Tag Archives: money saving

Little Big Guift Guide: Thriftiest Stocking Stuffers

19 Dec

Today is the last installment of a three-part series I’m doing on inexpensive, yet still fun and creative and useful, Christmas gifts. (Thrifty & Thriftier versions here.) The goal is to give items that would be a welcome gift and not just junk that will likely be tossed out at the end of the day. To be included in this gift guide it must be useful, lovely, and budget-friendly.This “Thriftiest” guide is the longest and most packed with ideas, probably because I’m used to having no budget to work with. I’ve had to get creative and I’m happy to share these ideas with you.

Almonds:  my Mom likes to put toasted almonds in our stockings. I think this is a great idea with or without a spiced, coated seasoning. My aunt once gave us all toasted almonds mixed with M&Ms, and in the days following Christmas I put it in a candy dish and visitors to the house fell upon it like they had never seen almonds or M&Ms before. Sometimes, it’ the little things.

Heirlooms: for my birthday my Dad gave me his Brownie camera that had been collecting dust in my parents’ closet for fifty years. I’ve been looking for a Brownie at yard sales and flea markets for forever, not knowing that my Dad had one in perfect condition all this time. It was his first camera, purchased when he was about thirteen. Receiving this gift was so much better than finding it secondhand: he remembers how it works and can help me open it and load the film.

Handmade: my lovely and talented twitter friend, Erica, crocheted a hat for a cousin and embellished it with buttons from her late Grandpa’s shirt. Such a wonderful, powerful gift.

Custom Spice Mixes:  my Dad loves to cook and he often tucks spice blends and rubs in my stocking. An even thriftier (and quite possibly better, in my opinion) option would be to make your own rubs and spice blends and give those instead.

Dried Herbs: Along the same line as spice rubs above, the last couple years I’ve been harvesting rosemary from my garden, drying it and sealing it in decorated plastic bags and put that in my family’s stockings.

CDs: I like to include burned cds in my family members’ stockings. The thing to remember with this option is to make it appropriate to their tastes. For my aunt I gave her meditative music she could paint to, for my uncle I gave him acoustic guitar-heavy indie music, and for my parents I gave them the nutcracker suite. Decorating the CD is a must.

Bookmarks & Artwork: If you are lucky enough to have some skill with a pencil or a paintbrush, you can make individual cards or bookmarks for gift-giving. I’m friends with a couple who did this and I still treasure and use them.

Your Own Recording:  aside from giving a mix CD, if you have musical talent you can give a CD of your own songs. A friend of mine is making one for this year and I can’t wait to get it.

Cuttings & Seeds: do you have a plant that everyone admires? I’ve had friends request cuttings of my Jade plants and other succulents for birthdays and holidays. My friend Jake has a ton of marigolds that produce seeds like crazy, and in addition to produce from his garden he gave me a cupful of seeds so that I can grow my own golden ruffled beauties.

Your Talent: Coupons are the standard for the thrifty gift and for a reason: they are awesome. Can you offer to baby sit? Do you give good massages? Skill with photoshop? You could offer to paint someone’s portrait, bring them lunch at work, make them a custom headband, run errands for them, bake them bread. Illustrate your coupon beautifully, and you have a winner.

Photos & Thrifted Frames: Christmas is the time of year my parents traditionally gave photos of us kids to the relatives (usually school or family church portraits). Since I’m handy with a camera, I like to print out some of my favorite shots of the kid and give those. Our thrift stores are always bursting with frames, so for under $2.00 I can give a lovely framed photo.

Oranges: Christmas is the time of year when citrus is in season. On her way into the Valley my aunt stops off at a local grower and buys sacks mandarins so sweet they are like candy. Sometimes they end up in the stockings but more often than not we dump all the mandarins out for Christmas snacking and then divide up the leftovers.

Thrifted Goodness: When I go thrifting I always keep my eyes peeled for things someone on my Christmas list might like. This requires you to have a pretty good feel for another’s taste, and the knowledge that they are cool with receiving vintage items. I never pass off something secondhand as new (though I know people who do). I have no shame in giving something that’s secondhand as long as it is awesome. For example, I gave my friend Stef, who adores both vintage and Yosemite, this ceramic souvenir leaf dish from the 1950s.

Homegrown Harvest: I touched on Jake giving me the fruits of his garden for my birthday, and this extends to stocking stuffers, too. Citrus plants are bountiful this time of year, as are apples and pomegranates. I know Californians like me have an advantage, but some things can be harvested in summer and saved for gift-giving now. Dried chilies, sunflower seeds, small pumpkins make great gifts.

Local Gifts: every area has something special to offer, and if you have relatives coming from out of town they might appreciate something you take for granted. Maybe you leave near the beach and you have seashells. My aunt, who lives near the ocean, gave us all seashells one year. I have a friend who lives in the city who has access to usual foreign grocery store items and I asked him for some packages of ramen. Each area has something special that could translate as something to give.

Kid-Made Crafts: when we give cards we like to let Isobel have at the envelope with a crayon first and people love it. When she’s old enough to make crafts you better believe I’m going to spread the crafty love.

Tea Sampler: If you have a few cartons of fancy tea you can easily put together a tea sampler for several people by including a couple bags from each. I do this just about every year for my family. It’s a great way to try new flavors without being committed to a whole box if you don’t like it.

Well, there you have it. Three posts’ worth of fun, creative, and thrifty ideas for stocking stuffers. If you have your own great ideas to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Little Big Gift Guide: Thriftier Stocking Stuffers

15 Dec

Today is the second installment of a three-part series I’m doing on inexpensive, yet still fun and creative and useful, Christmas gifts. The goal is to give items that would be a welcome gift and not just junk that will likely be tossed out at the end of the day. To be included in this gift guide it must be useful, lovely, and budget-friendly. Previously, I posted about Thrifty Stocking Stuffers, today we have Thriftier Stocking Stuffers, and last but not least, later I’ll feature Thriftiest Stocking Stuffers.

      Chocolate: I put a king-sized Snickers bar in Anthony’s stocking every year, and every year he looks forward to it. I tried branching out and giving him fancy-pants chocolate, but that turned out to be a bad idea. A Snickers bar is what he wants so a Snickers bar is what he gets. For myself I’d rather get some of these Belgian thins or dark chocolate-covered pomegranates, but hell, I’d be glad to get some plain-old dark chocolate chips as well.

     Craft Patterns: If you have a crafter in your life, you can support their habit by giving patterns in their stockings: sewing patterns, embroidery patterns, knitting patterns.

     ‘Designer’ Gifts: Give the designer in you life a font or a fancy vector. Write your gift on a piece of paper and tuck it in their stocking. I really think even a small gift, as long as it would be used and enjoyed by the recipient, is better than a more expensive gift bought with no real clue if the recipient will enjoy it.

     Rifftrax: Have you heard of Rifftrax? Some of the guys from MST3K get together and riff current box office disasters which you buy in audio format and then play along with the movie. This way they can keep the jokes coming without having to afford the rights to each movie they riff. It’s brilliant. It’s hilarious. It’s the most fun you can have while watching the Twilight series. I want to convert the world to that magic that is Rifftrax.

      Kitchen Gadgets: Spatulas wear out, pastry brushes become gross, and mandolins dull. Some kitchen gadgets are always useful. Also consider slightly more usual gadgets, such as potato ricers, melon ballers, or apple-slicers.

      Ornaments: Many lovely and inexpensive options are easy to find. I’d advise against giving ornaments unless you know the person you’re buying for has room for them. It seems like people are on one end of the ornament spectrum or the other – too many or too few. My aunt and mother started a tradition of buying each of us cousins an ornament each Christmas so by the time we left home we’d have plenty of ornaments for our own tree. If you have a friend or a relative with a new baby, an ornament a year could be a great tradition to start.

      Colorful Duct Tape: Duct tape in general is a wonderful gift item, useful for everything from making wallets, repairing household items, and taping ducks together (that’s why it’s called “duck tape,” right? I mean, I assume so.) Now it comes in various colors and patterns—even better! This is the kind of thing I’d want but wouldn’t buy for myself. While at my local craft store I found this adorable monogrammed tape and picked up a roll for my cousins.

       Hobbies: if you have a relative with a particular hobby you can almost always find something small to give them that would be both useful and welcome. Do they play D&D? Give them some minis. Do they garden? Another pair of gloves or a kneeling pad is always useful. Do they like crafts? Buy them another rubber stamp. Get a comic book for your favorite reader. You don’t have to get them something big to add something meaningful to their hobby.

       Napkins & Washcloths: I have friends who knit who make small things like a stack of washcloths. It makes me all sorts of jealous. They just crank them out like it ain’t no thang and they are just gorgeous. If you knit, share the love. Cloth napkins are another wonderful thing to put in a stocking. If you can’t find any while thrifting but are handy with a sewing machine, consider whipping some up.

       Boxers: I like to put a pair or two of fun patterned boxers in Anthony’s stocking every year. I don’t know what I enjoy more: shopping for them or watching him open them to find yet another ridiculous pair of underwear inside. Because they are funny it’s not weird to give with family. This is kind of a one-way gift, as opening panties of any sort in public would be weird for me. Boxers avoid that sexy connotation so they are a go.

Today’s installment was for those of you lucky enough to have a budget, but what if your budget was too strict for these ideas? Never fear, later this week I’ll be coming out with one more gift guide for really-low and even no budget gifts that still meet the lovely and useful criteria. Stay tuned!

Little Big Gift Guide: Thrifty Ideas for Stocking Stuffers

12 Dec

Today is the first installment of a three-part series I’m doing on inexpensive, yet still fun and creative and useful, Christmas gifts. The goal is to give items that would be a welcome gift and not just junk that will likely be tossed out at the end of the day. To be included in this gift guide it must be useful, lovely, and budget-friendly. Today, Thrifty Stocking Stuffers, and later this week, Thriftier Stocking Stuffers, and last but not least, Thriftiest Stocking Stuffers.

Instagram magnets: for $14.99 Stickygram will create 9 magnets out of the Instagram photos of your choice. My plan is to do this and split the photo magnets among family members.

Phone cords: for whatever reason, the necessary USB cord for the iPhone seems to always crack and wear, leaving exposed wires that result in a poor connection. I could always use an extra USB cord, and for that matter, extra screen protectors and replacement ear buds (they always find their way to the washing machine at our house) make handy stocking stuffers, as well.

Flash drives: I’m lusting after this key-style flash drive. Particularly useful for students and nerds! Especially useful for nerd-students.

My Etsy shop: Shameless self-promotion time! In my shop I have a number of smaller items that would make excellent stocking stuffers. Support small business and an active reuse market! Also, my thrifting habit.

Books: The thriftiest way to give books is to give away books you no longer want to keep (which I’m cool with as long as the recipient would be interested in it), or to find something while thrifting or at a library book sale. But don’t forget independent book sellers or even mass-market retailers. My dear friend Stefanie loves to give books at holidays and we all look forward to getting them.

Personalized calendar: for as long as my mother has purchased calendars she’s always had a cat calendar every year. Somewhere along the line Anthony and I started purchasing calendars for her as our Christmas present. After a couple years I had the idea of making her a cat calendar using photos I took of her own cats, and she loved it. When Isobel came along we made her cat and granddaughter calendars. She looks forward to this every year.

Shop Etsy faves: If you do happen to have a budget for presents, and the person you are buying for has an etsy account, take a look at items they’ve favorited through their profile for ideas. My friends and I started using Etsy faves as a wishlist and like to buy items off their lists when we can afford it. We know they’ll love whatever we buy them, and since we all know about this idea we include faves at a few pricepoints. We have had the issue of two of us buying the same present for someone only once (since faves aren’t an actual registry, after all) and overall this system works well. I love supporting small biz while making a friend happy.

Magnets: I always need more magnets, Instagram or otherwise, and by this I mean cute magnets, of course.

Gift cards: Gift cards aren’t an usual gift idea, but when times are tough sometimes the best gift someone can receive is a gift card for some much-needed clothes or a luxury they wouldn’t purchase for themselves otherwise. When my cousin had her second child, my Aunt Kay said she’d by her the gift card of her choice: a mani-pedi, a massage, or one month’s worth of a housecleaning service. (For the record, my cousin chose housekeeping. I would have, too!) I like to buy gift cards for iTunes, Target, Amazon, Old Navy, or our local favorite sushi restaurant.

Dishtowels: It’s common knowledge that I’m a dishtowel junkie. They are an inexpensive way add style to a kitchen—a room that’s hard to change without major remodeling. And they fit in a stocking perfectly, too.

Mouse pad: It seems like mouse pads have a short shelf life before they get all faded and gross-looking. Adorable options abound on Etsy.

Photo books: After Isobel was born I scraped together the three brain cells I had left and made a photo book for each Grandmother. I bought inexpensive photo albums at Michael’s and filled them with photos of Isobel, starting with a shot of my giant pregnant belly and ending with Isobel at three months old. In my mom’s book I included photos of her holding Isobel plus other shots of the family, and vice versa for my mother in law. We had these ready in time for Mother’s Day and they were a huge hit. The grandmothers had their books on them at all times so when people asked about their grandchild they could proudly show off their photos. After all was said and done they cost less than ten bucks each. You can always go to one of those photo sites for a more professional looking book, but they loved their albums and still treasure them. I ended up using a photo book service to make a Friends of Isobel book, which we created to help introduce Isobel to our friends that she might not see that often. (You can read about that here.)

Cute socks: Perfect for winter, warm, cute socks are always welcome in a stocking.

Today’s installment was for those of you lucky enough to have a budget, but what if your budget too strict for this gift guide? Never fear, later this week I’ll be coming out with two more gift guides for really-low and even no budget gifts that still meet the lovely and useful criteria. Stay tuned!

Thrifty Living: Thrifty Tips and Recent Scores

5 Dec

Some thrifty things I’ve been doing to save money:

* During the morning and early afternoon I try to find some excuse to use my oven: drying herbs, toasting nuts, roasting potatoes, whatever. I can keep the thermostat down a few notches because the heat from the oven will keep the kitchen toasty while at the same time making something tasty for later.

* I’ve also pulled out my stack of crocheted blankets from the linen closet and just keep them on the couch. When one of us gets cold I insist we put on a blanket or a sweater before we turn up the heat. They look lovely in a pile and are more likely to get used when I keep them out.

* I tried the no-heat curl method to try a new look. I already had the hairband so trying this was free!

* I’ve been using the library a whole lot more. This option should be obvious after working in a library for eight years, but since we also had Anthony’s Borders discount, and since discovering the handiness of reading ebooks via the iPhone, I stopped checking books out of the library. I still went to the library–I mean, between my mother and I Isobel’s been to every story time available since she was a year old. But we’d leave when story time was over. Now I stay and make sure I have new additions to both my and Isobel’s bookshelves every week.

* I don’t have a lot of pairs of pants. Since losing over 20lbs due to my time on the elliptical and the debilitating panic attacks I really only have two pairs of pants that fit. One of them has stylish (or so I tell myself) holes worn in the knees from constant use. I can’t afford to go clothes shopping but I did have enough to buy a few pairs of colorful tights. I love the way they add a pop of color to my outfits while keeping me warm and extending the life of my jeans.

* I’m being pretty strict about our one napkin and one rag per day and I’ve been trying to expand this rule to cups and plates, too. This is an excellent way to save water and saves me a lot of work in the dishes and laundry department. Score!

* I haven’t been doing any major thrifting because I’m still in the midst of my giant Etsy storage and reorganization project, but I’ve stopped off yard sales and a thrift store here or there over the past month and these photos are some of the things I’ve picked up: a colorful crocheted poncho for Isobel, pegasus and unicorn mugs for me (and Anthony, if he’s so inclined), and some lovely wooden hangers covered with a delicate web of crocheted threads. These were obviously handmade and came from an estate sale. I wish more people would learn how to do this because it’s gorgeous and I’m afraid it’s a dying art. I got all six hangers for a dollar. Can you even imagine how long it must have taken to make these?

Anybody doing anything differently to save money? This time of year I could use all the help I can get.