Dreaming of a Frugal Christmas: 6 Things You Can Make That People on Your List Will Use and Want


The problem with many great Xmas ideas is we wait until November to start them and then can’t finish in time. Just devote a little Sunday afternoon time to all or one of these ideas and you’ll have an arsenal of cool cheap Xmas gifts to play Santa with. I present to you a few of the ideas and projects I’m working on and have done in the past.

Baby Food Jar Votives 

Back in the day when my kids were eating baby food from a jar I must have saved up a hundred of those cool tiny little jars. Get a double boiler from the local thriftstore, some wax and wick from a craft store and you can have some fun. I’m a candle person anyways so I always save my old candle bits and keep them in a color coated ziploc bags. Come candle making time I mix some of the old wax with new wax and some dye if you wish and you’ve got some groovy little votive candles. I add a ribbon around the top of the jar so it looks less baby food and more clever disguise.

Bath Tea Bags

I order empty tea bag containers meant for the bathtub that can run as cheap as 20 cents a piece. If you’ve got roses and lavender growing in your yard the way I do, you just found a great aromatic "tea bath" recipe! Most tea bags simply have you iron the sides together when you are done. It might take the better part of an afternoon but then you have what’s often a $4 to $6 dollar item in a bath boutique made! Try this idea from You Grow Girl.

Bath Bombs!

This is a hit with my family and friends. With a little baking soda, witch hazel, natural herbs and fragrances, you can come up with great bath fizziness that everyone will like! There are molds you can buy. Some are a bit pricey to set them in--but I found that empty apple sauce containers make great molds! Here’s a recipe from Teach Soap that works well.

Infused Olive Oil

Hey, people spend good money on plain old olive oil infused with rosemary or garlic or both for example--why not make it at home? World Market usually has some great bottles for just a few dollars that can make a really stunning gift. Here’s an easy to follow recipe.


Let’s face it. Everyone has more than enough scarves. You don’t need to knit any more. You can’t knit everyone a sweater--you’d have to have some serious downtime for that sort of project and yarn can be expensive. Enter the tiny knit project--make the kids and cool adult kids in your life some rockin’ amigurumi! What's amigurumi? Inexplicably cute crocheted and knitted animals and whatnot with excessively cheery expressions. No one can be depressed with these around AND if you buy them in a store you'll probably spend $20-$50 on them. Each one shouldn’t take too long to make and you can use scrap yarn to do so. There are a bunch of cool patterns for knit and crochet online  but I went ahead and invested the book, Amigurmi World, that’s been a lot of fun.

Fingerless Gloves

You know why gloves take so long to make? Too many fingers! Enter the fingerless gloves. All of your friends sitting at computers in cold cubicles and apartments will think you are the most amazing friend ever. Each glove takes about an hour + a little wiggle time for the thumb. One skein of yarn can get you through a pair and many yarn stores will have great sales of one skein left in a dye lot. I’ve made these for awhile so I actually don’t look at a pattern anymore, but Knitty has a good basic one. I confess though, my kids were with me while I was looking at patterns and now I’m stuck making a complicated Transformers hat and sweater. Kids, don’t you want gloves?

Bottletop Checkers

Make a homemade checkerboard. I’ve made some from cloth with a checker pattern; I’ve painted old found wood as well to make a checkerboard. The fun comes in with the bottletop caps. We’ve done a big board with peanut butter caps (red and blue) and milk caps (pink for the 2% milk; blue for the fat free) to make two sets. The kids can glitter glue up the tops to match as well.

These are things I’ve been making but my big sources of inspiration, patterns and ideas often come from checking out these places:

The weather is starting to cool off. Time to head indoors, sit down and literally make the holidays happen.

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Guest's picture

Although food isn't something you can make too far in advance, I would still put it on the list. I'm making everyone sugar-free fudge this year, because it seems like everyone either has diabetes, or is on the Atkins diet. (:

Guest's picture

I found a great apron pattern at craftstylish, that uses 2 cloth napkins and a bit of ribbon. I made a sample apron yesterday to see how it would turn out and it is cute! I'm planning on making these for all my friends who cook. I'm also trying to figure out how to make matching children's apron out of one napkin, since many of my friends have daughters.

Aside from that I'm planning on giving away food (jams, pickles, and homemade cordials, etc.) They are always well received and are prefect gifts because they get used and don't just sit collecting dust.

I love the amigurumi dolls! I haven't perfected the method yet though. Perhaps a trip to the library is in order!

Guest's picture

I make cookies and hot peper jam for the adults. I find they like them better then store bought gifts and after their done its not going to collect dust in their homes.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the ideas! I was planning on making zucchini pickles and zucchini bread ... the squash bugs invaded my organic garden and ruined that idea. Then I found out the birdhouse gourds which came up nicely take at least six months to dry thoroughly. (They'll be ready for Mother's Day!)
So just as I was really beginning to wonder/worry what to do for Christmas, your article came along.
Thanks much - the amigurumi are adorable. I've had some success with crocheting turtles (use an empty, clean margarine tub and crochet around it for the shell), so I may try one of these.

Guest's picture

We have a rule, only homemade or recycled gifts (re-gifts allowed! goodwill, antique stores, flea market, etc. are encouraged) (the "kids" in the family are all 35-45 years old; younger ones get something off their wish list :)

Here are some ideas we have used in the past:

Food is always welcome (my husband is a chef, we own a restaurant, etc.)
Canned preserves with pretty labels and bows
Wine (family made)
Homemade Limoncello (easy, pretty, yummy...see sunset.com for a good recipe)
Beeswax Candles
Repurposed planters with plants, e.g. wooden wine boxes (from local wine shop, just ask) planted with herbs or flowers or lettuce
Planters with forced bulbs, still sleeping (amaryllis, paperwhites, daffodils, tulips, etc.)
Calendars (made with iPhoto or other program)
Favorite books, collected as a series
Favorite CDs or DVDs (as a theme; everyone just selects one person and swaps gifts with that person)

Myscha Theriault's picture

Slamming post, Margaret! They are all great ideas, but I especially love the tea bag bath goodies. Very, very clever.


Check out my various projects and services at Itinerant Tightwad. I also have a monthly education newsletter.

Guest's picture

One year I made chocolate truffles. I bought a pack of gift boxes to put them in. They went over very well.

Guest's picture
Bijan's mom

I really enjoy participating in cookie swaps, but definitely end up with way more cookies than we can ever eat. I buy the pretty, patterned scarf boxes at the dollar store, line them with tissue, and lay out a dozen different cookies in each box. Tie on a ribbon, and I have awesome gifts for co-workers. The scarf boxes are only about an inch deep, so it makes a very pretty presentation.

Guest's picture

Great ideas! I'm gonna try making bath bombs this year.

Guest's picture

Last year, I was too ambitious- making 3 quilts as gifts, doll clothes for my girls, and even some outfits for my son's doll. I made smaller gifts for co-workers. December was terribly busy and I felt like I had to spend my time in my sewing room.

This year, I am not going there. I am still making outfits for my girls' dolls, but no big projects or plans. I just am not doing the office gifting thing. Period. And my family gift list will be cut to the quick. I am planning to give more practically- and purposefully of my time over the course of the year, rather than feeling like what I give during the holidays is demonstrative of my level of affection for the recipient. We as a family have spent more time with grandparents and in ways that help them in doing this. My daughter helped my mom with a garage sale; hubby stepped up assisting with lawn work and shoveling; I spent tons of time helping my mom when my stepfather was in Hospice. Etc. So far, I am planning to help my mom with some house renovations- I intend to pay for some elctrical rewiring and a new kitchen light fixture. It won't go under the tree- but this is what she wants and needs.

Guest's picture

Crochet items will also be much appreciated from shawls to purses to book jackets.

Guest's picture

Some fun ideas! The fingerless gloves one (for your cold friends in an office) made me smile ;) Too bad trying to knit is frustrating for me.

Guest's picture

We often make home made Kahlua or Irish Cream - there are excellent recipes on the 'net.