Gift ideas for the broke at heart

IOU Santa

About this time every year, I can be found juggling a half-done gift list, trying to figure out how I can finish shopping for everyone on that list from the dwindling funds in my bank account. Regardless of how carefully I plan financially for this time of year, it always seems like it’s never enough.

With Christmas less than two weeks away, this is about the point when I start hyperventilating.

The one thing I have sworn not to do is dread the holidays. I’ve come close, this year probably being the hardest as I face the reality of paying off the bills from our recent wedding while simultaneously preparing for the most expensive holiday of the year.

It just seems like such a waste to be overcome with feelings of negativity when buying presents for others. It defeats the purpose behind the holidays when you get someone a gift out of obligation and dread instead of because you were thinking of them when you happened across the perfect gift.

So this past month I’ve been racking my brain for creative ideas, trying to find items that cost a lot less money but still tell the recipient just how much they mean to me.

One of my favorite ideas was inspired by one of my co-workers. She is digging deep into her treasure trove of recipes and putting together a mini cookbook for her brother. In exchange, her brother promised to build her raised garden beds in her backyard in the spring, utilizing his construction skills to save her time and money with his talents. I love this idea of gifting presents of service, because it can translate to just about anything and is easy for friends to give to one another. Single parents would probably love the gift of free babysitting. Those who know their way around cars can give free oil changes or headlight and windshield wiper replacements. And I don’t know anyone who would turn away a free day of cleaning or the promise of a fully cooked dinner.

People who are ruled by their right brain have a bit of an advantage in this department of creative gift giving. Regardless of how cool all of the season’s expensive gadgets and toys are, nothing holds as much meaning as the gift that was made specifically for the person it’s given to.

If you’re a writer, compose a poem and place it in a pretty frame. Artists can give presents of their artwork. Create collages that have a personal touch, filled with everything from photos to 3-D items like pieces from nature (think fall leaves, a pine cone or acorn), buttons, or fabric. Put together a collection of recipes, like my co-worker did, binding them with a decorative cover.

If you know how to sew, make something everyone can use like potholders or decorative throw pillows. You can even collect a few interesting beads and put together eclectic earrings or a unique bracelet that no one else can buy in a store.

For kids, be clear that just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean they’re bound to get everything on their list. It’s actually better if they don’t. First off, most kids will receive gifts from their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. Let that take some of the pressure off you. But beyond that, it’s better to set the precedent while they’re young that on Christmas morning they’ll receive only a few of the items they asked for instead of all of them. It’s likely that once all the presents are opened, they’ll be so focused on what they have that they’ll forget about what they didn’t get.

And of course, it’s also important to teach kids the art of giving. It’s never too early to help kids give gifts to other family members, allowing them to feel what it’s like when the other person opens a gift they picked out just for them.

Other gift ideas can be theme related. Give a “Cozy Night In” by stitching an edge on a pretty piece of fleece to create a blanket, and include a favorite book. Offer the gift of a favorite memory by framing a photo of you and the recipient, and then include a note about what why this day was so special. Send the kids on a treasure hunt for their gift by giving them a map that leads to different clues that lead to their present. Or, if a bunch of your friends or family members are in the same financial bind you are, host a gift exchange party where everyone brings one unmarked gift to trade.

Some inexpensive gifts I found:

Life of pi purseLife of Pi Coin Purse:  Cost Plus is doing this massive marketing promotion for the movie of Life of Pi, which I don’t really mind because I just read the book (and LOVED it), and plan on seeing the movie before it leaves theaters.  Plus, it fits into their worldly theme with all of the Indian saris, clothing, jewelry, and other such items.  My favorite is this mirrored coin purse in orange (it comes in fuchsia too) for only $12.99.  I almost bought myself one, before I remembered that I was buying gifts for other people and not for me.  But who knows, maybe Santa will buy this for me…  Also, Cost Plus has deals of the day going on every day, so you’ll want to sign up for their email list or check their site regularly to find some great gifts for a lot less.

MrsMeyers_OrangeClove_ScentedCandle_webLMrs. Meyers Holiday Candle Tin:  Candles are always a nice touch for stocking stuffers or a gift for a friend.  This particular candle is in a fresh pine scent, or (my favorite) an orange clove scent.  When lit, it fills the room with that fragrance and sets a lovely mood.  The soy-based candle not only smells delicious, it comes in a reusable can.  Plus, it’s part of the Mrs. Meyers line of all natural products, which is always a good thing.  It runs for about $3.99, and can be found at Target or Whole Foods.  More info at

flashlightsFinger flashlights:  I came across these in a pricey catalog, and was instantly enthralled with them.  But I couldn’t fathom spending as much money as they were asking on these tiny gadgets.  So I did a little sleuthing and found a box of them over at for less than $8.  The kids will love having light wars with each other, sneaking in a little bit of midnight reading, and just being cool with a bunch of flashlights strapped to their fingers.

hand tattooHand tattoos:  A picture is worth a thousand words.  And these are pictures ON YOUR HAND!  These are awesome!  They come in either 2 sets of 8 animal or monster tattoos each (!), and can be found at for only $12

Oriental Trading Company:  This website was a godsend when it came to planning a wedding.  And for parents with young kids, it can be a godsend for you too.  They have so many arts & crafts ideas, as well as perfect little gifts for the stocking, it’s ridiculous.  Peruse their website and you’ll see what I mean.

st jude bearGive back to charity:  There are countless charities that need our help all year long, but especially at Christmas when giving is in the front of people’s minds.  One of these charities is through Kmart, who is collecting funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital through December 29.  They’re making it easy to donate by giving an option at checkout to add $1, $5, or $10 to your bill at checkout, funds that will go directly to St. Jude’s.  Further giving can be accomplished by purchasing a St. Jude bear ornament for $5 each, of which Kmart will donate $1 for each ornament sold.

What are some of your gift shortcuts when times are tight?


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