Last month, I asked readers to share their favorite frugal Christmas ideas. You responded with over a hundred fantastic tips. One common theme for saving money and adding meaning during the holiday season was to make gifts yourself.
My wife and I are lucky to have many crafty friends. Every year, I’m delighted to see what they create for the holiday season. I drew on our own experience, pulled some of your best tips from the past, and scoured the web for new ideas, in order to produce the following mammoth list of do-it-yourself Christmas gifts. But remember: in order to complete many of these, you need to get started soon. Also follow our Facebook page for money-saving tips and advice year-round. Enjoy!
- Almost everyone loves homemade truffles, says Mo. “My husband and I made them last year, and they were a big hit. I had no idea how easy to make they were, and we covered them with different kinds of crushed nuts and such. It was really fun! We then went and bought blank little white boxes and I decorated them with just some wrapping paper (glued) and ribbon. I think all together, we made about 15 boxes of truffles (9 truffles each box) for under $30. And we used good chocolate to boot!” Upside? Yum! Downside? They should be made only a short time before giving, and eaten soon after. If you’ve never made truffles before, try this recipe from Alton Brown.
- JM has a great suggestion, one that many of you may have already seen: “[My mom] gives some people unbaked, made-from-scratch cookie kits. Basically she gets most of the dry ingredients to her favorite cookie recipes together, along with a mason jar, a note card, and some ‘country’ style ribbons.She then layers all the dry ingredients in the mason jar, screws on the lid and prints the recipe on the notecard in an old-fashiony looking font, and then ties it to the jar with the ribbon. The result is cool looking, because the ingredients are layered in the jar.”
- Create a secret hollow book. Find a cheap musty old classic at your nearby Goodwill or used bookstore. Glue the pages together, use an X-Acto knife to hollow out the center of the book. Now the recipient can store his treasures!
- Martha Stewart has a great idea: create a recipe booklet containing a collection of your favorite holiday recipes, and then include it with a small assortment of samples. “Pass your culinary traditions on to your friends.”
- Live in a cold climate? Give your friends the gift of warmth with a homemade hand warmer. If you know how to make a beanbag, you know how to make a hand warmer. Use wool or cashmere or felt material, but instead of filling the bags with beans, fill them with ceramic pie weights. To use these toasty treasures, simply microwave them for a couple of minutes and then slip them in your pockets.
- It’s difficult to go wrong with themed gift baskets. Did you can your own pasta sauce over the summer? Use a colander for a basket, add some garlic bulbs, gourmet noodles, and a wooden spoon — a little taste of Italy. Or consider a breakfast basket. Or a breakfast basket (syrup and pancake mix), a movie basket (popcorn, candy, and a movie rental coupon), or a gardening basket (a trowel, a gardening hat, and some packets of seeds).
- If you’re artistic, GRS-reader Beck suggests giving memory drawings: “Draw a very simple black-and-white picture of a memory that you have of you and the person (e.g. me and my dad playing NES back in the day). This could be a very simple (think Shel Silverstein) drawing. Frame it and gift. The great thing about this (besides being cheap) is that you can give it multiple times to the same person. They will have a growing collection of ‘memory drawings’ from you.” Beck reports this gift is very well received by family members.
- Elizabeth has another artistic idea, one that was very popular with readers when she suggested it: “I’m a graphic designer, so this year I’m creating a booklet that Photoshops my 6-year-old nephew onto cheap stock photos of world landmarks, such as the Great Wall, so it looks like he’s traveled the world.” This home-made travel brochure is perfect for adventurous young minds. (Come to think of it, I think one of those would be fun for me — and I’m no longer young…)
- Give the gift of experience. The Gift Weblog suggests, “There’s nothing like giving someone the gift of experience, it is something they will always remember.” Sample gifts of experience: sky diving, scuba lessons, hot-air balloon rides, cooking school, lunch with a hero, etc.
- What could be cuter than a stuffed pig? This project from Martha Stewart allows those who are handy with needlework to assemble an adorable, docile pet from felted wool, a pipe cleaner, and some cotton or polyester fill. (Crafty Daisies has instructions for making a felt penguin, and Expert Village has a video series demonstrating how to make stuffed animals.)
- Build a gingerbread house. Or ten. Give them to the little kids (and the big kids) in your life. Lifehacker diva Gina Trapani has a photoset demonstrating how she put together a gingerbread house from a kit. If you bake, you can certainly build a better house from scratch. Your nieces and nephews will thank you. (And so will your brother-in-law!)
- In the GRS discussion forums, Brad suggested giving the gift of time or skill. Brad has given music lessons. He has colleagues who have given bike tune-ups and wine advice. What skills do you have? Can you help somebody set up a blog? Plant a garden? Learn to change the oil in their car?
- Every year, Kris looks forward to the gift from my cousin Nick. He makes her a batch of home-made almond roca. I can’t stand the stuff, but Kris eats it up. She’s in heaven for days afterward! Here’s one recipe.
- One Christmas when I was a poor college student, I leafed through children’s books at the library, looking for pages and pictures that reminded me of various friends. I photocopied these pages, colored them by hand, and then framed them with construction paper. I added a little note to each friend on the back of her piece. I spent maybe $10 total for all my gifts, though it took hours of my time. That was perfect: In college, I had plenty of time, but very little money, and making these things felt like an act of love. But giving somebody a CD I bought from Amazon? Not so much.
- At AskMetafilter, LadyBonita suggests making personalized calendars: “You can buy calendar blanks or use a template from a program; add pictures of things or people meaningful to the recipient; add in important dates (birthdays and anniversaries of family & friends); and maybe a special note or quote every once in a while. For parents/students you can add in the school schedule; for homeowners you can add in a home maintenance schedule; etc. for sports fans, astrology followers, on & on. To make them extra special I sometimes add little treats – a couple dollars taped to a summer date for an ice-cream treat; a coupon for free babysitting on a weekend; video & popcorn night, etc.”
- Here’s another great idea from Martha Stewart: create one of several dime-store games. My grandparents had several of these modest toys when I was a boy, and they could keep me entertained for hours. The Martha Stewart site has instructions for creating six different games, toys, and puzzles.
- Sick of all my Martha Stewart links? Me too. Head on over to Not Martha to learn how to make stuff, including these marble magnets. You can pick up all of the supplies at your local craft store, and are reportedly fun to make. They look fun to make — I’m tempted to do these myself. (And though I couldn’t give them as Christmas gifts, I ♥ these cups made out of bacon.)
- Stephanie is an artist, and to those who appreciate hand-made gifts (not everyone does), she likes to give small paintings or or personalized gifts of art. Here’s an idea from another reader: “All the adults in my family are great cooks. Last year I made functional pottery serving bowls & utensil holders. I placed them in a basket with colorful, but inexpensive kitchen cloths, a nice set of teak utensils (purchased a set at Walmart for the cost of one at Pampered Chef), & a grocery gift card.” Do you dabble in photography? A framed print of your nephew might be the perfect gift for your sister-in-law.
- One Christmas, our friend “Santa” Craig handed out a gourmet salt assortment. It wasn’t because we’d been bad, but because we love great food. Buy large containers of a variety of unique salts (you may have to visit a gourmet food store), and then divide the salts into small ziploc bags. Be sure to label the bags to to include a bit of info about each variety. (You can create similar gifts with other items, of course, tea leaves or…)
- Similarly, you might create a spice sampler. Bulk spices can make an affordable and appreciated gift for anyone who loves to cook, or who is moving into a new kitchen. Don’t know which ones to choose? Find some tempting recipes that call for exotic spices, then include the recipes with the spices. Or, get creative and make a custom spice blend for a meat rub, marinade mix, salad dressing kit, dip, or seasoning (search the web for ideas).
- My favorite past GRS reader suggestion comes from Amberlynn, who wrote: “We are now writing a chapter of our family history each year. We’ll pick a topic, and each family member will write about it. One person plays ‘editor’, collecting the stories, and presents them all together for Christmas. We’ve written about our favorite Christmas (seven differing perspectives on the same year), the house we grew up in, and this year we’re writing about how we met our spouse. Last year, my Mom sent out her first draft of her entire life history. This gift costs nothing, unless you choose to make fancy copies or books. It does take a little time if you want to contribute quality. It will, however, carry a lasting value unmatched by any tangible gifts we’ve exchanged, or even experiential gifts!”
- One winter, my wife made felt-backed tile trivets. You can find lots of beautiful tile designs at the home-improvement store. Sometimes the end of a lot can be had at a deep discount. Using a hot-glue gun, add a layer of felt to the back of a 6×6″ (or larger) tile, and you have a useful trivet for bringing a hot dish to the table. If you drink a lot of wine, you might consider creating cork trivets.
Here’s an idea from Tanya: “This year [my sister and I] are making personalized mirrors with one word affirmations, like ‘fabulous’ and ‘gorgeous’. We started by picking up a bunch of the smallish (8×8) mirrors from Ikea, I think they are $5-6 for a four pack. My sister is obsessed with fonts, so we had some fun searching for fonts that fit the word we are going to use and the receiver of the mirror. We printed out the words to make stencils that we could cut out on contact paper. We used some glass etching glaze, left over from a candle holder project a few years ago, to etch the words on the mirrors. We added some cheap rhinestones to glitz up the mirrors for the girls and added a masculine etched pattern for the boys. We finished them off by attaching ribbon and twine so that they could be hung easily. I really like that we are giving them a reason to smile at themselves everyday when they leave for work or school.”
- For several years, my wife and I gave each other love coupons. Sounds sappy, I know. But it was nice to be able to come home at the end of the day and redeem a coupon for a dinner out, or for a back rub, or for an evening watching a favorite movie.
- In last month’s discussion about frugal Christmas traditions, Cobblestone offered a great idea: “For my cash hungry nephews and niece I make sure to do something creative to get the money. This year is going to be a family trivia game with questions that make them talk to other family members. It is much more interesting than a $20 bill.” Of course, it’s also possible to do this without the monetary reward.
- Genevieve makes her own stationery sets to give to friends. She writes: “I make envelopes out of pretty magazine ads and then pair them with nice stationary paper that you can get cheaply by the pound from any stationary or craft store. It is a great way to recycle magazines and the resulting stationary sets have been a real hit with my friends. If the gift calls for a little extra just pair a set with an address book or a nice pen.”
- Kris likes to make homemade granola year-round, but it would make a perfect Christmas gift, too. Low-cost basic ingredients turn into toasted goodness and don’t require a fancy kitchen. Granola blends can be easily customized to your tastes with add-ins like raisins, nuts, cinnamon, dried cranberries or cherries, sunflowers seeds, coconut, wheat germ, etc. Begin with a couple of mini-batches to fiddle with it to your taste. (Start with this almond maple granola. Stretch your budget even more by omitting the coconut and adding three more cups of old-fashioned rolled oats.)
- Here’s another gift my wife has made in the past: teacup candles! You’ll need craft-store wicks, wax (or old candles) that can be melted down, old teacups, and maybe a fragrance or two. Pretty single teacups (with or without saucers) can often be found at thrift stores for less than a dollar. Melt the wax in a double boiler, add fragrance if desired, then support the wick standing in the teacup while carefully filling the cup with wax. As the wax cools, it will contract and form a well. You can add more melted wax of the same color or add a second shade. These are fairly easy to make, but beware cups with obvious cracking; the hot wax may cause them to shatter.
- Knip has a fantastic idea for a grandparent or other older relative: a memory jar. “The most wonderful gift I’ve ever given (it’s still talked about years later) cost me almost nothing. I spent a few months contacting friends and family members and asked them to send me memories and old pictures of my grandfather. Then I wrote one memory (or printed one picture)on each of 365 business card sized pieces of cardstock. I folded each in half and secured it with a bit of tape, then placed them all in a big jar I decorated. Every morning for the next year, my grandfather would take out a paper, open it, and see what other people cherished in him. He loved it.”
- Ayelet has a gift idea that’s after my own heart: “I’m really excited about my holiday gift to my fiance (will be married by the holidays)this year. We love to cook together so I’m going to sit down with him and create our first family cookbook. It’ll be something we can update as we add more recipes. This would be a good one for a big family…get everyone together for a recipe day (could be some cooking involved) and then print and bind the recipes somehow for all to have. Good for a HS senior or college student, too.”
- Personal gift certificates also make great gifts. In essence, these are gifts of time. Give new parents a gift certificate for a night of baby-sitting so that they can enjoy a night on the town. Are you good with computers? Give your brother-in-law a gift certificate for free computer repairs.
- Leanne has an idea that might be useful for college students looking for gifts on a budget. “I have a friend…who compiles a mixed CD every year and mails them out to all his friends. It serves as a holiday card, gift, and moment of reconnection (we get a sense of how his year has been/things he’s been dealing with or excited about based on the music he chooses) plus we get introduced to new music we might not have picked up ourselves.”
- Fred Bloggs has a unique idea. He gives his friends joke boxes. These are “mostly gleanings from charity/thrift shops, picked up through the year when I see something particularly ugly or particularly good for a silly theme, and wrapped, because they don’t have to pretend to be expensive, in last year’s paper. Or sometimes one can make the jokes almost from scratch: things like knitty’s knitted womb, or my friend’s idea of a ‘rock concert’ — painted stones glued onto a ground with musical notes and dyed cotton bud mikes, that kind of thing. Someone else I know comes up with comic verses, and a token gift to illustrate the verse. Laughter’s a cheap gift, and a good one.”
- You can make more than gifts. Kayla says she makes her own greeting cards: “Making your own cards is a great money-saver. I’ve been doing this for the past year. I’m a scrapbooker already (which I know can be a huge money-waster, but I try to be frugal about it). I buy boxes of 50 assorted bright-color cards at Michael’s for around $7. Then I use my leftover paper scraps and stickers to decorate them. I enjoy doing it, and everyone gets a very personalized card. I’d estimate my cards cost about 50 cents each (or less), so I’m saving at least $2 per card, usually more.” (Copperivy suggests you can make your own Christmas ornaments, too.)
And as a bonus idea – for something that can mean a lot for a child in the long run, there’s always the idea of opening an online savings account, with a little bit of cash, so that they can learn the lesson of saving early. Hopefully it’s a lesson that will last for a lifetime.
Now obviously, not all of these ideas will work for every person. Some of you won’t like the idea of giving experience, or of giving food, or of giving a mixed CD. But I’ll bet there are at least three or four ideas on this list (if not more) that you can use to create your own personalized hand-made Christmas gifts for people in your life. Note: Also see the comments that others have left in the 100+ comments below; there are some fun and imaginative homemade gift ideas that others are mentioning. And, of course, I encourage you to share your own ideas for crafty Christmas gifts in the comments. I can’t get enough of this stuff!
If you need more ideas, there are thousands of other great Christmas crafts to be found on web on sites like these:
- Organized Christmas, a site designed “to help you simplify your holidays and get ready for the Christmas season.”
- Make Blog, a fantastic resource for the do-it-yourself geek. Want to make a Space Invader coffee table? This is the place to look.
- Buy Nothing Christmas, a site devoted to reducing the commercialism of the holiday in favor of meaning. The site features gift alternatives and a list of resources.
- The Craftster holiday projects board, where you’ll find a mind-boggling range of ideas. (You could get lost in here and never find your way out!) Here’s the What are you making for Christmas 2008? thread. Puts my list to shame.
- The FiveCentNickel list of 18 Homemade Christmas Gifts.
I’ll leave you with a parting thought from Money and Values:
The golden rule of frugal gift-giving is to be thoughtful and personal. If your recipient knows that you put time and effort into your gift for them, and were thinking about them and what they’d like, your gift is likely to be appreciated.
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