No-budget Christmas gifts

In these hard times, I know that there are plenty of advice columns that discuss strategies for cutting back on Christmas expenditures while still showing that one is a caring giftgiver, but what I am proposing is considerably more radical: gifts that cost you, the giver, nothing whatsover (well, except maybe the cost of incidentals that get you to the free stuff, but still). Now, granted, the items listed below are at best, going to make funky stocking stuffers or items for relatively undiscerning kids, and it’s unlikely to that one can do a completely cost-free gift exchange, but hey, it’s a start. Here are a few suggestions:

Promotional Calendars

Every Chinese take-away in the nation hands out charming, exotic single sheet calendars printed on bamboo slats, and they usually even come rolled up in little gift boxes. Ok, so you probably had better order something for form’s sake, but you were getting hungry right about now anyway, right?

For a gift that keeps on giving, hie on down to your local Subway and snag their 2012 coupon calendar, featuring lovely photos of various exotic locales (most of which, I am pretty sure, have no actual Subway restaurants) and the real payoff: valuable discount coupons at the bottom of every page. One small error, in my view: each coupon is good only for the month on which it is displayed, meanng that you’ll end up defacing the hell out of the thing if you actually want to use the discounts. Little more thought next time, eh, SW?

Lastly, I’ve got to give props to the 2012 Subaru calendar I scored last time I visited the dealership to see to my elderly Impreza. 13 months of dramatic photos of WRX rally specials bounding through the wilderness just this side of complete loss of control. Mighty snappy, and mine for the taking.

And speaking of car dealers:

Automobile brochures

Is there anything more beautifully printed, and more optimistic, than a new car brochure? Look at the extraordinary level of detail in the photos, the bold sweep of the fenders, how the interior of even the cheapest econobox looks like something Rolls-Royce wishes they could aspire to, and the list of options! So many options! If I were a 12-year-old kid again, I’d be all over that, and if you can just hang on to them for fifty years or so, they’ll be worth considerable coin, you just wait.

Beer Mats

My sister actually gave me a huge collection of these (many from Australia and the UK) as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and while it makes me a bit queasy to think of how much drinking she did to end up with 300 beer mats in a year’s time, they’re exotic and interesting and I will never have rings on my varnished furniture ever again.


Free airline stuff

OK, you don’t get much more than bags of pretzels on domestic flights any more, but if you manage to go overseas on the company dime, a veritable cornucopia of free goods opens up. Aside from the usual things like the little bottles of iffy wine they serve with dinner, I’ve scored handy little packets containing socks, an eyemask, toothbrush and toothpaste (British Airways); vast numbers of really gorgeous postcards (Lufthansa), and a lovely ceramic replica of a dutch row house (KLM). OK, the last one was in Business class, but I got bumped there, didn’t pay a penny for the privelege.

So, now that I’ve (I hope) fired your imaginations, what are your suggestions?

Due to finances, I’m making homemade gifts this year. A few of the gifts I’m making are food gifts but I’m also making book safes (hollowed out books), you can use any old hardback book. Its pretty easy but takes some time and patience.

That’s fairly brilliant, actually. Maybe with some trinket inside, like a bag of those chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.

Are the cut outs shaped to hold flasks or guns?

A million years ago I did the book thing with an x-acto knife and dogged determination. Any tips to spare my poor hands? Be assured, this was a book even it’s own mother wouldn’t read-- a compilation of statistical data on tires, from the seventies.

I make zero cost presents by identifying appropriate dried flowers, pods, and such and turning them into arrangements. It provided spending cash during my college years, in fact.

[Ortega commercial girl]“Why can’t we have both?”[/Ortega commercial girl]

Seriously though, I tried making one with an X-acto knife too and it was a complete failure. Is there a special tool you use? A Dremel or something maybe? -> clueless.

And yes, like Ashes, Ashes I would only ever use an entirely worthless book. If memory serves it was one of those “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” or some tripe like that.

My local Half Price Books sells those Reader’s Digest books by the yard. I imagine that I could also ask if they have any books suitable for book safes…or I could browse the clearance racks specifically for this.

Very cool. My sister hollowed out a phone book a couple years ago to disguise a present to my brother. It would have worked better with something hard-covered for some stiffness, but it did the job.

Come to think of it, I’ve got a few small gifts I’m looking to disguise this year. Maybe I should see what the local library’s used book sale has to offer.

I’ve got nothing to offer as far as no-cost gift ideas, though I have always been a fan of giving bargain-bin DVDs as cheap gifts. Sometimes, you can find something really good and even if you can’t a lot of the cheap sci-fi and horror films double as unintentional comedies.

Once, as a gift, I borrowed (with permission) my mother’s list of phone numbers. I very carefully typed the names and numbers out. We had a typewriter and typing paper at home, so my gift was my labor. Another time, I typed out a lot of recipes that were handwritten, and the various scraps of paper were dirty and disintegrating. Again, my gift was my labor. Both times, my mother was extremely appreciative.

My grandmother used to buy high-end skin care & cosmetics for herself and give me the free “Gift with Purchase” they usually offer. Usually a cosmetic bag with travel-size products in it. I freakin’ LOVED those gifts.

(Not a “no budget” gift since she spent plenty of $ on the product, but still.)

I made my daughter a mocha brown sugar body scrub out of items I had in the kitchen and put it all in a jelly jar. She’ll love it and it didn’t cost me anything since it was all leftovers from making the cookies. It would probably go to waste anyway since we rarely bake anymore.

I used a box cutter and an exacto knife, its slow going though. Its easier if you find a book with thicker cotton like paper, the worst was thin glossy paper (I made three). I googled it and found instructions online which made it easier. I lined the hole with felt. I think you’d need either a special tool or a LOT of patience to make a specific shape.