Cincinnati Family Magazine

Your # 1 Hometown Family Resource

July 13, 2024

Gifts from the Heart

Who says gifts have to cost money? Fun and easy ideas can help you make the perfect treasure for little or no money.

Full1239.jpg“Mommy I want that!” my son Josiah shouts, jumping up and down, excitedly pointing to a picture of an electronic puppy. “And that, and this,” he says, rapidly flipping through a mail-order toy catalogue we recently received.

“What would happen if you didn’t get any presents for Christmas?” I ask my son, hoping to stunt his growing wish list.

“It would be a disaster and a cawwamity,” Josiah quickly responds, repeating a phrase he recently heard on one of his favorite cartoons.

“Not a disaster and a calamity,” I laugh, gently correcting the word his missing front tooth renders difficult to pronounce. Later that evening, reflecting on my son’s statement, I chuckle again. At 4 years old, Josiah’s idea of “the bestest Christmas in the whole, wide world” is one filled with a tree brimming with gifts with his name on them.

Receiving gifts is just one of the joys of Christmas. Another joy is being able to give gifts. But what if your funds are scarce? Being on a budget during the holidays doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the festivities. It does mean, however, that you may have to be a little more creative. Here are some free or low-cost gift ideas to consider.

Handmade Crafts

Years ago, when my brother and his wife were strapped for cash, my sister-in-law put her photography skills to use taking individual and group pictures of her family. She purchased inexpensive desk and refrigerator frames and wrapped the framed photographs in bright, holiday paper. The total cost of each gift was less than $5, but they were priceless to us.

Whether you knit, crochet or sew, look around for items that you can make using materials already on hand. That will help keep your overall costs down. Even if you’re not crafty, you can probably find dozens of easy-to-make gifts that reflect the individual tastes of your family and friends. Some ideas include bookmarks, book covers, doilies, doll clothes, desk accessories, coasters and eyeglass covers. For other great craft projects, head to your library, and ask your librarian for books and magazines featuring quick and easy crafts.

Goodie Baskets

My dad’s cakes were a big hit at home and church. You had to get a slice early or forfeit the opportunity. What do you make that others rave about for weeks? Is it your home-baked bread, cakes, muffins or pies, or a dip, appetizer or side dish? Whatever it may be, someone on your list will love you for making up a special batch.

If cooking or baking isn’t your forté, consider putting together a tasteful fruit basket. Fill these with your recipients’ favorite fruits, but keep costs down by purchasing seasonal items that are on sale. If fruit is too costly, consider making up a basket of veggies or assorted cheese and crackers.

Add flair to your goodie baskets by purchasing inexpensive baskets and colorful ribbons or cellophane. Use your imagination to think of other containers you could use for gift items, such as an inexpensive pitcher. You could also cover a box with pretty paper.

Fashionable Pampering

One of the best gifts I received for my birthday one year was from an unemployed friend, a former makeup consultant. She put together a small, decorative shopping bag filled with products to revitalize my hands, feet and eyes. I was elated – I could never have purchased all those at once. The products were just sitting at her home collecting dust until my birthday arrived. What about you? Do you have unused Avon, Tupperware or other products around your home that you hoped to sell, but never did? If so, they may be perfect gifts for women on your list.

On the other hand, do the girls and women in your life consistently compliment you on your fashionable clothing, jazzy hairstyles or impeccable nails? If so, then you may have the makings of a unique gift. Offer your female acquaintances a free pedicure, manicure, hair cut/styling or facial. You can do these yourself, or ask another family member or friend to help.

Your dad, brothers or other male relatives may also appreciate a new haircut but may not want you to do it. Give them a pre-paid gift certificate – say up to $10 – for a visit to a favorite barber. Reduce your costs by bartering a batch of home-baked holiday cookies for the shop, or by asking for a discounted fee if you purchase several gift haircuts simultaneously.

If you would like to offer a gift of pampering, design a computer-generated gift certificate, or have a child in your family draw one. Wrap it in construction paper or an oversized
envelope, and stick it under the tree or in the mail. Set a deadline for redeeming the certificate, then enjoy the fun and fellowship that goes along with fashionable pampering.

Timely Help

The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be exhausting. Consider offering the gift of your time where it’s needed most – be it as free babysitting, grocery shopping, housecleaning or shuttle services to doctor’s appointments. You can make it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or several sprees over a specified time.


You might not think it, but you have unique talents and expertise for making awesome gifts. Perhaps you’re an accountant. Wrap up a gift certificate for a free New Year’s tax consultation or tax return preparation. Perhaps you’re an excellent word processor or typist. An elderly person in your life may appreciate your typing – and keeping updated – a list of his or her medications. If you’re known as Ms. Fix-It, offer help with long-overdue repair projects. If you’re a great organizer, you might suggest a spring closet, garage or basement reorganization.

These are but a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. As you mull over the possibilities, don’t let lack of finances pitch you into the depths of despair or rob you of your Christmas cheer. Above all, keep in mind that the best gifts are the priceless ones – those we can’t buy, but which we unwrap all year long as we present our love and care to friends and family.

Lisa Crayton is a freelance writer.


What you need:
Thin-gauge wire (available at hardware stores or florist shops), scissors, cranberries.

What to do:
Cut a length of wire big enough to curve into a circle, between eight and 10 inches in length. Make a small loop at one end of the wire and twist to close (this will secure the berries and provide a way to tie off the wreath when filled). String the cranberries onto the wire, leaving enough wire at the end to string through the loop and twist closed. Snip off extra wire.


What you need:
Various colors of plastic report covers, scissors, painter’s tape (blue tape found at hardware stores), transparent tape.

What to do:
Open up the report covers and cut down the fold lines to make two pieces from each cover. Cut simple shapes and designs from the plastic that can be fitted together like a large puzzle. Use the transparent tape to secure the shapes together onto the window. Keep in mind that it is fine if the shapes do not fit together exactly. Preschoolers may be happy to simply tape up designs one at a time! Finally, use the painter’s tape to frame all the shapes together and create the stained glass window. It can be framed with construction paper for extra flair.

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