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10 July 2007

Frugal gifts

It's Christmas in July here next weekend. For our international friends that is the time when many Australians - at least those in areas near here - celebrate a fake Christmas so they can enjoy a "real Christmas dinner". That includes hot food like turkey and ham with all the trimmings and hot plum pudding under a blanket of flaming brandy. Anyhow, it started me thinking about the real Christmas in December and what gifts I have and what I'll make.

Last year I felt quite satisfied with the gifts I gave and only fell short of my goal to give all homemade gifts, with my two sons. For them I bought "stuff". I'm not sure why I did that. They both know what H and I are aiming for in our lives now but because they don't live as we do, I crumbled when it came to their gifts. I hope I'm stronger this year.

Good organisation is the key to frugal gifts. You need to be well prepared and to start thinking about your gift list well in advance of Christmas. The June/July sale season is an ideal time to start. Making a list of people you want to give a gift to is essential, and if this is the first time you've really been mindful of what you're giving and to whom, the list might give you a few worries. A few years ago I culled my list to the bare bone. I realised that giving gifts just for the sake of it, or because they were expected, is wasteful and adds significantly to an overspending culture. So I contacted those people, well before Christmas, and explained my new philosophy. Most were relieved to get off the merry-go-round of Christmas spending, others said they didn't care. So with my new improved list that now comprised my immediate family and a couple of close friends, I started thinking about the specifics. The next step is to work out how much you intend spending - this needs to be an overall budget as well as an amount for each person. When you've done this, you're ready for the interesting part - the gifts.

Remember your goal is to give all your gifts spending the least amount you can, but all your gifts MUST be something the person will like and use. It's a total waste, and defeating the purpose of frugal gift giving, if you give someone a piece of junk because you don't know what else to give. That piece of junk will sit in a cupboard and will add to the billions of dollars spent on gifts that have no real meaning. The key to this is to think carefully about your gifts and give something that will be used or treasured.

The practical gift
If you have a friend who is just getting into simple living, give her some thing that reflects simple values. Something like a nice enamel "Laundry Powder" container with the makings of homemade laundry power with it. A container will cost you about $25, the makings - laundry soap, borax and washing soda, will cost another $5.

You could so the same for soap making. Make up a parcel with olive oil, coconut oil, caustic soda and some soap moulds. Print out the instructions for making soap from the internet and parcel it all together in a tea towel and you have another gift for under $30.

The scraps gift
Look around your home and see what fabric you have to make a few gifts. You could make a tea cosy, apron, peg bag, wall hanging, table mats, cushion covers or tote bags.

The outdoor gift
Something for the gardens. Buy some attractive pots and potting mix and try to swap (or buy) heirloom seeds for tomatoes, chilli or herbs. In September, plant them up and nurture them until you give them on Christmas Day. You could also paint some plain terracotta pots in favourite colours.

If your person has a favourite plant, get some cuttings and six months of care should give you some nice plants to give. Or if you can't think of exactly the right thing, give a voucher for a Sunday of lawn mowing and clippings removal - and do that yourself. Just make up the voucher on your computer.

The food gift
This could be just about anything. Really popular things will include homemade jams and preserves, plum puddings, fruit cakes, home made fruit cordial, wine or ginger beer. Or you could make up a bread makers gift of a kilo of bread flour, yeast or sourdough starter, good salt and a bread tin - print off a tried and true recipe from the internet.

The bathroom gift
Homemade soap, home grown loofahs and soap, bath salts, shampoo bars, shaving soap, or any homemade cosmetics would fit well in this category.

The hobby gift
If you friend loves sewing, knitting or needlework, make up a kit of things she'd love. A keen gardener would probably love a new hat and gloves.

Tea and Coffee gift
This speaks for itself. Make up a little basket with a selection of various teas or a bag of organic Australian coffee and a nice mug.

Children's gifts
I haven't given gifts to children for a long time but you could think about books bought on sale, homemade playmats, bags for Legos, marbles or small treasures, colouring in pencils, homemade tote bags, fairy wings and skirt, Harry Potter cape or Hogwarts scarf. For older children or teens, a voucher for one CD will cost $25 - $30, or movie tickets will cost less.

Just about everything above can be bought cheaper than retail price if you started buying your items at the mid year sales. For things like tea and coffee or the hobby items, look for those things as you're progressing through the months. You can often pick up a good special if you keep your eyes open. If you're going to make most of your gifts, start now so you're not rushed later. Work out how many you have to make, and work according to your list. You may need to make one gift a week, or one a month. Don't leave them all till December because you'll be overwhelmed and wonder why you ever started this type of gift giving.

The most important thing is to make everything as well as you can and make sure your gifts suit your recipients. Wrap them nicely in a tea towel or brown paper, decorated with leaves, ribbon or kids drawings and you'll be giving a gift that is full of love and good intentions. And that, my friends, is the best gift of all.

(Image from


  1. I follow the same ideas as you wrote about but this year I intend to make some edible gifts for the first time in years!

  2. Some great ideas there,I must do my list and make a start. So thanks for the reminder.


  3. What a wonderful blog entry! I LOVE reading your blog. You have SO much absolutely amazing advice, hints and tips for those of us trying to scale down and live a life of simplicity. Bravo lady! Bravo!!

  4. A very timely reminder. I usually start to think about Christmas gifts after my birthday in August as that is the last of the family celebrations.

  5. You know, with all your knowledge and ideas you could write a book. Hey - publish your blog! Seriously, I reckon there're many people out there who could really use this kind of info.

  6. Great ideas and info as usual:) I love the pot plant idea, will definitely organize a few of those for Christmas.
    Cheers, Michelle.

  7. I also seem to fall behind on my Christmas gifts. We're trying to turn over a new leaf and I'm working on my list this week amidst the moving.

    There is one thing we did for the last two years that I felt really good about. I'm blogging about it for my frugal and recycling tip on my blog today.

  8. that's a great tip for the comics, knitter. : )

  9. I am making all my christmas gifts too. I started this past month on this years gifts.

  10. I like the practical gift idea best. If you are a bit broke you can tweak it to be even more frugal...maybe get the container at the opshop, and/or fill it with a selection of already made up cleaning products, cloths etc.


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