Christmas presents a non-crafty person can make for cheap/free?

I really love Christmas, and giving presents to my friends. Alas, I have spent the last five months unemployed, and I am pretty sure I will have little to no present money even if I get a job soon, with all the debt piling up from having no income.

So, I need to make people presents, I think. The problem is, I am NOT crafty. I can’t knit or crochet (causes me agonizing pain in my wrist) and I’m not good at visual art (too uncoordinated). I can write, but writing anything takes me so long I would have had to start last January to get enough presents done to give to all my friends, especially if I want the stuff to be good, which you do of course when it’s a present.

Does anyone have any novel suggestions for me, that are worthy of a present from an adult to another adult? (i.e., not something that would be cute from a little kid even though it stinks, but would just be pathetic from an adult if they couldn’t do a good job)?

Can you bake? People like cookies, especially if you give them as gifts early enough to be served by your friends to others.

My brother and I bake every year. We just make the oatmeal scotchies on the back of the Tollhouse Butterscotch Chips bag. If you have an Aldi market near you, you should find all the ingredients you need there for any cookies, cheap.

If you want to be a bit crafty (and you drink coffee), you can decorate the outside of a metal coffee can with wrapping paper and ribbons and give your cookies in those. Or, you can use the new plastic Folger’s cans (conveniently red and green!) and cut out pictures from old Christmas cards and paste them over the flat parts of the can. OR…go to the dollar store and get foil take-out containers with lids (usually 3 or 4 for $1) and put a ribbon on top.

Personally, I dig anything that people bake, even if it’s just those cookies that come in a roll from the grocery store. It’s the thought that counts!

Food is always good. Breads, cookies, jams, compound butters, candy, marshmallows, truffles–we’ve given all of them at some point, and they’re all incredibly easy and use pretty basic, cheap kitchen staples.

Can you do some light sewing? Warming bags always go over great. You make up a pouch of some cheap thin fabric and fill it with rice or dry beans or feed corn (I prefer the corn because the higher water content means it holds heat longer). Then make another pouch the same size out of flannel or fleece with a velcro closure on one side. Put one inside the other, nuke, and enjoy. You can make a few dozen out of a $10 bag of deer corn from Walmart and a few clearance fabrics from the remnant bin. If you have a Hancock’s nearby, they have a huge sale the day after Thanksgiving and you can get fleece and flannel for next to nothing.

Oh, CrazyCatLady gave me another idea - bread/cake in small aluminum loaf pans. Those are cheap, and you bake the loaves in the pan and wrap them up and give them away. You can get a roll of green or red Saran Wrap and a cheap spool of ribbon, and there ya go.

Especially if you’ve got a garden this year and don’t know what to do with all that damn zucchini. Tiny zucchini loaves for all!

In my family, whoever is the poorest gives fudge. The recipe on the back of the marshmallow fluff jar is perfectly good and pretty much foolproof.

For close friends, a scrapbook of photos and memorabilia about your friendship is priceless.

If you can’t even cook, everybody loves those “brownie in a jar” things, where you give a jar that has all the dry ingredients for cookies or brownies or something, layered all pretty, with a tag that gives the recipe.

Oooh, I forgot about baking. I love to bake (especially cookies) and I’m learning to cook (especially with my crock pot which I am way too excited about) :slight_smile:

even sven, a scrapbook would be cool for my closest friends but I’m not quite skilled enough, I think (and scrapbooking stuff is really expensive, isn’t it?)

A friend once made me pretty note cards with photos she had taken herself, printed on cardstock. I don’t know if that was “cheap” but is sure was crafty.

Gift certificates for things is great, “Redeem for one home-cooked meal” or “Redeem for 4 hours babysitting” type of thing.

If you can’t bake, you can maybe assemble dry ingredients in a bag, and put in a pretty mug or baking pan, with a label and instructions. Can do soup ingredients too in a nice bowl.

Make a pomander, out of oranges and cloves and spices. These are a huge hit and so traditional, but you have to give at least 6 weeks lead time. Google “orange clove pomander instructions”. Oh hmm maybe not so good with your wrist problems, but hey others might read this thread for ideas.

Make delicate Christmas ornaments from dried leaves, spray painted silver and hung on Christmas hooks. They don’t last year-to-year unless you are very careful but the look really pretty on a tree.

A bunch of candy canes tied in a pretty bow, with a poem attached - doesn’t have to be an original poem.

Buy large grosgrain ribbon from the fabric store and buttons in interesting and contrasting colors. Cut ribbon 6 - 8 inches, sew buttons on the top and call it a bookmark.

Find 365 inspiring quotes (or 52) and print on slips of paper in a frilly font and put them in a clean Jelly jar with a pretty ribbon wrapped around. Quote of the day (week).

Hope this helps!

Yeah, been there.

Bath salts…epsom salts, fragrance (just spritz in whatever you have), a few drops of liquid food coloring that seems to go along with the fragrance, plus some glycerin or other unscented oil if you can afford it. Put it in a pretty bottle or jar. If you put it in a metal cannister, line it with plastic, maybe a ziplock bag, so the salt doesn’t corrode the metal. If you don’t have any pretty bottles, you can decorate a plain one with rub-on decals or stickers. You can protect the decals with a coat of clear nail polish. You can use a bath fluff as a bow for the package.

Clear glass ornaments, which are found in craft stores like Michaels. You want the ones where you can take the tops off. Stuff them with things like colored lace, mylar foil, plus some glitter or foil confetti. I’ve also used milkweed fluff inside them. (If you have some old glass ornaments you can usually get the paint out of them by adding a little water and epsom salts and shaking, but there’s a high breakage rate when I’ve done this.) Sometimes you can also find ornament display holders, which hold one or two ornaments so they can be put on a shelf, and these are pretty cheap.

For unbreakable ornaments (for people who have pets or little kids), there are paper mache balls and stars. There are also lots of little trinket boxes made of paper mache. These are generally very cheap. I keep a tube of acrylic paint (bright blue works well for me) and a sponge brush and paint paper mache stuff, usually 2 coats, inside & out for the boxes, then while the final coat is still wet I add in a sprinkle of iridescent glitter. I have lots of foil confetti, and I use clear nail polish and a pair of tweezers to glue foil confetti stars on.

Places like Goodwill can be your friend. You may be able to find stuff that’s used but in a nice way, things like vintage rock t-shirts, antique cups & saucers, and quality leather goods.

One thing I plan to try this year but haven’t experimented with much is magnets. You can find packages of button magnets fairly easily, and I’m working on finding things to glue onto them, like giant rhinestones and the like.

Oh, and once I came across lots of plain white t-shirts (for some reason WalGreens often has them) and I bought some liquid fabric paint and took an old toothbrush and splatter painted them. (Note: Red will look like a nosebleed.) I also once came across t-shirts the same week my husband found a bunch of tyedye kits at a yard sale, but that was a once in a lifetime thing. (And a very cheap, colorful Christmas.) You can do socks to match.

One thing I thought would be cheap but wasn’t were blank calendars with home printer copies of pictures…I had $50 in rewards from Discover for Staples, so hey, essentially free ink…Except I didn’t know until I got them that it was actually 2 $25gift checks which had to be used on separate purchases, which completely killed the discount you get for buying color and B&W together.

So, haunt craft stores & craft aisles, look in places like Goodwill, go to the library and look at magazines like Martha Stewart, and you’ll probably find something that works for you. Good luck!

I make a lot of mixes…a Cinnamon pancake mix, for example, and cordials…I made a great coffee liqueur for my coworker’s birthdays this year…and seasoning mixes.

This site (Organized Christmas) has some fairly simple ideas, though not all are equally cheap.

Only give stuff they have to finish baking if you actually know that they bake stuff. Make it all the way or save the expensive ingredients for yourself. I bake so guess who receives mixed stuff that non bakers received at Christmas. I get jars filled with ingredients and they tell me they don’t bake so here you can use it I’ll never make it.

Don’t give fattening stuff to people that are on a diet either. It will be given to coworkers and relatives.

Remembering that will reduce the money you feel you wasted.

Another option I’ve had good response to is salt or sugar scrubs. Mix up coarse salt or sugar with some vegetable oil, fragrance, and maybe some colorant. Pour it in a pretty jar, which you can usually find cheap at places like the Dollar Tree, Big Lots, that sort of place. My personal favorite combination is equal parts white sugar, brown sugar, and oil, with a dash of vanilla.

Sorry, I was kind of drinking when I posted before so I missed some more writerly ideas.

I’ve done mad lib type things. I typed up the story, complete with blanks to be filled in, then used a ruler and pencil to trace the blank areas onto a plain sheet of paper. Using a razor knife, I cut squares that matched up with the blanks. This way I had a cover over the story and the person couldn’t see what it was about. (I attached the two pages together with post-it notes so they wouldn’t accidently open it at the wrong spot.) Then, under each cut-out square I wrote in the instructions. For example, when my sister was much much younger she had a thing about a certain teen idol, so she was instructed to fill in some blanks using a title of any of his songs. Other blanks were to be filled in using any love song from that era, or a song with a woman’s name in the title, and so on. When all the blanks were filled in, she got to read the story, which was a magazine feature on her wedding to the teen idol in which they wrote their own vows…I can’t believe how corny this sounds. Believe me, it was much worse when I wrote the singer’s name into the post, but in actual practice it was quite a success.

I’ve also done word search puzzles, using various themes such as Guys We Would Have Done. Also cross word puzzles, using graph paper, although those take awhile. Then there are the quizes. You give the first line of a song, and they have to write in the song title. (These were called The it was the 3rd of June Quizes, because my sister and I had a fondness for Ode To Billy Joe.) Of course, you can also use movie quotes, or opening/closing lines from books, depending on what your friends are into. Answer key in the back…
Obviously, all of these ideas work best if you’re using stuff from your shared past. I usually put everything together in a paper portfolio, the kind with brads inside to secure the pages. Some things you can add in would be copies of very old letters they wrote you (a friend of mine unearthed some notes we’d passed as teenagers, and they were a blast to read), paper fortune tellers with your own handwritten fortunes inside (adolescent girls may still know how to fold these if you’ve forgotten), and mix tapes or cd’s.

Also, I’ve written custom porn for my husband, but you may not have that sort of relationship with many of your friends.

Candy making.

Buy some paper boxes from a local restaurant supply store OR buy chinese takeout boxes from your local Chinese food place (they will look at you funny, let me tell you) OR stalk the dollar store for inexpensive decorative tins.

Chocolate covered stick pretzels (dip in: nuts, coconut, sprinkles, etc)
chocolate covered butter toffee – so freaking easy
-mix equal volumes butter and sugar (1 cup/1cup) in a saucepan over medium (gas stove) or high (electric stove) heat.

  • Stir constantly mix will melt, boil, froth, begin to “look sticky” then turn the color of toffee (approx 5 minutes)
    -When it turns the color of toffee,
    optionally add some chopped pecans
    Then pour out onto a buttered baking sheet. Set to cool (outside if its cold, otherwise in the fridge)
    -When fully cool, melt some chocolate in the microwave, spread with a spoon over one side of the toffee, cool, flip, repeat. Break the toffee into bite sized chunks.

If you really splurge on the chocolate it costs about $2-3 per pound to make (retails, typically $25/lb)

When you say you write, do you mean creative writing? If so, you could write some holiday themed ‘heart warming’ positive story, just a short one will do. Print it out in some ‘special’ way, perhaps you cut and fold a sheet of paper into an eight ‘page’ booklet. Or just print it on one of those sheets of decorative paper. A bonus factor is that you can simply mail them in an envelope to distant people.

If you plan to give the story to more than a couple of people, it’s probably cheaper to print once and get it photocopied – even color copies make for a pretty cheap gift.

I did this a few years back when we went through some financial problems. My story was about a year when an angel had to fill in for Santa, and left presents like joy and understanding and friendship and love. The whole story fit on eight ‘quarter page’ sized page I so only had to make a single double sided copy for each copy of the story. On the last page of each I glued a white feather that was accidentally behind by the angel – got a whole bag of them from a craft store for something like 88 cents.

Anyway, I think I got more compliments over that gift that the years when I spent significant amounts of money on their gifts.

For the past several years, my wife and I have sent out a CD with a selection of cool, non-traditional Christmas tunes from our music collection.

Design a cool CD cover with a picture of the family, a drawing by the kid, and some written “Happy Holidays!” sentiments, and there you go; a cheap, very personal gift/Christmas card.

I use a bunch of over-priced graphics programs, but there are several cheap/free programs that allow you to design your own CD cover.

Something my sister (a hard-core scrapbooker) has done in the past is to do one single scrapbook page for me, framed, as a Christmas present. Last year’s was on the theme “Siblings” and featured pictures of my three children, artfully arranged, with some background paper decoration and whatnot. I honestly don’t think it looks like it would be that hard to accomplish, but it is a highly cherished gift and I have it displayed on our piano where you see it right when you come in the front door. So something like that might be worth looking into.

I also do love fudge, or cookies, or those baking mixes, or anything like that. Homemade chocolate truffles are not that tough and are always a hit.

Go immediately to your local 99cent store/Dollar store/Big Lots etc.
There you can usually find interesting, re-usable glass containers - large jars, vases, cylinders, whatever. They make great containers for whatever you decide to give people and become part of the gift.

Then you can put your baked good, plus small colorfully wrapped candy, or simple ornaments into the container and it will look like you paid a professional to create the gift!

BTW, including a cheap toy from the “old days” brings a smile even to jaded adults. You can usually find something like that at the cheap stores as well - a Barbie-type doll for women, yo-yo or soap bubbles for men, etc. It is silly, but reminds people of Christmas’ past, and even adults like to play with a toy.

The scrapbooking thing doesn’t have to be all that expensive if you’re careful.

A small book, say 4"X4" or 6"X6" often works nicely when doing one for friends. If you watch Joan’s or Hobby Lobby, you can get the supplies at half price. Limit it to 8-12 pages so you don’t wrap up a fortune in printer ink for the pics. Usually, on sale, I can get a small, cardstock bound book for a couple of bucks or make one myself for half that. Then you have your 6/$.96 paper for background (remember, a 12"X12" sheet goes a long way when you’re making a small book). A box of 1000 photo splits will run you about $5.Take it easy on the other elements and make sure that anything you buy or collect is archivally safe (you want them to be able to keep this for a long time). Use your computer for a lot of the graphics and journaling.

With some of the same supplies, you can make notecards (I’ve found that 1/2 sheets of 8.5"X11" cardstock works well as the base) and Wally World has stationiers envelopes in that size for $5 for 50.

I’ve also made calendars. If you have a color printer / copier, this one can be cost effective if you only do one or two versions. Use 8.5"X11" paper as the base (you’ll want cardstock for the original), Excel or another spreadsheet works for the calendar grid and another sheet for the picture / artwork. With a hole punch, you can use ribbon to make a tied binding. After the original is made, just copy the others.These are immensely popular with my family, even though it hasn’t been an economic necessity for a few years. You can put birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates directly on the grid. This has the added benefit of no one having the excuse of forgetting your bd. :slight_smile:

If you have any papercrafting questions, you can e-mail me and I’ll do my best to answer them.