5 simple and affordable holiday gift ideas

by Kelsey
Homemade chocolate covered pretzel rods

The holidays can’t come fast enough for me.

I am a staunch celebrator of Christmas and as soon as November rolls around I’m listening to the 24/7 holiday music radio station, watching some combination of “Elf,” “Miracle on 34th Street” (old-school Natalie Wood style), and “The Holiday” at least every week, cookie-decorating, ugly sweater-wearing, and attending every Christmas dinner party I can get my hands on. I wake up with Christmas carols stuck in my head — including the harmony parts.

However, as much as I love and adore the holiday season, I absolutely dread gift-giving.

I’ve (meekly) proposed countless times giving up the whole lot of gift giving, but my family either doesn’t hear me or is shamefully ignoring me, instead content with the bloodthirsty commercialism that characterizes cynical Christmas critiques. My (feeble) argument: it’s just so hard giving gifts when you are forced to.

So this year, I approached gift giving in a different way: planning ahead and shopping wisely, which allowed me to focus on what I love most about Christmas, my loved ones.

I want (read: need) to keep within my recent college-graduate budget, but also buy meaningful gifts — not the $1 bin knickknacks that look really great but end up getting shoved in a drawer on Dec. 26. More effort and, yes, maybe a little more money than bargain stuffers, but much more worth it than lots of little gifts no one ends up using.

I decided to pick 1-2 gifts for each person, and make it count:

  1. Pretty vintage-looking aprons for girlfriends (Ross and Cost Plus World Market have good selections) — an idea I got from a fantastic aunt;
  2. Classic books — who doesn’t love putting pretty hardcovers on the shelves? Think children’s books for a baby niece (check Costco for good prices) and used books (added personality) for adult friends: Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends or The Princess Bride for kids; Fitzgerald or Jane Austen or Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales for adults — just make sure it’s a book they’ll actually want to read;
  3. An inexpensive, high-quality bottle of wine for a neighbor or coworker (World Market);
  4. An article by an LA Times coworker inspired me to face my fears and tackle some do-it-yourself projects (read the full article for more great tips and tricks: “Get Crafty This Holiday Season“).

    From ideas in the article, I was able to make 16 gift bags filled with beautiful chocolate dipped pretzel rods and tied with twine…for under $20 total. To keep costs low, I bought chocolate chips and pretzels on sale, and planned out how many bags of supplies I would need so I didn’t end up wasting money on extras.

    Homemade chocolate covered pretzel rods

    I’ll give away these colorful, classy treats to friends who are special to me and include a sweet note, saving pricier gifts for very close friends and family.

    *Saving tip: If you have extra melted chocolate and nothing to dip in it, don’t throw it away (or just eat it all up). Make Muddy Buddies for a sweet and easy treat with no waste. I used cereal I already had and a jar of peanut butter that has been lonely on my shelf, and am going to take it to a get-together later this week, which saves me from having to buy other treats.

  5. Regifting: Before you stop reading because you think I’m too much of a cheapskate, know that regifting is only sometimes appropriate…and oftentimes very sentimental and original. An article in the December 2009 Real Simple magazine said it brilliantly: “Some things should be wrapped and examined regularly, the better to appreciate them.”

    From the article: wrapping a souvenir from a first date or an anniversary, tasty chocolates that have been hidden in a cupboard, an unopened jar of jam or preserves for a stocking stuffer, a favorite screwdriver that always gets lost around the house, a framed photo.


  • Plan ahead: Before the Black Friday ads were even hinted at online, I had drafted a gift list with everyone I wanted to buy gifts for. This prevented me from buying randomly on big shopping days (and ending up with gifts for no recipient) or buying impulsively (like useless things in the $1 bins).

  • Go for quality, not quantity: Pick a couple of gifts that are meaningful to each person, rather than just lots of little cutesy (read: useless) trinkets
  • Don’t waste money and resources on expensive wrapping: Tie some twine around a plain box for automatic beautification or grab paper you already have: use the sports section for a big fan or a pretty travel photo from the travel section. It’s always more original and a lot more eco-friendly.
  • Kind words beat any gift: When in doubt, take the time to write a little note — rather than reach for your wallet and a shopping card — telling the recipient why you appreciate them or reminding them of a funny memory you shared this year. Boxes of cards are heavily discounted a few weeks before Christmas, which gives you plenty of time and peace of mind to write some sweet words.
How do you handle gift-giving around the holidays? What are the best parts (and the worst) of planning and shopping and wrapping? Leave a comment and tell us below.

Homemade chocolate covered pretzel rods

Photo credits: Kelsey Ramos

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