The Gift of Thrift

About a month ago, my mom announced that she would like to try something different for Christmas this year. I hate to say it, but I was a little apprehensive. Last year, her idea of different included a lot of baking. Though I love her desserts, there are only so many that I can eat at one time. Imagine my relief (and surprise) when she said that she would like to skip buying individual gifts this year and play Dirty Santa instead.

Before we moved back to TN, Angie and I had all but stopped exchanging gifts. Instead, we would stuff a stocking for each other, full of edible goodies and fun items, like fuzzy socks and Groupons for date night. Since we’ve been here though, Christmas has been a production and at times, it has been overwhelming for us. Mom’s idea for Dirty Santa is the perfect compromise. Her rules are simple: we each have a $15 budget to buy 3 useful items. On Christmas Day, we will draw numbers to see who goes first and we each get one chance to steal.

Angie and I put on our thinking caps and came up with a list of items that might be deemed “useful” before we set out to shop. We went to one store – Ollie’s Bargain Outlet. We spent one hour in that store. We came out with six very useful gifts: bath towels, kitchen towels, cloth napkins, soup mugs, bamboo utensils, and wool socks. These are things that all of us use almost every single day so what could be more useful than that? We spent $29.89 (not including tax).

For our extended family – the ones who aren’t coming to the Dirty Santa party – I made gifts. Yes, even after being made fun of by some of these same folks last year, I made them a gift.

I made fun soup bowl cozies from a pattern I found at Happy Hour Stitches. The cloth came from a yard sale over the summer ($3 for 2 yards).

I made coffee mug sleeves (and even included a reusable Dollar Tree coffee cup and coaster). That pattern came from Skip to my Lou. The cloth was a remnant from a flannel blanket we picked up at Goodwill for $1.99 to recover our camping pillows.

I made hats…a whole lot of hats! This is just a small fraction of them. Not one single skein of yarn was purchased at a store. They all came from yard sales and none cost more than 50 cents. The hats that don’t go to family members will be donated to the Rescue Mission.

Angie made hemp jewelry. We did buy the hemp and charms at a craft store. Total cost = less than $10 for a dozen bracelets and necklaces.

My mom even got into the spirit and made muscadine jam from the grapes we picked on our vacation in October.

Our most expensive gift this year was a coat for our great-niece. It was on clearance at Sam’s Club and happened to be an exact color match for the purple hat I made her. It cost $6.81. For the other little kids in our family, we bought art supplies at Dollar Tree. No matter how many popular gadgets and toys they have, kids still love to cut, color, and glue things.

I don’t expect the big spenders in my family to change their opinion about gifting but we don’t intend to stray from ours either. Each gift was selected or made with thoughtfulness and love, which we believe is something far more valuable than money.

For more thrifty gifting ideas, check out Thinking Outside the Gift Box and Thrifty Gifting – Part 2.

What thrifty gift ideas do you have for this holiday season?

Thrifty Gifting – Part 2

A few weeks back, I mentioned that we were sticking to a very, very small gift budget this holiday season. At a time when US consumers are expected to spend around $983 on holiday gifts, a budget of $57 seems like pocket change. Well, okay, yes…it actually is our pocket change. We emptied out our change container and rolled up all of our coins one morning to find that we had approximately $10 to spend on each person on our list. Angie, being even more of a non-supporter of Christmas consumerism than I am, suggested we forgo gifts altogether. Knowing the reaction this would cause among my family members, I vetoed the idea in favor of thoughtful, handmade gifts and experiences instead.

Our first crafts were soap/washcloth reindeer and snowman jars of foot scrub. Inspired by my niece, who said in an exasperated phone call, “All I want for Christmas is to take a bath by myself and enjoy my Sleepytime tea time in peace!”, we decided to add a few more “spa” items to her gift set – snuggly socks and a variety box of tea bags. The socks cost $1 at Dollar Tree, as did the gift tin. The tea bags worked out to 5 cents each ($1 total for 20 bags). Total cost for one spa experience gift set – $5.26. Adding in a coupon for a free night of babysitting – priceless!

I was particularly excited by the gift we found for my sister. She has been gluten-free for almost 3 years now and has grown tired of the myriad of gluten-free convenience foods marketed at the grocery stores. As she said, she wants to reconnect with her kitchen next year; so she has been on the hunt for new cookbooks (for gluten-free moms on a budget). As luck would have it, I found 2 great cookbooks – one at Dollar Tree ($1) and the other at Ollie’s Bargain Barn ($3.99). While that’s exciting enough, in the midst of my search, I stumbled across an out-of-print book we both loved as children and have been looking for for nearly 20 years now. Cost for this treasure – FREE! Gotta love e-books…and the look on her face when she opens this one!

For the little one, we opted for imagination and learning toys. Based on our observations of what she actually plays with, we bought a set of building blocks ($7.50) and a bag of alphabet magnets ($1.87). Her mom suggested a body pillow (to encourage napping), which was fortuitous since my mom had just given me an entire garbage bag full of “flat” pillows. These were throw pillows that she had been using to pad her favorite chair (which has since moved on to a new home, sans the pillows). On Sunday afternoon, I unstuffed the throw pillows and restuffed them into a toddler-sized body pillow that I made from a hooded blanket we found earlier in the year. (Actually we found 2 of these blankets, brand new, still in the package, in the dumpster back in April.) I almost wish we’d found more. The pillow was super easy to make (and super soft) and everyone who has seen it now wants one of their own.

We also made Christmas cards. They cost nothing except our time, since we already had the supplies at home.

Creative gifting does take time and effort. I will be the first to admit, it’s much, much easier to pass out gift cards or fill up a cart at Walmart but I truly believe gifts should mean more than that. Thankfully, we still have a few weeks to go and a few dollars left in the budget to finish up. We’re tossing around a few other ideas, like:

  • A movie night package – popcorn, chocolate covered pretzels, and a RedBox code.
  • A homemade meal box – ingredients or a gift card to cover the ingredients, a recipe, and a reservation card to “save the date” for a fun day of cooking together.
  • A picnic box – same idea as the meal box but instead of a recipe, you include a menu and a location.
  • A coupon book of favors like babysitting, watering the plants, giving a ride to an appointment, making dinner, helping with a dreaded chore, etc.

What suggestions do you have?