cheap, but thoughtful

With Christmas approaching faster than my four-year-old can finish a candy cane — which is pretty fast — I am thinking a lot about presents.

As I mentioned before, I’m just not into the whole present thing this year. Meaning, I don’t want to give presents to people for the sake of giving them presents. I want to do something meaningful, something that shows I genuinely care about them and thought about them.

It also needs to not cost very much.

I’ve always heard that “it’s the thought that counts.” But, I think that’s something people say when they’re doing the thinking. When you’re on the receiving end, you want more than just a thought. You want something cool.

My dilemma then is:

How do I give thoughtful, desirable gifts to my friends and family without breaking the bank or appearing cheap?

I have no answer…do you?

What do you think about homemade gifts – caring or cheesy?

34 thoughts on “cheap, but thoughtful

  1. Good luck with that. with four kids we buy very little outside of them. my in-laws think we are cheap, but in reality four kids our first on the list, and well everybody else can wait. we have never been the people to spend a ton even on the kids. they usually get 2-3 gifts from us and a stocking. last year with all three we spent less than $200 and they got good gifts, what they wanted.
    Our parents got frames this year to hold pics of all four kids in them and I put the pictures in them before sending them out. we have not bought anything for friends since we relly do not have any here yet, looking on the positive. I did make cookies and give a few boxes out to neighbors and a little gift.
    Hopefully you can find some good ideas.

  2. Melissa

    A gift that cares is more precious then any other kind. The “cheap” gift that says, “I know you, and this gift, even though small, is especially for you.” Those are the special ones. Everybody likes the cool gifts, you’re right. But these gifts, gifts on a budget, gifts that show love, they bring smiles unlike the others.

    Merry Christmas

  3. Homemade is fine with me if I can tell there was some thought put into it for me. If someone just bakes cookies and gives the same cookies to everyone, it kind of feels like a cheap way out to me. I’d rather someone get me nothing than a gift that says “I did this because I’m obligated and don’t really care if you like this or not.” :)

    1. Haha! You made me laugh, Jason! :) That’s exactly what I don’t want people to think. I’m a huge gift giver, which makes it hard when we’re on a budget. I want everyone to feel like I picked their present out, especially for them. I liked what you had to say about the cookies though. Homemade feels more special when it’s actually focused on the person. I like that!

  4. We aren’t doing presents this year…and even though there’s a lot of homemade-ness going on in my neck of the woods right now, I’m not sure we are making gifts either, because even THAT costs….but I’ve definitely had luck in the past with various homemade gifts I made because I still saw the gift in their houses years later! ;) That’s a good sign, I think.

    1. That’s actually what I was discovering…that homemade can cost as much or more than something you buy. What kinds of things did you make and give away? I’d love some good ideas! :)

    1. I just discovered Etsy this past year, and found some great items! What kind of homemade gifts do you make and give, or like getting? I’m needing ideas. :)

  5. Homemade gifts are great!!! In fact, I am doing ALL handmade gifts this year (other than my kiddos)! I’ve gathered a lot of good/very inexpensive gift ideas with a lot of research on every crafty sight you can think of!! (salt scrub, picture frames, etc.) Let me know if you want some ideas! :) Gifts should be given from the heart.. So what better way than to make them with your own hands! :) I always prefer handmade when I’m on the receiving end! :)

    1. YES! I want ideas! I want something that’s meaningful, and not cheesy or cheap feeling. Maybe I should do a post with all of the good gift ideas people give me. :)

        1. I sent a couple ideas I’m doing to your facebook email so I could send pics and links. I like your idea of doing a post with everyones ideas!! :)

  6. One of my favorite things to do for friends is buy a $5 Starbucks card, write a thoughtful note, and say “Our next coffee date is on me!” Another favorite thing is $5 candles from Bath & Body Works (the smaller ones are $5 when they are on sale) for the ladies in my life – I LOVE candles and having a nice scent in my home is always wonderful. I will never turn a candle down! Other things I have appreciated when being on the receiving end: a friend put together recipe books with their top 50 recipes and included the stories/origins of each one, framed photos from friends, handmade scarves or hats, a small holiday bouquet of flowers, homemade ornaments, etc. I’m moving more and more toward striving to invest TIME into friendships rather than spend lots of money on gifts that don’t really mean anything anyway.

    To be honest, I try not to stress much about gifts. If someone is seriously measuring the quality of our friendship based on a gift during the holidays (when, let’s face it, we’re pretty much ALL strapped for cash!), I think there’s more to worry about than the gift I’m getting them for Christmas. It’s a good time to examine my own heart and see who I’m really looking to please – people or God.

    Check out this video from the Advent Conspiracy – a refreshing perspective of Christmas!

    1. Erin! Thank you!! I was looking for ideas like this. :) And, I am moving along the same lines as you. I want people to know that I appreciate them and thought about them, not that I’m just buying them something because I feel obligated. I love these ideas!! Thanks for inspiring me. I might have to put together a post with some good ideas. :)

  7. I just calculated what we’re spending on Christmas. It is nearing $300. And that’s scaled back. On my hubby’s side all adults drew names so each couple is only buying gifts for two adults on his side. My mom I’m making her gift, which still incurs cost. This of course does not include time spent shopping and wrapping gifts. It’s heart breaking to me because stuff I’m buying with the exception of clothes for my nephews (and even then) none of this stuff is needed. I’d so much rather take that $300 and donate it to Compassion or Charity Water or something that helps people who do have needs.

    Personally I like homemade gifts. It means more than the spatula or DVD I requested. Shawn and I are not exchanging gifts. The way we figure it we don’t need anything and we pretty much buy something if we need/want it and have the money.

    I think a nifty idea for grandparents, close friends, baby sitter, etc. is have your kids draw/paint pictures then get frames at the dollar store for a buck a piece. Wrap them with a note that says an original drawing/painting by….

    I don’t know. Just my way of looking at things.

    1. Those are some fantastic ideas, Prudy! I love it. Thank you so much. :) And, I totally agree with you about spending money on things people don’t really want. I have heard so many people say that rather than get a present they don’t really care about, they’d just rather get a card. I need to sit down and compile all these ideas.

  8. Christy and I made our parents a CD of some songs we recorded last year. This year we made caramels (well, I made the caramels, but it was Christy’s idea and she bought all the ingredients and is doing the work of wrapping them) to give to our roommates. I think that it all depends on the recipient, which is why it actually takes some thought when giving a “thought that counts” type gift. I could make something that’s really creative and interesting, but give it to the wrong person and it becomes just another token gift. Or, I could give some kind of mundane gift (like the cookies we’re going to make for our neighbors), but it can be well received.

    The whole gift giving thing is difficult, but I think it’s important to work through the difficulties – to learn about ourselves and those we share life with and to focus on giving.
    Hope you find some inspired ideas!

    1. I remember when you guys did that CD, and I thought it was great. We made Josh’s dad a CD with Christmas music one year, and then included a “surprise track” at the end of a recording of Josh. He loved it! You’re totally right though, regardless of the gift, if it’s not right for the person they won’t care how much time or how much money you spent. I’m so glad I asked this question, because I’m getting some great ideas! :)

  9. This year, I am making each pair (my mom and dad, my sister and her husband, ect) a rag blanket. They cost me $2 each and I make them at work. Cheap and easy. I usually pair them with a cheap $5 movie, popcorn, 2 movie size candies, and 2 bottles of coke or a cheap bottle of wine. The gift is ” a date at home”. It cost me $12. My friend makes baby tutus so I traded her a blanket for a tutu. Sometime, you can find crafty friends and trade them some of your wears for theirs. I think cookies are a sweet gift especially when you find out what their favorite cookies are. My friends and I don’t give gifts. We all make a date and go for coffee and then walk around Mission Inn in Riverside. The whole night costs $5 and its always memorable. That’s the gift. My friend’s family draw names and then set a $10 budget and all gifts must be bought at goodwill or other second hand store. They have come up with the most clever things. James and I, each year (for our anniversary but Christmas works too) make each other a cd of songs that remind us of each other throughout the year. It’s free and always great to listen too. And last but not least, sometimes I just offer my services to wrap presents for people. I get to spend time with them, they get something checked off their to-do list, and it’s free.

  10. I don’t craft. I don’t know where my hot glue gun is and I am allergic to most things people bake.
    I LOVE Starbucks gift cards, going overboard for my kids and wielding my 35% off Gap coupon at just the right time.
    I am and have always been on a ridiculously tight budget but nothing beats giving till it hurts… just a little.
    I appreciate any gesture at the holiday’s but I must admit I prefer things I can consume. (Too honest? Sorry, Jesus says not too lie.)
    However, my very favorite thing is a card in the mail from people I miss and love. I love to decorate my house with the cards and pray for and remember those I can’t be with. That said, I write cards every year and never mail them.
    I hate the idea of spending time and money on home made gifts that are cute but useless when $5 bucks more would mean a small but nice gift. A nice pair of gloves or a pound of coffee… Who doesn’t NEED that?!
    Side note: I love when people give in my name to a charity and have done this as well. I just wish the tax credit went to the person whose name it was given in. I hate that the person I give to ends up with scrap paper while I reap the tax benefit. Seems like a gift for me not them.
    I don’t know. I would love to see the list when you get it.
    Final thought:
    A gift should be an extravagance. We give at Christmas because we were given Jesus who is more than we deserve. This gift of grace is extravagant! Don’t get me wrong, my kids are getting the socks and underwear they need this year. But I hate the idea of NOT giving gifts to people I love because they don’t need it. I need to be a giver. I need to remember to be generous. I don’t think this always needs to material things but once a year at Christmas its good to put my money where my love is…

  11. Melissa! I did the same with many gifts this year. We’ve focused on a) printing photos we’ve taken over the year and waiting for online printing when it’s cheap and b) homemade lavender sugar! Woo! If you can find some culinary lavender, add it to a ziploc with a full bag of sugar, wait two weeks and then bundle to give. I love it and use it to make lavender cookies all the time. You could include a lavender cookie recipe too!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!
    :) Nicole

  12. I love the starbucks drink/date idea! I do something similar quite often…for birthdays, I give friends a blockbuster giftcard (usually $5) with a bag of popcorn, their favorite candy, and their favorite beverage and say, “let’s plan a movie night on me!” We’ve also done this for couples. The last few years, my father-in-law has gotten us gift certs off It’s inexpensive for him and it is usually good for $25 off a $30 date for us! We’ve found some new favorite restaurants that way and had some great dates! I love them! It can be really personal, if you find a place you know they already love, or a place you’ve gone that you love…just some ideas. I LOVE when people make things for me to eat or buy me my favorite snacks…It makes me feel really known, if that makes sense. A friend recently brought me a 2-liter of caffeine-free coke. She knows I love coke and that I’m avoiding caffeine. It was my favorite post-Lily gift I’ve gotten! :-) Hope that gave you some ideas. :-)

    1. I love the idea of giving a movie night, or a game night. And Josh and I have used those certificates ourselves, I’ve never thought of giving them away. One of our friends gave us one to use at the Melting Pot once, and that was such a wonderful present! :) Great idea, Haley! These are really helpful.

  13. I LOVE homemade gifts! (surprised?) Now, no one around me really does homemade gifts so I don’t get them often, but I do give them. Since I love being in the kitchen, I really like baking cookies ( I know, this can be boring) or making jam. I love the big jars of homemade hot cocoa mix or a bottle of homemade vanilla extract. I also love to make bath and body stuff; lip balm, sugar scrub, lotion bars.
    I agree with what was mentioned earlier, it really does depend on the person you are giving to. But over all, I think people appreciate stuff like that when they know that you thought of them specifically.

    1. Not surprised at all! You are so creative and crafty though. :) I really like the homemade vanilla extract. I didn’t know you could make that. I always have someone bring me some from Cancun. :) We’re going to have to talk! :)

  14. My daughter is a “starving student” and cannot afford to buy presents for us this year. But she is also a gifted artist and photographer. So she is planning to give each of us either an original drawing or photo for Christmas. I think it’s a wonderful idea!

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