A Merry Christmas on No Budget

I’ve always been a fan of giving gifts. I remember when I was a little girl and had zero cash, I used to come up with gifts for my family all the time, and of course, they didn’t cost a dime. Anything was a potential gift: I’d pick flowers from my grandma’s garden or a nearby park, I’d collect shells when I was at the beach and save them for special occasions, I’d draw pictures, write stories, cut nice images from magazines… I even saved a piece of candy or two so I could give to my friends at school.

Fast forward to 2009 and those childhood ideas aren’t looking as childish in this economy! This year has been tough on everyone, reflected by the number of petitions I’ve received to write a column about how to have a Merry Christmas when you’re strapped for cash.

I realize pictures from old magazines and leftover Halloween candy is probably not what you have in mind for a Christmas gift, but if you think about it, it actually applies perfectly. As a kid, I was using what I had on hand in tandem with my abilities to make someone I loved smile. The concept for us today is the same. How can we make someone smile with what we have on hand, or by just using our abilities?

If your mom absolutely hates doing dishes, how about giving her a “Get out of the Kitchen Free” card and do them for her after Christmas dinner? If your boyfriend can’t stand ironing, give him a “fresh-pressed load of laundry” for a gift. If you put your mind to it, you can think of something you are perfectly capable of doing that your friends and family hate, and offer to do it for them.

I’m not a huge fan of cooking. I don’t hate it; I just don’t do it… like ever! I always say my Mr. Right will have to know how to cook to win me over. This is no secret about me. So, imagine how my friends and family would feel if I actually decided to cook for them. If a friend of mine came over and I surprised her with a home-cooked meal, I bet she’d be both surprised and excited. I wouldn’t even need to cook something fancy – just anything from my pantry. Exploit that kind of thing. For me, it’s cooking, for you it may be sewing or gardening. We all have things we know how to do pretty well but we just choose not to, or avoid doing them. Surprise someone with your hidden ability!

If you still want to go the traditional way and purchase a present, here are some really good ideas for gifts under $10 that maybe could supplement a hand-made coupon for a special act of kindness.

  1. Gourmet coffees with a personal coffee cup
  2. Journal with special inscription inside
  3. Teacup with box of herbal tea
  4. Homemade cocoa mix (layers of cocoa, sugar, marshmallows and maybe chocolate chips) in a pretty jar
  5. Collage of special photos
  6. Gel pens and pretty stationery
  7. Home baked bread, and include the recipe on a colorful, laminated card
  8. Basket filled with an assortment of small chunks of deli cheese and fruit
  9. Craft supplies
  10. Holiday serving bowl or platter
  11. Decorative napkins and napkin rings
  12. Fancy chocolate bars tied with a ribbon
  13. Gardening gloves with a plant or flower seeds
  14. Photo album, hand-decorated is even better
  15. Makeup tote
  16. Homemade cookie mix in a quart jar with instructions for baking
  17. Special coffee cup filled with candy
  18. Fancy magazines tied together with a pretty ribbon
  19. Board games
  20. Note cards and book of stamps
  21. Picture frames, buy them on sale!
  22. Specialty cookbook
  23. Set of dish towels and dish cloths
  24. Nail polish kit
  25. A night shirt
  26. Basket filled with kitchen gadgets
  27. Handwritten copies of your favorite recipes
  28. For the pets, gourmet dog biscuits or cat treats
  29. Baking pans and supplies
  30. Pretty box for keepsakes
  31. Address book
  32. Christmas ornaments
  33. Favorite quote embroidered or pen-painted on a nice handkerchief
  34. Makeup brush set
  35. Special soaps and bath puff

This season, remember, although money is one of your two most precious commodities, time is the other. And regardless of your budget for gifts, time spent with the people you love is the most precious thing you can give.

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