Ask the Miserly Mom: Inexpensive Christmas Gifts

The perennial question we all ask!
by Jonni McCoy
The Miserly Mom

Cheap gifts can still fit the billQPlease give me some suggestions for inexpensive Christmas gifts. I love the holidays, but I can't afford to give the gifts that my kids want. Thank you!

--Kathy M.

A   I don't know about you, but this time of year always goes by quicker than I had hoped. I never have the time that I wish I had to make homemade gifts for those that I love. But I don't have the money to buy gifts either. If I was more organized, I would have started in April and had them done by now, but life happened instead. However, I didn't give up finding some inexpensive and quick gifts that I could make.

One of my favorites gifts to give is a basket filled with homemade treats. Some of the gifts require making an item at the time the gift is given. One example might be homemade truffles: these are very easy and delicious.

Another idea is homemade mixes that can be made ahead and stored. These can be presented in a decorative fashion, and either given alone or combined with other gifts in a basket.

Pick a theme and create a basket. Here are two of my personal favorites. First, the Italian gift basket; use a colander for the basket and fill it with garlic bulbs, spiral pasta, gourmet spaghetti sauce and a pasta spoon.

Second, a Latte Lovers basket filled with a decorative mug, chocolate dipped spoons, and hot drink mixes such as Mexican coffee mix, hot cocoa mix, or teas.

Give a basket filled with various flavored rice mixes, dip mixes, salad dressing mixes, dessert mixes, soup mixes, etc. Many websites offer a variety of mix recipes.

Choose an inexpensive item to add to the basket to make a unique and beautiful gift. For example, a ceramic bowl for the soup mix, a wooden spoon with the dessert mixes, and a cruet with the salad dressing mix. For the dog lover, give them some gourmet dog biscuits and a dog toy in a basket.

I buy the baskets at thrift shops and garage sales. Sometimes I spray paint them gold to dress up the gift. I fill the bottom with straw or a piece of cloth with the edges cut by pinking shears.

Another idea is to layer a mix in a glass jar so that it looks like sand art. For the decorative containers that the mix will be put in, I gather jars from various sources. For the smaller mixes such as spice mixes or salad dressings, I use baby food jars. I ask friends and neighbors to save them for me. For the larger jars, I look for 1 quart canning jars at garage sales and thrift stores. The sealing portion of the lid needs to be new, so I purchase them separately.

To make the jar more attractive, I cut a 9 inch circle of fabric with pinking shears to ruffle the edges. Using a hot glue gun, I attach the fabric to the lid. Glue around the side edge of the lid. Then tie some raffia or ribbon around the lid. This way the lid can be removed and reattached without losing the decoration.

If jars aren't available, use small plastic bags and surround them with a square piece of attractive fabric. A large bag of mix (2-3 cups) would use an 11 inch square of fabric to cover. I use pinking sheers to ruffle the edges so that sewing a seam is not required. Tie it with a ribbon.

For the recipe cards, I buy (on sale) business cards made for desktop printers and print the instructions on them. I then punch a hole in the card and tie it on the jar with the raffia or ribbon. For a more elegant look, use a gift card and write the instructions with a calligraphy pen.

Happy gift giving!

Jonni McCoy is author of Miserly Moms: Living On One Income In A Two Income Economy, Frugal Families: Making The Most Of Your Hard Earned Money, and Miserly Meals - Healthy, Tasty Recipes for Under 75c per Serving. To submit a frugal question that you would like answered, write to -- please put "Column Questions" in the subject field. And visit the Miserly Moms Website. © 1999-2007 Jonni McCoy.

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