Inexpensive Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas for the Tight Budget

by Reader Contributors

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

On a tight gift-giving budget this year? Get crafty this holiday season with these cheap-to-make gift ideas from our frugal readers.

So you don’t have much extra cash for buying gifts this year. What about extra time to make them?

Crafting homemade creations can be much cheaper (and a lot more fun) than holiday shopping, and your efforts will be just as appreciated, if not more so.

We asked our frugal, creative readers to share their favorite homemade holiday gift ideas. With as many responses as we received, you’re sure to find an idea on this list for everyone on your list!

Special Spoons for Coffee and Cocoa Lovers

Buy a package of plastic spoons, preferably in festive colors. Dip them in chocolate (melted chocolate chips work well) and shake off the excess. Place them on wax paper and sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy. After they dry, wrap them in cellophane and tie with a ribbon. Put a few spoons in a coffee mug along with some individual hot cocoa or coffee packets and you have a great gift for those chilly nights!
Sarah W.

Personalized Stationery

My favorite gift to make is stationery. On white paper, I create a design that wouldn’t interfere with letter writing: borders, names, corner highlights. Then I take it to a local copy shop and have them run off copies on a paper that has matching envelopes.

Some copy shops will only charge you for the price of the copies if you supply your own paper. The paper can be bought by the ream at a bulk office supply store pretty inexpensively. I mix and match several designs or colors, bundle in groups of 20 (don’t forget extra plain paper for back pages) and tie with a pretty ribbon with dried flowers.

Get Crafty or Get Cooking

For years now, I have made homemade gifts for my friends and relatives. I really didn’t have a lot of money to put into them, just some time and careful planning.

A few of the things I have done in the past are: Painted sweatshirts, cross-stitched items like t-shirts, sweats, etc., and also matted and framed in an inexpensive frame. Baked breads with the colored plastic wrap, tied with ribbons is also an easy idea and it smells good, too. Pictures of you framed make a nice present to grandparents since they don’t have to go and buy a new frame for your new picture.

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Cute Candle in a Cup

There are lots of funky, overpriced stores in my neighborhood that cater to the “lots of disposable income” young professionals in the area. Once, I spotted a simple idea that had a hefty price tag that I knew I could make at home cheaply and easily. The item is a candle in an antique tea cup.

I scour the garage sales (and my mom’s cabinets) for cheap, but interesting, tea cups. I then melt down old candle ends or any type of wax I can find (paraffin can be costly) and – optional – add a little scented oil, such as lemongrass or grapefruit. I put a wick in – really cheap by the yard from the craft store – and less than $5, I have a nice gift with a little tag attached to the handle.
Susan S.

A Spicy Alternative

Check online recipes for homemade spice mixes, vinegars and mustards. All are easy to make, don’t cost a lot (it might seem like they do as you buy one of this and one of that – but it ends up making a LOT of this and a LOT of that for lots of gifts), and people really enjoy receiving them.

Either save and reuse bottles and jars at home, ask friends to save them, or find them at yard sales and thrift stores. To make these really special, include a recipe for each spice mix or vinegar. Best of all, your friends and families will enjoy receiving homemade gifts and you’ll enjoy making them.

A Bit of Class

I suggest taking a ceramics class where you take something that is already cast, and paint it yourself. You don’t have to invest in a lot of supplies, and it’s fun to take something and personalize it for a gift.

A Basket of Love

I suggest buying straw baskets at a yard sale or flea market and creating a themed basket for each person on your list,  filling the basket with either different fruits or other foods (i.e. herbal teas, cookies, etc.). You could make your own homemade cookies and include the recipe in the basket.

Or, you could fill the basket with something other than food stuff. An example would be a framed picture of you and your friend who you’re giving it to.

Another idea is to give ‘IOUs’ for different services such as a car wash, child care service, a massage, a manicure, etc.

I hope these ideas help.
Maureen McC

You Just Need a ‘Can’ Do Attitude to Make These

I saw this concept in a magazine and at a craft show.

Take a clean, dry can from soup or canned vegetables. Using craft acrylic paints and your imagination, paint the cans for the holidays. This is a great project for kids, too. Right now, my family is working on painting jack-o-lanterns: simply paint a can orange, let it dry, repeat if needed, and then use black to make the face. Fill the can with candy, tissue paper, pencils, etc. We’re also working on snowmen and I plan on painting the top part black and putting paper around the black for the rim of Mr. Snowman’s top hat. The larger cans could be filled with baked goods, fudge, etc. I’ve seen some that are painted with a design then spatter-painted which looks quite neat. This is a nice way to recycle cans into something useful and fun. I’m thinking that candy canes will look nice for the holidays.

Another similar idea is to buy the smallest terra-cotta plant pots from the store, paint them, and put small votive candles in them. Silver and gold stars are nice for a holiday theme but you could do whatever suits your fancy. I’m sure you could use larger pots with pillar candles for a bigger centerpiece. You don’t have to be a great artist to do these. A folk-art style is simple and looks great.

It’s How You Frame It

I would suggest that you make your own picture frames. Many craft stores carry a “base” for a frame made out of paper or cardboard. Paint, glue on trinkets or glitter, seal (with varnish or a craft polymer) and put a picture of family or their pet inside. Kids can do this too! Great for family, expectant parents, teachers, etc.
Deb V. from Maryland

A Beautiful Beauty Gift

Check out the book “Natural Beauty for All Seasons” by Janice Cox. The Book tells how to make homemade bath salts and beauty products.

One of my favorites is Candy Cane Bath Salts:

  • 2 cups Epsom salts
  • 1/2 c. sea salt
  • 4-6 drops peppermint oil
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring

Place one cup of Epsom and 1/4 cup sea salt in a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Add 2-3 drops peppermint oil and the food coloring.

Place the remaining ingredients in a second bowl. Mix all ingredients well. Layer the red and white salts in a clear bottle or Jar. Tie with a ribbon and some small candy canes.

This makes a great holiday gift for friends.

If you are a good cook, try homemade cookies. I make cookies for gift-giving. I put them in cellophane bags that are decorated with holiday print. Most craft stores carry those bags. Search online for good recipes. Most people don’t have time to bake, so the gift is appreciated.
Leona C.

Frugal Flavored Oils and Vinegars and Dough

The solution is as close as your kitchen. Every year, I make huge batches of flavored oils and vinegars. Fruit flavored vinegars, such as raspberry, blueberry and cranberry are my favorites. I’ve also made basil, hot pepper, rosemary and garlic, but I prefer to use the herbs and spices in oils.

For either one, the process is simple. For the vinegars, I use plain white vinegar. Frozen berries are cheaper most of the year and work wonderfully. Steep the berries or herbs in the vinegar for about a week at room temperature, in a dark place. Strain, and bottle in an attractive bottle. A few berries or a sprig of the herb you used added to the finished vinegar is a nice touch.

I use a good quality olive oil for the oils. Check sources you might not normally think of for good prices on fresh herbs. I buy huge bags of fresh basil from a Vietnamese grocery store for 79 cents each! If you cannot find well priced fresh herbs, dried will do. Just use a smaller quantity. Prepare in the same manner as for vinegar. However, when you strain and rebottle the oils, don’t add any fresh herbs, as they can spoil at room temperature.

Besides salads, and marinades, flavored oils have many other surprising uses. Garlic flavored olive oil, for instance, is heavenly on baked potatoes.
I also make wonderful scented ornaments and gift tags with the following dough:

Cinnamon Spice Craft Dough

  • 1 cup apple sauce
  • 1 cup cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

Mix until the dough has the consistency of playdough, adding more apple sauce or cinnamon as needed. Roll flat, dusting countertop and rolling pin with cinnamon if dough sticks. Cut out shapes with knife or cookie cutter. Use a toothpick to make a hole for hanging. Dry at room temperature for 5-7 days, turning over at the end of the third day to ensure even drying. They dry even quicker in a food dryer, and give your house a wonderful smell!

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For Plant Lovers

Take clippings from a hardy plant like an ivy and start them in a tin or inexpensive flower pot. (I like the General Foods International Coffee tins.) Make sure you cut with at least a 1″ stem and that there is at least 1 leaf to sustain the clipping until it forms roots. Keep the soil moist until rooted.

Everyone should appreciate a plant, especially if it’s a hearty one. Wandering Jew, Spider plant, Philodendron, Pothos, and most ivy can withstand some neglect, even if your recipient doesn’t have a “green thumb.”
Melissa P.

Papier-mâché Bowls

My family spent a creative fortnight several years ago making papier-mâché bowls, which we painted in bright acrylics from the local art supply shop and spray varnished. We then filled them with homemade sweets, Christmas mince pies, chutney and herb vinegars, and wrapped them in cellophane tied with raffia, gold ribbon, etc.

The homemade food was a great success and the bowls are now being used to display or store other things. We also had a huge amount of fun doing this.
Jane H.

Cruise Craft Stores for Ideas

What I have been doing is going to craft stores and getting ideas. You can make everything from beadwork, knitting, crocheting, fake floral arranging, cross stitching on plastic canvas, making candles, etc. There are a lot of things you can do with crafts. Just think of what each individual friend or family member would like and go from there.

Useful Simple Solutions

Make your favorite homemade cookie mix and pack in mason jars, seal, and attach recipe. I think this would be great for teachers and friends who drop by unexpected with a gift.

Fill a large box with items such as dishwashing liquid, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, etc., that you have gotten for almost nothing using double coupons and sales together. These items are items that every household needs and will use over the year. I plan on making this type box for my parents and my brother’s family. I will put at least 10 to 12 of each item in the box so that the items will last all year. I’m sure they will think of me each time they need soap, toothpaste, etc.
Debra C.

“Aren’t They Cute?”

My small nephews (3 and 5) get their pictures taken a lot by the grandparents and the rest of us. So, as part of their Christmas presents, I purchased two small photo albums and put several pictures of them inside (from babyhood to present). They were delighted to have their “own” albums that they can add to as they get older. You’d have thought I gave them gold.

A Sisal-ing Idea

Here’s an idea! I gave these as gifts to teachers, etc. one year.

Purchase sisal door mats at discount store. Weave ribbon around outer edge. In one corner make arrangement out of greenery, small Christmas ornaments, etc. and tie a bow. You can purchase Christmas floral pics for a nominal amount if you’re not creative at making your own. Makes really cute doormat for under $10.
JoAnne G.

Kitchen or Crafts

Baked items are always popular well received gifts, but the more unique the food, the better. Search online for candies or cookies that are off the chocolate chip/sugar/peanut butter beaten path and have fun experimenting with new recipes! (Just be sure to taste test first!)

Or buy inexpensive T-shirts or sweatshirts at a discount store or craft store along with some fabric paints and customize a shirt for your loved one. Perhaps with a “This T-Shirt came from XXX University” or even wording referencing an inside joke with that person!
Cindy D. in Conway Springs, KS

Give a Day Trip

Here’s one that I used myself when we were limited to a $10 gift limit. What I did was get a box and covered it with pictures from travel agencies of our local area. I got a gift for a gas station and I added it to a nice card and gave them an outlined trip. Included were local tours, bike tours, and museums, etc.
Louise L.

Nostalgia Baskets and Chocolate Cherries

Last year I made “Nostalgia Baskets” for my siblings, containing three varieties of cookies our Grandmother used to bake, including copies of her cookie recipes. On the recipe sheets, I added a few of my memories about our Grandmother, the times when she served those particular cookies, etc. I gift-wrapped the cookies and recipes in attractive baskets that could be used by the recipients for other items after the holidays. The “Nostalgia Baskets” were a real hit!

Another delicious idea is to prepare homemade chocolate-covered cherries. Use a recipe for ‘soft center’ fondant or basic fondant (fondant is a cooked mixture of water, sugar and/or corn syrup.) Soak maraschino cherries in Tawny Port wine overnight, leaving the stems on the cherries. Purchase chocolate specifically designated for dipping, as well as some paper candy “cups” and small white cardboard boxes to fill with the completed chocolate-covered cherries. The dipping chocolate, candy papers and boxes can usually be found at stores that sell cake decorating supplies or gourmet cooking supplies.

When ready to assemble these confections, wrap enough fondant around the cherry to enclose it, then holding the cherry by its stem, dip the cherry into the dipping chocolate, completely coating it in chocolate. Place on waxed paper until chocolate has cooled and hardened. Place each completed confection in a candy paper cup and fill boxes with them. Gift wrap the boxes, and you have a very unusual gift to give. (Note: by leaving the stems on the cherries, your gift recipients will know they have a handmade treat!)

Reviewed November 2023

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