Christmas on the Cheap

by Nancy Steinkoenig

It always helps to have a dollar limit for gifts. I have had a five dollar limit for most of my gifts for years. It inspires creativity. My cousin Penny and I have a contest every year to see who outdoes each other for $5.00. If I'm giving a gift to a family, I multiply my limit by the number of people in the family.

In the never-ending quest for inexpensive easy holiday gifts, here are some of my favorites:

  1. Giant Cookies for the Teacher: Make extra-large decorated sugar cookies. If you don't have a large cookie cutter, you can cut a pattern from paper and cut the cookies out with a knife. I have a large Christmas tree cutter (about 8" tall). I bake first, then ice with green icing and add sprinkles for decorations. Ask your butcher for some new styrofoam meat trays. Get some red or green plastic wrap, add a ribbon and you are done. I tried to buy styrofoam meat trays, but because I only asked for 8, the butcher just gave them to me free. Teachers get a lot of small gifts that have sentimental value, but they tend to gather dust. With a cookie, the odds are that it will get eaten!
  2. Personalized Refrigerator Magnets: From a favorite snapshot, get extra prints in the size that will fit in a clear plastic frame with a magnet on the back. These come in several sizes and are available at discount stores or drug stores. I took a picture of Big Tex at the Texas State Fair in Dallas that I really like. Big Tex is dressed in cowboy clothes and is as tall as a building. He has a guy that acts as his voice and says things like, "Howdy, folks! I'm Big Tex!" That led me to the idea of creating a cartoon balloon from a self-stick label to say "Howdy, Y'all! from Texas" and sticking it on the picture. You can have the people in your picture say whatever you think appropriate!
  3. Holiday Tea: Get a mug, a tea strainer teaspoon (great gadget - check the hardware store or kitchen gadget store), and peppermint leaves from the bulk jars at the health food store. Put the peppermint leaves in a small plastic bag and tie with a ribbon. Add 3 or 4 small candy canes to use as stir sticks. If you don't want to bag loose tea, get the peppermint tea bags from the grocery store.
  4. Bag o' Nuts: In our neck of the woods, pecans fall off the trees. People pick them up this time of year, even on the highway right-of-ways. Make a drawstring bag from burlap (for the rustic look), fill with nuts in the shell even if you have to buy them from the store. All you need to add is a name tag.
  5. Aromatherapy Bath Bags: Mix equal amounts of lavender flowers, peppermint leaves, sage, rosemary and thyme. (I buy bulk herbs from the health food store, but you can also get them by mail-order.) Add a couple of drops essential oil (lavender is nice) to give it a little extra punch! Make small muslin bags (2" wide by 4" long). Put a large spoonful of oatmeal in bottom of each bag, then two spoonfuls of herbs. Tie bag closed with string. Knot the ends of the strings so that you can hang it over the faucet as you draw the bath water. You can use the bathbag as a washcloth - the oatmeal softens the skin. (These are only good for one bath - throw away after using.)
  6. Sachet Bags: Using the same herbal mixture above, without the oatmeal, stuff small pillows made from print fabric. Sew edges shut. Attach two sachets together with a length of ribbon. Nice to hang over a hanger, or insert in a pair of shoes. Seal into a ziploc before wrapping to preserve the scent.
  7. Create a Jelly Basket: Recycle a small basket. Add a cloth napkin (or a bandanna), add small jar of jelly or two (homemade or store bought), and a muffin mix.
  8. Hot chocolate Mug: Get a mug, packets of hot chocolate mix. Add special chocolate spoons: dip heavy plastic spoons in melted almond bark coating, let cool, wrap each in plastic wrap. This is easy enough to do with your children. The chocolate candy coating can be melted in the microwave. It is not supposed to be super hot, just melted.
  9. Fire Starters: Gather large pinecones. Melt paraffin wax, add broken candles or crayons to tint. You can buy candle scent at craft stores. Dip pinecones in wax and cool.
  10. If you really want to give the epitome of tightwad gifts, make up a basket with a sack of beans and cornbread mix. Isn't that what everyone thinks poor folks eat?

Happy Holidays!

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