Frugal Christmas Gifts

Try to be creative in your gift giving. Think about who the present is for and what they like. Keep your eyes open all year long and when you see something appropriate for a good price buy it even if it's in July. The closer you get to Christmas the easier it is to panic and buy expensive things that the recipient might not even like.

Making gifts is also economical. One year we baked several different kinds of cookies and made cookie recipe books on our computer then packaged them attractively...everybody loved them!

From Andrea: An idea similar to the recipe book is a Family quote book. Get a nice spiral notebook, and print some really great quotes, cut them out and stick them on the pages at different angles with some family pictures or copied pictures on every second page. You could have a theme like "Happiness" or "Family Times". These can be individualized for each person or the same for all.

Gift baskets are fun to make and can be quite inexpensive. You can theme the basket to the recipient (Aunt Alice likes tea so she receives a basket with different teas and a pretty cup, Uncle Joe is into gardening so he gets seeds and garden hand tools) or pick a theme and give the same to everybody. One year we made "A Night at the Movies" baskets. These were "family" gifts, which just means that a family of four received one gift instead of four separate gifts. We included a video tape (older ones can be had for $10 or less), a bag or two of microwave popcorn, a can of coke (or other soft drink) for each family member and a couple boxes of "movie theater" type candy (snowcaps, jujubes, etc.). We made tags that looked like movie tickets that said "Danny, Sherry, Matt and Megan (or whoever) are cordially invited to a night at the movies, compliments of Debbie & Ron". Each complete basket cost under $20 which is not bad when you break it down to less that $5 per person. A good plan if you decide to do baskets is to keep your eyes open at tag sales. People sell baskets for next to nothing!

If your family will go for it you can draw names and everybody just buys for one other person. This has never worked in our family...people start demanding expensive items like bread machines which end up costing more than buying something small for each person and children are exempt from the whole thing so it's not really "just one present". Our suggestion if you choose this method is to specify one "Family Gift".

We received the two following descriptions of successful gift exchanges from Kelly Keller and Jeremy & Cloie Smith:

Kelly says: "For 11 years now my family has been doing a Christmas Gift Exchange. Usually on Thanksgiving, we put everyone's name in a hat (or bowl or whatever) with 3 things they want for Christmas on it. Then we go around the room and draw names. It remains a secret whose name you receive. We always set a limit of $10 or $15 for the gift. Then each family buys a $5 or less gift for all children under 16. It has been working very nicely. When we give the gift out we start out with the eldest person and he puts a Santa hat on and gives his gift. Then that person puts the hat on and so on until everyone has received their presents and knows who their "secret Santa" was. One of the best parts is when there is a really large or beautifully decorated gift and everyone wonders who it is for."

Jeremy & Cloie add: "We have been exchanging gifts in this manner for 10 years with a group of five siblings. The first year we all had the person just below us in age and that was our big present. Everyone else got an ornament or something little (under 10$). The next year we continued down to the next person below us in age and we have kept this up in sort of a counter clockwise way. The youngest would then give to the oldest to start the circle over again. This way you always know who your person is that you will be giving a gift to the next year. This also helps in the summer or just after Christmas when everything is a little cheaper. Also, it helps because we canít always be together on Thanksgiving every year.

Here's a new "high tech" way to organize your gift exchange created by Peter Imberg. Go to Elfster and enter names and emails of people included in your exchange. Elfster will "draw" names and send messages to all the people on your list. It also has a place for your wish list...I entered "a date with Harrison Ford" for my wish, but I don't think I'll get it! The site is totally free and very easy to use. Try it!

Filling the stockings can be quite expensive but, as with everything else, doesn't have to be. When my kids were young I used to buy those huge apples and oranges that you see in the grocery stores around the holidays. They were delighted with the giant fruit and they filled up lots of space in the stockings! Other good things for kids are boxes of crayons, matchbox type cars, mittens, candy (if you don't object to your kids eating it), yoyos and other small toys. One of our readers suggests the dollar store for stocking stuffers. The last time I was there I found a lot of interesting items including last year's compact size road atlas, sunglasses, hair scrunchies and barettes, earrings and other jewelry, etc.

Suzanne Williams also finds good stuff at the grocery store: "The grocery store is a great place to get stocking stuffers. As a mom of 5, my kids usually have to share everything, so they really enjoy getting a jar, can or package of their favorite food in their stocking to enjoy all to themselves. Black olives, pudding, cheese are some of the things my kids look forward to in their stocking. They each get a giant favorite fruit also."

FAMILY CALENDARS: This is a somewhat complicated process so you may not want to try it if you don't have sufficient spare time. First you have to find out when everybody's birthday and anniversary is (no easy task!). Next you'll need a picture of each person and a picture of each couple (preferably a wedding picture). You also need a scanner, color printer and some kind of graphics program (I use CorelDRAW).

Okay, once you have all that stuff together you make calendar pages for each month and put in all the birthdays and anniversaries. Then for the picture part you put a photo of each person who has an event that month. If nobody has anything that month fill in with baby pictures, etc.

Now you print it all out. You can either print one copy for each family member or take it to a copy shop (like Kinkos) and have them xerox it for you (it will cost around $1/page to have it copied in color). The copy shop can also put a spiral binding on your calendar for another dollar or so per calendar. We chose the option of printing them ourselves...our printer has refillable cartridges and I have my afternoons free (I work as a substitute teacher) so it was time and cost effective for us. We made these for Christmas of 1999 and everybody loved them

Here's a list of inexpensive gift ideas gleaned from the misc.consumers.frugal-living newsgroup where I am a regular reader and sometimes contributer:

1. Make a trivet from a collection of wine corks, cut to even lengths and glued to square or other shape of pegboard 2. Refrigerator magnets
3. Make bath salts by coloring and adding scent to epsom salts; put in a pretty bottle or glass
4. For friends with a fireplace or woodstove a log carrier made from canvas or possibly denim, and pine cone fire starters (pinecones partially dipped in wax)
5. Picture frames or small mirror decorated with seashells, decoupage, buttons, or other.
6. Homemade candy sampler
7. Other "specialty" food (examples: breads, cookies, pickles, jams or jellies)
8. Handmade stationery (perhaps decorated with rubber stamps, dried flowers, sponge painting, cut-outs with craft knife). You could also make letterhead type stationery on your computer...I'm doing this for my grandmother who writes a cooking column for the local newspaper and has a lot of correspondence with people who send her recipes, etc. It will have her name and address on it and a cute picture of a teapot and cookies.
9. Cross stitch bookmark; sampler; pillow top
10. book of family favorite recipes
11. Knit a scarf, mittens or even a sweater if you're really ambitious!
12. Build a bird house, letter box, magazine holder
13. Earrings or other jewelry, made with shells, feathers, Fimo craft clay, or other, and mounted on jewelry findings (these are really cheap at craft stores)
14. Crocheted afghan

There is an additional list of gift ideas for children on our Kid's Page.

An anonymous website visitor sent this: "Last year, I made recipe books for many of my family and friends. Simple binders, decorated by hand with paint and stickers that I had on hand, that included a small pair of kid scissors (obtained from clearance racks after back to school sales along with the binders used to clip recipes from magazine and newspapers), and tabbed dividers (clearance rack, back to school sales). I made myself one while I was at is. It not only saved money on the gifts, it cleared out all those clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers that I had lying around for years and got me and several others organized at last! I have even had other friends and family request one of these books after seeing mine, so guess what they'll be getting this year???

From Tarran Duncan: "A friend of ours, gave us a beautiful jar filled with what looked like sand art, it was actually a brownie mix! Attached to the lid was a beautiful little card with directions on how to make brownies with the mix. It was darling and very inexpensive! She just layered the dry ingredients in the jar and made an attractive lid cover."

We think this could be expanded to include other kinds of mixes like cookies (layer dry ingredients, nuts and chocolate chips), soups (beans, dried veggies, spices), etc. (After receiving this idea we were the recipient of just such a gift! My sister-in-law, Melodie, made chocolate chip cookie mix in mayonnaise jars and gave them to all of us for Xmas 1999. Have you been getting ideas from our website Mel?)

From Kim Stewart: "I have a suggestion for not too expensive gifts for Christmas...I am in several yahoo clubs and have seen this gift mentioned often and I did not see it on your page. Make a booklet of "coupons" directed at the person you are giving it too. For example for a signifigant other you could have coupons for: a romantic picnic by the xmas tree to ring in the New Year, a week of doing a chore he/she hates doing, a massage, etc. For a busy mom, coupons for a free evening of babysitting, a homecooked meal of her choice etc. You get the idea and i am sure you could think of more things to add!"

Here's an idea for a frugal gift for the kids on your list from Chris V. (who even sent a picture!):"I wanted to share a gift that my daughter helped me make for all our nieces and nephews this year as the money is tight. This is a inexpensive and very cute gift. You make a recipe of Rice Krispie Treats and then take 2 sandwich bags and put them on your hands and spray them with Pam. Then you take two large pieces of Tinfoil, and shape it into a cross, and put the Rice Krispies in the middle of the tin foil and shape it into a Hershey Kiss. Then you may print out some sayings on your computer in large letters that say BIG KISS or whatever, and put it in the top, and wrap it up in the foil. There you have it, a Giant Kiss for the kids, made of rice krispie treats, and the kids Love it! I found my marshmallows at a canned good store for 3 packages for a dollar, and then bought a BIG bag of rice krispies. Have fun! Here is the picture of Chris' daughter holding the big kiss!

D. Bowersock sent another way to get kid's gifts frugally: "I find this time of year (right before school starts) that they have wonderful sales. You can get Roseart crayons 5/$1 or Crayolas for $.33 which are usually at least a $1. They also have paper like notebooks for $.08 normally $.97. So like I said look around at the ads and you can really save a lot".

And for the older folks in your family here's a suggestion from Mary Taylor in South Carolina (who also sent the next idea on the list for the younger folks): "My mother in law is 83 and still lives in her own home and mails all of her bills so she doesn't have to drive.Last year at Christmas I gave her a book of 20 stamps along with a pre-paid 120 minute phone card and she was very well pleased.People at her age have all they need of nick -nacks and aren't able to clean like they use to. She has relatives that are long distance and talking on the phone is one of the few things she can still do so her phone card made her happy too."

"This idea came after finding the recipes for popsicles in your save money on kids snacks.Bag, box or basket popsicle molds and some of the ingredients such as the jello,instant pudding,grape juice,lemon juice and popsicle sticks.The things that won't spoil.Print out the recipes and add to it.I wrote them individually on index cards, used a hole punch then tied them together with ribbon.This gift will go to my neighbor up the road with 3 teenagers.They can make these themselves.candy or fruits could be added as well.Your website has been very helpful to me,Thanks!"

Note: to find the popsicle recipes click on "Our Recipe Box" at the left and you will be magically transported through cyberspace to the right page!

Here's an idea from Mary Jane: "My new husband and I have 7 children between the two of us and to the older 5(18-27) we gave items from our prior homes and our new home together that we had "cleaned out" and we knew that they liked. We didn't wrap but put a bow and tag on them. Some of the items were hand me downs from ancestors and some were things they grew up with while others were things they or we just liked. We had a great time. One of my husband's sons got a large area rug he always liked and another son got some fiesta dinner plates. Think about it!This is also a way to clean house!"

Melissa Karlovic from Staunton, Illinois sent this creative gift idea: "This is great for co-workers. You need a glass jar (you can either buy a holiday jar with a decoration already on it or just use a plain jar either from your house or from the store), a bag of scented potpourri, one strand of Christmas lights (any color you choose) material or tulle and ribbon. All you do is put the entire strand of lights into the jar leaving the cord hanging out. Arrange the lights so they fill the whole jar. Next you put the entire bag of potpourri inside the jar making sure it's spread out. Then, you just cover the lid with the tulle or material and tight it around the neck with a bow. If you use regular material, you will need to make small holes in the top. When you plug it in, not only do the lights look adorable but the heat from the light spreads the scent of the potpourri. It's wonderful and they're always a huge hit!"

Two ideas from Tammy M. in Nova Scotia: "If you buy for friends every year for Christmas & you are finding it pricy give this suggestion. Ask them to pick out a date for everyone to get together for an afternoon brunch as close as possible to Christmas. That in itself is probably a much needed break & a chance to spend time together. We received a dollhouse from a family member passed down from a few years before. All it needed was a good cleaning & a few pieces of furniture! Guess what!? It was the biggest hit with the girls & it is still a year later the most played with item! Check with friends & family to see what isn't being used! Or check out local yard sales & flea markets!"

From Karla Holley in Texas: A no-cost gift idea for the kids to make for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends is to take a calendar (free from banks), designate a month/s for each child and have the children draw, color or paint pictures. Make sure they sign each one. Attach the pictures to that month using glue or tape. Now, every month the recipient will have a personal picture made especially for them by someone special. A good way to show off the children's artwork.You can also let the children make frames out of cardboard then decorate them and glue on strips of magnet. Then the recipient can put them on their refrigerators and every month the children send them artwork to display. And one last idea is to do "Gift of the Month" Clubs. Where you give a child or adult a book of 11 vouchers which they redeem for a certain gift each month of the year. Personalize the vouchers with the persons name and what they will be receiving. Give them the vouchers with the first gift. For example: sticker of the month, cookies of the month, car of the month (great for boys, matchbox-style car), even small rubber/plastic toys like animals, or anything they may like or collect. These gifts cost like $1.00 each or maybe even cheaper. And it is a big hit knowing they will receive a gift each month.

Kim Greenhoe from Michigan: While you are yard sale shopping in the summertime, pick up glass canning jars, no lids necessary. Then at christmas time, fill them with a 6-12 candycanes and tie a festive ribbon on the top rim. It truly looks pretty and once the candy canes are gone, they have a nice jar that would be great for a vase!!

From Robin Buchanan: This year we are going to give each family a matching scent set of dish soap and air freshener. They are making some really neat scents (like orange & grapefruit) in dish soap and air fresheners. You can get grapefruit scented dish soap in the Ajax brand for a dollar or less at Walmart or Dollar General (or other discount stores). Glade makes a grapefruit scented air freshener in the can. The dish soap is dark magenta colored, and the air freshener is in a pink and white can, so they look nice paired together. You could use other fragrances or even other product mixes (like maybe a scented solid air freshener). I purchased a pack of 100 brown paper lunch bags at Walmart for the gift bag for $1.23 + tax. If you use the solid air freshener, you can fold the bag at the top and punch 2 holes in it (one near each end) and run thin ribbon or twine through it and tie it in the front middle. Use scissors or a knife to make curly ends in the ribbon. Since I am using the can air freshener, it will be too tall to fold the bag closed. I am going to get some red, white and green gift wrapping tissue ($1/pack at Dollar General) and make it look like the fancy gift bags you often see, with some of the paper coming out of the top of the bag. I'm going to make my own tags that read:

"GRAPEful for His many blessings" - grapefruit scent
"ORANGE you glad it's Christmas?" - orange scent
"Wishing you a BERRY Merry Christmas!" - berry scent, etc.

I figure this will cost me between $2.00 to $2.50 per gift. It's cute and it's something people can really use. I'm really tired of giving gifts that people stash in their closet and pull out for their next yardsale. I hope this idea helps someone else, or maybe even causes an even better idea to sprout in someone else's head.

From Elmarie Grant, 11/29/04: My children like to make snowglobes to give to the relatives for Christmas. Heres how: Take a jar - the flatter, the better. Also, make sure the lid is watertight. Now take a small plastic toy. We normally use the cast-offs we got during the year from MacDonald meals or as free gifts. Glue this to the inside of the lid. Fill the jar with water and glitter, screw the lid back on, and voila! You can soup this up by pouring some food colouring into the water, or even some bits of left-over styrofoam. You can also decorate the outside of the jar, all around the bottom. We like to pick a theme - Africa, with lots of geometric shapes in brown and tan, or China, with tiny little chinese symbols etc.

From Lynn Lind: Last year, we purchased a case of 20 paperback Good News New Testaments from the American Bible Society (about $30 including shipping and handling) and wrote a card for each one saying something to the effect that it was our favorite New Testament and good for reading in the car while stalled in traffic, or for throwing in the bag for camping trips, or for throwing in the truck to read at odd times, or for just around the house. Each new testament cost about a dollar each, and we figure it was good for them! We're looking for another great idea for the whole gang this year!