A heartfelt, meaningful gift does not need to be an expensive one. But It does require three things: honesty about your budget, a little bit of thoughtfulness, and an open mind.
After years of struggling to give gifts on a budget I realized that home-making gifts is the actual shit. So this year, I am DIY-ing almost all of them. I say almost, because I do leave some financial wiggle room to purchase from small businesses or to contribute to larger gift-giving ventures. But homemade or store-bought, it is crucial to enter the holiday season with a plan, a fiscal estimate to be your guiding light through the deals, discounts, and financial demands of the holiday season.
Historically, this has been a stressful time of year for me. I can remember feeling such pressure to track down gifts that were so specifically perfect it hurt (my bank account more than anything). So there I was, playing the model holiday consumer: ignoring my financial limits and equating the quality of my gifts to the price tag. A reality of this time of year is that we are bludgeoned with advertisements to buy expensive items to show those we love how much we care, as if going big is the only way. And while, yes, there are people in my life I want to shower with the newest video games, quality kitchenware, and mani/pedi deluxe packages, there are much cheaper and even more heartfelt ways to send the message of love and leisure.
Now, the notion of inexpensive, homemade gifts has nearly always been in my life, as I have been surrounded by creative people through childhood and into adulthood. Each homemade gift I’ve ever received — a painted recipe box, premixed soup in a jar, knitted yoga socks, crocheted grocery bags to name a few — absolutely filled me with feelings of warmth, love, and gratitude. So why was I so hard-pressed to buy the perfect and oftentimes expensive gifts? I’d like to blame the commercials, capitalism, the tempting holiday deals, or my own personal desire to be the best goddamn gift-giver out there. I live for the sweet tension that builds before a gift exchange, the trace of nervousness when the gift is being unwrapped, and the validation and elation when the receiver announces their delight. With all these elements in play, the constant remained that I had no financial strategy during the holiday season, leaving me to silently suffer after the receipts had been crumpled up and shoved to the bottom of my purse.
What you gain by shifting your focus onto inexpensive and homemade gift-giving is frankly more money in your bank account, but you also get your valuable energy back, to enjoy the splendors of the season and the special moments and traditions we need to hold onto in this consumerist world.
12 DIY gifts I can personally vouch for
My gift to TFD readers this season is a list of 12 inexpensive, DIY gift ideas that you can try out for the holidays and other celebrations you observe. These ideas can easily be Pinterested, YouTubed, Googled, or taught by others. Consider reaching out to your elders or creative friends for tips and/or crash courses on homemade items that require a specific skill, such as sewing, knitting, drawing and so on. If time allows, attend a few community craft classes to refine your skills. Many of the following inexpensive, homemade gift ideas can be mixed and matched or could stand alone. I’ve included past successes, ideas based off gifts I’ve received, and descriptions of future DIY projects.
1. Heat bags (or anything sewn)
This year, my mom gave me a crash course on how to sew rice-filled heat bags, which can be heated in the microwave. A rather forgiving sewing project, which allowed me to spend time learning a new skill with one of my favorite people.
2. Lavender sachets
Paired with a heat bag, following the theme of relaxation and rest, I purchased some bulk lavender and small cloth sachet drawstring bags. A little went a long way, leaving some extra sachets to give with holiday cards.
3. Jarred soup (or cookie!) mixes:
Look up a recipe, purchase a few dry ingredients, and arrange in a mason jar aesthetically pleasing layers for the people in your life who are always cold or who enjoy a good sweet. This is a great bulk gift for coworkers, friends, or extended family.
4. Used book — yours or from a local bookstore:
I firmly believe that a book is one of the greatest gifts of all time. It’s knowledge, emotion, validation, challenge, joy, relaxation, all wrapped into a beginning, middle, and end. There should be no shame in utilizing your bookshelf or local used bookstore to search for gift-able books. Perhaps include a message inside about why you chose a specific book for a specific person.
5. Homemade or origami bookmarks:
I recently found an origami bookmark in my library book and thought it could be the cutest, quaintest addition to a holiday card or perfect for hiding in the pages of a gifted book. Or you can craft your own homemade bookmarks with quotes, drawings, special messages, etc.
6. Canvas painting/artwork:
If you love a good paint and sip, you probably have multiple canvases stacked up in your closet that you haven’t hung up. Buy a cheap frame and give these paintings as gifts. You spent time and money on these pieces and they should be appreciated. Or if you have craft supplies on hand, create something from scratch.
7. A redeemable homemade dinner coupon:
For those who equate gifts with experience, consider giving the gift of a homemade meal. Maybe it’s something extra fancy than you wouldn’t normally make, but within your budgeted price range.
8. A list of your most treasured recipes:
The power behind this gift is the comfort and love accompanied by a quality, homemade meal. Go the extra mile and use a laminator to increase the physical quality of this gift.
9. A letter of gratitude:
So simple, but so powerful. Tell them how you feel.
10. A bundle of printed photos:
A gift of memory and gratitude, choose photos that symbolize your relationship with this person. Consider writing a special message on the back of each photo.
11. Handmade cards with cards:
Let me tell you, a $5.00 Starbucks gift card snuck into a homemade card makes me VERY happy.
12. Contribute to a larger gift, by giving a little:
While this isn’t a homemade gift, it is a financially-conscious one. If you know of a more expensive gift-giving venture in your family or friend group, ask if you can chip in a small amount. The people heading the buying process will be thankful for the extra financial help. Or vice versa, if you have a more expensive gift in mind for someone, orchestrate within your family or friend group a way to break down the cost to make it cheaper for everyone.
Or, go the no-presents route
I have a friend whose family didn’t buy any presents at all one Christmas. Instead, they spent time together playing games and cooking and just being with one another. While I don’t think I’m quite there yet, nor am I pressuring myself to be, there is something to be said by placing such high value on your presence and the presence of those around you: it becomes the gift.
But for right now, I enjoy the process of happily purchasing or creating gifts because ultimately I gain creative skills, save money, and spend time cultivating gratitude for the people in my life. A heartfelt, meaningful gift does not need to be an expensive one, so what will you be making this year?
Skylar is a mental health counselor who talks about self-care as the foundation of a prosperous life.
Image via Unsplash