When Meg Favreau reached out with a guest post idea, we jumped at the chance to have her. If you’re not familiar, she’s Senior Editor of Wise Bread, a must-read personal finance site that Jean just put on her list of personal finance blogs you should be reading. Read on for Meg’s tips on creating homemade gifts for your loved ones this season, then check back for another guest post from Meg in a few weeks, in which she’ll share some simple and frugal cooking advice.
I have two thoughts when I read lists of homemade gifts every December — “Wow, there are so many wonderful, frugal ways to give!” and “Wow, sometimes people make some really hideous stuff!”
I know — it’s the thought that counts. But I believe it’s possible to give something homemade that people love. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how to give the most appreciated gifts (homemade or otherwise), and some awesome things to make.
First of All, a Note on Gift-Giving
There are two gift-giving guidelines that can help you hugely at any time of year, whether you’re making or buying gifts.
Listen. The best gifts are gifts that fill a need or desire in a person’s life. But there’s no surprise in just asking someone what they want. Instead, think about conversations you’ve had in the last few months with the person you want to give a gift to. What have they complained about or said they love? If your friend has been complaining about not getting out, coupons for free babysitting are a great option.
Establish Ground Rules. Nobody can fault you for wanting to save money on gifts. But it’s never a bad idea to set a spending limit with family or let people know that you’re making gifts (and invite them to make something instead of buying a gift for you as well). A friend of mine once received “sexy” coupons from his then-girlfriend, which was a nice thought — but he had gotten her a violin. If everyone’s on the same page going into the holiday, it makes things easier.
Now, here’s what to make and give:
1. The Gift of Time. The aforementioned babysitting coupons and sexy coupons both fall into this area. Coupons for house cleaning, car cleaning, or yard work are also great.
2. Food…That Isn’t Already-Baked Cookies. In mid-December, one of the last things I want is another delicious pile of cookies that will go stale in a week. Instead consider something that could sit for a while — jarred brownie mix, jam, or logs of pre-sliced cookie dough to keep in the freezer (so you can bake just one cookie when you have a craving) are all great. I’m also a big fan of savory food gifts, such as frozen casseroles that can be popped in the oven or homemade mustard.
3. Notecards or Personalized Stationery. Everyone needs to write a note eventually, and this is an especially nice gift if you know someone who (like me) never thinks to buy note cards until the moment they need them. You can even make thank you cards and help your giftee say thanks for all those other holiday gifts.
4. Useful Personalized Items. One thing I find frustrating about many homemade gifts is that they’re not good if people already have an interest in something. A sewing kit in a mason jar is super cute, but if your giftee is already into sewing, she probably has all of those basic supplies.
Instead, I recommend items that almost anyone can have a use for but also display an interest, like these coasters (just replace the maps with another appropriate image).
5. Stuffed Animals From Kids’ Drawings. You can pay a lot of money for these — or you can do it yourself. Kids will get a kick out of ‘em, or you can give these to a grandparent as a gift from both you and your child.
About Meg: Meg Favreau is a writer, comedian, actress, frugal living expert, and food enthusiast living in Los Angeles. Her book with photographer Michael Reali, Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom, was released in November 2011 by Quirk Books. Meg serves as Senior Editor for the frugal living and personal finance site Wise Bread, and she’s a regular guest on American Public Media’s Marketplace Money.