Monday, December 15, 2008

Money Monday: Inexpensive, Quick Gifts You Can Make

Can you believe Christmas is only 10 days away (Hannukah starts in 6 days!)? Around this time, peple start scrambling to finish off their gift lists, often paying whatever the asking price is for whatever items are still on the shelves. They end up with meaningless, over priced gifts and feeling unfufilled. Today I will share a couple of ideas for gifts that can be made at home for relatively low cost (especially if you make them in batches) and fairly quickly. They are also gifts that can pretty much suit anyone on your list. You can give the gifts by themselves or pair them up with other gifts, adding until you reach your budget. You will end up with great gifts that have been made with love and that the recipient is bound to enjoy.

Chocolate-Covered Stirring Spoons: Get a bag of chocolate chips. You can use semi-sweet, dark chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, raspberry, any kid you want. Pour 1 cup of the chips into a microwaveable bowl or cup (the deeper the better). Melt the chips in the microwave for 30 seconds and then stir. Continue doing this in 30 second increments until the chips have completely melted, being sure to stir each time. Chips tend to hold their shape, even when they are completely melted, so stirring them is essential to avoid burning them. Be certain not to overcook the chips and do not let any water get into the chocolate either. Once the chips have completely melted, stir 1 teaspoon of shortening into the melted chips, just until blended. Take a heavy duty plastic spoon and dip it into the melted chocolate, coating the entire bowl and the lower portion of the handle. Sprinkle with some colored sanding sugar or add a few mini-marshmallows or crushed candy canes or anything else you may want to add, or leave it plain, and set the spoon on wax paper to set the chocolate. After about 15 minutes you can drizzle other melted chocolate or re-dip half the spoon into a contrasting chocolate color or simply leave as is and place in the freezer to finish setting. After about 1 hour, wrap the bowl of the spoon in cellophane and tie with a ribbon. You can give the spoons away as a "bouquet" or add them to a coffee mug (the dollar stores often have decent mugs). To make the gift go even further, add a small package of coffee or hot chocolate. This is a great way to use those samples you may have received throughout the year.

Fish in a Bag Soap: This is an idea I saw on the Martha Stewart show lat week and I absolutely loved it. You can watch the video directions here. The only additional thoughts I have is to maybe add a scent and/or color (probably blue would work best) to the soap (or leave it as is). Also, the fish can be found at many craft shows, but I have also seen them at the dollar stores in the toy section. You could give this soap as is or add it to a soap dish for a more adult gift or pair it with a nylon bath scrubby or fun washcloth for a child. Add more bath supplies if desired.

Gift Certificates for Time: I did this one year when I was in college and simply could not afford to give gifts. Unfortunately, no one ever "cashed" in their certificates, so I kid felt like I gave nothing, but they all appreciated the thought. Looking back, I could have encouraged them to actually use their certificates throughout the year. Anyway, decide what you can do for the recipient and give them a homemade gift certificate good for that service. You could print the certificate from the computer (design it yourself or use a free template site like gifttango or Free Printables, buy cardstock and hand design it yourself or even buy blank certificates from an office supply store. As for what to "give", here are just a few ideas: babysitting services, car wash, dog walking/pet sitting, gardening, housework, yard work, a home-cooked meal or dessert, etc. I know one lady who gave "memberships" to her "food of the month" club. Each month she gave each person a gift of whatever was in season in her garden. During the colder months, the gifts were herbs from her kitchen herb garden. It was a great way for her to use her surplus and to give her gift all year long. You could also do a "cookie-of-the-month" club and deliver a dozen cookies each month.

I hope you will be able to use some of these ideas to cover your gift list and stay on budget. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

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