Stay Connected

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gift giving when the budget is small: part 1, organizing my supplies

I made these tea bags, from loose tea, coffee filters, cotton thread
 and scrapbook papers
Giving gifts is one area that is really important to me. I like taking the time to find just the right gift for each person on my list. So, reducing this part of the budget was hard for me.

My gift-giving budget was cut in half this summer, at least for the next 12 months. Our annual gift-giving budget is drawn up in August of every year. We save, year 'round, for birthdays, holidays, weddings, new babies, and any other gift-occasion that should arise. Each recipient, for each occasion has an allotted amount budgeted for a gift. We try very hard to stay within that amount. In addition, I have a category for those events that can't be foreseen a year in advance, such as new babies, weddings, housewarmings, and hostess gift-giving.

The biggest (and easiest) cut in gift-giving, was for my husband and I to severely cut back our spending on each other. We've also reduced (but not as drastically) the amount we'll be spending on our children. But that doesn't mean that the grinch has stolen our Christmas, birthdays, Easter or Valentine's. I just need to get creative, and brainstorm how to find gifts for a fraction of what I have spent in prior years. And I'm off to a good start -- several gifts made (or bought at a deep discount) and waiting.

So here's my Gift-giving on a small budget plan, part one, organizing my supplies:

I approach gift-giving much in the same manner as I approach menu-planning. I don't open up the cookbooks, and see what looks good. Instead I survey my pantry, freezer, fridge and garden and see what I have to work with.

My approach to gifts this year, follows the same approach. I look into my cupboards, closets, pantry and sewing room to see what I can work with. Then, I brainstorm how to use these materials.


Open cupboards, closets, trunks and drawers in search of potential raw material/supplies for making gifts, and actual gift items.

Everything is laid out on the dining room table, to see what I have to work with. It's an impressive selection of supplies, and some purchased gift items.

From the kitchen:
nuts, dried fruit, candy pieces, popcorn, white chocolate, dark chocolate, loose tea, special canning jars, recycled tall jars with lids, special bottles, coffee filters, empty coffee cans and large food storage containers

From the craft cupboard:
all types of glues/adhesives, beads, citric acid, rubber stamps and stamp pads, note card blanks, scrapbook paper, ribbons, shells, magnets, styrofoam shapes, fake greenery and moss, acrylic paints, gold spray paint, wax, soap-making supplies, pine cones, brown papier mache boxes, pot pourri, essential oils, large wooden letters, epsom salt

From the sewing closet:
large variety of fabric, including some Christmas fabrics, polar fleece, small bells, ribbons, lace, trims, yarns, knitting needles, and patterns for: pj pants, men's boxer shorts, aprons, vests, hats, mittens, padded hangers

From the gift closet (this is where I keep items that I pick up that I think would make wonderful gifts):
ready-to-go gifts -- an assortment of holiday items, holiday tins, a couple of clothing items, a spa basket, and a couple of gifts that I bought intending to give to my daughters on their birthday last year, but completely forgot

From my purse:
gift cards and coupons (for purchasing gifts for those who may be difficult to craft/bake for, and for those items that I am really wanting to give to specific persons on my list -- as hard as I try, I don't think I could craft and sew waterproof winter parkas for my daughters, or nice work slacks for my son)

From my gardening supplies/plants:
seeds, plants that are easy to propagate, pots, potting soil

From my bank of skills:
While I have some yarn, I'm really not a terribly good knitter. Knitting is not one of my primo skills. It would be an exasperating waste of time for me to try to knit gifts. (In fact, a couple of years ago, I attempted to do just that. I've vowed -- never again!) I do sew well-enough, however. I enjoy baking and other kitchen endeavors. I have a knack for yeast bread. And I make a good loaf of sourdough bread. I love the packaging end of making gifts.

Now that it's all laid before me, I can begin to see potential gifts. Just off the top of my head I can think of several gifts -- home-crafted tea bags, blackberry pancake syrup (using NW wild blackberries), sourdough bread, homemade granola in a jar, jams, holiday aprons, hand-crafted candles and soap, bath bombs, bath salt, small jewelry boxes for keeping earrings, sachets and shoe/boot stuffers, wall-mounted necklace hanger/display, fleece mittens and hats, men's boxers, tins of flavored popcorn, potted plants, beaded bracelets, beaded hair combs, a lace or velvet vest, a corduroy or wool vest, and a denim log carrier. I have absolutely everything I could need to make all of those items.

For more inspiration, I turn to Google. I enter "homemade" "gift" plus the name of a particular material/supply. And up pops dozens of items I could make with what I have on hand.

So, I've begun with the crafting, using what I have on hand. I am doing much of this assembly line style, making as many of an item as I have materials for. I'll "shop" my stash of creations, as I need gifts. And I'll look beyond Christmas and birthdays, and begin work on a baby item, to have on hand, and a hostess gift or two. By starting now, I won't be rushed into buying something at the last minute.

Here's how my crafting/making calendar is shaping up:

Day 1

Assembled raw materials/supplies and potential gifts

Also on Day 1

I assembled all the giftables that I already have. These could be items gifted to me the year before, or gifts that I bought with the thought that I'd give them to someone. Place all in a gift closet/box to shop from later.

Regifted gift baskets can be taken apart, and the individual items gifted separately. For example, let's say I was given a spa gift set. I could take this apart and use the individual items as stocking stuffers for my daughters.

Lastly on Day 1

I assembled coupons, gift cards, vouchers for use to purchase gifts for those on my list who are difficult to craft, sew or knit/crochet for.

Day 2 (not necessarily the day right after Day 1. A few days after Day 1. I typically work on crafting projects 2 to 3 days per week.)

Began brainstorming

I got out my list of recipients, and brainstormed ways to use my supplies for each. Having a written list keeps me focused and upbeat about this enormous undertaking of making and/or discount-buying so many gifts. I tried to also think of items I could make, that are light weight, so as to minimize postage costs.

I Googled specific materials and included words like "make", "homemade" "gift", bookmark specific projects and online patterns.

Day 3

I went back to the bookmarks and my own list, and chose a handful of simple projects to begin, sticking with items that require minimal additional materials (a spool of thread is all that I've bought so far). Shopped for those minimal items -- that spool of thread.

Day 4

I began my crafting days. I chose one of the projects and made as many of it as I had ingredients for.

Day 5

Following the crafting day, I had a packaging day. I took items made the day before and packaged nicely. They are placed in a box to "shop from" a few weeks before the holidays.

Day 6

New project -- repeat of day 4

Day 7

Repeat of day 5

My plan is to continue repeating days 4 and 5 until I have exhausted my supplies, or believe that I have enough crafted items for gifts.

Over the next several weeks, I'll highlight one or two items that I've made or are making that week. A few of the things, I've made before, and are on this blog.

an assortment of home-crafted tea bags in a pretty canning jar

This jar of hand-crafted tea bags, for example. The instructions for making tea bags can be found here. I sewed a bunch of bags, filled them, sewed closed, then added the strings and labels. I was able to make 2 gifts on the afternoon that I crafted these.

functional, yes, but will be appreciated -- boxer shorts, made using 
a plain sheet, some elastic and McCall's pattern M6104. I did have
 to figure how to leave the fly open, as the pattern has it sewn shut, 
but that was not very difficult

Men are the hardest to make gifts for, for me. So, for the men in my life:

  • I've made a few pairs of boxer shorts (see photo above)
  • I'm in the process of making a denim log carrier
  • My husband uses cotton hankies in winter, and they are so easy to sew 
  • Flavored popcorn in large coffee tins is always a hit with the men I know 
  • Homemade candy is always appreciated by my "men"
  • And of course, food gifts of any kind, are almost always well-received, by men and women. I made blackberry pancake syrup for a few on my list. I had a couple of those tall quilted canning jars in my cupboard, which I used to can some of this year's blackberry syrup. I will make up a bag of homemade pancake mix, to slide into a decorated muslin bag, to accompany the syrup. One man on my list enjoys his pancake breakfasts.

Any suggestions on gifts that could be made, using my list of supplies? I am totally open to ideas. What gifts have you made in the past, that have been well-received? Have you ever had someone on your list, who just didn't appreciate the hand-crafted gift? How did you handle that?

Later this week, part 2, how I plan to "purchase" some of the gifts, with little actual cash.


  1. I got a new sewing machine for my birthday, so plan on using that to make presents for people. ( I made my first bag yesterday and fingers crossed they will improve in quality from now on)
    I brought lots of tea cups from charity shops last year and will turn them into candles and put them in a pretty drawstring bag. I also want to have a go at pj bottoms.
    From your supplies how about- jars of homemade salsa and a bag of tortilla chips, scented sachets using the pot pourri, herb plants with name of the herb tags/ decorated pots, Personalised Christmas stockings, various flavours of shortbread ( clementine, cranberry and white chocolate and dark chocolate chunks have gone down well in the past), homemade marshmallows and hot chocolate mix... I'm sure I will think of more things later, but I hope that helps :)

    1. Hi Diane,
      Your tea cup candle gifts sound beautiful! I may just have to "steal" the idea! I love all of your suggestions. Thank you so much!

  2. I struggle to think of gifts for men as well. My dad likes tomato relish, my brother and his partner like cider, but I'm struggling to come up with anything else.

    I'm already thinking about Christmas as well, and am planning to make some homemade lotion for my mum and homemade deodorant for my sister (which sounds weird but she was telling me how hard it is to find natural deodorant that works).

    1. Hi Liz,
      The homemade deodorant actually sounds like a very thoughtful gift, something your sister would appreciate, and that's what a gift is all about, isn't it?!

  3. Men are so hard to buy for. We cut back last year and are trying to stick to the same budget although we have higher travel expenses this year. The biggest cut was in our gifts to each other. I am thinking of making care packs - my oldest stepson is moving out for the first time in the next month so I think he would appreciate one. My Mom would appreciate it too. Cheers!

    1. Hi Cheapchick,
      A care-pack is an excellent idea for someone who is just moving out on their own! I am sure it will be most appreciated. Let me know what you put into it.

  4. Thanks for sharing all your ideas, it always inspires me. You remind me it is possible to be hospitable and giving but also keep a small budget in mind. I started following this blog a few months ago and always look forward to new posts!
    - amb

    1. Hi amb,
      I am so glad you joined us, here! And thank you for the kind words.

  5. You're so good at this, it's hard to offer suggestions! I find the men in my life just aren't as "into" gifts as women and the practical stuff is what they appreciate--it's the wrong time of year to get fleece material inexpensively, but both my husband and my father love (storebought ... ) fleece shirts that I have given them so maybe making that could be an option for another time? I do food gifts a lot for my husband--better-quality coffee that he wouldn't buy for himself, Aldi's real maple syrup (way cheaper than other brands!), etc. I think your ideas are fantastic.

    I know you aren't in the little-girl stage of life, so this won't be helpful to you, but it might be for someone else--I re-learned to knit this past year and I have found that clothing for 18" dolls are simple, do-able projects (lots of free patterns on the web) and are very inexpensive. Lots of simple crochet/sewing patterns are out there as well, so if someone has little girls in their lives, that's a great way to turn out a one-of-a-kind, quality project for a minimal amount of money. I've made them for 3 different girls now (including my own) and I've been pleasantly surprised at what a big hit they are.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Your doll clothing sounds adorable! For someone who really wanted to WOW a young girl, you could consider knitting something for a doll and a larger similar item for the young girl, like the American Girl "doll and me" sets. But they wouldn't have to be complete outfits, just a doll item, and a scarf for the girl, or something similar.

  6. Wow. You have a lot of supplies on hand. I'm pretty sure that I don't have that many, but I guess I should do an inventory like you did. There's a whole set of nature and bird related products out there like bird feeders made from interesting things that you might add to your list.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I was surprised how large my supply stash was, and kept finding things to ad to it over the course of a week.
      For birding enthusiasts, one year we made bird feeders from a birch branch. It's in the garage some place. I'll have to find it, and show a photo, as it was super duper easy to make.

  7. You inspire me so much, I am sure you could give me lessons in preparing gifts. I don't know what ages you have on your list but when I saw you had paper mache boxes, depending on the size of them you could fill them with crafting supplies for young child, something I will be doing for my grandchildren this Christmas again. Some of your crafting supplies such as beads, sequins, a bit of glue etc could be placed inside so the children could use their imagination on what to make with them.

    1. Hi Lois,
      craft kits/beading kits are a fabulous idea, and would work well for someone on my list. Thank you!

    2. Hi Lili,
      You can sew boxers for fall/winter from flannel, too. Not that I have ever sewn boxers :) Good ideas for gifts! Thanks.

    3. Thanks for the great idea! I think a Christmas print (like reindeer or pinecones -- you know something masculine LOL!) would be a super cute men's gift. Boxers are very easy to sew, BTW. And as they were a gift for my hubby, and to be worn under clothing, I didn't feel the need to be absolutely perfect in everything with the sewing.


Thank you for joining the discussion today. Here at creative savv, we strive to maintain a respectful community centered around frugal living. Creative savv would like to continue to be a welcoming and safe place for discussion, and as such reserves the right to remove comments that are inappropriate for the conversation.


Be a voice that helps someone else on their frugal living journey

Are you interested in writing for creative savv?
What's your frugal story?

Do you have a favorite frugal recipe, special insight, DIY project, or tips that could make frugal living more do-able for someone else?

Creative savv is seeking new voices.


share this post