Mass produce a specialty condiment
Most people no longer have relatives that make things like homemade jam, pickles, mustard, or salsa. You can whip up a huge batch of one of these items and buy a carton of pretty jars to give to everyone you know. It will only take a few hours of baking on afternoon and the gifts will end up costing less than $5 each. For larger gifts, make your own set of three different flavors of something like jam or mustard. Here’s a massive list of other cheap gifts you can make with jars.
Who doesn’t need a stiff drink after months of family get-togethers and awkward holiday parties? You can buy a few handles of vodka, infuse something interesting into it, and redistribute into pretty (smaller) bottles you can buy at any craft store. You could make Bloody Mary infused vodka, Skittles vodka, or Bacon infused bourbon.
Give the gift of nostalgia
You can buy tons of 90’s stuff on Amazon for a penny, and if you take the time to buy from the same seller you only have to pay for shipping once. So, for your childhood friend you can gift him/her with box filled with blasts from the past for under $10. Some ideas include Fear Street and Goosebumps books, a ‘How To Dance The Macarena‘ VHS, Baby Sitter’s Club Super Mysteries, or a VHS of New Kids On The Block performing ‘Hanging Tough.’
The very basics of how to knit are all you need to make scarves or blankets and those are the kind of hand made gifts people treasure forever. Bonus: knitting is a great stress reliever.
You can make your own with photos and magazine cut-outs/sharpies or make one on a site like Shutterfly. If you sign up for emails from photo printing websites and Groupon, you can wait around until there’s a great deal (which there inevitably will be before the holidays). It might seem cheesey or kitschy, but in a few years, you’ll look back at it and it will be a perfect time capsule of 2013.
Turn memories into decor
Ask the people you’re buying for what the best part of the last year was for them. Figure out a way to represent this in a beautiful frame (you can find these at thrift stores). It could be a picture of the event, a memorable quote, a kid’s handprint, or a newspaper clipping. Let them display something that’s meaningful to them.
A year long advent calendar
For someone you’re close with (like a significant other) you can make some kind of cute package of 12 sealed envelopes–one for each month at 2014. Each month your loved one can open the envelope and find a unique/fun/free activity you’ll do that month.
Cheap/free things to include:
- going to a museum or flower garden
- having a beach day
- going to an apple orchard or corn maze
- hiking to a local scenic location
- borrowing a friend’s equipment to do something new like cross-country skiing, biking, or camping
- a homemade pizza/hot wings/fondue competition
- tour a brewery or winery in the area
- rent a projector from the library and watch a movie outdoors
Gift a fun or relaxing night
For under ten bucks you could gift someone a drugstore bubble bath, a great bath read, and a bag of (somewhat) fancy chocolates. For a family or couple: a cheap DVD (you can find tons of new releases on sale for $3 or less on black Friday), a few bags of popcorn (buy in bulk and take a few bags out of the box), and a box of Sour Patch Kids.
Awesome night in!
Use the internet to learn how to give a killer massage. Buy a nice essential oil (like lavender) and give massage coupons to everyone who it wouldn’t be creepy to massage.
Create a themed family portrait
For your immediate family, hit up a thrift store and buy everyone a shirt or outfit in a theme (80’s, ugly sweater, farmer) and have everyone pose for a fun (and memorable!) family pic.
For the ironic male figure in your life, consider the gift of swants.
A luxe version of an everyday tool
How fancy would you feel every time you opened your mail if you had a fancy letter opener to do it with? This one’s just $8.
See also, these sweet ass cat ear buds that would remind me of the gift giver every time I’m walking down the street/being anti-social at my office.
For $16 you can send two soccer balls or a hygiene kit to people in need in lieu of giving a gift to someone who professes that they don’t really “need” anything. $25 can get $125 worth of food or $250 worth of school supplies in Africa.
Actual cheap gifts
Search ‘cheap Christmas gifts‘ on Amazon and you’ll get pages of niche, inexpensive items. Maybe you’ll have a stroke of luck and find the perfect gift for your work secret santa, or quirky uncle.
Non-girly kitchen treats
A lot of the DIY gifts you’ll find online are aimed at women. For gender neutral gifts or the men in your life, make a batch of homemade beef jerky.
Make a new family heirloom
Contact the oldest generation of your family and collect all their favorite and most memorable family recipes into a book you can hand make, or print online. If it’s an item that will last a few days or can be refridgerated (like canned pickles or a special kind of bread) make a sample to include with the book.
As Rob Gordon says, “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway… I’ve started to make a tape… in my head… for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done.”
A really great mixed CD, made especially for someone, can be a beautiful and meaningful gift that costs only an hour digging through your itunes and 1/20th the price of a bulk stack of blank discs.
If you know someone who’s always wanted to learn more about photography or get into writing or travel the world, get them an inexpensive book, journal, or travel guide along with a note encouraging them to pursue their passion.
This is a really great gift for couples or a family because it’s something you use in a group. Experiences are more memorable than gifts, so any kind of gift that needs to be used with other people is going to make people happy. You can get a tiny set on Amazon for $3 or a bigger one for under $20. If you want to spend more, include melting chocolate or a good melting cheese (hint: Trader Joes).
Something they’ll look at everyday
You can search Etsy for tons of cheap, unique art that doesn’t suck. Sure, there’s some crap-tastic stuff on Etsy, but there’s also a lot of people that aren’t professional artists, but make things as a hobby that look really cool.
For instance, here’s a phone case of a lumberjack punching a bear:
Or, get someone this sweet wall art of a stripper sloth:
And these Clueless candles are basically the best thing on the internet right now: