Inexpensive Gifts

from Our Readers

Homemade soup mixes

I traveled a lot for work this year (one week- 7 airports- 6 days) and I looked at some of the food items sold in airports as gifts. A number of companies across the country put a cup or two of beans and a packet of herbs and spices in a mason jar, calico bag or soda type bottle (like old coke bottle shape) , add a recipe to the outside and sell it for $8 -15 dollars. You could give someone several different soup mixes very inexpensively. Use jars you have or ask friends before recycling day each week. you can buy beans in bulk at the health food store or just buy the beans packaged by the pound (Goya has some different kinds).The beans look really nice layered (but pack full or it will shift) or if you are using a colorful bean mixture, it doesn't need layers. Make up the packets of spices and herbs (get them in bulk at a health food or ethnic food store) and put into saran wrap and tape. You can put rounds of fabric and ribbon over the lid. You can write out the recipe on a little card or print it out on the computer and tie it to the jar. You'll have a provided a useful, healthy gift that will be great through the winter (and it won't have MSG,too much salt or those unpronouncable preservatives).
Happy Holidays
Andrea K

Potpourri Pies

We have made potpourri pies for gifts. We use the small metal pans you get when you buy pot pies, and make a dough that is 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 cup water. You roll out the dough and cut it into strips (I have a cutting wheel that cuts a wavy line) turn the pan upside down and weave the strips three in one direction and three in the opposite direction over it. Cut one strip wider and longer so you can place it around the pan, press the dough together wherever it meets other strips of dough. Brush with egg white (to make it shiny) and bake in the oven at 325 degrees until it is browned to your liking. Remove from oven and when cool, gently pry the crust from the pan, turn pan over, fill with potpourri, place crust on top and tie crust to the pan with pretty ribbon. Looks very pretty, smells wonderful and looks harder to make than it actually is.
--Julie M.

10 Gifts for $50!

As a struggling University student a few years ago I had to find a way to give Christmas gifts to my entire family and I only had $50. Well $50 doesn't buy anything of quality for 10 family members so I came up with a plan. I had some scraps of fabric (my mother is a quilter and just throws them out) and some glue, bristol board and embroidery thread. I went to a local craft shop and bought baskets, tissue paper, candles and some wire cone frames. This cost about $25. And I spent the last $5 on Christmasy candle holders from a dollar store. Then I went to the grocery and bought some chocolate making supplies (basically butter, choc. pieces, creams and flavourings) and that cost about $20. Then I went on a trek through the woods and gathered acorns, twigs and pine cones galore. My final product was a Christmas basket for each person (couples had to share one) filled with 20 handmade Christams ornaments, truffles and candies, a candle holder and candles.Included in the baskets were Christmas mice (little Christmas bread loaves made in a slightly oval shape with almond slivers for ears, and string for tails and currants). Along with this I gave a Christmas tree that was about 20" high made with pinecones glued to a wire frame and embellished with bits and pieces of fabric made into bows. I also used bits of baby breath saved from flowers that were sent to me.

Now, several years later, I asked for a Christmas list from my family. I think that they were actually appalled at the fact that I wanted to buy something instead of making it. And after much complaining on their part I am once again making Christmas baskets even though it is no longer a financial necessity.

It just goes to show that it is not the price that counts but truly the thought and time taken to convey the spirit of Christmas.
--Laurie M

For New Parents

For new parents on a low budget....Buy inexpensive T-shirt or sweatshirts at a craft store (usually $5 or less on sale, red, yellow and blue Ceramcoat paint (or similar water based acrylic craft paint) usually betwen .75 and .99 a bottle). Paint "My Granddaughter/son/Neice/Nephew (whatever is appropriate) Loves me" in the middle, then have some fun with your infant/toddler (recommend 6 mos and above) by mixing 1/2 water and 1/2 paint in pie pan and placing babys hands and feet in it (not at the same time!!!) and "printing" the hand and feet on the shirt around the text!!! An $8 gift that is priceless to a family member!!

Next: Buy a round clear glass ornament at a craft store (usually on sale for about .50 ea) and some pretty christmas ribbon (usually around $1) and maybe a Christmas pick of flowers (usually .33) and with a little glue (even Elmer's will work), decorate the glass ball to make a pretty homemade ornament!!!
Hope these help some people out this season!!

A Holiday Book

This idea isn't my own, I found it in a magazine but I thought I'd pass it along. I use a 3 ring binder to make a "holiday book" for the holidays. When I come across an idea for the holidays (such as all of the great ideas from last weeks issue on homemade Christmas gifts I downloaded) I put it in the 3 ring binder. I have sections for decorations, recipes, and gift ideas. I add to this binder whenever I see something I like but may not have time to include in this year's holiday plans. I also include items I have seen in catalogs that I can make at home (for example in last year's Pottery Barn catalog I saw 3 holiday pillows that were shaped like Christmas packages. They were easy and inexpensive to make.) By keeping everything in my binder I can use all of those great ideas I found last year but "forgot" about during the rest of the year.
--Lisa N-W

Brownie in a Jar

If you are looking for other christmas ideas that cost little to do, I have found yet another. While surfing the net the other day I came across a recipe for baking cakes in a jar (canning jars). I didn't make a copy of it, and was having a hard time trying to find it again. Luckily I was talking to a friend about it hand she had gotten something similar to it in one of her webrings. I sounds really easy and fun to do. I am planning on trying it this Christmas. Here is the recipe.

Brownie in a Jar

  • 2 canning jars, wide mouth
  • 1 c all-purpose flour ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 ts baking soda
  • 1/4 ts cinnamon
  • 1/3 c butter
  • 1/4 c water
  • 3 tb unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 c buttermilk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 ts vanilla extract
  • 1/4 c walnuts, finely chopped

    Sterilize, two 1-pint straight-sided wide-mouth jars (specifically made for canning jams & jellies) lids & rings by boilig for 10 minutes (keep the lids & rings in the hot water until ready to use); set aside.

    In a small bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking soda & cinnimon, if desired; set aside. In a saucepan combine butter or margarine, cocoa power & water; heat & stir until butter is melted & misture is well blended. Remove from heat; stir in flour mixture. Add buttermilk, egg & vanilla; beat by hand until smooth. Stir in nuts.

    Divide equally among the two prepared canning jars. Place jars on a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a pick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Remove the cakes, one by one, from the oven & immediately place on a lid & then a ring & screw down tightly. Use HEAVY-DUTY mitts, the jars ae VERY hot. Place the jars ontot he counter to cool. You'll knoow when the jars have sealed, you'll hear a "plinking" sound. If you're still not sure if the jars have sealed, push down on the lid, it shouldn't move at all. WARNING: Use only CANNING JARS for this recipe. Others may not be tempered to withstand the heat.

    To make w/ cake mix:

    Make cake mix as per directions on box. Grease a WIDE mouthed jar (it has to be wide mouthed). Spray w/ pam, but not too thick. Fill the jar 1/2 to 3/4 full (somewhere in between seems to be just right). Bake it per directions for the smallest pan listed on the mix in the jar. Seal the jar when you take it out of the oven. The heat seals the jar and also keeps the cake moist. The should last approximately 6 moths on a shelf.

    I hope you like this idea.

    Pasta Lovers' Bowl

    One great gift (and inexpensive) is a Pasta Lovers' Bowl. Take a colander, either plastic or metal, and line with Italian-inspired tablecloth (red, checked, etc.). Fill with jars of various pasta (buy odd-shaped pasta and pour into inexpensive glass jars and wrap with raffia for decoration). Use similar technique with pasta sauces (either homemade or store-bought). Add a container of Parmesan cheese, a pasta ladle, and any other pasta-related items. It makes a perfect, quick, and inexpensive gift for just about anyone. (One quick note, though, crumpled sections of paper may be placed under the tablecloths so that the colander's iems have varying heights for added interest and appeal.)
    --Suzanne D

    Apple-Cinnamon Pancake Mix

    I have dear friends who - like us all - try to do too much. They all appreciated the gift I gave them last year. I made an apple-cinnamon pancake mix and placed it in a zip lock bag within a pretty material bag that I whipped up out of scraps. I attached my bag-o-mix to a griddle, added a couple of little boxes of apple juice and an instruction card and it was a hit!

    I just took the recipe from Bisquick and added cinnimon and dried apples to the mix. On the instruction card, tell your friends to replace water with apple juice and you'll be a hit!

    My husband and I received the following instructions for fire starters for your wood stove or fire we recycle the newspapers and don't bother with kindling. They are no-fail fire starters!

    Melt candle scraps or canning parrafin in an old pan. While that is melting, fill muffin papers about half full with saw dust. When wax is melted, spoon enough wax to cover the saw dust. Place a pine cone firmly into the wax/saw dust mixture and let set. Because I hate bringing in spiders with the pine cones, I dip the pine cones into the hot wax before I set them into the wax/saw dust mixture.

    Once set, you can paint the edges of the pine cones with various colors or wrap them with thin ribbon to make them a little fancier. Some of my friends use scents (particularly cinnimon) in the wax too. Put 6 or 12 or whatever in a basket, throw on a ribbon and you will have a practical gift that people really LOVE!

    To start your fire, simply stack wood over the fire starter so that plenty of air can circulate and light the muffin paper...Your wood stove or fireplace will raging shortly!
    Happy Holidays
    --Liz P

    Tree Ornaments

    I came across this Salt hardening clay recipe(from a friend) and she used it to make really cute and CHEAP ornaments for her tree and it also makes wonderful gifts for grandparents if you put a child's hand print in it or even a foot print.


  • 1 1/2 cup of salt
  • 4 cups flower (must be regular white All-purpose not self rising)
  • 2 cups water (may need a little more)
  • Food coloring
  • Large straw for hole punch
  • Ribbon
  • Clear sealant (available in craft stores)

    Utensils needed:
    2 or 3 large cookie sheets (If you want to make a lot at a time), 2 large bowls, large spatula, cookie cutters or large bowl with sharp rim, rolling pin, pastry scraper, water bottle or bowl of water and a happy child.

    Preheat oven to 300. Thoroughly mix flour and salt in one bowl. Mix water and food coloring. Add water mixture to flour mixture and mix by hand (wear gloves if you have any cuts the salt stings) Knead dough, add more water as necessary, 1/2 cup at a time. Take enough to make 1/4 inch cookie or to fit your cutter, Roll out on floured surface. Keep the flour not being used covered with wet towel to stay moist. Cut the cookie and take the child's hand or foot moisten with water and press firmly into cookie making sure each finger or toe is pressed deeply. I found that if you have a thin shape the child's hand can make the dough too thin and it will crack or tear when moving. Carefully move with spatula to cookie sheet. Punch a hole near the top with a straw. Take a pencil or pen and press dots into the cookie for the child's name and date ect.. You can also pain that on after it is baked. Bake at 300 for 45 minutes Keep watch that they don't burn or turn dark, the purpose of baking is to harden and dry out the shape. Some that are too thick may take longer. Let cool completely and paint or leave plain. Spray clear sealant to preserve. Let dry. Run ribbon through and tie in a bow or loop.

    These are also great for newlyweds who do not have a lot of decorations and as I said are very cheap. You also have the joy of knowing you made them.

    Alley T
    Ramstein Air Force Base

    Customized Pillows

    A great gift idea I have is to take old kids shirts(no holes). They may have a theme(sports team, disney, muppets, names, etc.). And sew together the neck and sleeves, leaving the bottom of the shirt open. Stuff the inside pocket of the shirt with down or pillow stuffing and sew shut the bottom opening. This makes a customized pillow. Fun for travel or for a chair throw. You can leave the sleaves on for a shirt shape or fold them in for a more pillow shape.

    Another idea is to take melted wax and a short wic and fill sea shells with the wax and let dry. A variety of shells big or small makes cute little bath lights. I use them all around the bathroom when I take a bath to create a soothing lighting scheme and a decorative touch.

    A Memorable Collage

    My favorite Christmas present ever was just last year and probably cost less than $10.00. My husband got me one of those frames for photo collages. The best part was that he took the time to fill it with pictures himself. He found all the best pictures of us and our children and spent the time arranging them just right. It's the only present that has ever made me cry.


    Portraits to the rescue! My mother-in-law is very difficult to buy for. One year my husband, daughter and I went to Penny's and had a portrait taken. We framed one 8X10 of the three of us and one of our daughter alone. When she opened it she had tears in her eyes. Other siblings saw how much she loved it and she now has a wall full of portraits.

    Pine Cones Brighten Home

    Take the kids to the park (or to the neighbors') and gather pine cones. Boil them in a big pot to kill anything living in them. They will close up tight while wet. Let them sit in a warm area for several days on newspaper to dry. The pine cones will open up beautifully! If desired brush a little cinnamon oil on each one. Buy ribbon in the color of your choice. Tie ribbon into bows and using florists wire tie the bows onto the pine cones. Use the same wire to tie the pine cones on the Christmas tree. Beautiful, Fragrant and Natural!

    Just Us 'Buddies'

    For the children in the family I am making "pocket buddies" and "bed buddies".
    Basically what I am doing is you cut 2 squares of fabric (hand size for the pocket and approx. 12" x 6" for the bed). Sew with right sides together, turn and fill with rice. I still need to make-up an instruction card (I was thinking about a poem) with the instructions for microwave or freezer. Make sure that you use heavy material so it won't get too uncomforable for their little hands.
    Hope this helps someone out,
    Blacksburg, VA

    Ideas from New Zealand

    My sister and I have a novel tradition which gives us such a lot of fun and yet costs under NZ$5. It started out years ago when we were young, and one of our uncles and his wife used to give us the most unusual gifts... in fact so unusual, half the time we didn't know what the gift was to be used for. Over the years, their gift became the highlight of Christmas morning and was always the first to be opened with much eager anticipation. Now that our uncle has passed on, and my sister and I live too far away to get together for Christmas, we decided to continue the tradition on in a slightly different way. Instead of trying to buy gifts for each other and our families, we buy a gift that has to be under NZ$5 which the other has to guess what it is. You would be amazed at what can be bought. The aim is to guess what the gift is before New Years Day when we ring each other up with the answers. It has become such a fun idea, as our friends, workmates and anyone who calls to visit are shown the gift to see if they have any clue what it could be.
    * twin exhaust pipe whistles (metal tubes you place inside your exhaust pipe of your car, which whistles as you drive along...don't ask me why!?!)
    * a plastic mould of a friesan cow (my sister thought it was to put over a desk drawer knob as a novel door handle, but it was a sunglasses holder)
    * a terracotta ring ( you placed the ring on the top of a lightbulb and drop aromotherapy oils on the ring, so when you turned the light on, the room was filled with a lovely perfume with the heat of the lightbulb)
    * a metal disc about the size of a large cookie, with grooves around the diameter ( it is for putting on the bottom of a pot of milk to stop the milk boiling over as it is heated... this is one we found in my grandmothers kitchen many years ago)
    They say small things amuse small minds and I have to admit, we fit into that category when it comes to our frugal Christmas giving!!!!
    Sue McC
    Tauranga New Zealand

    Gift Bags

    After Christmas, we stocked up on Christmassy type fabric. We made gift bags with a drawstring closure that we use each year. We have made several sizes and pass them around to each family. I also took old christmas cards and cut out the pretty fronts. I used my computer to create name tags (To: Timmy From: Aaron) for all the family members. (2 for each) Then I glued them onto the postcards, stuck on those ittle hole reinforcers and covered the cards with clear contact paper. Then I used a hole puncher to make a hole. Now we don't have to buy wrapping paper or gift tags!
    --Darlene D
    Bedford, Va

    We want your suggestions

    If you have an idea please send it in. We'll be adding new ideas thoughout the season.
    Hope you have a great Holiday!

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