The most memorable Christmas of my childhood was the year my parents bought the house where we grew up. They closed on it in September and, when Christmas time arrived, they had absolutely no money for presents.
But my father had done a carpentry job, building a barn, and had the scrap wood from it. Mom had been taking on sewing jobs and had plenty of odd pieces of fabric. That year, we received the wooden toy box and doll bed that my children still play with, plus homemade doll clothes and blankets. Other gifts that have stood out are the teddy bear – Theodore, of course – that I received as a toddler, and a little elephant ring holder that my grandmother gave me three months before she died. I suspect she bought it at the Five and Dime, but I will always treasure it.
My point in this trip down memory lane is that memorable gifts do not have to cost a lot of money.
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Here are some great gift ideas for when you’re pinching pennies during the holiday season. Some are more expensive than others, but most of them can be adapted based on what you include.
Tea or Coffee Basket
Create a gourmet tea or coffee basket with a hand picked mug and a selection of coffee or tea. Even empty, I’d be thrilled with a Mama Needs Some Coffee mug, especially since it holds a whopping 26 ounces of joe, so adding goodies to it would just make it even better. Basket isn’t needed – just fill the mug. If you’re not entirely sure what the recipient likes, make sure to ask questions ahead of time. “Coffee, tea or hot chocolate – where are you at on the hot drink spectrum?” is a question most people love to answer.
Add in other items as desired, such as honey, sweetener sticks, crushed candy cane, specialty creamers and marshmallows to suit the gift recipient. You can have a lot of fun with this.
For under $25, you could create a family gift that will please everyone.
Homemade cocoa mix
If the recipient isn’t a tea or coffee drinker, substitute homemade cocoa mix. It’s basically a mixture of cocoa, sugar, optionally powdered creamer and other flavorings as you like. Miniature marshmallows, crushed candy cane, instant coffee to turn it into a cafe mocha and other additions make it extra special. Layer the mix in a jar to create a unique gift and include instructions for making the hot cocoa on the gift tag.
Packaged in a pretty glass jar with a gift tag, this is an inexpensive gift that most people will love.
Homemade baking mix
Follow the same idea as the homemade cocoa mix, but this time with cookie or brownie mix. Layer the individual ingredients like flour, sugar, and chocolate chips in the jar to create a unique gift. Include clear instructions so the recipient can recreate your favorite cookie recipes. If you have a bit more money, include a baking sheet.
And of course, if you know the recipient will just stick the mix in the cupboard and forget about it, there’s not a thing wrong with giving a tin of homemade cookies or brownies.
Gourmet gift baskets
Combine cheeses, meats, crackers, mustards, jams, and other ingredients to create your own gourmet gift baskets. Buy – or better yet, make – the individual items yourself and save a great deal of money over buying pre-built gift baskets from specialty stores.
Think about what you would like in a basket like that. Here in Nova Scotia, I’d fill it with (and no, these are not affiliate links!) some Brothers Pepperoni (which I could eat by the pound), any incredibly delicious Growler cheese from That %^## Dutchman (yes, that’s the real name of the farm!) and a stack of Nova Scotia oatcakes (click here for a recipe).
What could you put in a local gourmet basket?
Gardening gift basket
Combine flower seeds, vegetable seeds, and other gardening goodies – like trowels and hand shovels – to create a gift basket for someone who enjoys gardening. This can be especially nice if you include heirloom seeds that you have saved. Add other goodies as desired, like plant markers, pretty containers, and homemade soil mix.
Make sure you have a price limit in mind as you create this basket, because it could get out of hand.
Home movie basket
Start with a gift card for movie rentals, or pick through the movie bargain bin for those classic treasures. Add popcorn and butter spray or seasoning and a box of movie theater style candy to create a gift basket for enjoying movies at home with the family.
This one doesn’t have to cost much at all, and the whole family can enjoy it.
Breakfast gift basket
Make up a batch of pancake mix. Combine it with a small jar of real maple syrup. Add a relaxing CD. Voila – breakfast in bed.
Of course it doesn’t have to be pancakes. You can have a lot of fun with this one. If the recipient likes toast and eggs, why not include a pretty egg cup, a loaf of locally made artisan bread and some homemade butter?
If you are crafty, this would be very nice packaged with a refurbished bed tray rescued from the thrift store.
Muffin baking basket
Combine muffin tins with a couple of different homemade muffin mixes and some fresh berries or chocolate chips. Include the recipe for each muffin mix so that they can be recreated.
A play on this idea would be a Muffin of the Month, with fresh muffins delivered once a month.
Recipe box and cards
Put together a handmade recipe box with some of your favorite recipes inside. Put the recipe cards together yourself, decorate them to suit the recipient and add in extra cards for their own recipes. Use stickers, colored pens, and calligraphy to create unique recipe cards or dividers for the recipe box.
This is an especially good gift for a young person starting out on their own.
One year, I took all of my mother’s disorganized recipe clippings and organize them. It cost me nothing and she found it very useful.
Your Favourite Cookbook
A related idea is to take your favourite cookbook – and clearly I’m going to recommend A Cabin Full of Food – and mark it up. Use sticky notes to mark your favourites. Use a pencil (or pen if you know the recipient will appreciate it) to make suggestions or changes. And of course don’t forget to write an inscription on the first page.
Favorite candy jar
Are you giving a gift to someone with a sweet tooth? Buy and decorate a glass jar and fill it with some of the recipient’s favorite candies. Layer different colored candies to create a colorful effect. For example, separate gummy fish by color and layer them from bottom to top, then hand paint an aquarium scene on the outside of the jar.
When I had my second son, amidst all of the very practical (and appreciated) receiving blankets, onesies and diapers, one gift stood out. A friend found out all of my favourite flavours of Jelly Bellies and gave me a candy jar full of them. Best. Post-Baby. Gift. Ever.
More Great Ideas
Are you interested in more DIY gift ideas? Head over and check out the Grab and Go Easy Gift Series from DIYDanielle. Every day during September, she posted a video tutorial for a DIY gift.
You can customize all of these gift ideas to suit the recipient, and each gift is meaningful because you put it together yourself. To give gifts that truly matter, make them yourself and put your heart into them. You’ll be surprised at how much money you can save when you create homemade gifts yourself!