A DIY budget Christmas: 99 great gifts to start right now

A DIY budget Christmas: 99 great gifts to start right now

Thoughtful gift-giving takes time, especially if you are going to make the gift yourself. So here is a list for you, in plenty of time, so you can get started planning budget Christmas gifts this year.

Food Gifts with Wow-Factor

For the most part, food gifts can be made individually or in batches if you want to give something small to a large number of people. Obviously, with food items, you should wait until much closer to Christmas to make them, but it's a great idea to start looking for the other items you'll need for these gifts like mason jars, baskets, and ribbon so you can buy them on sale.

Of course, if you want to get some practice in so you can perfect your gifts, it's much better to start now anyway! Many of these gifts are great for other occasions too, by the way. Recipes for most of the food presents can be found on Pinterest and elsewhere, but here are some ideas to get your taste buds thinking.

1. Made-from-scratch cookie kits. Get the dry ingredients of your favorite cookie recipes together, along with some mason jars, note cards, and country-style ribbons. Layer all the dry ingredients in the mason jars and screw the lids on tightly, print the recipe on note cards using an old-fashioned kind of font, and tie them to the jars with ribbon.

2. Themed food-gift baskets. Will 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.

Make 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).

3. Homemade granola. Low-cost, basic ingredients turn into toasted goodness and don't require a fancy kitchen to prepare. Granola blends can be customized easily to suit your taste by adding different ingredients like raisins, nuts, cinnamon, dried cranberries or cherries, sunflowers seeds, coconut, wheat germ, etc. Begin with a couple of mini-batches to fiddle with your recipe until you are satisfied with the result.

4. Homemade truffles. Like homemade granola, homemade truffles can be tweaked to your preferences. Chocolate raspberry or strawberries and cream are just two examples. And you can cover them with all sorts of deliciousness like crushed nuts, mints, or toffee bits. Upside? Yum! Downside? They should be made only a short time before giving, and eaten soon after.

5. Gingerbread houses. Give them to the little kids (and the big kids) in your life. You can find gingerbread house kits or, if you bake, you can certainly build a better house from scratch. Make it a party! Invite friends or family to join in the decorating and then donate some to a local senior center.

6. Homemade almond roca or other Christmas candies. Never heard of almond roca? How does a mixture of sugar, almonds, butter, and chocolate sound? That's what I thought. If you don't make almond roca, any other type of Christmas candy will be fine too!

7. Freezer meals. If you have someone on your Christmas list who is in a busy season of life (working two jobs, attending college, or adjusting to life with a new baby), they would appreciate freezer meals. Package up a few of your favorite casseroles, clearly labeled with cooking instructions, and you'll have someone's gratitude for life. For an extra-nice touch, package the meals in reusable containers.

8. Infused olive oils.An infused olive oil can add interesting undertones to dishes. Infuse them with spices, herbs, citrus, or nuts. These infused oils need to be stored in the refrigerator, so include storage instructions with the oils.

9. Infused Vinegars. Add another layer of complexity to dishes with infused vinegars. Infuse vinegar for two to four weeks with berries or herbs and package them in interesting bottles. Now is the time to look for inexpensive, beautiful bottles.

10. Other food ideas. If you have any food specialty (homemade bread, canned goods, or cookies, for example), most people would love it.

11. Gourmet salt assortment. 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 include a bit of info about each variety. (You can create similar gifts with other items, of course!)

12. 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 spices 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.

13. Homemade vanilla. Homemade vanilla is simple to make, but it does take some time. Split three vanilla beans in half with a sharp knife, place in a clean glass jar, and then cover with vodka. Store the jar in a cool, dark place and don't forget to shake it every so often. Although the vanilla extract is ready after six to eight weeks, you can continue the process for darker vanilla, if desired.

14. Food of the month. If you enjoy cooking or baking, how about giving someone a membership to your own “food of the month” club? (Never mind that they are your only member and you just made it up.) You can make a different kind of food each month or keep the same general theme (dessert, maybe?). This is a gift that will bring joy all year.

15. Flavored hot chocolate. Homemade hot chocolate is delicious and simple to make. For extra pizazz, add flavors like butterscotch, mint, or cinnamon, just to name a few.

16. Homemade marshmallows. For flavor so much better than you can buy, make homemade marshmallows for someone on your list!

17. Flavored sugars. For a special gift, make flavored sugars! Adding lemon or orange zest, a vanilla bean, or lavender to sugar can impart complex notes to baked goods. Package the sugar in cute jars, paired with a fun label.

18. Salted caramel sauce. Ah, salted caramel sauce. How can something with just four ingredients (cream, butter, sugar, and salt) be so good? And so versatile? (Eat it with a spoon, on ice cream, over cinnamon rolls, or with apples.)

This should be stored for just about two weeks in the refrigerator, so don't make it too far ahead of Christmas or you might be tempted to eat it yourself!

19. Homemade eggnog. While homemade eggnog (if you like eggnog, that is) is absolutely delicious, it doesn't keep long in the refrigerator — and not just because it tastes terrific. If you make this, prepare by getting your ingredients ahead of time, but don't make it until the day of (or a day before) your gift exchange.

Frugal Gifts with Free/Used/Cheap Stuff

Even though these ideas don't cost a lot of money, they do require time and thought to implement something that is sure to make your recipient feel special.

20. Personal gift certificates. In essence, these are gifts of time, but they make great gifts. Give new parents a gift certificate for a night of babysitting so 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.

21. Love coupons. This gift is similar to coupon books or gift certificates but is targeted to your significant other. Let your recipient redeem a coupon for a dinner out, for a back rub, or for an evening together watching their favorite movie.

22. Helping hand. This is also similar to making a coupon book. If you notice your father-in-law's landscaping is overgrown, offer to spend a Saturday as a gift. If your daughter's closets are out of control, she might appreciate help with organizing too. Perhaps an aging family member needs your help sorting through household goods in preparation for an estate sale or moving into a care facility.

The wonderful thing about handmade gifts, no matter how frugal, is the thought that goes into the making. Katie O'Connor

23. Up-cycled old tins. Here is a fun way to breathe new life into last year's Christmas cookie tin. Find some spray paint (leftover from another project, preferably) and spray over the old Christmas scene. This could be the packaging for other Christmas gifts mentioned here too.

24. Teach a skill. Do you have useful skills? Someone on your list may want access to your sewing or carpentry skills. Don't overlook things like bike repair, baking, gardening, or your financial know-how. Sometimes we have a blind eye to our own assets. Ask a friend to tell you which of your skills may be in demand and then figure out how to offer this skill to others.

25. Finish a project. Who doesn't have an unfinished craft project somewhere or a remodeling or gardening project that isn't finished? These undone wonders are just waiting for someone with the time to finish them.

If you are a knitter, for instance, you could offer to complete that pair of mittens for a family member. Or maybe the weekend carpenter on your list got everything done on the remodeling project except for trimming out the windows. Your offer to help finish the project would help both of you!

26. Framed page from favorite children's books. Are some of your favorite books from your childhood falling apart? Well-loved books, read hundreds of times, tend to fall into disrepair. But framing a page from a favorite childhood book can help the book (and the memories) live on.

27. Create a secret old book. Find a cheap, musty, old classic at your nearby Goodwill or used bookstore. Glue the pages together, and use an X-Acto knife to hollow out the center of the book. Now the recipient can store his or her treasures!

28. Holiday recipe booklet. Create a collection of your favorite holiday recipes, and then include it with a small assortment of samples.

29. Artwork display frame. Frames are often expensive, so look for out-dated paintings at thrift stores. Keep the frame; toss the painting. Any of your farmer friends might have some chicken wire to spare, so take the old frame and staple chicken wire to the back. Include a package of tiny clothespins with your gift so photos or artwork can be attached.

30. Personalized dishes. Another fun way to use an old white plate or tray is to make a customized platter/plate. Write words or draw patterns on the plate with colored Sharpies. Then, bake the plate at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes to make your artwork permanent.

31. 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 a 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. Beware of cups with obvious cracking; the hot wax may cause them to shatter.

Arts and Crafts — and a Hodgepodge of Mod Podge

With even the most basic artistic skills, you can create budget Christmas gifts. Here is a list of possibilities to trigger your creativity.

32. Homemade hand warmer. Live in a cold climate? Give your friends the gift of warmth with a homemade hand warmer you personally made for them. If you know how to make a beanbag, you know how to make a hand warmer. Use wool, 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.

33. Tote bag pocket inserts. For those with decent sewing skills, make a tote bag even more user-friendly by sewing an insertable pocket for tote bags. Attaching the pocket to the tote bag straps from the inside will hold the pocket in place while creating another area of storage in the bag.

34. Sweater bag or pillow. Breathe new life into an old sweater by turning it into a bag or a pillow!

35. Microwavable heating pad. Another simple sewing project? This makes a nice gift for an elderly person. Make a microwavable heating pad by sewing fabric into a rectangle. Fill with rice (and a few drops of essential oils if you have some).

36. Felted penguin or other animal. What could be cuter than a felted penguin or other animal? Various tutorials online give detailed instructions which require roving and a special felting needle. Who wouldn't want a cute replica of their favorite pet, anyway?

37. Sewing kit. An old eyeglass case makes a great case to house a portable sewing kit. Add needles, spare buttons, thread, a pincushion, and scissors!

38. Scrap fabric garland. Here's a use for old scraps of fabric. Take strips of fabric and fold them in half, cutting more strips. Just don't cut all the way to the fold, because you would ruin the “streamer” effect. Tie the fabric onto a piece of twine or lace.

39. Pompom garland. Make pompoms out of yarn. Obviously, customize the size and color to your preferences. Once the pompoms are complete, you can thread them together with heavy thread and a needle. Or you can make different threads or strings of pompoms and hang them vertically. These make great gifts for anyone that needs to decorate on a budget.

40. Memory drawing. If you can draw, make a simple drawing of a memory you have that involves the recipient. Maybe it's something you did together or places you visited together. 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.

41. Personalized gifts of art. If you are an artist, create small paintings or other personalized gifts of art that you make. Do you dabble in photography? A framed print of your nephew might be the perfect gift for your sister-in-law.

42. Travel brochure. If you have graphic design skills, a travel brochure for a child in your life is a fun gift. Customize it by photoshopping the recipient onto cheap stock photos of world landmarks, such as the Great Wall, so it looks like he's traveled the world.

43. Decorative pinecones. To make pinecones for Christmas decor, gather up a few (free) pinecones. After making sure they're bug- and dirt-free, spray them with white spray paint. While the paint is still wet, liberally dust them with white or silver glitter.

44. Burlap Christmas acorns. For another Christmas decor idea, make burlap acorns out of Easter eggs. Get some plastic Easter eggs (bigger is better) and spray paint them. Next, cover the egg with burlap using glue. Top the acorn with twine wound around the top.

45. 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 tile, and you have a useful trivet for bringing a hot dish to the table.

46. Personalized mirrors. Buy small mirrors. (Try Ikea for a bunch of the smallish mirrors.) Once you have a word that describes your recipient (“Gorgeous!” “Intelligent!”), pick a font. If you have a cutting tool that will cut out the font, by all means, use it! But if you don't, print out the words and trace them onto contact paper. Use some glass etching glaze to etch the words onto the mirrors. Add some cheap rhinestones to glitz up the mirrors for the girls or a masculine etched pattern for the boys. Finish them off by attaching ribbon and twine so that they can be hung easily.

47. Photo lampshade. Look for a lamp at garage sales and, once you find a really cheap one, you can make a neat memento by either hot-gluing pictures to the outside of the lampshade or printing pictures off onto vellum. Then glue the vellum onto the lampshade. (Vellum is not always easy to handle so be careful!)

48. Blue jean aprons. Don't let your worn out jeans go to waste. Use the fabric to make aprons. Many tutorials can be found online in many different styles, and they are perfect for both children and adults.

49. Vintage lace bowl. Okay, maybe you don't like the look of crocheted doilies draped across the back of an easy chair, so here's another way to display these amazing old-fashioned beauties! Mix equal parts of white glue and water. Submerge a doily in the glue mixture, then mold the doily over a bowl, glass jar, or blown-up balloon. Smooth out the wrinkles, let it dry, and when you remove it — viola! — a DIY vintage lace bowl! If desired, you may also dye the doily before submerging it in the glue.

50. Personalized cards. You can make more than gifts. Making your own cards is a great money-saver. Buy boxes of 50 assorted bright-color cards from a craft store such as Michael's. Use leftover paper scraps and stickers to decorate them.

51. Photo Cubes. Create your own photo cubes by buying large cubes and using Mod Podge to affix family photos on all sides.

52. Tile photo coasters. Cut pictures to a slightly smaller size than small white tiles. Use Mod Podge to adhere the photos to the tiles. Once you have used enough Mod Podge, spray tiles with a moisture-proof sealant. Glue felt to the bottom of the tiles.

53. Photo Accordion. These are great as coffee table books. Create a photo accordion by folding up cardstock like an accordion and gluing photos to the cardstock. If you have woodworking skills, you could hinge thin pieces of wood together and use Mod Podge to glue the pictures on the wood.

54. Marble magnets. You can pick up all of the supplies (flat-bottomed marbles, Mod Podge, and magnets) at your local craft store. Use patterned scrapbook paper or words from old dictionaries or pictures from magazines. Whatever you use, cut it to be slightly smaller than the marble, Mod Podge it on the bottom of the marble, and then hot glue the magnet to the bottom of the marble.

55. Rustic cork coasters. Save the corks from your favorite wine bottles and make rustic cork coasters. Find old small picture frames and glue the corks on them. Commemorate your special events this way too.

56. Cork bulletin board. Wine corks also make great bulletin boards. Find a frame that is deep enough to accommodate the corks and then decide on a pattern. Use a glue gun to glue the corks in place.

57. Homemade garden markers. For the gardener on your list, make homemade garden markers using anything from painted rocks to old spoons, wooden spoons, or even popsicle sticks! Give them blank or label the markers ahead of time.

58. Chalkboard paint spice jars. What an amazing invention chalkboard paint is! Paint the lids of glass baby food jars with chalkboard paint to make spice jars. You can write on each lid with a chalk marker or include a marker with a set of spice jars as part of your gift.

59. Chalkboard cheese tray. Another great use for chalkboard paint is to make a chalkboard cheese tray. Find an old tray at a thrift store and paint the bottom of it with chalkboard paint. When serving cheese, the recipient can write on the tray, labeling the different kinds of cheeses.

60. Chalkboard menu/message plate. Yet another use for chalkboard paint and one of those ubiquitous plates you find at thrift stores: Make a chalkboard plate for messages or to announce the menu of the day. Cover the plate with chalkboard paint and then write a message for each recipient.

61. Christmas stockings. Sew a Christmas stocking out of felt or vintage fabric. While sewing a Christmas stocking is slightly more complicated than making bean bags, it is still an easy project and might be treasured for years!

62. Travel cord roll. When traveling (or even at home), do the cords for your electronic devices get tangled up? Make a travel cord roll.

Sew pockets for different cords, or loops of elastic to hold the cords in place. Once the cords are in place, the fabric can be rolled up and neatly stowed away in the luggage.

63. Fabric bookmarks. Another use of fabric scraps is to make bookmarks. You can cut two pieces of fabric, along with interfacing. Fuse the interfacing to the fabric and then sew the two pieces of fabric together. Embellish it with a ribbon, if desired.

64. Fabric memo boards. The recipient of your gift can display their photographs on a fabric memo board that matches their decor. First, find an old canvas or thin piece of wood. Cover it with batting and fabric. Pulling the fabric taut, staple it to the back of the board. Arrange your ribbons in the desired pattern and staple again in the back. Buttons can be hot-glued where the ribbons cross.

65. Painted canning jars. These gifts are interesting to look at. Paint the jars with chalkboard paint, followed by 2-3 coats of acrylic paint. For a more transparent look, add food coloring to white glue and paint.

66. Practical hot pad. For a practical gift, hot glue small stones to a circular piece of felt. This hot pad can be used daily — and every time it's used, they'll think of you!

67. Scrabble ornaments. Make personalized ornaments out of ribbon and Scrabble letters. Spell Christmas-themed words or the recipient's name with Scrabble letters and hot-glue them to a doubled ribbon.

68. Fabric camera strap cover. For the photographer in your life, a camera strap cover can make taking pictures much more comfortable if it's made out of soft or fun fabric.

69. DIY reusable grocery bag. Used t-shirts or other used clothing can make a handy reusable grocery or gym bag. Search the Web for sites with sewing instructions, if needed.

Sentimental/Family Gifts that Touch the Heart

Gifts that celebrate family memories or honor a loved one who has passed away may not cost much to make, but they are truly priceless. Remember, just because it's a budget Christmas gifts doesn't mean it can't be a very special gift!

70. Christmas-past scrapbook. Find an old, tattered book. Remove the pages, but keep the book cover (hard-cover only). Use rings to fill it with old Christmas cards or photos of family.

71. Write your family history. For a gift that is priceless (but costs very little), enlist your family members to write a family history. Pick a topic (family vacations?), and ask each family member to write about it. Ask the patriarch and matriarch of the family to contribute their life histories.

One person plays “editor,” collecting the stories, and presenting them all together for Christmas. 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 or even experiential gifts!

72. Family trivia game. Make up a family trivia game with questions that help start conversations or help others remember special events with family members. The gift part of this? Deeper relationships, fun, and you could even hand out monetary prizes!

73. Memory Jar. For an extra thoughtful gift that costs almost nothing, create a memory jar. Start now by contacting friends and family members and asking them to send memories and old pictures of the person who will receive your memory jar. Write one memory (or printed one picture) on each of 365 business card sized pieces of cardstock. Fold each in half and secure with a bit of tape, then place them all in a big, decorated jar. Every morning for the next year, the recipient can take out a card, open it, and see what other people cherished in him or her.

74. Framed sentiments. For the word lover on your list, make framed dictionary words. Using a heart punch, cut words out of an old dictionary that describe your loved one (thoughtful, kind, spontaneous?) and frame the words.

75. Memory Pillows. Even if you have very basic sewing skills, you have the ability to make a memory pillow for someone on your list. If you have a loved one (or one of your friend's has a loved one) who has recently passed away, get one of their old shirts and create a memory pillow out it.

76. Frame family recipes. Does your grandmother have a box of faded, old recipes that have been in the family for a few decades? For a sentimental gift, frame them and give them as gifts to other family members.

77. Personalized calendars. Family dates, such as, birthdays and anniversaries, are hard to keep track of, especially as families grow. You can make personalized calendars online by adding special dates and pictures of family members. Or you can buy calendar blanks or use a template from a program.

78. Family cookbook. This is a good gift for a big family. Get everyone together for a recipe day. You could even include some time to make the recipes! Then print and bind the recipes. (You can do this at an office supply store, for example, or use a 3-ring binder to easily add recipes later.)

Fun and Thoughtful Gifts by Kids/for Kids

79. Art binder. If you have children who love to draw or color pictures, you probably ran out of refrigerator real estate months ago. What about giving a child an old binder that you have decorated with special paper or stickers and filled with plastic page protectors? That way, they can save any artwork in one place.

80. Letter art. Buy the first letter of your child's name at a craft store. Personalize it with fabric or paint it yourself, or let your children personalize letters for their siblings.

81. Fancy notebook. Take a regular composition notebook and glue special paper on the cover. Then add stickers, washi tape, and any other fun stuff you have that you like.

82. Help your child (or anyone) open an online savings account. Planting a little bit of cash in a savings account now can yield a lot of fruit in the future — not to mention the ongoing opportunity to teach someone about the benefits of saving.

83. Photo storybook. Sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish often run good deals on their photo books. The child could take their own pictures, you could help upload them to the site, and they could write a few sentences per page. Presto! They have a book they can keep about a special vacation or memory! The gift could be paying for the photo storybook or the child can make the book to be given to someone else.

84. Felt food toy. Buy different colors of sheets of felt. Cut objects out of felt (lettuce, hamburger, bun, tomato slice, for instance) and let the child put them together to make a hamburger or a slice of pizza. Give these as gifts to young children that are learning about food preparation.

85. Homemade bubble mix. Kids are attracted to dirt: making mud pies, playing in sandboxes, and getting grass stains. And that's all good. But when your washing machine needs a break, how about some clean homemade bubbles?

Simple recipes abound online. For most recipes, you'll need water (4 ½ c.), liquid dish soap (1/2 c.), and vegetable glycerin (4 T.). Mix gently. When kids give these as gifts to their friends, there is instant delight (and hours of fun)!

86. Homemade beanbags. These toys are easy to make. Get some scraps of cotton material, sew together, and fill with dried beans. Children enjoy selecting the fabric, filling the beanbags, and making up games to play with them.

87. Homemade playdoh. Combine 1 c. flour, 1 T. vegetable oil, 1 c. water, ½ c. salt, 2 t. cream of tartar in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. When mixture forms into a ball, turn off the heat and knead with hands (when cool). If desired, add a few drops of food coloring. Store in an airtight container and let your children give them as gifts to their friends and younger siblings.

88. Homemade sidewalk chalk. This gift is easy to make. Mix 1 c. of Plaster of Paris to ¾ c. of water. Add in the desired amount of powdered tempera paint. If you have molds, use those to make fun shapes. If not, you can make your own molds out of toilet paper tubes, duct tape, and wax paper.

89. Muffin tin crayons. Did your child come home with lots of broken, paperless crayons when school was over for the summer? Before tossing them, use them to make muffin tin crayons. You can make these crayons all one color or camouflage. Just use your imagination! You can place them in a muffin tin and bake at 250 degrees for about 10-20 minutes, or until the top layer has melted.

90. Memory games. Make your own memory game cardboard boxes that you save (from cereal boxes, perhaps?) and glue paper on top. If you have some artistic ability, you can draw animals or food objects (just make sure there are two of each!) or you can search online for templates. Cut squares as large as you prefer. Color the pictures, if needed.

91. Geoboards. Have a child who needs to learn letters or shapes? Make them a geoboard! You can make this as fancy as you want to, but first, start off with a rectangle of scrap wood (or you can purchase this at a craft store). If you don't feel like measuring out where each peg will go, you can put a piece of graph paper over the wood. Decide how close you want the pegs to be. Your pegs can be push pins or small nails (although nails could be painful) and you'll hammer these in according to the pattern you have determined. Give these with a package of rubber bands for immediate play!

92. Toddler busy book. (Parents of toddlers may enjoy this gift more than the toddler.) A toddler busy book (or quiet book) is a book that you can customize with different activities. One method is using a 3-ring binder and heavy paper. On one page, you could glue objects of different textures (cotton balls, sandpaper, aluminum foil, etc.). A different page may have shapes made out of foam or felt glued to the page, with the same shapes NOT glued to the page. The child then has to match the loose shapes to the glued shapes. If you have sewing skills, you can sew a book out and use felt, Velcro, and other materials.

93. Sensory bin/basket. Creating a sensory bin/basket may be as simple as packaging up some rice or dried beans, along with the child's own set of measuring cups or measuring spoons. But check out Pinterest for other ideas.

94. Bathtub crayons. Playing with anything in the bathtub is good fun because it washes away easily! To try these crayons for bath time: Mix 1 c. grated Ivory soap, ¼ c. warm water, and food coloring together until the mixture begins to stiffen. Then, knead until mixture resembles very thick dough. Spoon mixture into cookie cutters, then place the cookie cutters into the freezer for about 10 minutes. Pop the crayons out of the cookie cutters and allow to dry overnight.

95. Salt dough ornaments. To make salt dough ornaments, mix 2 c. flour and 1 c. salt. Add 1 c. water, a little bit at a time. Once all the water is added, knead up to 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth. Press your baby's hand or foot into the dough (another suggestion is to take an impression of your first apartment key) or anything else that would be precious to your gift recipient. Before baking, make a hole in the ornament with which to hang it. Then, bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.

96. Dime store games. Create one of several dime-store games, such as, you could tightly connect a few wooden blocks and glue a picture on top. Use a utility knife to cut between the blocks. You have a puzzle!

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Then, there are the budget Christmas gifts that just don't fit in any of the other categories — but they just might be a good fit for someone on your list!

97. Experiences. Give the gift of a new experience. Sample gifts of experience: skydiving, scuba lessons, hot-air balloon rides, cooking school, lunch with a hero, etc.

98. Ha-ha gifts. Make your own joke presents. Use your imagination, but here are a couple of ideas to get you started. Wrap up a pack of batteries and a note that says “Gift not included.” Glue two pieces of corn to a small piece of scrap wood with the words “two-piece chicken dinner.”

99. DIY-themed baskets (or bags). We mentioned food gift baskets already, but don't overlook other types of gift baskets. Your child's teacher may appreciate a gift basket full of paper supplies like napkins, cups, and plates for snacks and classroom parties. Another teacher idea is to give an office supply gift basket. A husband, father, son, or other family members might like a tool-themed gift basket. A wife, mother, daughter, sister, or aunt might appreciate a pajama-themed basket with soft slippers, romantic comedy, and an assortment of teas.

Having an incredible Christmas doesn't mean a lot of stress or a lot of money — but you do need to plan ahead. I hope this resource will help make your December a bit more relaxed, a lot less expensive, and still meaningful too.

Do you make budget Christmas gifts? What's your favorite gift to make and give? How early do you start in order to decrease your stress levels?

Photo credits: Homemade Christmas cards by Patterson Williams. Pinecone scene and pinecones by Lisa Aberle. Christmas stocking by Linda Vergon.

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madsow
madsow
11 years ago

Wow, what a great list.

You know, in thinking about it, some of my favorite christmas memories are the ones that had no cost involved.

To date my favorite christmas activity is setting up and decorating the tree. Since we use an artificial tree and have decorations already, there is no recurring cost.

I love putting christmas music on and getting into the spirit decorating the tree.

It means SANTA is soon to be here ! ! !

madsow
http://www.engineeradebtfreelife.com

catch22miller
catch22miller
11 years ago

Another great idea for someone who likes to cook –

Buy a cookbook they might like. (I get them from the bargain section at the bookstore.) Select one of the recipes and bookmark it for them. Buy all of the ingredients for the recipe and include a grocery gift card for the perishables. Put it all together in a gift basket. I get the baskets at the dollar store.

Very personal and fun.

Caleb
Caleb
11 years ago

Here’s another idea I ran into a couple of weeks ago, for our adult friends and family members. Homemade liquors and cocktails. There are a ton of different taste that you can make, and it really isn’t as hard as you may think. Plus you may spark a new hobby.

Caleb
http://www.mefinanciallyfree.blogspot.com

Heather
Heather
8 years ago
Reply to  Caleb

To add to this…

It is easy to make flavour infused vodka’s. Why not create a flavour infused vodka and then make a gift basket that includes the vodka, some cocktail recipes involving it, and the rest of the ingredients to make one of the cocktails?

Ex. Bacon infused vodka with all the ingredients to make caesars! (Clamato juice, celery salt, tabasco, maybe a jar of pickled asparagus or green beans!)

Katie
Katie
5 years ago
Reply to  Heather

Did you say…bacon infused vodka????

Ellen
Ellen
11 years ago

If you’re a crafty type, you have to check out the Sew Mama Sew blog (http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/) where they compile tons of gift ideas and tutorials. Be forewarned, you’ll find a ton of great craft blogs through them…

Steven
Steven
7 years ago
Reply to  Ellen

I also stumbled upon a crafty-mama-type-blog. Kinda late for the holiday, but some good ideas for next year maybe!
junecleaverinyogapants.com

Donna
Donna
11 years ago

What a great post, tons of wonderful ideas.

Adam
Adam
11 years ago

I’ve started giving people used paperbacks rather than greeting cards. Most of the time I can find a book that I liked, or think they’ll like at the used bookstore for about $2 rather than buying a $4 card. You can write a note in it just as easily and it’s a little more interesting than a card.

RazzBari
RazzBari
11 years ago

For my brother and sister this year I’m doing homemade reusable grocery bags. 2 yards of fabric is enough for 4 bags; I’ve found that a poly/cotton blend holds up better than all cotton. Around here you get 5 cents off your grocery order for each bag used. A gift that keeps on giving!

Susy
Susy
11 years ago

I usually make my homemade chocolate covered cherries (I soak them in brandy for a month – yum ). I bought a big bar of chocolate from belgium. So many friends come out of the woodwork from Thanksgiving-Christmas when they know I’m making them. My favorite holidays are ones sans gift. Seems like things are just so much more laid back when you’re not worried about buying gifts or if someone will like the gift you bougt. In my family we just buy a few gifts for the kids, and our gift is watching them enjoy them and a delicious… Read more »

Ash
Ash
8 years ago
Reply to  Susy

I love your idea!! could you please post your recipe?!?!?!

Libby
Libby
11 years ago

I’ve been making a whole bunch of gifts for people. I’m sneaky – I’ve been making scarves, and I make sure to make them in the presence of someone who I think might want a scarf, so they comment on it and I can get an idea of what they might want as a scarf, without directly saying, “I’m making you a scarf”. I think my mom figured it out anyways, but that’s okay. For my father, I know he loves to work in his garden, but for the past few years he has had more aches and pains, and… Read more »

katie
katie
8 years ago
Reply to  Libby

I did that last year – huge hit! A lot of work but definitely worth the time.

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

what a great list! We always choose a “theme” for our gifts, as you mentioned in the self-made baskets, but it isn’t always a money saver to put those together…
A great source for little jars etc to use for things like the salt, spice, or tea collection is american science and surplus:
http://www.sciplus.com/

Scott Dichter
Scott Dichter
11 years ago

Homemade gifts are great as long as there is an understanding that homemade gifts/cheap gifts are to be expected. If someone believes that you are exchanging $25-50 gifts and you whip out homemade stationery, I seriously doubt that the recipient will feel special. Of course, I am not talking about students or others who are really financially strapped. The real problem is with our American gifting customs. In the US we have become accustomed to gifting everybody in sight, racking up debt, because its the holidays, or a birthday. It is ridiculous. And then on top of gifting everyone, it… Read more »

Marcee
Marcee
8 years ago
Reply to  Scott Dichter

I’m replying to those that think the gifts they receive that arent what they want or need is useless or ridiculous….. Re-gift duh!!!!

Karla
Karla
8 years ago
Reply to  Scott Dichter

You know, times change and i get that, but what ever happened to “it is the thought that counts”. maybe instead of griping that you didnt get what you wanted and got things you didnt need maybe you should remember what the season is about. not complain that someone was trying to think of you and be nice. and i agree with Marcee if you dont have a a use for it. leave it in the plastic wrap and put it up somewhere to give to someone ese that may enjoy it.

R. Wilson
R. Wilson
8 years ago
Reply to  Scott Dichter

I totally agree with you Scott. On every single point you’ve made here. My 3 adults children LOVE Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday and they have since they were little kids. The reason is simple – the extended family is all together, enjoying each others company and having a wonderful meal together without the stress of spending money on gifts that no one wants. Hats off to you.

Bonita
Bonita
11 years ago

Hey, I’m LadyBonita from askmetafilter. Nice to see my calendar idea posted on one of my favorite pf blogs! I’m going to use the specialty gourmet salts and spices ideas from your list for a few of my in-laws. I also like the homemade travel brochure idea – think I’ll use that one for the kiddo’s birthdays. Thanks for compiling a great list J.D.!

LM
LM
11 years ago

Last year I gave my mother-in-law several bags of my mother’s bread mix (homemade bread for the bread machine). I combined all of the dry ingredients in ziploc bags, printed out the recipe (one for each bag), included some packets of yeast and a bottle of honey, and wrapped everything together in a big box. She enjoyed it a lot.

Pascale
Pascale
11 years ago

well this year, I ‘ve offered my friends an idea for a cheap but nice gift. we’re all trying to save money, and I miss them since I moved to London, so…
We will exchange (digital) photos from Paris and London, taken at a moment or place we’ve been thinking to the other one. cost zero and very personalized. they are quite happy.
and we’ll email them on the 25th.

ekrabs
ekrabs
11 years ago

Great entry!

Brigid
Brigid
11 years ago

Alton Brown Rocks!! On another note – I’ve been kicking around the idea of constructing a family cookbook. None of us are particularily gourmet, but my Mum used to make a good banana bread and we also had a fudge recipe we used to make every Christmas. There were a few weird concoctions my dad made on a regular basis. My sis makes a killer spag sauce. My brother… well, I’ll put in a recipe about how to mix kool-aid or something. I believe allrecipes.com has a thing where you can “publish” your cookbook. It’s a fun way to preserve… Read more »

C Mitchell
C Mitchell
8 years ago
Reply to  Brigid

A few years ago I gathered family recipes – orally, from grandma’s cookbook, and from the cookbook Mom used as we were growing up – took pictures from my own creations or downloaded from the internet (with proper credit given, of course). Making sure to include a recipe from (or that mentions) each person on my gift-giving list, I created a cookbook that was sent directly to those on the list.

Check out http://www.tastebook.com/

Janet
Janet
7 years ago
Reply to  Brigid

The family cookbook idea is a great one. When I was a poor grad student, I put one together for my family (parents and 5 siblings). We included all of our favorites, and included little jokes like under the servings “Makes enough for 6 normal adults of one round with Billy.” Also, I included photos of all of us throughout the years, so it was a hybrid cookbook/photo album.

I just printed all the recipes out, put them into plastic 3-ring protectors (we’re messy cooks!), and gave everyone a binder. They loved it!

jushortt
jushortt
6 years ago
Reply to  Brigid

I made family cookbooks for my new daughter -in-laws. They were so successful that my newly married granddaughters have requested them. Its a family tradition that keeps on giving

Anastasia
Anastasia
11 years ago

Those are FANTASTIC ideas and I’m going to do several this year.

But dude. Stationery. With an e, for envelope.

Valeria | TimelessLessons
Valeria | TimelessLessons
11 years ago

Wow, what an amazing list. You know, this got me thinking about Christmas, and some of my favorite Christmas memories are the ones that had no cost involved. Definitely going to try some if these tips.

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

This is an awesome list. I’m sharing it with all my fellow single, frugal, and crafty moms! Thanks!

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Anastasia
But don’t you see? These pieces of paper never move! 🙂

Sigh. How embarrassing. Thanks for the correction. I’ve fixed the typo spell-o.

Miss M
Miss M
11 years ago

I’ve done handmade jewelry in the past, beading is quite simple and you can get the supplies at many craft stores. But, it’s not always inexpensive! You can go crazy buying beads and pendants and findings, I know I did.

V. Higgins
V. Higgins
11 years ago

One great idea if you have had a special event over the year or kiddos that the grandparents want to keep up on is making a DVD at home. I have a Macbook and was married this summer, one whole side of grandparents were unable to attend so I’ve been touching up my favorite photos in photoshop and putting them into a slideshow/movie in iMovie (with background music). Then I can edit together the movies in iDVD (different chapters like “Rehearsal”, “Getting Ready”, “The Ceremony”, etc). This allows them to see everything that happened without getting all kinds of confused… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
11 years ago

This one only works if you’re crafty, but: I will be crocheting snowflake ornaments for many friends this year. They take about an hour and $1 of cotton thread apiece, and really look charming in a window or on a tree.

I also recently re-discovered the wonders of my local library’s ongoing used booksale. I dropped off a bag of books to donate and picked out five children’s books at $1 apiece for a friend’s little girl. They were all in like-new condition, and she loved them!

Fleur
Fleur
11 years ago

A favorite tip for frugal gift giving: give “symbolic” gifts!: http://thebestpresentevah.blogspot.com/2008/10/non-materialistic-gifting-3-strategies.html

Regan
Regan
11 years ago

Do-it-yourself vinaigrettes and salad dressings are awesome…you can give someone a bottle or two and then supply the recipe, as well. Once you start making your own dressings you can’t believe you ever use the sugary, bottled goop from the grocery store. Recipes abound online, this is a good one.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5320207

Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson
11 years ago

When putting together a family cookbook, don’t just ask for recipes from everyone, get pictures too! It makes for a great cookbook that everyone in the family enjoys – my mom has done it three times now in the last 20 years, and everyone looks foward to getting them.

CTRealEstateUnleashed.com
CTRealEstateUnleashed.com
11 years ago

Those are great ideas – I’d do the cookbook if I could cook.

This year, I’m doing digital scrapbooks for several family members and photo cd calendars. Not only will I save money but I’ll save time and effort. Now they’re not free but they cost less than printing the photos, buying the paper and buying the books and they look great.

K. White
K. White
11 years ago

Re: Taking V. Higgins slideshow idea one step further, you can find all the resources to make a free slideshow online, including software, royalty-free music and graphics, and even background video clips. Or if you have a PC, try Photo Story 3 or Windows Movie Maker for your slideshow, which are both free and probably already on your computer. Then you only need to buy the DVDs to burn your show, but buy the best DVD-Rs you can find.

RenaissanceTrophyWife
RenaissanceTrophyWife
11 years ago

Fantastic list, thanks!

Also, for people who are super talented at making things, you can pick up some extra cash on the side by selling on etsy.com– it’s like the ebay of homemade goods.

Lau
Lau
11 years ago

I love numbers 2 and 6 but the rest are also faboulous!

Very often the best presents are not the most expensive ones 😉

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

Fantastic list. I’m glad to see that the world will finally be catching up with us in giving consumable, homemade, and experiential gifts instead of “stuff”. I’m so tired of just being weird and cheap. 😉 I hate giving and getting useless stuff, and usually ask for art supplies or museum memberships for the kids instead of toys. We buy magazine subscriptions for a few family members. My parents give us state parks annual entry stickers and MIL buys us a state historical society membership, which we use for inexpensive family adventures. I’ve been gifting my parents with short daughter-parent… Read more »

Calvin Froedge
Calvin Froedge
11 years ago

So many people don’t realize it’s not the cost but the thought that really counts. I would almost always rather receive one of the gifts above than a $50 gift card somewhere. Shows you care about the person and took time. Anybody can buy a gift card.

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
11 years ago

I give homemade bread very frequently…it makes a perfect gift because it’s tasty, cheap, and very few people actually know how to make bread anymore.

AMP
AMP
11 years ago

Thanks for the great ideas!

I will definitely be doing some of these, particularly the hand warmer and the hollowed-out book.

Charlotte
Charlotte
11 years ago

Not a gift but an idea for Christmas Cards.

This will be the 2nd Christmas we are creating a collage of pictures in Photoshop (or you can use any similar software) taken throughout the year. We then save it as a jpg file and have it printed anywhere as one picture. This year we are actually ordering them as “real” postcards so we can write on the back. Not cheaper but nicer. This is where we get them printed http://www.mpix.com

It is more personal than using a template or ready-made cards.

Here is a sample collage:
http://www.cosmicadventure.com

Cheers!

Dana
Dana
11 years ago

Several months back I learned about something called art cards. They’re 2.5×3.5 inches, and they can be made of anything. The ones you just trade are called ATCs, and the ones you can buy and sell are called ACEOs. They seem to have become fairly popular. If you’ve taken a really nice photo that a friend or family member has admired, even if it is not of a person (i.e., I take pictures every year at the Rose Festival, and some people like rose photos), you can get it printed out as a wallet print and give that to them… Read more »

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

Amen to what Calvin said. Virtually all of the best presents I’ve received have been those which required a lot of thought on the giver’s part, but not very much money.In fact, what I want most this year (being a busy mom) is a weekend alone, chore-free, to do things like reading and watching child-inappropriate DVDs.

Carol
Carol
11 years ago

Our family is doing a Vintage Christmas. The rule is, everything we give has to be pre-owned/used. We are tired of over-packaged items and the Christmas Carnage! Now, we’re shopping at Garage Sales, The Salvation Army, and cool Antique stores. It’s so fun, and frugal. I’m even buying my kids’ toys used — and what a savings!

Chris
Chris
8 years ago
Reply to  Carol

Love this idea. One of the best presents I got was a used stereo that my brother bought me one year from a local thrift store. He was in college that year and couldn’t afford much, but the present was so much more then I expected.

Ayelet
Ayelet
11 years ago

Yeay! I made it on the list. I think I’ll “present” my gift through your blog…but I’m not very patient so I might just point him to #30. 😉

p.s. We were married two weeks ago btw!

Lindsey
Lindsey
11 years ago

Last year, I made my own Christmas cards and I really enjoyed it. I saw a card I really liked at the MOMA store and I basically copied it.

This year, I am going the cheaper route. I had postcards made on Vistaprint (www.vistaprint.com) and I put one of my favorite holiday recipes on the front and I’m going to write on the back. My recipients can put the postcard in their recipe boxes and save them for years (if they want) and they are cheaper to send! SCORE!

stefanie
stefanie
11 years ago

another cheap/ free idea is to give the gift of plants – take a cutting and root it now (a few weeks before the holidays) and then transplant it to a pot you get for free or cheap (i got a bunch for free and cheap at consignment shops, goodwill, and garage sales over the past 3 months; i just got 2 for 25 cents each at salvation army last week too!) and its a great present. almost everyone loves plants, as long as they’re not allergic and have a bit of space. i bought a snake plant a few… Read more »

Ozh
Ozh
11 years ago

*Awesome* list. I totally dig the Love Coupons idea!

PDXgirl
PDXgirl
11 years ago

The calendar is a really fun idea. Does anyone know where one would find calendar templates that you can add dates to?

I suppose you could use Outlook, but that’s kind of boring. Or build from scratch on Excel but that sounds like a lot of work.

karen
karen
8 years ago
Reply to  PDXgirl

Go to wal mart photo on line. They have one you can do your self. I did one and it turned out great.

mama bear
mama bear
4 years ago
Reply to  PDXgirl

I did one at Vistaprint.com I redo every year for my grandma…has everyone’s birthdays. Tried to get family to help out and send pics…but not everyone did…so I pull pics from their facebook pages. You can write your own holidays on every square. Plus add your own pics every month. So in August, there is a collage of all the people with birthdays and anniversaries. Grandma loves it!

stefanie
stefanie
11 years ago

Lindsey: brilliant idea about the recipe on the holiday card! i was gonna do this anyway at vistaprint for personalized holiday cards and i love the idea of including a recipe!

charlotte
charlotte
11 years ago

I hate hate HATE giving and also getting non-functional stuff that will take up space and needs to be dusted, and I can only enthusiasically second number 9 on your list–experience! Yes! That’s what we did for our wedding instead of a lavish dinner or brunch or favors: We took our small wedding party with us up in a hot air balloon and were married by the pilot. Nobody will ever forget the day when they were looking down on Santa Rosa, California, from many feet up in the air and then got to have a small brunch and ensuing… Read more »

ab
ab
11 years ago

all these gifts are horribly crappy. how ’bout we give NOTHING and finally do away with this silly holiday all together? it’s nothing but a manmade creation!

only things i can understand are gifts of labor or gifts of doing something for the less fortunate.

i cosign #45, but even then make sure it’s something the person will really use, otherwise it’s a waste of money.

i don’t want to poo-poo all the suggestions, they may float some peoples’ boat, but honestly, try not to give useless junk.

RB
RB
8 years ago
Reply to  ab

You have a very negative attitude. The gifts mentioned are tailored to the people who are receiving them. The fact that you think they are crappy just proves that people only care about the price tag. I think these are fabulous ideas and if they don’t suit the people on your list, stop and think about what they may actually like or enjoy.

Cheri
Cheri
8 years ago
Reply to  ab

To choose the most appropriate meaningful gift for each person, consider the 5 Love Languages (google it, if you haven’t heard of it) . In essence, there are different ways of expressing love: gifts, time, service, affirmitive words, and touch. Obviously your love language is acts of service, but someone you know might value more a physical item. Some gifts can cross several languages: i.e. a massage could be a gift of physical touch, it could also be a service if they are in pain, or quality time if you give the massage yourself. Some people would really value most… Read more »

H
H
4 years ago
Reply to  ab

Calm down Grinch!

quinsy
quinsy
11 years ago

This is a totally awesome post. I’ve made calendars last year on KodakGallery and they turned out great, though they cost $20 that way. To the person asking about calendar templates, just Google search it, there are tons of free downloadable calendar templates, you do not have to create your own in Word or Excel, don’t reinvent the wheel. http://www.printablecalendar.ca/ http://www.vertex42.com/calendars/ Wow, suddenly the word ‘calendar’ is looking really weird to me. Also last year I decided to send electronic Christmas cards because I didn’t want to waste paper or spend money on postage when e-mail is so easy. I… Read more »

Andy Havens
Andy Havens
11 years ago

Very nice! Reminds me of my own attempt to get out the word about unGrinchy holiday activities:

http://www.tinkerx.com/2007/11/25/christmas-spirit-20-50-ungrinchy-holiday-ideas-for-2007/

Bah… FUNbug!

Janet
Janet
11 years ago

I rather pay for an experience (ie, movie or concert) with a friend or family than buy something they might now want. These are great suggestions in a pinch.

Sundi D. Hayes
Sundi D. Hayes
11 years ago

I found this the other day and I’m making them for a ton of family and friends. How easy, cheap, useful and special!? I can pick a special paper for each and every person on my list. http://www.simplyvintagegirl.com/blog/index.php/2008/09/08/notebook-easy-to-make-easy-to-use/

Also, she is hosting a homemade christmas so you’ll find links all over her site to tons of other ideas at other blogs involving all different crafting skill levels and styles.

If my friends get mad because I gave them something like this rather than a $50 gift then maybe I should re-think what I thought was a friendship.

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