Tag Archive | "inexpensive Christmas gifts"

A Practical, Magical Christmas

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As we keep trying to dig ourselves out of this sluggish economy, some of us are a bit perplexed about how to make the holidays a success without going into greater debt or inducing undo stress.  And so, I would like to offer a few tips and ideas to make your holidays a bit brighter without breaking the bank.  Intended to put some meaning back into the holidays and remove some of the commercialism, here are a few fun ideas that the whole family will enjoy.  They will put your hard-earned money to more practical uses than the purchase of flashy gifts that wind up later in the attic or basement.

Fill a large glass or jar with pennies, marbles, or some type of candy, and have the kids guess how many pieces are inside.  Whoever calculates the closest gets to be in charge of making a special cake for Jesus’ birthday.  Put some candles on that cake and have the kids sing, “Happy Birthday!” to Baby Jesus.

Another idea is for parents to make gift certificates for their children.  The certificates could be good for staying up an hour past normal bedtime, or breakfast in bed, or selecting all the TV shows to watch on any given day. Simple ideas like this cost you nothing.

You could pick a phrase such as Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas and let the children make as many words as possible, using the letters in the phrase.  Reward the child who creates the most words with a small token, such as a dictionary, markers, or stickers.  Some of these can be purchased very inexpensively at a dollar store.

Break out those old great, forgotten games, Scrabble and Monopoly.  Put on your thinking caps and engage in a little friendly competition.  Add extra enjoyment with hot chocolate, complete with little marshmallows floating on top.   Break out some homemade Christmas cookies, or let the kids make some Rice Krispy® squares.  For a special touch, add some chocolate chips or candied fruits to those squares.

Visit the library and bring home Christmas books, CDs, and movies.  Have your kids read to you.  Pop some popcorn and munch it while enjoying the movies.  Make extra popcorn, thread it onto string, and hang it on your Christmas tree, as our ancestors did for garland.

Turn up the music while trimming the tree.  Get out the construction paper, glitter, and markers, and let the kids make some of their own ornaments, or go wild with colorful paper chain garlands.  Collect pinecones and roll them in glitter.  Get creative!

Share your holiday spirit by caroling in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  Many residents of these places are all but forgotten.  Imagine how their eyes would light up and twinkle at the sight and sound of you and your children singing to them.  If possible, spend some time visiting with the elderly, allowing them to relate some of their own holiday traditions to you and yours.

Now that the children are taken care of, I’m sure you’ll appreciate some gift giving ideas for the adults on your Christmas list.  Personally, I don’t like giving someone a handful of instant scratch-off lottery tickets.  The probability of your recipients getting a winning ticket is slim.  So why not take the $20.00 you would have spent on the tickets and put together a box for a homeless shelter?  A number of us lost power during the historic storms of the last two winters.  Imagine how people in shelters must feel, doing without some basic necessities for extended periods of time.

I’m sure these folks would appreciate toothpaste and toothbrushes, a comb, shampoo, deodorant, and socks.  Or, you could fill the box with hard candy, granola bars, wet wipes, small sewing kits, gift certificates to McDonald’s, phone cards, or perhaps a paperback novel from the bestseller list.  Or consider donating food to a local food bank.   Given the economy, many of the food banks are hard-pressed to service the hungry.

These ideas would work very well for office parties.  Instead of buying a present for the co-worker whose name you drew, you can, as a group, make larger donations to a shelter or a food bank.  Or, give the money you would have spent on a gift for a colleague to a worthy charity, in his or her name.  The Make-A-Wish Foundation, or a cancer research foundation, are but two places that would benefit from such a gift.

Many animal shelters are forgotten, so donate some pet food or kitty litter. Or, pay for an animal to be spayed or neutered.

If you must give a gift to an adult of your acquaintance, why not give a gift card to the grocery store in which they shop regularly?  We all need to eat!  You can also purchase a gift card for Walmart.  Despite some negative press about the retail giant, let’s face it: we all shop there for one thing or another.  With many Walmarts including groceries in their inventories, a gift card is a nice way to help a struggling family without insulting them.

iTunes cards are great, too.  CDs can get expensive if there are only a couple of songs that your recipient enjoys.  But I-tunes cards enable people to download songs of their choice.  Amazon.com offers great gift cards because the website carries almost everything that your recipients may dream about for Christmas.  With gas prices always on the rise, gas cards also make great gifts!  If you purchase gift cards, avoid the ones that require extra fees when they are loaded.

When you renew your subscription to certain magazines, the publishers sometimes offer a reduced rate. You can give a friend the gift of a subscription while saving yourself some money.

One of my favorite things is to bake for my family and friends.  This idea won’t work with people that you do not know well, for they may not appreciate your efforts and may discard the fruits of your labor.

I tested the following recipe a few weeks ago and found it to be a delectable taste of Christmas, with sugar and spice and everything nice!  These cookies make your house smell wonderful, and you probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry.  The best part is that kids can lend a hand by rolling the dough into balls.  While sugar cookies have long been a Christmas tradition, this recipe for gingersnaps could start a new tradition.

Mom’s Gingersnaps

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup molasses

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 egg

2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/3 cup white sugar for decoration




Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.


In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, and egg. 


Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and stir them into the molasses mixture.


Roll dough into balls of 1-1/4″ diameter.  Then roll each ball in white sugar.  Place the balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.


Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in preheated oven, or until center is firm. Cool on wire racks.  Makes 36 cookies.


Prep time is 15 minutes, and the cookies are ready to serve in 40 minutes.


Double the batch for cookie exchanges, gift giving, or future uses.  These cookies have a good shelf life, so freeze some or put some in an airtight container for guests.


I hope that some of these ideas are helpful.  In the true Christmas spirit, I hope that you are inspired to remember that “’tis better to give than to receive.” 


Un-Breaking the Bank on the Holidays

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Are you, like millions of other Americans, banking on the holidays to break your bank?

Before the hordes of costumed trick or treaters ever rang doorbells this year, retailers and roadside nurseries had fired up the Christmas trees, blown up their plastic lawn Santas and eight tiny reindeer, and launched special sales.   Some retail merchants had even announced that “Black Friday” had moved up an entire month, in an effort to entice customers to part with their hard-earned cash.   No matter how much you may be dreading the commercial creeps of Christmas and the accompanying financial burdens, they’re coming.  And they’re coming straight for your wallet.

With so many consumers downsized and unemployed, and with thousands of others just waiting for the axe to fall, how are we going to survive Christmas?   For many of us, Christmas is sacred on many levels; it’s a day to be honored and cherished.  So, if the thought of a money-gobbling Christmas is niggling at your brain, squeezing at your heart, and making you count sheep at night, you may want to read on.

Looking back, I realize that one of the very best Christmases I’d ever had in adulthood was when I had virtually no disposable income.   My first Christmas living alone in a tiny apartment, I refused to let the Holiday-Holy Day pass me by.  With thirty dollars, I bought a little artificial tree (I hate the thought of killing real trees) and decorated it beautifully with a few choice ornaments and a string of multi-colored lights.  I baked cookies and brownies from scratch and gathered my friends for a night of trawling the mansions in Bay Ridge, New York to ooh and ahh at the show-stopping lighting displays on the houses of the wealthy.  Then we ducked back to my apartment, where I’d closed all the lights before I’d left, but had the little Christmas tree glowing in the dark.   Everyone loved the goodies, which I accompanied with hot chocolate decorated with colored marshmallows and tiny candy canes.

For my gifts that year, I — the city girl born and bred — canned.  I made steamed puddings with hard sauce, and if heaven smells better than my apartment did, it should bottle that scent and peddle it.  I “put up” conserves of cranberries, oranges, and figs: excellent accompaniments to cheese platters or as a sort of chutney for poultry and pork.  And, I made fruit-flavored liqueurs, using two bottles of relatively inexpensive vodka as the base.  I steamed the puddings in well-scrubbed Maxwell House® coffee tins and when the puddings had cooled, I wrapped the tins in green and red foil paper and glued inexpensive ornaments to the tops of the cans.  The conserves and liqueurs I poured into beautiful, inexpensive glass containers that I’d found in an antique shop in the city.  They must have been mis-marked, for I’d gotten them for a song.  Everyone was thrilled to receive my homemade goodies.  And I was spared the angst of cranking up my monthly payments and interest charges on my one and only credit card.

I may not have had much of a disposable income, but I did have more time in those days.   So, if you’re going to attempt to bake and can as I did, understand that you’ll need to start a few weeks prior to Christmas.  Many from-scratch cookies of the rolled and cut, refrigerator (sliced), and bar varieties can, if unfrosted, be baked ahead of time, frozen in pretty disposable plastic containers that pop up this time of year in the supermarkets, and thawed right in those containers.  Add a tag, a pretty bow or inexpensive ornament, and you’re good to go.

If you attempt to can food, you must research how to do this properly, or you’ll wind up giving your recipients a case of salmonella.   You must use the proper equipment, which includes old-fashioned Mason-type jars with two-part lids, a wide, deep pot, tongs, a metal trivet, and oven mitts.  Everything into which the food is ladled must be sterilized in boiling water — including those dual-part lids — and there must not be a drop of the water left in the containers before you add the food product(s).  And, the food itself must be hot when it is added to the jars.  Close the jars tightly, place the trivet at the bottom of the pot, and then give the filled jars a “bath” in boiling water, ensuring that the top of the water is lower than the bottom of the lids.  This process creates a seal around the food and prevents it from spoiling.  Again, do your own research so that you understand the entire process and don’t skip a single step!

If baking and canning are not up your alley, and neither are the time- honored arts of knitting and crocheting, you can always create a booklet of gift certificates for your recipients — and the gifts will be gifts of your own time.   You can babysit a friend’s little ones, give her a home spa treatment of a facial and a manicure, cook his family a meal, clean his house, shovel her walk, walk her dogs, plant him a garden of herbs in the Spring, wash and wax her car — all of which will be appreciated by those of us who don’t have enough hours in the day (which is most of us!).

If you are truly stuck having to buy presents from stores or catalogs, ask the people on your gift list if they are willing to do a Kris Kringle type of holiday instead.   Everyone writes his or her name on a slip of paper, the slips are placed into a bowl, and everyone takes a slip, buying a single present for the person whose name appears on the paper — without revealing “who got whom.”  Set a price range prior to picking the names.  Even if that range is $50-$75, you’ll be saving a heck of a lot of dough, and I don’t mean cookie dough, than if you followed the traditional bank-breaking method of purchasing a gift for every single person on your list.

For the last few years, my family has gone the route of Kris Kringle.  It cuts down on a lot of anger and exhaustion at the malls and it doesn’t break the bank.  Perhaps best of all, it provides us all with the time to truly reflect upon and enjoy the season — and of course, our joy in each other!

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