Stretch Your Dollar
With the arrival of the first frost in my backyard (with many, many dreaded months of cold still to come), I realized that I will not have much discretionary income for Christmas gifts this year. I love gift-giving and have always striven to find great gifts for my friends and family instead of taking the easy road. As I am sure I am not alone in wanting to save money this holiday season, I feel the need to urge everyone to consider making homemade Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa presents. I have done this for several years, making all of my holiday gifts for under $150. All it takes is some prior planning, a little creativity, and a bit of craftsmanship to make the best gifts you will ever give.
Homemade Food & Kitchen Gifts
For those of you who have fun in the kitchen, making homemade gifts is an awesome way to enjoy saving money this holiday season. The easiest and quickest project here is learning how to make homemade vanilla extract. All it takes is some vanilla beans, vodka, and and a container to store it all in:
1. Find your ingredients. It may be difficult finding whole vanilla beans, so check your local health food stores or Whole Foods and, if you are still empty handed, you can order them online at amazon. For the vodka, I suggest finding the cheapest brand you can buy, as the quality of the vodka will be of little importance. Also, when I made homemade vanilla extract, I placed everything in bottles I bought from the local craft store. Included with the bottles was a cork, and I suggest buying a container with a lid in order to avoid spills.
2. Once you have the ingredients, cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Place 4-5 halved vanilla beans in each bottle and cover with the alcohol (if vanilla beans are too tall it is acceptable for the ends to stick out of the liquid). Make sure you cover the opening, and store in a cool dry place.
3. Every day, or as often as you can remember, shake the containers in order to mix the extract much quicker. It should take about 3-4 weeks for the extract to mature, so make sure these are made well in advance.
*** To make these even more attractive, paint a holiday scene on the bottles (snowflakes, christmas trees, ice skates) and tie a bow around the bottle. When I made the extract, I also included a card on how to take care of the gift and how to use it.
Another popular food-based gift to make at home is pre-made baking mixes. Gather all of the dry ingredients needed in your favorite cookie, muffin or bread recipe and a few mason jars. Starting with the most bountiful ingredient (usually flour), layer the ingredients one-by-one in the mason jar. This reminds me of those bottles of colored sand we used to make at children's parties. Try to find recipes with colorful ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.
A little more involved than vanilla extract, another great homemade gift to give this holiday season is homemade soap. All it takes is some fat or oil, lye, and fragrant additives to make it smell awesome. While I would love to go into depth on this here, Adam McKay's blog the Art of Manliness has a great tutorial on soap making.
Another great homemade gift idea is making homemade table coasters. The supplies needed to make homemade coasters include small square tiles, artistic paper, strong adhesive and acrylic finish. Basically, glue the paper onto the tile and, in order to allow the coaster to get wet, cover the coaster with acrylic finish. Google search for a great tutorial on how to make a great homemade coaster.
The aformentioned projects are just a few out of hundreds of homemade gift ideas to make this holiday season. Some others include:
Homemade Bath Salts
Homemade Candies in decorative bags
Sewn items, including scarves and throw pillows
Homemade Wood Cutting Board
Try your hand at the suggested, or if you have your own idea, leave it in the comments!