Frugal Christmas Gifts from the Heart

by Peter Biedlingmaier

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Think about the gifts that you remember from past years. Think of the ones that touched you, made you feel special, the ones that really thrilled you with their thoughtfulness. If you are like me, you won't remember the cards with cash in them, the cooking and cleaning utensils that collect dust underneath your sink, or the extravagant clothes that you would never wear. Sometimes I am embarrassed by the money thrown away on stuff that I have absolutely no use for, given by friends who appear to have more money than time.

Last year, the Conference Board predicted that the average U.S family would spend around $483 at Christmas. Do you think you have it in you to be "less than average"?

There are some wonderful and touching gifts from the heart that we can all give; ones that will be keepers and remind the recipients of who gave them (hopefully with fondness.)

Here are 12 ideas that might strike a resonant chord in your heart and keep that January credit card bill at acceptable levels.

  1. Christmas wreaths - They cost $30 to $40 for essentially something made out of the cast off boughs from Christmas trees. How hard are these to make? With a wire, a red bow and some other ornaments, you are in business. It's even better if you have access to your own trees or leftover Christmas branches. Trim your trees and make a wreath.
  2. Framed pictures - The nicest frames can be found at garage sales and flea markets, and there is nothing like a picture to bring back fond memories. Pictures of yourself are not recommended. Think of photos with the kids or photos of you and the recipient. You can add a note reminding them of when and where the scene took place and how much fun you had.
  3. Themed Christmas cards - Wouldn't it be wonderful if the card and the present were the same thing? I knew of an artist who designed a series of Christmas cards, each starting with a large letter on the front. It took 14 years to get the whole message out ("Merry Christmas"), but people saved those cards and brought them out every year.
  4. Christmas ornaments - I have a friend who loves to make little pottery figurines. Every year at Christmas she picks an animal and makes a dozen or more. She hand paints each one and signs and dates them. I always look forward to seeing what animal will pop up on my tree this year, and whenever I put up the tree, her ornaments always make me think of her.
  5. Family heirlooms and memorabilia passed on to the younger generation - The older we get, the more stuff we have. Some of it is valuable and some is a reminder of our past. Some are both. These make thoughtful gifts from parents to children and pass on a sense of the family history.
  6. Personalized gift certificates - My favorite was from an eight-year-old who once gave me a signed certificate that said "I promise to go to bed at 8 p.m. upon presentation of this coupon." I kept it for six years before I used it. She honored it!
  7. Children's handicrafts - Anything signed "Love" by a child is a keeper. Get some craft materials and let the kids have fun on the next rainy weekend.
  8. Homemade jams, jellies, etc. - These are both pretty and practical. We should all be so fortunate as to get some for Christmas.
  9. Herb gardens - These are not only sensible from the giving point of view, but also a tremendous money saver for those receiving them. Herbs are incredibly expensive to buy, yet so easy to grow in almost any house or apartment. Light and water is all you need and fresh herbs add elegance to any meal. You can buy the seeds and germinate them yourself. Then look around for nice containers or make your own.
  10. Plants with a history - A plant is a plant is a plant, but how many have their genealogy attached? My mother has plants and cuttings that go back for decades and she can tell me who she got them from, where they were in their garden and where it has been grown since. Write a short note when you pass on a particularly "historical" plant. And, of course, you can always put it in a hand painted pot.
  11. Art work - If you are artistic, then share your work with your loved ones. It's a piece of you that you can give with love.
  12. Poems and stories from creative writers - Why not? If you can write, then write a special story or poem for those close to you. It's flattering to be the subject of such a work. (And if you can get children involved, even better! They certainly have great imaginations and come up with astounding story lines.)

A gift from the heart is a true gift and one from the wallet is a business transaction!

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