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How many of you like fruitcake?
I used to when I was a kid. I haven’t had one in years, so I have no idea if I still have a taste for them. Most people don’t like them. I don’t think most people tried them either.
If you ask me, these mainstays of your grandparents’ pantry have gotten a bum rap.
They’re a scapegoat… a universal stand-in representing any kind of gift you don’t like. I’d be shocked if even one person on the planet gave them out as gifts anymore.
But nevermind that.
There are so many gifts you can make and aren’t expensive that your friends will love MUCH more than fruitcake.
It’s okay if you’re the frugal type and don’t want to spend much money. But if you’re not going to spend the money, you have to make up for it by putting lots of thought into it.
Gift recipients will better appreciate something you put more time into than money. Our society goes overboard on gift buying. By being frugal, you help to reverse an unhealthy trend.
Some of these ideas aren’t dirt cheap. But they’re still cheaper than most of the things that pass for gifts these days.
Check out these inexpensive gifts sure to please all of your friends:
1. Inexpensive Gift Baskets
You can find containers for gifts baskets at lots of different places. Try thrift shops, flea markets, and garage sales. If you’re making the same basket for everyone, then pick them up at the dollar store. Here, you can pick up dozens of the same type.
You might want to go for an individualized approach. If you do, check out Goodwill. They always have baskets and containers of every conceivable shape. To keep your purchases frugal, try not to spend more than $6.00 on each one.
You’ll need some shred to put in the basket.
Shred is material that’s tucked into the gift basket to make it look fuller. It also cushions the various items so they’re not bumping into each other and breaking and making everything wet and yucky. You can make your own shred if you have a paper shredder. To make curly shred, run the strips over the edge of a scissor blade.
This is a time-consuming task, but it’s also one that won’t tax your brain. Do it while you watch Game of Thrones.
You can also use dollar store tissue paper, or tissue paper you have lying around at home leftover from a past project. Try colored advertising inserts from your Sunday newspaper. If you have leftover Easter grass, that’s also good material to use.
Cellophane wrap gives your gift basket a great look. Because it does, it’s not something you should cheap out on. You can buy quality cellophane at party stores or online. Don’t cut the cellophane until you make sure you have enough material for a nice-looking gather at the top.
Then add your finishing bow and card.
Look for cheap bow embellishments at garage sales. These add-ins make your basket pop in an eye-catching way. Try to find trinkets that mesh well with the general theme of your gift.
A quality satin bow turns an ordinary basket into sumptuous eye candy fit for King Louis XVI. You can buy inexpensive ribbon from outlet stores to make them.
Instead of a bow, you can also use satin flowers. One thing you can fill your baskets with is great inexpensive stuff from the dollar store, like votive candles, ceramic animals, or small bottles of shampoo.
If you’re putting fruit in it, make sure that only the part you can see through the cellophane is ripe. If it’s too ripe, it’ll go bad before your recipient had a chance to enjoy it.
But there’s lots more edible stuff you can put in your baskets besides fruit. Look in the bulk aisle of your local grocery store for munchies people will love. Here, you’ll find things like peanuts, salted nuts, jelly beans, and jujubes.
You could even make a gourmet wine basket. Stock up on them when they go on sale at your favorite liquor store. Or, hit up discount wine outlets.
Use a mix of store-bought and homemade items to fill your baskets.
You could even include a book of sentimental value for the recipient. To make it even more special, add a bookmark you made yourself. You could use items you made from stuff you grew in your garden in your baskets. These are things like berries for jams, herbs, and flowers for potpourri.
If the basket you’re using is deep, put a little newspaper on the bottom so the objects rise up over the edge of the basket. This way, it’ll look fuller. Add a handwritten poem for a personalized touch.
Wrap it all up in cellophane wrap and add a prepackaged bow. Now, it’s all dressed up and ready to give to that special someone!
2. Upcycled Jeans Quilt
If you have mad quilting skills or want to acquire some, you can make a beautiful quilt from upcycled colored jeans.
If you don’t have colored jeans at home, go to your local thrift store to round up a bunch of them. Start by cutting the waistbands off of all the jeans. Then, separate the legs by cutting down the middle of each pair. Using a rotary cutter and quilting ruler, cut out as large a rectangle as you can from the front and back of each leg.
Repeat until you’ve cut all the strips you can get from your legs. Lay all your strips on a queen-sized sheet to make sure you have enough fabric to cover it. Pin your strips together and stitch them up. Iron the seams so they lay flat. Use basting spray or pins so that all the layers adhere.
Stitch through all the layers. Trim up any extra batting and quilt top. Then fold the sheet over to create the binding. That’s all you need to do! Now you have a fantastic gift made from upcycled materials to use as a gift.
3. Personalized Mosaic Keepsake
For this one, I’ll let my friend Karen do all the talking:
“For her birthday, I made my friend a mosaic using dishes gathered from curb alerts. I also got some at the Goodwill and Dollar Tree. I even used broken dishes donated from friends, as well as broken dishes I had at home. I always tell my friends to save their broken dishes for me so I can use them in projects.
I arranged glass gems in the shape of a paw print because my friend loves dogs. I added blackberries as well. These were a remembrance of our eating fresh berries together the first time we met.
I added a $1.00 wood backing from Walmart and wrote a personalized message on the back and signed it. For under $5.00 total, my friend had a handmade sentimental gift she absolutely loved. Look on Pinterest for your own ideas for handmade gifts.”
In Latin America and Hispanic cultures, tamales are used to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Friends and relatives get together in events called tamaladas, or tamale-making parties. They eat some of them and give others out as gifts.
Making them isn’t as difficult as it’s often made out to be. The most challenging part of the process is wrapping corn husk around the dough and filling. Tamale preparation begins with making a soft, rich corn dough called masa. The key to good tamales is the quality and the flavor of the dough.
The filling can be poblanos, pork, chicken, or vegetables. But in this article, we’ll be making vegan tamales adapted from a recipe at sweetsimplevegan.com.
Here’s a list of ingredients you’ll need:
Ingredients for the Dough
- 30 corn husks
- 4 cups Masa Harina
- 3 ½ cups vegetable broth
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
Ingredients for the Filling
- ½ cup vegetable broth
- ½ cup diced onion
- cloves minced garlic
- ½ cup diced Poblano pepper
- ½ cup diced tomato
- 1 diced medium potato
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- 1 15.5 ounce can black beans or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup minced cilantro
The first thing you need to do is to submerge corn husks in a bucket of hot water. This makes them pliable and easy to work with.
Then, grab a bowl. Fill it with water and put it on top of the husks. This weighs them down, so they don’t pop out. To make the potato and bean filling, add a little vegetable broth to a medium saucepan.
Add some chopped onions and garlic and cook them on medium heat until the onion is translucent and the garlic becomes fragrant.
Add in chopped poblanos, chopped potatoes, and chopped tomatoes. Mix it all together and allow it to cook down. Add more vegetable broth as needed. Stir occasionally.
Add cumin and chili powder. Cover the pot and allow the potatoes to cook all the way through. Add in some pinto beans and some cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Use a potato masher or a fork to mash up the beans.
To assemble each tamale, spread about four tablespoons of the dough on the center of the corn husk. Put two tablespoons of the filling to the center. Fold in and overlap both sides of the husk and fold up the bottom. Rip one of the corn husks into thin strips and use these to tie the tamales shut.
Place the tamales seam side up into a steamer basket. Add water to a large steamer pot just below the basket and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Steam the tamales for one hour, being sure to add water to the pot when necessary to prevent burning.
To freeze the tamales, store them in freezer-safe bags. To reheat, place them in a steamer until softened.
5. A Family History Book
Genealogy is all about understanding where your family came from. Developing an appreciation for the world your ancestors lived in enriches your life.
All this amazing historical detail can be chronicled in a family history book.
A family history book is the kind of gift that beats all other gifts hands down. To pull this off, you’re going to need to do extensive genealogical research. How to do this is beyond the scope of this article, but you can get all the know-how you need at ancestry.com.
In the end, you’ll have an affordable book that’ll mean so much to your family and even future generations too. This is something you can hand out at holidays and family reunions.
There are many web-based programs that allow you to create a book that’s easy to do.
There are three popular types of family history books. These are narrative books, photo books, and multigenerational books.
Photo books are easy to create. You need a bunch of photos with a unifying theme that’s family-related. Then, use the web-based book-generating software mentioned above to create your book.
A book like this doesn’t need much accompanying text since it’s all about the photographs. Books like this work best when you have a single theme or idea that ties all the photographs together. This could one person or couple, one collection, or one place.
Think about the photographs you have to show and how to organize a book around them. You may have a compelling story you want to share, which is a great idea for a book. Consider how to use your images to tell this story in a powerful way.
Also, consider your audience. What will they find interesting and engaging?
You could do a book of photographs of the family cottage up by that lake in New Hampshire your family owns. And, what it’s meant to family members over the years.
Or, a biographical sketch of an ancestor with photographs and historical details.
Once you’ve settled on an idea, gather together all the historical materials you need. Then, scan them into your computer. Next, write your accompanying text. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Get your ideas down, and then refine them later.
Choose one from several book-publishing websites. They all work in the same way. But they do have different styles of templates, page designs, and embellishments. It’s best to select a size that’ll fit on a bookshelf, such as 8” by 11”. Costs depend on the size of the book, cover type, and number of pages.
One of the best sites is Blurb. Photo books start at $14.99.
Now that you’ve gathered together all your materials for the project, it’s time to create your book. It doesn’t get any simpler than this. All the sites have tutorials to guide you in the process.
You might have a great family story to tell, but lack photographs. In this case, a narrative book would be the way to go. This is a format that focuses more on the words than the images. It allows you to tell a more all-encompassing story with greater depth than a photo book.
But you should still include some pictures.
An example of a narrative book is creative nonfiction. It tells an ancestor’s story using classic elements of fiction. An example of this is Roots by Alex Haley. Another is the numbered genealogy. This is a family history listing all the known descendants of an ancestral couple.
A narrative book might seem overwhelming. But you might be envisioning something more than a photo book. If this is true, there’s a third option that’s sort of a hybrid of the other two. This is a family history book.
If this is your thing, you’ll find family history templates galore at mycanvas.com. These templates incorporate genealogical records and family group pages with text and images. The site partners with ancestry.com to import everything you need to make your book.
This saves time you might have otherwise spent entering and formatting data.
6. A Family Trivia Game
Make a trivia game where all the information comes from the rich and storied history of your family. Add in questions that include every family member you’re giving the game to.
You can even use some of the genealogical research you used for your family history book.
If you do this, it could be a great way to introduce your family to their ancestors. This keeps the conversation about those who came before us alive.
You could create a question about all family members born in a certain month. For example, “Name two family members born on August 24th.”
You create the rules, and so you can be as fancy or a simple as you want. Come up with game cards, a scoreboard, and even team hats if you’d like. You’ll also need to come up with categories for the kind of information that comprises your game.
There’s no too much when it comes to the number of questions. You should have at least 100 though. 600 questions is a good amount to shoot for. You can always make expansion packs if your game proves to be popular.
If the template for your game is Trivial Pursuit, put six questions on each card. However you approach the design of your game, the important thing is to make it fun.
As you think of questions, type them into a spreadsheet. Set up a mail merge to print them out on perforated business cards. Change the “name” and “address” fields to “question” and “answer.” Print them out on card stock and cut them up.
Next, make the game pieces. Decide on a maximum number of players and create this number of tokens. The shape can be anything you’d like. You might want to do representations of places and events that are important to your family.
For example, if the ocean is big with your relatives, create little lighthouses.
Craft the pieces out of either Model Magic or Sculpey. You need to bake Sculpey, but it’s perfect for very detailed game pieces. Be sure to fashion a flat bottom for your pieces so they can stand up on the game board.
Now, you need to create the board. Trace the outline of a Trivial Pursuit board onto white paper glued to a piece of cardboard. Create a single path to victory on the game board any way you’d like. Try an S-shaped about two inches wide if you’re having trouble coming up with an idea.
Mark the first box “START” and the last box “THE END” or “YOU WIN.” Add an instruction every third space. Some of these spaces should be rewards. An example of this type is “Your aunt gives you a ten-dollar bill for being such a good boy. Move ahead two spaces.”
Others should be punitive. You could write “You got caught spitting out watermelon seeds on the street. Go back five spaces.” Print out images from the Internet to paste on the board squares that don’t have instructions. Make the board colorful and eye-catching.
The last thing you need to do is to type up the rules. Test your game before handing it out as gifts.
So, there you have it.
I hope I gave you some solid ideas on gifts you don’t have to spend a lot of money on but won’t be the metaphorical equivalent of fruitcake.
They’ll most likely delight your grateful recipients because these are all imaginative choices that come straight from the heart. If you don’t like any of these, use them as a springboard to spark your own ideas.
Be frugal and have fun as you brainstorm gift ideas for all your relatives and friends.