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Frugal Christmas Gift Ideas

Q. We have a large extended family on my husband’s side. We need suggestions for Christmas gift exchange without breaking the piggybank (i..e. exchange only items you received as a free-premium throughout the year or homebaked) and are also very interested in other non-traditional giving ideas (i.e. give to a local need/charity during the year and on Christmas, give a praise report of how the funds were used. (Money given mid-year also saves stress at the Christmas crunchtime.)

SIDENOTE: We lost our home and loved-one to a disaster and learned about this Christmas idea by being the recipient of a stranger’s Christmas tradition. Midyear, a family of strangers, who had heard about the tragedy, sent us a explanation note and the $70.00 they typically spend at their adult-Christmas gift exchange. At their Christmas gathering, we were their Christmas story to share of how that $70.00 bought back the daily essentials-of-life and some dignity for us. (When disaster strikes, it does not leave you a packed suitcase with toothbrush, comb, razor, deodorant or change of clothes…That $70.00 helped!) The money was a tremendous blessing to us at our time of need…and the giver said that, rather than spending monies for an adult family-gift-exchange (buying unneeded meaningless trinkets that would be tossed aside a few days after Christmas), they were blessed by giving to the real-life needs of others and teaching future generations a new Christmas tradition!!!) Anyone have any other Christmas gift-exchange ideas or alternative Christmas giving ideas? – Thanks, Julie

A. We make homemade gifts. We are fortunate to have wonderful artists in the family. Sometimes they ask what we’d like for Christmas, and sometimes they surprise us! For those who are not so artistic, me included, we buy all year for Christmas when we travel, buy when we find new items at the thrift shops, and use the freebies we get from the Internet for stocking stuffers. These are saved all year too. I try to go to the freebies site, no S&H, as much as possible to get the stocking stuffers. These are not small items, full sized mens and women’s razors, full sized bottles of bar-b-que sauce and some sample sizes of make-up, hair shampoo,conditioners, and shaving lotion, along with coupons for the items. Each time I go into the discount drug store, such as Eckerd or CVS, I check out their sale basket, sometimes 90% off the retail price. I’ve gotten pantyhose that retail for $4.89 for $.89 and one time pantyhose and trouser socks together for $1.00. I fill Christmas stockings for the children and adults and put the most special item in the bottom in the toe of the stocking! – Betty

A. On the Christmas idea someone asked about, my family for the last few years have started a tradition that continues & we enjoy. We adopt a family at Christmas we take the money & pool it together and give to a family who needs it. Since their is six of us plus our spouses this can add up to nice little sum of money. We have helped a family who lost their home in a fire, and last year we gave almost $300 to a mom who had recently divorced, and then had health problems and was not going to be able to provide Christmas for boys. Her tears & joy about being able to give boys Christmas was the best Christmas that I have ever, had. And because two of us live in different states then the rest of the family we take turns. One year it’s in Colorado, Missouri & Kentucky. This also teaches my two young children that not everyone is able to have Christmas without some help. – Neta

A. Have you tried the old Secret Santa trick? Each family member pulls a name to buy a gift. But be sure to set a minumum and maximum amount on the spending. (We have a few people who take thriftiness into cheapskate realm.) Otherwise you’ll have people spending anywhere from $2. to $100.. You can also try limiting gift giving to only children – ie. only up through grade 12. This way, all the children receive gifts. Finally, my last suggestion is one that my inlaws do each year. Each family secretly brings a gift for each of their OWN children, spending not more than $25 each. Someone collects the gifts on the sly, and Santa appears during the party and gives a gift to each child. – God Bless You, Maria

A. Use a theme each year. Let people suggest some, then all get one vote on the final "theme". Our family has done this with great success. Some ideas would be: Puzzles and Games, Hats and gloves, Something unique to the giver’s home state (if everyone is from different areas), and so on. Once we all had to give something homemade and had some great gifts that would become treasures. The children always had a ornament exchange. They are given enough money or use their own to purchase an ornament for each of their cousins, and they get to pick them out. It is amazing what thought goes into selecting just the right ornament for each child. Then as each child grew up and moved out to a place of their own, they had a tree full of ornaments with lovely memories. You can put a price cap on all of these that is affordable for all. And if money is a real issue, simply draw names so each person has to but only one gift. You can afford a nicer one that way too! – Pam

A. My husband and I decided early on in our marriage to pick a charity together and give money rather than spending it on Xmas gifts for each other. Most years we have chosen an area of the world or an animal (we have a small hobby farm) from the Heifer Project. They are a wonderful organization based in Arkansas that provides needy families in the USA and abroad with chickens, goats, water buffaloes, what ever animal is indigenous to the area, for sustenance. For example, a Peruvian family will be given a llama. When that llama has a female baby (called a cria, by the way, and they typically spend almost a year to deliver one llama) that family passes the baby to a neighbor, who in turn will breed her and pass on the next baby
to another family. In other words, they give a family a fishing line, not a fish ….

This practice has been deeply satisfying to both of us and a lot less stressful than trying to buy something.. It doesn’t work (yet) with our young daughter but at least we have more time at the holidays to spend with her.

A. Our family totals 26 and this is a lot of gifts. Several years ago we drew names and each person had to make the gift for the name drawn. This has worked well. Very unusual gifts arrive. Homemade bird feeders, picture albums of a person’s life and the most interesting one was last year. A young fisherman received a "worm farm." It was made in a large plastic container. Wrapping the gifts is also a challenge. We sit down in a circle and each gift is opened one at a time. Try it, it works and lowers the cost.

Christmas Ideas – Non Food

Q. I’d like to hear some suggestions about practical gifts that can be made, other than food. My family is not into gifts that aren’t practical, i.e. they wouldn’t appreciate decorative items.

A. We sisters exchange Christmas gifts at our Thanksgiving get together and we always try to do the homemade bit. Saves on the budget. I have done "individual" baskets that are filled with goodies related to (1) their hobby, (2) a special need (3) a particular food they like or (4) a memory book dedicated especially to that person. This year I am knitting afghans – each one the same pattern but a different color. This way they all have the same gift and yet different in color. You might want to give a living tree or plant. Giving doesn’t have to be hard – just something from the heart. – Kay

A. Crochet or knit slippers. Use an H hook and 2 strands of worsted weight yarn. Crochet a chain approximately 1 inch longer than foot size. Double crochet in third chain from hook and across to end. Turn and double crochet across. For adult sizes crochet 12 to 13 rows. For children’s sizes crochet 8 to 10 rows. Fasten off yarn and cut strand about 24 inches long. Weave in and out end and draw up very tightly. Pull through a couple of times to keep toe end tight and use remainder to sew half way across long side. Sew up the other short end for heel. Add a pompon for women and children. A varigated and solid worked together is attractive or two coordinating solids. Men usually like dark colors, reds and blues.

Knit slippers for women & children (Pixie boots) Use #8 needles and 2 strands of worsted yarn. Cast on enough stitches for length of foot plus one inch. Knit rows (or purl if you prefer) until you have a square. Bind off. Fold in half so you have a triangle. Sew across one edge (sole) and then halfway up the other side (back of heel). Fold open part of triangle down. Add pompom if desired.

If you are an accomplished knitter, make sox on double pointed needles. I did this once, about 30 years ago, and I still get an occasional comment about them.

Afghans are usually very popular. My choices would be either a ripple or a great granny. Use any basic granny square pattern and just keep going until afghan is as large as you would like it to be. For adults, 48" square is about the minimum size. Or use a granny square that is a rectangle and make the afghan 60 inches long and however wide it works out. Try to match colors to the recipients house. If your sister’s house is done in pale green, pink and ivory, she probably would not cherish a hot pink and lime afghan. Check out the library for both ripple and granny square patterns.

Slippers for children can be made out of heavyweight washcloths. Fold in half, wrong side out.and stitch up both short ends. Stitch halfway across the long side. Turn down about 1/2 inch to make a tube around the opening. Run 1/4 inch elastic through, stitch and close opening.

Hooded bath towels for children, toddlers and infants. For large children, use a bath sheet and half of hand towel. For toddlers and infants use a regular towel, not too thick, and a washcloth. Character towels are nice to use although they are more expensive. Thick towels get very difficult to sew. Pleat the middle of one side of the towel. I usually do a center box pleat with a pleat on each side. Stitch over pleats to hold them. Fold washcloth or half of hand towel in half. Stitch across one end (the cut end of the hand towel. Stitch the edges of the seam down using a zigzag stitch. Center washcloth or half hand towel over the pleats and stitch across. Turn towel and stitch back on the inside of the towel, catching the top of the pleats. I usually stitch twice over the washcloth or half hand towel both on the outside and inside. These can have an applique stitched on one corner, The ends of the towels and the face edge of the hood can be trimmed with lace or a wide bias binding. Towels can be made in colors to match sports teams.

Create a family tree for each family. You can buy these off the internet or sometimes in bookstores. Use a caligraphy pen to fill in names and dates. Mat and frame. Of course you have to have been doing genealogy to make this one work, but locate your local LDS Family History Center and they will usually give you lots of help. 75% or more of people using the Family History Centers are not LDS. I know these are somewhat decorative but they are also a really neat gift.

Give coupons. Use a gorgeous font and frame style and give coupons for practical things. On 24 or 48 hours notice you will clean their house, or their bathrooms or vacuum the whole house, cook a gourmet meal (they provide the ingredients) and serve it for company and clean up afterwards. Babysit children for a weekend while their parents go out of town. Babysit one evening a week so that one or both parents can take a class at the local adult school, community college, YMCA, church or somewhere. Teach a child a skill and provide basic materials (i.e. yarn, knitting needles, simple pattern and an hour or two every Thursday evening) to teach child how to knit, crochet, embroider, needlepoint, cross stitch, do macrame, carve wood, bake, prepare a simple meal, etc. Do yardwork – plant bulbs, prune roses (assuming you know how) or fruit trees, weed, mow lawns, edge a lawn, etc. Provide transportation for a child after school to go to piano or trombone lessons, or soccer practice or swimming lessons or to the library to study. Give a coupon for anything you do well – plumbing, changing oil in a car, baking birthday cakes, entertain a children’s birthday party as a clown or with magic tricks. Give the birthday party for a child. – Mary

My artistic sister painted a wooden tray and had a saying about a meal shared is a feast! In the tray, she wrapped a home made loaf of bread. This was a birthday gift to me, but could also be made as a Christmas gift. – May The Angels Watch Over You, Betty G.