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Christmas gift ideas on a budget

By on November 5, 2008

memory jar

While price comparison shopping, shopping sales and pruning your gift list are viable ways to save some money on gifts, there are additional creative ways to save. There’s nothing wrong with spending money if you have it, but it’s silly to overspend and charge yourself into a deep hole. Regardless what you do or how much you spend, wasted money is still wasted money. Practical gifts are the way to go this year.
Here’s a few gift ideas that won’t break the bank.

Meals: Have a potluck. It can still be a formal meal, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. When someone asks if they can bring anything, take them up on that offer. You can skip alcoholic beverages this year and opt for mocktails instead. Cut your work and food budget in half.

Coupons: Make and print coupons that offer your time such as a dessert a month, lawn mowing, babysitting, etc.
no dishes

Here’s some you can print off and staple together. Click here to view printable love coupons

New rules: Can request to create a new family rule that only the children receive gifts. This can cut back on gift exchanges for all of the adults. If that’s not possible, try one group gift per family instead of individual gifts for every member in each family. You can start new family traditions. For example, my husband and I don’t really exchange surprise gifts. We buy one another the same gift each year. I get a box of chocolate and he gets his favorite cheese and nuts. There aren’t expectations, so there’s never disappointment. Growing up, I always got Christmas socks and pajamas. It’s a similar concept. Or try a secondhand gift exchange game such as a Yankee swap. This can be gifting something you already own or buying from a thrift store, antique store or estate sale.

Greeting cards get expensive: There are many cheaper alternatives such as mailing or giving a
4×6 recipe card with a favorite recipe on it, bookmarks with your sentiments written or clip out a favorite comic from the newspaper. A handwritten note can be more meaningful than a card with a signature.
recipe cards

Here’s some printable gift tags. Click to view printable Christmas gift tags

Wrapping paper is wasteful during the holidays: Give containers that are reusable and a practical part of your gift such as

–Watering can or flower pot filled with garden tools, seeds, etc.

–Mixing bowl filled with a dish towel, kitchen utensils, cookie cutters, etc

–For kids a sand pail filled with bubbles, chalk, activity books, etc.

sand pail

–Fill a wide mouth reusable water bottle with chapstick, hand sanitizer, facial tissue, sample size lotion, gum, holiday socks, toothbrush, hair accessories, etc.

water bottle

–Bucket for car wash supplies such as glass cleaner, ice scraper, car wax, etc.

–Can give an ice cream sundae basket filled with sundae toppings such as syrups, an ice cream scoop, sprinkles, etc.

–Tote bag, purse or backpack filled with candies, book, art supplies or hair accessories. Fill it with anything you know the recipient will enjoy.

tote bag


Easy puppet: Breathe new life into old plush animals that have been set aside and forgotten. Make a few into puppets. Cut off the bottoms, remove some of the stuffing and sew a hem. The kids can host a puppet show.


Looking for more homemade toy ideas? Click here for additional homemade toy ideas

Work related gifts: Some of us know the pressure of the manager’s decision to have the team or
department exchange gifts. It’s often awkward. Encourage the team to do a dollar store swap, donate to charity with a food drive or care packages for our soldiers or a potluck. It doesn’t have to cost much per person.

Root beer reindeer: Buy root beer or any bottled beverage such as cola, apple juice, Frappucino, etc. Twist pipe cleaner antlers to the top just underneath the bottle cap, add a red pom pon nose, wiggle eyes and cut a thin piece of fleece as a scarf. Can glue a little Hershey Kiss on the top as a little hat, too. Makes a quick cute gift.

rootbeer reindeer

Buy items that come in sets: For example, popcorn, cosmetics, perfumes, soaps, hair accessories, tea, cocoa, candy. There are tons of pre-packaged gift sets, too. These make easy tuckables to put into an inexpensive stocking to give as gifts and really stretch your money, too. Speaking of candy, you can make a candy wreath by using small pieces of curling ribbon to tie hard candies to a wire hanger that has been shaped into a circle. Add a bow and you have a pretty candy wreath to give.I used peppermint candy, but you can use wrapped bubblegum, werthers candies, individually wrapped lifeavers, tootsie rolls, mini sized candy bar, jolly ranchers, lollipops or any small individually wrapped candy.


candy wreath

candy wreath

Memory jar: On small pieces of paper write down memories of you and the gift recipient. Fold the papers in half. It can be on any paper as nice as decorated card stock or plain notebook paper. Place the little “memories” into a jar with a lid and tie a bow around the neck of the jar. You can put your paper memories into a box, tin or any container, too.
memory jar

Open source software: For kids you can give a free copy of Tux Paint which is a computer drawing program that is great for kids. You can give open source software for adults such as the Linux operating system or Gimp, an image manipulation program. Linux is available freely throughout many distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Suse and many others.

Gifts that save: Consider gifts such as CFL bulbs, reusable containers, tire gauges, retractable clothesline, grocery store gift cards, programmable thermostats, low flow shower heads and faucet aerators.

Big cure for the gimmes: Give your time to a worthy cause. It’s humbling and will put much of the abundance of the holiday season into perspective.

For many more homemade holiday gift ideas including crafts and recipes, read my frugal Christmas forums.
Click here to view more homemade gift ideas.

Try making chocolate dipped pretzel rods.

Chocolate-Covered Pretzels

1 (14-ounce) package wrapped caramels
2 tablespoons water
1 package 8-inch pretzel rods
1 bag milk-chocolate chips or chocolate melting wafers (about 3 cups)
Toppings: sprinkles, crushed peppermint, chopped nuts, crumbled sandwich cookies, toffee and chocolate candies.

Unwrap caramels, and place into a microwave-safe bowl with water. Microwave until melted (about 2 to 3 minutes). Stop and stir after 1 minute. Let caramel cool for a minute. Dip pretzel rod, twirl, and coat 3/4 of the rod. Set coated pretzel on either a baking sheet lined with wax paper or a baking sheet lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Dip caramel-coated rods into the melted chocolate, and then dip into chosen toppings. Place on baking sheet to set. Makes 20 to 24 pretzel rods.

Tips: Set up multiple bowls or plates of various toppings. Use white-chocolate chips instead of milk-chocolate chips. Create an additional embellishment by placing a fork into the melted topping of white chocolate or caramel and drizzling onto coated pretzels. Gift wrap in cellophane or place into 2-quart glass jars. To mix things up, try coating sandwich cookies, graham crackers and marshmallows.

Optional: You can melt chips in the microwave, but you’ll need to be watchful and microwave for very short periods of time and stir frequently. You can melt them on the stove top, but again, stiry frequently. You can also use chocolate melts/wafers, too.

Make your own homemade hot cocoa mix.

2 Cups nonfat dry milk
1 Cup white sugar
1/2 Cup cocoa
1/2 Cup non-dairy creamer
1 pinch of salt
Miniature marshmallows

Combine ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container. Add 4 tablespoons of mix to a mug and add boiling water. Stir.
homemade cocoa

Try making homemade gift mixes in a jar.

Here’s a recipe for White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie Mix

Materials and Supplies:

1 wide-mouth quart (4-cup) canning jar with lid and ring

1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate baking chips
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder


Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder. Layer ingredients in quart-size canning jars, flour mixture last. [Hint for FoodSaver™ brand vacuum sealer owners: use the jar sealing attachment to seal jars for longer storage.] Cut a 7-inch circle from cotton fabric. Top jar with fabric circle, and tie with ribbon.

Recipe Instructions (include on gift tag):

Empty cookie mix into mixing bowl; use hands to thoroughly blend mix. Add: 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened, 1 beaten egg, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Mix until completely blended. Shape into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes until tops are very lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to racks to finish cooling. Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.



Here are a few additional cookie mixes in a jar recipes. Click here for cookie mixes in a jar recipes
There are plenty of homemade kitchen gifts you can make. Click here for homemade gifts in a jar ideas
Need stocking stuffer ideas? We’ve got that, too. Click here for stocking stuffer ideas

One Comment

  1. Michelle S.

    12/22/2009 at 1:20 pm

    What great ideas. I love the candy wreath; it’s so pretty and creative. My favorite, though, is the reindeer pop. I am going to try to make that this year. I say that every year and can’t/don’t for whatever reason LOL

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