaf of special homemade bread. Make it a regular white loaf, or if your loved one is more health conscious, try a whole wheat or mixed whole grain loaf. Tip: Spice it up: make a flavored and herbs like rosemary, dill, tomato-basil, or sourdough or make it look fancy by braiding it.
If fresh bread won't work for travel or other reasons, try making bread mixes instead. Put each in a small paper bag and label nicely. Include handwritten recipe cards with instructions. Collect bags in a basket or larger gift bag.
- Two words: gingerbread men (and/or women, snowmen, wreaths, etc.) These are super fun to make and decorate and they're a great project to do with kids. Make them to eat or to use as ornaments.
- Assorted homemade cookies. This is good if you have multiple people to "buy" for. Make one or more batches (depending on how many people your giving to) of several types of cookies and package in small baggies tied with festive ribbon. In a nice basket or other container, one for each gift recipient, put one baggie of each type of cookie. If you're in a pinch, even personalized brown lunch bags can be prettied up. As in #1, if the gifts have to travel a ways or for other reasons keep for a long time, consider making mixes instead.
- Homemade pancake, waffle, muffin, or biscuit mix. Package as above. A small wooden scoop is a nice touch. You can find these at craft stores. Package the mix in small brown bags or mason jars tied with a ribbon and hand-labeled.
- My all-time favorite baked gift: cherry pie. Do not underestimate the giving power of a homemade pie. Cake, flan, or other delicious desserts are also welcome. (Hint, hint.)
- Handmade tool belt, tote, makeup bag, purse, pencil organizer, or messenger bag.
- Ready-to-hang embroidered or needlepoint work in frame.
- Embroidered/personalized handkerchiefs, scarf, pillows, or sachets.
- (Relatively) quick knitted/crocheted items such as scarves, gloves/mittens/glittens, cozy winter hats, socks, woven belts, etc.
- Picture in handmade frame: Make your own from wood, or if you're less skilled with carpentry, try making simple ones from rigid cardstock and decorating them with felt, marker, paint, fabric, and/or glitter.
- Handmade Christmas ornaments. Ideas: dyed popcorn and/or cranberry strands, oranges with cloves, gingerbread ornaments, sparkly pine cones, photo ornaments, paper snowflakes, felt cutouts, etc.
- Try this fabulously simple salt-dough recipe to make paintable ornaments: Combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 cup water. Roll out dough and cut either by hand or with cookie cutters. Bake at 250F for 2 hours.
- Colored, scented, and/or decorated candles. Go a step further and make candle holders, too!
- Bowls, planters, vases, or ashtrays made from old vinyl records—bad ones can usually be found for around 50 cents each at thrift stores.
- Coffee mug with treats: Find some plain mugs at a thrift store or garage sale, get some ceramic paint, and create a personalized, useful coffee mug. Stuff it with a baggie of whole coffee beans or candies, and tie with a ribbon.
- Decorated plant pot with seeds or small plant and care instruction card.
- Thoughtfully designed, personalized stationery, note cards, postcards, or phone/address book. Make them on the computer or by hand the old fashioned way with rubber stamps, colorful paper, and glue. Warning: rubber stamps and decorative papers don't come cheap. Attempt this only if you already have these items.
No talent required
- A pound of pistachios, nice teas, or coffees, packaged nicely by hand.
- Homemade cocoa mix: recipes here. Package in a decorated mason jar or paper lunch bag.
- Gourmet, homemade teas: Recipes here. If you can find a cute inexpensive teacup or pot, arrange your homemade teas inside it and add a pretty ribbon.
- Homemade organic body scrubs, lotions, oils, bath salts, or bath bombs. Recipes here.
- Homemade play dough: make a variety of colors and place in assorted tubs or other plastic containers. Label and package in a dressed up box or basket, preferably one that they can use permanently to store their new play dough.
- Handmade stuffed animals.
- Lacing cards made from old greeting cards or magazine pictures glued (glue stick works best) to cardstock.
- Homemade crayons. Collect broken or super short crayons, melt them down, and create beautiful swirled crayons in fun shapes.
- See "cookies" under "Baking" above. Duh.
- Painting Set. Combine some paint brushes, assorted paints (corresponding to the child's age and ability), paper, and perhaps a palette. For the palette, try an old cutting board or plastic lid with a child size thumb hole cut out. Or if that's out of your crafting league, check your local art supply store, dollar store, or toy store for inexpensive ones.
- Drawing Set. Combine assorted weight pencils, charcoal, and erasers with an inexpensive drawing pad and perhaps a tracing pad. Depending on the child's age and ability, you could throw in some drawing books as well. You can often find these in the "bargain" section at bookstores.
- Gardening Kit. Combine and package a few different types of seeds and/or bulbs, toy gardening tools (sand castle kits from the dollar store work well and are cheap), a labeling kit (popsicle sticks and cardstock rectangles), and perhaps a toy watering can.
- Costume Chest. In a large box, decorated perhaps with the child's name, combine various articles or clothing that would be fun for playing dress-up. Raid your closet for items that either don't fit or are out of style and make a trip to Goodwill to make up the rest. The more outrageous the better.