25 Great Gifts for $5 or Less
Linsey's book review on Debt-Proof the Holidays inspired me to consider quality (but inexpensive) gifts that I have given over the years. She mentioned home-made gifts as an alternative to store-bought gifts, which can dramatically lower expenses — as can limiting your gift list. Having struggled with gift-list limiting (I have 1 husband, 2 children, 2 parents, 9 nieces and nephews, and 12 in-laws) and being hopeless at crafts, I have opted for creative gift buying with some occasional holiday baking. Here are 25 non-crafty gift ideas, all for less than $5, suitable for nearly everyone on your list. (See also: 7 Savory Holiday Food Gifts)
1. Fruit basket
These are pricey if you order fully prepared and decorated from a gift basket company, but it's easy to make your own. You'll need to find a good buy on fruit such as the one offered by Citrus Unlimited, an Indian River (FL) grower that visits my town with truckloads of citrus (oranges, grapefruits, tangelos) for sale. Last week, I bought a bushel of navel oranges for $18. Put five of these in a dollar-store basket and you've got a fruit-basket gift for just under $5.
If you don't have access to bulk fruit, try a member of the Florida Gift Fruit Shippers Association. Prices are slightly higher than the off-the-truck variety, but still a bargain.
Everyone can use a flashlight, right? This gift will be especially useful for the outdoorsy but is great for anyone who needs to see outside at night or who happens to find him/herself off the grid or without power. Find one at your favorite hardware store or order this "super-bright" compact flashlight.
3. Classic books
Dover Thrift Editions have been one of my holiday traditions for nieces and nephews. Titles include A Christmas Carol available through Amazon and Anna Karenina, which you can find at the Dover online store.
4. Children's books
You'll also find great buys on classic children's books at Dover. Check out the Dover Evergreen Classics, where you can find The Fables of Aesop, or Children's Thrift Classics to buy The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad.
5. Oven mitt
Ever notice at potluck dinners how oven mitts are nearly always stained and ragged (even those owned by the most persnickety perfectionists)? A green oven mitt (or red, or other suitably festive color) can be paired with red and green Hershey kisses for a holiday-ready and most useful gift.
6. Kitchen towels
If you like the kitchen linen idea but want something more elegant, consider buying a set of kitchen towels (or cloth napkins) and creating two gifts (or more — you could give four napkins for a gift and stay within the $5 budget); tie with a nice ribbon.
You can also buy a set of bowls and give them individually; add a decorative touch of ribbon or home-cooked treat.
8. Measuring cup
For a super-practical and nearly everlasting gift (perhaps for newlyweds who forgot to put a measuring cup on their registry), get a Pyrex glass measuring cup. I use mine for measuring and boiling water in the microwave.
9. Coffee mug
Someone starting out is most likely to enjoy a sturdy coffee mug, like this retro-style one. White goes with nearly any china pattern so even more established recipients will like to have an extra mug on hand.
10. Handmade recycled drinking glass
This glass is created by Jahanara Cottage Industries, an artisan group in rural Bangladesh and supplied through Ten Thousand Villages. The manager of a partner store visited a women's meeting at my church a couple of weeks ago. She told us about the mission of Ten Thousand Villages, which works with artisans in developing countries and impoverished areas worldwide. Artisans are paid a fair wage (that is enough to support their families and educate their children; hence, the term "fair trade") in an arrangement that gives artisans merchandising direction, provides supplies and payment advances, and guarantees payment of completed work. There are shops throughout the United States and Canada, an online store, and partner stores (where some, but not all, merchandise is supplied by Ten Thousand Villages).
11. Conversation piece (bird whistle)
I participated in a Christmas ornament exchange with a childhood friend for many years. This very informal arrangement allowed us to select a suitable, affordable gift; when I am decorating my tree, I get to remember the ornaments she bought or made for me. You'll find ornaments anywhere but I like shopping at family-owned gift shops for memorable, one-of-a-kind ones.
13. Chocolate chess pie
This gift involves cooking but is simple, absolutely delicious, and freezes exceptionally well. I've been buying them at my church bazaar for a few years and finally snagged the recipe, which makes two pies for a cost per pie of about $4.
Here's the recipe:
- Ingredients: 4 squares unsweetened baking chocolate; 2 sticks butter; 4 eggs, lightly beaten; 2½ cups sugar; ½ cup warm milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 9-inch pie crusts.
- Instructions: Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Temper the eggs with the chocolate and add to chocolate/butter mixture (add a small amount of chocolate to the eggs). Add sugar, milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Bake at 300 for 40 minutes; turn oven off and leave pies in for 5 more minutes. Remove to racks to cool.
14. Potato soup in a jar
This potato soup is a dried version that lets the recipient create a home-made lunch at a moment's notice by adding boiling water.
You mix all the ingredients (1¾ cups instant mashed potatoes, 1½ cups dry milk, 2 tablespoons instant chicken bouillon, 2 teaspoons dried minced onion, and 1½ teaspoons of Italian seasoning), place in a quart jar (you can buy a canning jar or plastic quart container, or clean out a spaghetti sauce jar); add a bow on the top and a tag that gives instructions: "Bone-warming Potato Soup: Place ½ cup mix in soup bowl and add 1 cup water. Stir until smooth."
Even with the high price of powdered milk, you can make this soup for approximately $3.50 per gift.
15. Movie night basket
Assemble a movie-night basket (or gift bag) with a DVD (I've found Abbott & Costello titles at the dollar store; or buy a previously viewed/used version of more current titles at Blockbuster Outlet), some microwave popcorn, and your favorite drink mix (mine would be Crystal Light pink lemonade).
16. Jump rope
If your gift recipient wants some intense exercise, a jump rope is an excellent choice.
17. Deck of cards
Who couldn't use a deck of cards for some non-wired fun? Even if you have a deck at home, carrying these on trips can help pass the time during your travels or give you a game to play when you reach your destination. You can pick these up at the drugstore, the dollar store, your favorite mass merchant, or order online. You can even play solitaire with them.
Puzzles are appropriate for all ages. My cousins used to always have a large puzzle set up on a card table in their den for leisurely puzzle-solving mixed with conversation. Prices can vary on these but you can usually snag inexpensive ones at the dollar store or your favorite mass merchant. A wooden puzzle, like this barnyard-themed puzzle, is nice for younger kids.
Sudoku is equally appropriate for all ages. You can pick these up at the bookstore, grocery store, or find one at Amazon.
20. Coloring book with crayons
Here's more fun but this time for kids only. If you stocked up on crayons during the back-to-school sales, you're nearly ready for this gift; if not, I recommend buying a sturdy brand of crayons (I like Crayola as other brands I've tried tend to break easily) and pairing it with an inexpensive coloring book, often found at the dollar store.
21. Die-cast toy cars
Die-cast cars are great for busy hands. Even little ones appreciate the sturdiness of these types of cars, which tend to race faster than the cheaper variety. A well-selected edition should create some excitement.
22. Star Wars (LEGO) key chains
For the Star Wars fan on your list, you can buy Princess Leia keychains from LEGO Shop (online) as well as many other characters such as Anakin, Chewbacca, and Darth Vader.
If you're lucky enough to have a Rugged Wearhouse nearby, check out its selection of t-shirts and sweatshirts, often seconds but usually with name-brand labels. I've also noticed that craft stores (Michael's and A.C. Moore) carry inexpensive t-shirts in a variety of colors.
24. Small photo albums
Last year, my oldest sister gave photo books that commemorated our dad's 80th birthday party. This year, I'm giving a photo album filled with family photos to my sister-in-law. I've also given small photo albums with grandkid photos to parents/in-laws. You can find inexpensive ones at craft stores or drugstores.
25. Picture frames with family photos
I like getting picture frames and I like getting photos of family members but I love getting photos in a frame. I can keep the set as-is or place the photo in an album and re-use the picture frame.
For those of you who are extra busy and don't have time to search for bargains, I hope this guide helps you to stay frugal through the holidays. Add your gift ideas (crafty or not) if you'd like!