Frugal Gift Giving Ideas

For so many families the holidays bring both excitement and dread. When we see the list of family and friends to buy for, we are often faced with a true challenge. How do we stretch the holiday budget far enough to cover everyone on that list?

I love making home-made gifts and over the years have had some luck with very little (or NO!!) expense. These ideas might not work for you, but maybe something here will jiggle your creativity a bit and inspire you to try something new. I’ve listed some of my favorites below, but will do a follow-up post with more soon. (Sorry I have no photos. These projects predated my blogging endeavors).

Heirloom Recipe Box
A few years ago, I decided to collect all the family recipes that I could find and put them on recipe cards for my Mom. Between the two of us, we had a lot. Many were written on full size sheets of paper or on cards yellow with age. They were still legible, but certainly due an overhaul.

I picked my favorites recipes from my personal collection, and from both of my Grandmothers, my Mom, and various Aunts. My theme was “women of the family and what they cook”. I carefully transcribed these old (and not so old) recipes onto 3x5” cards which I had on hand. I made sure to title each one with the name of the woman who was known for that particular dish:
  • Christy’s Potato Soup
  • Jenny’s Famous Biscuits
  • Grandma Faith’s Lemon Meringue Pie
  • Grandma Laura’s Jelly Roll 
You get the idea… Then I went to the Local Goodwill store and found a sturdy little wooden recipe box for 99cents. I rummaged through boxes of old family photos, until I found images of each of the ladies whose recipes were represented within the box. I then made copies (spent less than $3 on those) and trimmed the copied photos, arranging them into a collage that fit the top of the wooden box. I used Mod Podge to adhere the photos. This project was a bit time-consuming, but only because of all the writing. The rest was a breeze, and aside from the time it took – I spent less than $5.

My Mom loved her recipe box, and it was something fun for us both to look through and enjoy. I still get a kick of pulling it from her cupboard for a look when I visit.

Hidden Compartment Book
My Dad is one of those guys who is fascinated by the idea of hidden compartments and secret hidey-holes. One year, I decided to modify an old book for him that he could put on the shelf, but in which he could hide something fun (or just enjoy knowing he could).

I went to our local used bookstore and hit the clearance section. I found a large hard bound dictionary for $1. Once I had the book home, I paged into the volume to about page twenty and than used glue to carefully glue the pages of the rest of the book together (leaving those first twenty free). I glued only around the edges. I did the glue first as I wasn’t sure how well the shape would hold up if I cut first. Once the glue was dry, I used an exacto knife to carefully cut down through the layers of pages, making a square hole in the center of the book (the cutting took some time – be patient). If you want a large hidey-hole, obviously you’d need a large book. The opening I made was maybe the size of a man’s wallet, but a little deeper. The edges were pretty ugly, so I cut some old vintage looking pictures from magazines and again got out that Mod Podge, with which I covered the rough edges paper mache style. It smoothed out nicely, leaving a clean opening. It looked pretty good if I do say so myself.

When closed, the book did not look to have been altered at all. It sat on the shelf squarely, and in fact when my Dad opened the gift, he was a bit confused. He read the inscription and just looked at me blankly. Why was I giving him a dictionary for Christmas? Then he thumbed through the first few pages and found his surprise. And he liked it a lot, so I marked this as another success.

Total expense of $1 (I had the Mod Podge on hand).

Children’s Book
Luckily I had this idea early, which gave me the time I needed to complete it. I decided to make a children’s book about my own childhood – for my parents. I know – that may seem weird, but it was actually pretty cute, and kind of a thank you to them for being such awesome parents to begin with.

The book was titled “Little Christy on the Farm”. It showed glimpses into the life of our little family during a five year period (late 70s/early 80s). The story was very simple and the illustrations were fairly simple too. I did try to bring real items from those years into the pictures. The toboggan we used for sledding, my faithful dog Lucky, the toys in my room, the holiday decorations and the furniture in our house. Whatever I could remember, got in there somewhere. I drew it all out by hand, colored the images in with colored pencils and put the pages in clear plastic sleeves. The sleeves had binder holes on one end, and I used a ring (like a large key ring) to hold them all together.

This one did take a while to complete. I’d say I used the better part of a month’s free time on the illustrations. Cost was $0 though, as I had all the supplies on hand. It’s a fun book and if I remember I’ll read it to Little Guy when we visit my folks for Christmas.
Family Board Game
I made this for an anniversary gift (My parents’ 30th I think), but it could be easily modified to work for Christmas. Have you noticed a theme? My folks tend to be my guinea pigs when it comes to home-made gifts. Luckily they don’t mind!

First I made a ‘game board’ using poster board. I colored little squares all over the plain white space in a winding road pattern. Then I wrote out trivia questions about my family. The categories were “Home Sweet Home”, “Vacations”, “Family Lore”, “Pets” and “Holidays”. Each of the categories had a corresponding hand-drawn picture on the game board (A house, A dog, A mini-van, etc.) Each player took turns answering the trivia questions (topic determined by a roll of the dice).  I found some discarded pawns from an old game that we no longer used, as well as the dice. It was silly fun, and only something my immediate family ever could have played, but the cost was minimal (69cents for poster board) and everyone enjoyed it!

Framed Poetry and Illustration
Another one for my folks. I think I did this the first year I was living on my own and was feeling a bit home-sick. I wrote two poems. One for Mom, one for Dad. I carefully printed them on parchment paper (which I had left over from an art class). Next to each poem I drew a picture of the appropriate parent with me. I framed each using frames purchased at Dollar General.
Since they still hang in my parents’ living room, I’m pretty sure this one was a hit too, and at a cost of $2 for the frames.

What are some fun ways you have found to make affordable gifts?


  1. Always about the baking for me.....baking supplies do add up, but if you consolidate recipes, double batches, etc. you can get alot for the money. Even just packaging a loaf of breakfast bread in clear plastic with pretty ribbon looks festive. People always seem to enjoy the time/thought that goes into these kinds of gifts.

    You have very clever ideas!

  2. What wonderful ideas Christie. I especially like the heirloom recipe box, although none of my female relatives have really been cooks - apart from my Great Aunt Edna and Great Aunt Edna's cake is legendary.



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