Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saving Money on Gift Baskets

Themed gift baskets have become big business in recent years. Groceries and gourmet shops tout their expertise in putting together sumptuous assemblages of tempting goodies. Companies have formed whose entire purpose is to create and market an assortment of gift baskets. Even florists have jumped on the gift basket bandwagon. While I love the concept of the gift basket, the prices that most retailers charge is troubling to a tightwad like me. Invariably, the total cost is significantly higher than the sum of the gift basket components -- in part to account for the work of putting the basket together, but also because that's the price the market will bear.
So it isn't hard to figure that you can save money by putting together your own gift baskets. You, too, can fill a pretty basket with exquisite fruits, cheeses, jams and nuts. Or tuck a bottle of bubbly and two champagne flutes into a basket and tie it with a pretty bow. But if you're saving money by making your own gift basket anyway, why not let your imagination soar and create something really distinctive. Consider the following ideas, and then think about what special container and contents will work for you:
1. Office supplies, like pens, pencils, in wastebasket
2. Beach toys in a bucket
3. Picnic supplies, including a pretty tablecloth, in a picnic basket
4. Tote with travel goods, like guide books and maps
5. A diaper bag with baby essentials like diaper cream, cornstarch and wipes

Monday, December 21, 2009

Inexpensive Gift Wrapping Ideas

Use interesting containers for homemade goodies (such as decorated cookie tins) and you won’t even need to wrap your gift. You can also shop for pretty bowls, teacups, mugs, platters, and plates at discount stores and yard sales. Just wrap the whole thing in cellophane, tie it with ribbon and you're good to go!

I also think it is fun to wrap gifts in unconventionally-shaped boxes. This prevents the recipient from immediately guessing what's inside and reflects your sense of humor. So go ahead and place a gift of jewelry in huge carton; wine in a large shoebox, silk tie in cylinder, etc.

Want more inexpensive gift wrap ideas? Check out our previous post on this topic.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bargain Holiday Shopping Lists

Lots of retail web sites offer lists of "great gifts under $100" or "fabulous finds for $500" but we tightwads are really only truly impressed by gift lists with much smaller sums in mind. As the final shopping days before Christmas wind down, here are some to consider:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top Tightwad Tips for Stocking Stuffers

I’ve seen ipod shuffles ($99), cashmere and leather gloves ($150), classic Ray-Ban sunglasses ($139) and the like listed as stocking stuffers. To tightwads like me, anything that costs that much is a major gift, meant to be wrapped and placed under the tree so it can be opened with much hoopla and oohing and aahing.
Stocking stuffers are meant to be just a little something, like an hors d’oevre to whet the appetite for the main meal. When I was growing up, we received things like socks, toothbrushes, and oranges in our stockings. And while I don’t necessarily advocate going that far into thrift and practicality, it does seem that there is a middle ground of items that are fun, fanciful, and frugal at $5 or less. Here are some ideas:
for adults:
  • Flavored lip gloss or lip balm
  • Hand and body lotion
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Seed packets
  • Candles
  • Soap
  • Cookie cutters
for kids:
  • Small toys: matchbox cars, little slinkies, mini-play dough containers
  • Crayons, colored pencils
  • Trading cards
for both:
  • Candy canes
  • Chocolate bars
  • Fun pens and pencils
  • Personalized gingerbread men
  • Playing cards

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Give the Gift of a Pretty Pomander

I mentioned clove-studded oranges in my post about great home-made holiday gifts. Here's how to make one:
  • Place 2 wide rubber bands around a lemon or orange. The bands will leave spaces for a ribbon later.
  • Use a wooden skewer to pierce the exposed skin of the lemon/orange with holes about ¼ inch apart, then insert whole cloves into the holes.
  • On a plate, mix together 3 tablespoons each of cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ground ginger. Roll the lemon/orange in the mixture to coat it.
  • Keep the lemon/orange and plate inside a paper bag in a dry spot in the house. Roll the pomander in the spices once a day until the lemon is hard and dry; this can take 2 to 6 weeks depending on your climate.
  • Once the pomander is dry, remove the rubber bands and tie fancy ribbon around it. Use the pomander in a closet or on your tree.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fabulously Frugal Gift Tags

Gift giving is sharing love – so of course you want to present your gifts attractively. In previous posts, I wrote about ways to wrap your gifts in ways that are both beautiful and budget-friendly. Now it's time to think about how you will address your presents in a way that is both appealing and distinctive, without resorting to spending big bucks at the Hallmark store. Here are some ideas:
  • Use old Christmas cards, cutting off the side with the picture (which typically does not have writing) and trimming it with pinking shears or another type of craft/scrapbooking scissor. Tie to package with ribbon or yarn.
  • Make your own address labels on your computer, using clip art from the Internet. For the best effects, use colored paper and/or a colored printer.
  • If you are making homemade treats as gifts, paste labels announcing your "Outrageously Decadent Triple-Chocolate Brownies" or tuck in the amusing story of the origin of the Tollhouse cookie.
  • Skip the gift card altogether and write right on package with marker – make it festive with a silver or gold sharpie and make sure to include your most flamboyant lettering. (We learned this trick at kids birthday parties where gifts often get separated from cards. )
  • Buy plain oak tag labels at the stationery store and decorate them w/stamping, stenciling, stickers, etc.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frugal Gift Wrap

For years, we laughed at my mom who dutifully saved and reused wrapping paper each year. We joked that our gifts would get smaller and smaller, so she could use the same piece of gift wrap the next year without even having to take off the tags. The irony was that she didn't even have to pay for the wrapping paper -- as the owner of a small print shop, my dad received boxes of it each year from his paper suppliers.

But although my family eventually got into the habit of tearing and shredding paper in response to my mom's frugal ways, to this day, I still save nice ribbon, especially wired or fabric ribbon (but not the plastic-y stuff or curling ribbon which is hard to reuse). I also stock up on wrapping materials for the year at the after-Christmas sales: I look for neutral patterns and colors that can be used throughout the year. And since I buy sale paper and other materials in bulk, I create a signature look each year that I use for everyone, from teacher gifts to presents for the extended family.

Here are some other ideas for frugal gift wrap:
  1. Use newspaper (especially the comic pages), old maps, and other colorful paper you have on hand
  2. Wrap gifts in plain Kraft paper (which can be bought inexpensively at office supply stores and craft stores ), then decorate it by stamping, stickering, drawing with markers or crayon. Can stencil design on it, too. Or tie the package with twine and then add an embellishment made of pine cones and evergreens for a rustic look.
  3. Use wallpaper (from leftover projects or from sample books).
  4. Wrap gifts in bits of leftover fabric – I once saw squares of Japanese silk on sale for this purpose in a museum gift shop -- and it adds an elegant touch that can't be beat.
  5. Reuse gift bags and shopping bags (spray paint the latter to cover up names and logos).
  6. Use cut felt, yarn, colored twine in place of store-bought ribbon.
  7. Create a reusable fabric-covered box – just tie with ribbon and add a card.
  8. Buy clear cellophane (you can get it from craft store or florist in sheets or bags) – wrap the gift in colored tissue underneath and then tie the whole thing with ribbon or twine. This is especially useful for odd-shaped gifts that are hard to wrap in other ways.
  9. Add a special touch to each package with glittery accessories. You can easily add glitter to pine cones, evergreen branches, acorns and other natural materials: thin Elmer's glue w/water until it’s the consistency of paint; brush this liquid on the item you want to sparkle; dip it in the glitter; let it dry on waxed paper for 10 minutes, then affix to the wrapping using a hot glue gun.
12/6/2011 update: for more ideas on using commonly found objects to create beautiful but inexpensive wrapping and packaging, see Wrapping Ideas Featuring Recyclables.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    More Homemade Gifts

    Flavored coffee mixes make a unique and splendidly frugal gift. Package them in a glass jar and print up labels from your computer with instructions for using them. Here are our favorites:
    1. CafĂ© Vienna: ½ cup instant coffee, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup nonfat dry milk solids, ½ tsp cinnamon, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of 2 tsp mix to one cup hot water. 35 calories each.
    2. Italian Mocha Cappuccino: 1 cup instant coffee, 1 cup sugar, 4 ½ cups nonfat dry milk solids, ½ cup cocoa, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of 2 tbsp to one cup hot water. 60 calories.
    3. Swiss Mocha Espresso: ½ cup instant coffee, ½ cup sugar, 1 cup nonfat dry milk solids, 2 Tbsp cocoa, stir and process in blender until powdered. Instructions: use a ratio of use 2 tbsp to ½ cup hot water. 40 calories.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Frugal for the Holidays: Homemade Gift Ideas

    One of the best ways to save money on your holiday shopping is not to do it at all. Instead make homemade gifts that reflect your personality and the time and care you are willing to devote to family and friends. Here are some ideas:
    • Fire-starters (dip pine cones in hot, colored wax) and package in a pretty basket.
    • A clove-studded lemon or orange pomander (which one of my children's Kindergarten teacher rated as his all-time favorite gift).
    • Baked goods (how about making large gingerbread men, customized with the recipients name and perhaps personal characteristics like hair color, eye color, etc.).
    • Homemade candy (e.g. fudge).
    • Coupons good for services (staying up late, dinner of choice, etc. for kids; massage, breakfast in bed, and chores for spouse); housecleaning or homemade meals for elderly relative; closet organizing for friend who shops all the time but can’t seem to find anything to wear. Make them funny and fancy.
    • Cookbook of your favorite recipes (w/description of how you encountered it, serving tips, memories of dinner parties, etc.)
    • Photo album or scrapbook.
    • Map coasters.
    • Home-made tree ornaments.
    • Tin can luminaries.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    A Word About Regifting

    Regifting has an ugly reputation. Seinfeld devoted an episode to mocking it. Nancy Reagan was criticized for doing it. Etiquette mavens generally frown upon it. And yet to frugal folks like me, it makes more economic sense to pass along a (new and unused) item rather than to let it waste away at the bottom of the closet. The key is to make sure, as you would when you purchase a new gift, that you are matching the regift with the needs and tastes of the recipient. Even if you aren't buying something, gifts should remain a token of affection and appreciation - not a way to get rid of something you dislike. The Internet is brimming with thoughts about when and how to regift, so if you want to explore the topic further, check out:
    Re-gifting Etiquette from GiftingResources.com
    12 Rules for "Regifting" without Fear from MSNmoney.com
    Three Dos and Don'ts for Regifting

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Tightwad Tree Ornaments

    Department stores and specialty shops offer beautiful and unique Christmas tree ornaments. But you could spend thousands decorating your tree if you buy all your ornaments there. So why not create some unique ornaments of your own? Here are some low-cost ideas:
    1. Make gingerbread cookies - you can even personalize them to make them more special.
    2. Rather have ornaments that last from year to year? Use the gingerbread cookie idea, but make and decorate the shapes with home-made play dough instead.
    3. Create painted wooden ornaments, using jigsaw-cut shapes from your craft store or cutting your own.
    4. Cover Styrofoam balls from the craft store with glossy thread and then decorate with bits of fabric, lace, beads, buttons and other pretty bits 'n' pieces.
    5. Make egg shell ornaments by pricking holes in each end of a raw egg with a pin, blowing out the insides, and then carefully cutting out an oval shaped hole in one side. Paint inside and out with nail polish or high-gloss paint and then decorate with bits of fabric, lace, beads, buttons and other bits 'n' pieces.
    6. Cut out paper snowflakes.
    7. Crochet snowflakes (use starch to keep them stiff).
    8. Rely on the tried and true: paper chains and strings of popcorn and cranberries.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Tin Can Luminaries to Give or Enjoy

    Luminaries made from tin cans are great both as holiday decorations for your home and as inexpensive gifts you can make yourself. Here's what you do:
    1. Fill an empty can with water and freeze it.
    2. Trace the shape you want (festive forms like a snowflake, Christmas tree, or Star of David are all contenders) on a piece of paper.
    3. Wrap the paper around the can and secure it with tape.
    4. Punch holes with nail to create an outline of the shape you've chosen. The ice keeps the can from denting while you hammer the holes. We've found that keeping the holes about 1/3 inch apart works best.
    5. Once you’re done and the ice has melted, you can paint the can or leave plain.
    6. Use a store-bought or homemade candle (to make the candle, fill the can halfway with melted wax; as it starts to firm up, put in a wax-coated string for the wick).

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Frugal Holiday Decorations

    You don't need to spend lots of money to make your home look festive and fun for the holidays. Here are some low cost ideas:
    • Place inexpensive votive candles among masses of evergreens to provide a festive feel.
    • Use inexpensive (or old and damaged) tree ornaments in bowls or apothecary jars or mixed in with the greens on mantel or tabletop – the more the better.
    • Raid your jewelry box – I decorated my first Christmas tree with earrings, bracelets tied on with ribbon and beaded necklaces and it looked great.
    • Gather masses of pinecones, nuts, etc. and paint them silver, gold or red and green. Or leave as is. Heap them on mantels and tabletops. Display in glass apothecary jars or in bowls. You can also affix fasteners with hot glue and hang them on the tree.
    • Find tall tree branches – they look wonderful painted and set into an umbrella stand or tall vase. You can even decorate them with lights.
    • Don't forget the classics: paper loop chain (use construction paper, old wrapping paper, the colorful parts of old Christmas cards), paper snowflakes, and strings of cranberries and popcorn.
    • Keep a tight color scheme of 2 or 3 colors to tie everything together. For example if your color scheme is white and gold, accent a white tablecloth with a gold runner, gold rimmed white china, with a centerpiece of gilded tree branches, pinecones, and ornaments looks great.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    A Frugal Approach to Christmas Cards

    While I'm all in favor of reaching out to extended family and friends at this time of year, the costs of buying and mailing elegant holiday cards (and you do want them to be quality cards that reflect your aesthete) can be significant. Here are some money-saving ideas:
    • Trim your list. As with gift-giving, it doesn't make sense to always do things the same way year after year just because you've always done it that way. If you haven't heard recently from that nice family you met on vacation 10 years ago, now is the time to strike them from the list. Also, there is really no need to send cards to close family members if you'll be sharing the holidays anyway, or to office-mates who you see every day.
    • Make your own cards. My sister and her husband are extraordinarily creative and I look forward to their imaginatively crafted cards each year. Sometimes they send cards with witty pen-and-ink drawings; other years they employ clever cut-outs; and one year they photoshopped their faces on a couple of mall Santas. But you don't need to have graphic arts or computer skills like they have to compose a heartfelt greeting and add an illustration to make your annual card uniquely your own.
    • Send email greetings instead of mailing letters. It's faster, more planet-friendly, and costs literally nothing. Plus there is no space limit if you want to describe your family's accomplishments for the year and you can easily link to photos and videos that illustrate what's on your mind this year.
    • Shop the sales. If you plan ahead, you purchase your cards at 75% off (or maybe even more if you time it right) by shopping right after Christmas for the cards you'll use the following year.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    The Tightwad Approach to Gift Giving

    Some folks contend that only Scrooge would skimp for the holidays. To that, I reply, "Bah humbug!" Honestly, if you buy bargains for yourself, it is certainly ok to do the same when you shop for others. Of course, on the other hand, if you buy your clothing at Bergdorfs, it IS cheap to buy all your gifts at the Dollar Store.
    The spirit of the season doesn't require that we all go deeply into debt or go hungry just so that we can lavish luxurious gifts on our loved ones. Gift-giving is just one way to express the joy of the holidays. So don't obsess about what you can't afford. Instead, set a reasonable budget and then work on finding thoughtful and imaginative gifts that reflect your affection towards the recipient. Remember that some of the most appreciated presents don't require a cash outlay at all: for example, you can volunteer to babysit for parents with young children; cook a meal for someone who hates to turn on the stove; or run errands for busy friends.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Frugal for the Holidays

    The media has been full of stories about holiday shopping for days now. All the stores are bedecked with sparkly decorations (and many have been since Halloween). And even after Cyber-Monday, email boxes are still receiving a full complement of come-ons and special holiday offers.
    But don't let all this holiday hoopla entice you into spending more than you intended. Throughout this month, Top Tightwad Tips will be suggesting ways that you can save money, while still enjoying the spirit of the season. So sit back and relax and let the frugal holidays begin!
    One of the best ways to save on gift-giving costs is to trim your gift list. Suggesting to your extended family members that this year, you hope to buy only for the kids or buy only one thing for each household/nuclear family (like a gift basket or museum membership) is not being a Scrooge. Instead, once you suggest that everyone cut back a little, you'll be surprised by how relieved everyone will be (because even those who aren't trying to spend less money shopping will be happy to spend less time shopping!). Other options for trimming your list include picking names out of hat so you're responsible for just one family member or officemate instead of many. Some groups agree to go even further and limit the cost of each present to, say, $5. Then part of the fun becomes seeing the variety of imaginative gifts available in that price range.
    So whether you cradle it, dreidel it, deck-the-halls it, matzo-balls it, O-Holy-night it, 8-Days-of-Light it… celebrate the season...frugally!