No matter which winter holiday you celebrate, the first hint of The Season appeared around Halloween and by Thanksgiving we were being reminded constantly that it’s time to shop. “Black Friday” sales morphed into “Black November” sales. And “Christmas Countdowns” are everywhere encouraging us to buy today because some other bargain will take its place tomorrow.
As we’re bombarded with pressure to spend money, our gift-giving lists seem to get longer every year. Immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, kids’ teachers, service providers, church gift collection, preschool gift collection, office gift collection… It’s overwhelming, not to mention expensive, and every year we say the next will be different.
There are no easy answers, but there are lots of creative ways to handle gift-giving without breaking the bank. And although some ideas may not work for you, they may get you thinking.
Set A Budget.
Decide how much you can comfortably spend. Divide that amount by the number of people you plan to give to. Tweak the numbers until they feel appropriate. You might want to reduce the amount spent on certain people or groups in order to spend a little more on your spouse and children.
Narrow Your List.
There will always be that group of special people you give gifts to, no matter what. But what about the rest of the list? For a large extended family, can you draw names or give only to children and grandparents? Can you give “family” gifts instead of individual gifts? Are there adult children in the family who have “aged out” of the gift-giving, but whom you can remember with a nice card instead? Think long and hard about those gifts you give out of guilt or obligation. Perhaps an ornament or cookie exchange will do just fine.
Whether you have young children or kids in college, personalized gifts featuring them are always winners, especially with grandparents. These days, photos can be put on everything. Tote bags, blankets, mugs, canvases, metal, wood, you name it. You can get some serious mileage out of a single family photo!
Online photo books and photo calendars are deeply discounted around the holidays. You can also make a calendar yourself using an online template and your own printer, or do a “fill-in” calendar you purchase at a craft store.
Consider photographing children’s school artwork for a calendar if that’s easier than sorting through photo libraries.
Select one favorite photo from the year and order multiple prints of the same size. Places like Target and Walgreens are fast and offer discounts on prints, and craft stores often bundle frames for as little as four dollars apiece. A fifty-cent 8×10 print in a four-dollar frame is sure to make Grandma smile even more than if you spent several times that on something less meaningful.
Don’t want to sort through photos? Have your little one draw a picture for Grandma and Grandpa. Add a handwritten message and the date and put that special drawing under glass in the same frame you would buy for a photograph.
Capture your children’s handprints or footprints using a cement stepping stone kit from a craft store.
Buy an unpainted ceramic tile or ornament, small canvas tote bag, or plain white t-shirt, along with red and green paint labeled specifically for use on ceramic or fabric. Let your children put their own design on something for a special family member.
The right family treasure is more precious than anything found in a store. In my house, sheet music used by my fiddle-playing grandfather is displayed on a wall. In my mother’s house hangs a framed, hand-sketched map my dad drew years ago to help a family member find their way from Ohio to our first house in North Carolina.
A grandmother’s cookbook, a collection of old family recipes (especially handwritten ones), vintage cookie cutters or other kitchen tools all make special gifts that can be displayed in a kitchen or dining room.
Pass down a special scarf, piece of jewelry, book, collection of Christmas ornaments, family photo album, or figurine. Be sure to write a little something about the item and its sentimental value to its original owner, and to you.
Frame some artwork that your adult children did in elementary school. They’ll be astonished that you kept it and it will make for great conversation.
Splurge For Someone Special.
This is as simple as giving someone something they would not usually buy for themselves. We have family members with an affinity for fruitcake, chocolate-covered cherries, nonpareil candies, and other delectable treats they tend not to splurge on. One year, my mother gave me a box of books from the used bookstore. A whole box of books!
Whether you’re handy in the kitchen or not, there are loads of edible gift options and many are easily made in large batches—perfect for giving to teachers, coworkers, and neighbors. Add some creative packaging like ribbon, handwritten instructions, or a unique container and it’s a thoughtful handmade gift.
Spice-filled sachets made from cheesecloth and twine can be used to flavor tea and warm cider drinks, or as scented potpourri in a closet or dresser drawer.
Mini loaves of bread, spiced or candied nuts, homemade fudge, or your own specialty candy or cookie all make good gifts. As do home-recipe meat rubs, salsas, relishes, and sauces; canned vegetables, jams, or jellies from your garden; chocolate or caramel ice cream toppings; or flavored sugars and extracts.
Gifts In A Jar.
The gift-in-a-jar has become popular in recent years and it’s easy to see why. There are endless possibilities.
For edible gifts, simply mix or layer dry ingredients in a jar and include a gift tag on which is written the remaining (wet) ingredients and instructions for baking. This can be done with hot chocolate mix, powdered coffee creamer, cookies, brownies, cupcakes, pancakes, scones, biscuits, soups, or dips, for example.
Some non-edible options could include transplantable seeds, bulbs, or succulents in a jar of potting soil; homemade soaps, bath salts, or scrubs; makeup, nail polish, and facial masks; or a votive candle nestled in sand, pebbles, or some other non-flammable medium.
I once gave a friend a “writing” jar. She was giving thought to writing her family history, so to help her get started I filled a jar with strips of paper on which I had written different prompts to get her thinking. I added a couple of new pens, put a bow on top, and it was ready to give.
Personal and Practical.
Customize a gift by putting a collection of similar items together in a sturdy container. Baskets work well, as do plain white gift bags you decorate yourself. Give items that reflect the tastes or hobbies of the people on your list.
For A Winter Morning: Coffee, tea, hot chocolate mix,
and a mug.
For An After-Dinner Ice Cream Treat: A parfait glass, a long-
handle spoon, a jar of chocolate sauce, and a variety of sprinkles.
For Movie Night: A pouch of microwaveable popcorn, a couple of full-size candy bars, and a favorite DVD.
For A Delicious Snack: A package of scone or biscuit mix and different jams and spreads.
For Little Crafters: Containers of play-dough (or make your own) and several cookie cutters, along with a box of crayons and a variety of coloring books.
For Older Crafters: A collection of stickers, craft scissors, rubber stamps, tape or glue, and cardstock in different colors. Add creative embellishments that you might find around your house, such as silk flowers, beads and sequins, ribbon, and old greeting cards that can be cut apart.
You can never go wrong with money or gift cards, but make it fun to open. Wrap it in a creative way, or hide it and making your recipient do a scavenger hunt. Get new, crisp dollar bills from the bank, crinkle them up, and stuff them into a jar or nondescript package of some sort. I once wrote a silly story, drew primitive illustrations to go with it, stapled the pages together like a book, and hid a gift card in a pop-up type drawing on the last page. It certainly wasn’t fancy, but it was more fun than simply putting it into a card.
It takes some thought and planning to come up with creative gift ideas, and it’s definitely easier to hit the mall or shop online. But for busy people on a budget, running from store to store without a plan gets frustrating—and expensive—quickly. This season, rather than buy impulsively just to check a name off a list, picture someone opening a gift you made especially for them. You might end up smiling more, and spending less.