Sarah Jane Humke

The life of a traveling, reading, writing, spining and knitting shepherdess.

I know that I’m not the only person doing a seriously skimpy Christmas this year with the economy and unemployment being what they are.  But what if you need a present for some sort of gift exchange or for a person who’s given you a pressie that you feel the need to return the deed.  Don’t despair!  With a little forethought you can have a handful of Christmas presents at the ready!

Give the gift of Green

I’m not talking about cash here!  I’m talking about houseplants!  Take a pair of clippers to that overgrown pothos or that spider plant laden with pups and propagate!  Many of the most common houseplants propagate easily and quickly.  There are tons of houseplant web sites that will help you identify which houseplant you have living in your home or office and then tell you the proper way to propagate it.  If the instructions call for something kinda complex like air layering, chose a different houseplant to use.  You want instructions that say something along the lines of, “Cut off piece of plant. Stick in soil. Water. Repeat.”  Overgrown African Violets are really good for this as quite often you just have to chop-up one plant to get many, many fully formed little plants!  And really, who doesn’t like an African Violet (just don’t give folks dozens at a time as this tends to overwhelm them!).

Get Crafty

If you are a crafty person chances are you have a stash of whatever medium it is that you work in.  Quilters have fabric stashes, knitters and crocheters have yarn stashes, jewelery makers have bead stashes and scrapbook makers have paper stashes… it’s just sort of what crafters do.  So try to make a gift using only what you find in your stash.  If you are anything like me, then this should be reasonably easy to do.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be a magnum opus that you are making here, it’s a present for goodness sake!  Keep it simple and sane.  If you know someone is getting a kindle for Christmas, quilt them a cover (just make sure that they open it after the Kindle!)  Someone likes to cook?  Embroider/cross stitch inexpensive kitchen towels with their initials or something otherwise personalizing.  Knitters and crocheters can always make dish clothes and potholders.  Pet lover?  Make toys for their pets!  Kids are easy as they are usually small and fast to craft for.  Mittens are good idea for them if you live in a cold area.  Hand crafted Christmas ornaments are a staple in this area.  Just remember, you aren’t in third grade anymore, gluing cotton balls to a cut-out snowman isn’t going to cut it:-)  Try to make the ornament fit the theme of their tree if they have such a thing or personalize it to them in some way.

Get them Crafting

If you have a rather voluminous stash of whatever media you use, consider making a kit to get someone started on your craft of choice accompanied by the offer of instruction or time on your machine (if a machine is involved).  Everyone that I know has materials that they bought early in their crafting experience that they probably aren’t going to use but that a newbie might love (I’m looking at you all that bulky yarn in the corner!).  To me, this is one of the best gifts that you can give.  It’s especially great if you are going to be stuck in a house with bored, overstimulated kids.  Teaching young ones to knit or crochet (or finger crochet if they are really little!) or cross stitch or whatever it is that you do will help keep both you and their parents less snappy when the appeal of the battery operated toys wears off.  It’s amazing how quiet kids are when they are concentrating on something new!

Give the gift of time

Nearly everyone needs someone to step in and take care of things once in a while.  It doesn’t matter if they have kids, pets, houseplants or a car sooner or later nearly everyone needs a favor.  So offer it in the form of a coupon that you make yourself.  You can be as generous as you would like and it really is saving that person cash too!  Last time I checked, babysitting isn’t cheap anymore!  And I know that dog walking isn’t!  If you’re kinda handy, you can offer to change their car’s oil or whatever special skill that you have that they will need.  Mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk are good ones too!  It may seem really cheap to do this, but think about how much they would have to pay someone to do this for them and you will see that it’s really actually a pretty nice present!  This is an excellent idea for older folks as they may need more help with chores around the house and who can be particularly difficult to buy presents for.

Get cooking!

I’m a big fan of the baked good as gift.  I know that this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone on your list as a lot of folks now have special diets that make it more complicated to cook or bake for them.  However, a plateful of cookies is always a lovely hostess gift in my opinion.  I tend to save any and all Christmas themed tins that food comes in from the year before or buy the themed plates at the super-duper everything has got to go right now clearance sales that happen in Feb.  Stick to what you do well and then make lots of it!  Go ahead and experiment on new recipes but if they blow be willing to crank out with a few batches of a tried and true food that you make really well.  Even if it isn’t particularly “festive” if it’s tasty few will complain!

Help them cook!

There are tons of ideas online for gifts like cookie mix in a jar, or soup mixes in a jar, or even brownie mix in a jar.  The dried soup mixes can be especially great if you tend to dehydrate your garden produce.  You could be giving the person something that you grew yourself! Most of these mixes require a clean jar and the ingredients and maybe some paper to write or print the baking/cooking instructions on as well.  These are nice for folks who are maybe living away from home for the first time or just don’t have a lot of time to cook.

Add to the Collection

A lot of people collect things.  Now if you have someone who collects Ferrari’s on your list this year, you have my sympathy.  However most people collect things that are a little easier to obtain.  For these folks, you just need to keep an eye out.  Garage sales, flea markets and auctions are great places to find collectables that are going for much less than they would at the antique mall or specialty shop.  You only need to keep your eyes open!

Clean your house

One of my favorite presents that I got as a small child was a box full of make-up that my cousins no longer wanted.  Mom confiscated the nail polish and lipstick before much damage had been done but I spent hours playing with my make-up box (more often as war paint than pretty lady type stuff, but that’s ok!).  Your old eye-shadows and blushes that you aren’t using anymore would be coveted by a small child of a certain age.  You would get bonus points if you have an old Caboodles case that you can put it all in!  Obviously, this is one that you want to talk to the mother of the child about before you gift it.  And don’t put nail polish in there, it’s hard to get out of the carpet!  This is only one example of having something that someone else would love to have.  Look around a little and see if there isn’t something that you have in an upstairs closet that the hipster in your life wouldn’t love.  Apparently grandpa’s cardigans are hip again!  Fondue parties are making a comeback too!  And gardeners all over the place are rediscovering canning and jamming, making that shelf-full of canning jars a hot commodity!

Give the gift of Safety

Make a winter car safety kit like I spoke about in my last post.  It’s super easy to do and other than a couple of bottles of water and snacks, you probably won’t need to buy anything too expensive if at all.  The blanket in my case is a lovely wool one that had a few moth holes in it already.  This isn’t a showcase, it’s a survival kit so who cares!  A clean, used blanket will work just as well as a brand new one.  Same goes for the gloves/hat/scarf combo and candles (I’m using half-burned Christmas candles in mine!).  Just make sure that it is all clean and together and maybe labeled so that they don’t accidentally unload it from the car when bringing in groceries:-)


Christmas shouldn’t be all about going into debt and getting stressed-out about it in the New Year.  Before you buy a present, stop and think about what that person really needs.  Often a well-thought less expensive present will trump an expensive present any day of the week!

7 thoughts on “Christmas on the Cheap

  1. tini says:

    Dear SJ,

    I hope, you don’t send me a gift this year 🙂 So I’m going to add to the list:
    – think about who is really expecting a gift or who would be happy to just receive a handwritten letter or card 🙂

    And some gift ideas as well:

    For cooking or baking fans: Write down your favourite recipes on nice paper (handwritten) and make a small cookbook. Maybe use one of these notebooks, that you have laying around and start them a recipe collection, to which the recipient can add their own favourites (maybe convert your recipes to metric/imperial if you send them overseas)

    Make a cookbook/bookcover if you can sew (here’s a tutorial in German you can use old sheets or shirts for that. Or go to your local thrift store and get some fun shirts for that!

    Give the gift of time: If you have friends with small kids, give them 2 hrs. of babysitting, so that they can go out for a walk/pizza/movies… It will be highly appreciated!

  2. tini says:

    Oh forgot:
    If you like to take pictures: Get them printed in a large format and get some nice frames from IKEA or the thrift store
    or get them printed onto postcards (that’s pretty inexpensive nowadays!) or a calendar. If you have kids, a calendar with pictures of the kids and drawings is a great gift for grandparents

  3. tini says:

    Me again (now, you’ve openened pandoras box 🙂 )

    If you have a knitter in your life: go to the local thrift store and look for a sweater in wool in neutral colours, that is knitted in pieces and that is not sewn with a serger. Unravel the sweater, skein it up and wash it. Send it to said knitter with some KoolAid and give the knitter their on “dye your own fun colour yarn” set 🙂

    1. hortihoney says:

      Or even if you have some white or neutral yarn in your stash that you aren’t in love with!

      Don’t worry, not planning on sending any gifts to anyone in Europe this year, that’s why the oddly timed packages that went out before I left. It’s just too expensive to mail packages to Europe from the US! Plus, I tend to send big, heavy things:-)

      1. tini says:

        That’s good! Otherwise I would have had to yell at you 🙂 and WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS 🙂

      2. hortihoney says:

        Do not worry. The only thing other than letters that you might see from me in the near future would be vintage patterns. Which I’ve yet to find. SO NO WRITING IN ALL CAPS FOR ME! 🙂

  4. tini says:

    Letters are totally fine with me 🙂 I love letters and cards 🙂 (and recipes which one can send with a letter 🙂 )

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