Give a gift that will be cherished

Homemade Holiday Gifts

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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Homemade Holiday Gifts

Christmas is coming, and I foresee very little money! I want to make gifts for those to whom I usually give gifts (co-workers, friends, and extended family).

Last year, my co-workers all adored the cookie plates I gave them, and I am planning on doing that again, but I would like some ideas for more special gifts. Any ideas? Also, most homemade gifts require some sort of fancy packaging to make them look special, but I have a hard time finding nice containers. Any suggestions?

Give Layered Cookie and Drink Mixes

I can relate to the problem of inexpensive gifts for the holidays. One of the things that I plan on doing this year is cookie and drink mixes in a jar. You can pick up Mason jars at your local grocers and Wal-Mart often has fabric on sale for $1 a yard. Layer the ingredients in your jars according to the recipe. Slap on some fabric and a ribbon and voila a instant gift that didn't cost a whole lot and comes from the heart.
Jeanna in Mars Hill, NC

Home Grown Goodies

Last Christmas, I made gift baskets for several people at work. I waited until Michaels had their baskets half price and then bought several really nice ones. Throughout the year, I picked and canned fruit (blackberries and figs) from my yard. I also made relish from hot peppers and gave one of each in a basket that was filled with tissue paper and shredded colored paper.

Sharing a Touch of Heaven

One year, I gave out "Paper White" Narcissus bulbs. In a terra cotta pot, bag a small amount of potting soil in a resealable baggie. On top, lay 3 to 4 bulbs. On top of that, lay a copy of printed directions on how to care for the plants. Cover with the terra cotta dish. Then wrap with a pretty Holiday ribbon.

All of this was inexpensive. I bought my pots at Michaels. The pot and lid cost a little over $1. The Paper White bulbs are inexpensive if you can find a large bag of 30 to 40 bulbs. I bought mine at Home Depot for less than $10. A bag of potting soil is about $2. A few spools of ribbon can be purchased at the dollar store. This project can easily be completed in a few hours. I received many compliments on these. I gave these out to people at work, neighbors, friends, and family. Paper Whites are beautiful and smell like heaven!
Caroline in Alpharetta, GA

Related: Reducing the Cost of Wrapping Gifts

Visit the Dollar Store

Try a dollar store for creative containers to hold your homemade Christmas items. They have a lot of bottles with lids and stoppers and tons of Christmas platters.

Love Jars

I made these wonderful gifts for three friends a few years ago. They are very inexpensive but truly from the heart. It made all three friends cry. Take a pretty jar with a lid and place a note inside, either hand written or typed and signed, telling your friend/loved one just what they mean to you. I reminded each of how we had met and told them that I had no idea at the time how much she would come to mean to me. I also told each one how much I cherish her friendship. I then told them that this is a "Love Jar" and that it was filled with love from me to her. Any time my friend was feeling unloved, unlovable, used, abused and just blue, she was to open the jar and let my love flow out to her. I also told her that the jar could never run out of love. You get the idea. I have never been able to top that gift since.

Related: Gift-Giving Etiquette When You're In Debt

Organize Your Ideas

I most certainly can understand the necessity to cut costs. If you type "homemade gift ideas" into a search engine (like Google), you will find a ton of sites with awesome ideas. also has a bunch of ideas. I usually save them in a notepad (computer) and print them out, then tape them into a notebook. Also try looking up homemaking sites, simple living sites, and frugality sites. They all have excellent ideas.
Tana in Ridgewood, NJ

Everybody Loves Bread

Instead of cookies, make bread, such as banana bread. Buy disposable mini-bread pans and wrap them with the colored plastic wrap! Add something special to the breads, such as walnuts, or top with cranberries. You can also find a good selection of plastic containers, wicker baskets, and figurines at the Dollar Tree or any other dollar store. A basket loaded with a cranberry topped banana bread, a few candy canes, and a little figurine would look great and be really inexpensive!

Related: DIY Breads From Around the World

With a Little Time and Old Magazines

If you have the time and old magazines, my husband bought plain wooden boxes, cut out individual pictures that meant something to the gift recipient, and created a collage on each box. He varnished each, in and out, and then we filled each with homemade breads and fudge. It took a lot of time, but it was a huge hit. The outlay was very little in cash, but a big investment in time. Realizing that, the gifts were even more special to our friends.

Find Containers at the Bottle Redemption Center

When my daughter made bath salts and bubble bath for her teenage friends, we went to the bottle redemption center and bought some of the fancy bottles that alcoholic beverages come in for five cents each. They made very pretty containers.

Make Hot/Cold Packs

My two daughters and I will be making hot/cold packs. These sell commercially under a variety of names, such as Bed Buddies, but I find our homemade ones are even more practical and easier to use.

First, we save remnants of material from sewing projects and cut a large square (I find one about 12 in. x 12 in. works great). I fold it in half, and sew around the edges leaving the top side (opposite the folded side) open and turn. I press it really well and sew evenly spaced lines, starting about one inch from the top (open end) to the bottom (closed end) parallel to the stitched sides. I usually sew two of these, making three evenly spaced "channels."

Into the channels, I place long cooking white rice into which I have mixed a few drops of essential oil (such as eucalyptus or lavender). I fill the channels, making sure I have left enough room to fold over the raw edge and stitch it closed across the top. I usually double stitch this top seam to avoid losing any grains.

Heat this in the microwave about one to one and a half minutes on high. Watch it carefully. It is great when you have a stiff back, cold, headache, etc. The eucalyptus is a wonderful addition for both aches and pains and stuffy noses. My kids fight over these in the winter. It is also nice to have them in the freezer for bumps, bruises, twisted ankles, etc. They retain the cold for quite a while and are flexible enough (like a bag of peas) to place around a knee, leg, elbow, etc. We will be making a decorative tag to go with these on the computer.

Our second gift we will be making is crochet dishcloths. I exclusively use these in my home now as they are so wonderful. I have been stocking up on Christmas kitchen cotton yarn (the red, green and white mix) and have found some wonderfully quick patterns online (I searched under free crochet patterns). Each recipient will receive two dishcloths and some little kitchen gadget from the 99 cent store. I have made many converts to these dishcloths by gifting these in past years. I can crochet one in about an hour!
Lisa from Muskego, WI

Make a "Cold Winter Night Kit"

Last year, I made "A Cold Winter Night Kit" for friends and neighbors. Each had a candle (dollar store), cocoa or tea, and a homemade treat (with recipe card). I loaded the gifts into dollar store baskets, wrapped in tissue paper and tied with curling ribbon. Then I made "A Cold Winter Night Kit" tags on the computer (cut out with decorative scissors and decorated with paper punch snowflakes)to tie to the outside. Each gift was personalized to the recipient. The average cost was $3. I had so much fun putting these together that I also made them for family, coffee mugs, and playing cards or small games.

Several Gifts that Will Be Cherished

Make a "Journal in a Jar." We put about 100 strips of paper with questions on each into a colored-glass jar from the dollar store and gave with a blank journal book. The questions included "What did you want to be when you grew up?" and "What is your favorite holiday and why?" We gave it to my dad and my mother-in-law, and they are picking a strip out of the jar occasionally and writing the answers in the journal. This will be something we always cherish from them.

I also gave a collection of letters from my mom's family members and friends to my mom. I sent out a form letter (as many as possible via email, to save on postage) requesting that people send me letters about my mom, and I compiled them in a beautiful leather album I got at Goodwill. She loves it and looks through it all the time.

Paint Your Creations

Last year, my husband's office had a "Secret Santa" party. We were all supposed to give three gifts. One was to be given two weeks before the party, one was to be given one week before, and a "big" gift was to be given the day of the party.

We didn't have that much money to spend, but I did end up with rave reviews. At craft stores, they have glass items (pitchers, vases, plates, candle holders) for very little money. The pitcher was the most expensive and it was only about $5. You could even search garage sales for glass items.

I then bought a "one stroke" painting book with a holiday theme from eBay for about $6. I got three bottles of paint and a brush (for about $6). I painted the glass items with a poinsettia theme (which only required red, green, and gold paints), and then I put the glass items in a cold oven. I turned the oven to 250 degrees. Once it reached that temperature, I turned it down and let the items cool inside. That made the paint permanent and washable (not dishwasher safe).

I got about six gifts for $25 with lots of paint to spare and the book will last forever. I plan to use it this year and use other designs. These gifts were a huge hit.

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Use Your Talent

If you knit or crochet, handmade pot holders are a wonderful gift. Or consider making ruffle scarves, which are inexpensive and easy to make. For the packaging, you can make your own gift bags out of wrapping paper or make your own gift bags or wrapping paper with the Christmas print material.

Fill Their Home with a Delicious Scent

A few years ago, I gave the ingredients for stovetop potpourri to my neighbors, and it was a big hit. As for packaging, it fit into plastic bags that I tied with a pretty ribbon and the instructions. Another option is into mason jars. I bought long cinnamon sticks at a market that has bulk spices. I would suggest you wait until near the holidays to give it, so the ingredients can be used immediately.

Here are the ingredients you need to make one recipe:

1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1 orange (sliced)
4 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon cloves
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

The instructions were as follows:

To fill your home with a delicious scent, bring three cups of water plus the contents of the bag or jar to a simmer over low heat, uncovered, in a small pot. Check the water periodically and add more if it starts to get low.

It can be used over several days or can be put in the fridge and reheated later.

In Case of Shopping Emergency...

This year, I am making "Christmas Shopping Survival Kits" to give out as casual gifts. In a mason jar, I will put a mini-hand lotion, lip balm, tissues, packet of tea or instant coffee, and a pack of gum. I plan to put a tag or label that says something like "Open In Case of Shopping Emergency." Most items can be found at dollar stores. You could even collect fun jars for this. It's not too expensive, but it's cute, thoughtful and fun!

Give Delectable Mug Cakes

Mug cakes make nice little gifts for co-workers and others. Holiday mugs can be found inexpensively at dollar and craft stores along with plastic treat bags for the ingredients. There are a lot of microwaveable mug cake recipes available for free online. The recipes are fun and inexpensive to test out, especially if you already have a stock of cake-making ingredients. Print the recipe on card stock (four to a page) or write it on a recipe card and then punch a hole in the corner. Put the treat bag inside the mug, add the ingredients, slip a ribbon through the hole in the recipe card and tie around the top of the bag, trimming the bag if needed, and you're done!
Lorraine in NH

Think a Year Ahead

I think a year ahead. Homemade goodies are always on my list of giving and I like to present them in fashionable, unique, and keepsake containers (jars, plates, baskets). When holiday items go on sale after the fact, I stock up with the best I can find for the dollar and save them for the next holiday baking extravaganza. I also scour thrift stores and garage/yard sales for trendy or even antique pieces that would be delightful, yet frugal as presentations containing baked goods.

Give the Gift of Freshly Grown Dried Herbs

One thing most people do not have is freshly grown dried herbs. These can be grown between now and Christmas in a kitchen or on a porch. I grow twelve popular herbs and begin drying them (can be done in the oven) about ten days before I give them away. I use teacups bought at thrifts. In a good artistic mix of cups, I place the dried herbs and cover with a small sheet of cellophane and then a decorative cover. I generally give a basket of twelve to each person. They look great in baskets (also cheap at thrift stores). The nice thing about this gift is I can repeat it each year. People on my list are disappointed if they do not get their fresh herbs. My hubby does something similar with raw pecans since we live in the pecan belt. He roasts them and adds different flavors.
Van in AL

Beyond the Cookie

So many of us are trying to avoid eating so many cookies during the holiday season, so here are a few non-cookie goodies you can give to your friends and neighbors.

I've packaged the homemade granola and a cup or so of the dry ingredients for whole-wheat pancakes in decorated plastic bags of the type used when giving out "treat bags" at children's birthday parties.

You can find these decorated bags at Michael's, Hobby Lobby, and anywhere where they sell baking supplies. They are about 4" x 8".

In the case of the pancake recipe, I print off instructions for making the pancakes onto card stock, drawing a red border around the instructions. Then I punch a hole in the paper and attach it to the plastic bag with a ribbon.

One other idea I've "borrowed" was to get some triangular-shaped plastic bags used for extruding icing when decorating cakes. These are a bit more expensive. I put some cocoa mix into the bottom of it and then add a layer or two of marshmallows. When I tie it with a ribbon at the top, it looks like a vanilla ice cream cone. I usually attach a note explaining how much hot water to add to make a cup of hot cocoa.

Reviewed March 2018

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