Well, I was re-reading a book we have called The Perfect Basket. (We have an earlier edition.) It's actually a combination of two earlier books, according to an Amazon review: food mixes for gift giving, and general suggestions for things to put in gift baskets. I like the mix ideas better than the basket ideas, because when you start putting things in a basket (or a bucket or a mixing bowl) the cost can add up very fast. Even a Christmas stocking full of dollar-store things will quickly run well over a few dollars, unless it's a very small stocking.
But that made me think of one of the Deputy Headmistress's Frugal Hacks posts from last Christmas, about thrift shopping/grocery shopping for presents that sort of go together--for instance, a shark book and a shark toy, or a nutmeg grater with some nutmegs. (If you remember, we actually did find a real nutmeg jar and thought of that suggestion.)
And that gave me a couple of ideas to expand on...because it's the middle of summer, prime yard-saling season here, and because I've passed over a few things lately that could, if I had been feeling really creative, have been turned into gifts. I'm still a bit iffy on how much anybody would have wanted the ceramic squirrel-on-a-walnut, even if I had filled the walnut with, say, walnuts...but you never know.
Idea Number One: Focus on basket themes that, besides being appropriate for at least one someone in your life, lend themselves to frugality. For instance, a basket based on someone's favourite decade. Where else are you going to find REAL 1980's stuff except at a yard sale? (Or maybe in your own closet or basement, and then it's free.) Think movies, fad items, magazines, music, toys, gadgets, cookbooks, kitchen items--whatever suits the person. There are stores and online places where you can find favourite candies from each decade, but that might run your costs up. Our nearby bulk store carries some retro candies that don't cost much. Hampstead House (book overstocks in Toronto) is offering a reproduction 1956 guide to entertaining that would be a fun gift along with retro things, but you could probably find an original book like that at a grandma's garage sale.
Idea Number Two: Since it sometimes takes awhile to find enough thrift-shopped/yard-saled basket-worthy things, decide on one or two themes and start collecting up anything that fits. Not that many people are probably into sharks, so choose themes like apples, strawberries, teddy bears, cats, horses and so on. Once you've narrowed your focus, you'll probably start noticing things at sales (or on sale, or in your cupboard) that fit right in and that you would have ignored before. You don't need to get carried away, just a few co-ordinating things can make a basket-type gift special.
Idea Number Three: Go for either the severely practical or the dangerously silly. On the practical side: give a basket of emergency supplies, like candles, matches, flashlight, batteries, vitamins, first aid kit. Or things that are needed in quantity, like postage stamps and bus tickets. Or make a tightwad gift pack for a frugal friend or wanna-be: sandwich bags or foil (for washing and rewashing), calculator, DIY tools, piggy bank, used copy of The Tightwad Gazette, coupon organizer, rubber spatula.
Dangerously silly? Also mostly for those who don't think there's anything wrong with giving or receiving used items: give a nice selection of weird,wonderful and inexpensive. Dancing hamsters come to mind.
Idea Number Four: Use some of the typical basket/filling ideas, but concentrate on items that you have on hand or that you come across at thrift shops, or maybe on sale at the grocery store. How many of these would you skip over at the thrift store?: small rolling pin, cookie cutters, any kind of containers that might hold cookies or other baking, doilies, cutting board, cloth napkins, butter knives (to give with a teacup, scone mix etc.), trays, jars, clear canisters, Bundt pan (to hold homemade cake mix), funny or pretty mugs (to hold candy canes and cocoa mix), knitting needles (I don't see crochet hooks as often, not sure why), a cassette of fiddle music (maybe to go in a Little House basket?), seed sprouter (for a health food basket)...endless possiblities.
Idea Number Five: Get inspired by a book. The last Hampstead House catalogue had a lot of possibilities that could go well with gift items, and you can often find similar titles at thrift shops. Examples: Heart-Friendly Cooking. Chocolate Recipes. Green Clean. Guide to Walking in Canada. Shameless Shortcuts (a book of household hints). Porridge. Taking Tea. And so on.
Idea Number Six: Go totally original, but (repeat this carefully) do not go overboard if your aim is to keep the gift under a certain dollar amount. The following ideas could be made either inexpensively or VERY expensively, so keep it in mind: A new-homeschooler basket with a timer, pens, paper, Nerf ball, anti-stress vitamins, how-to-homeschool book, math manipulatives, magnifying glass, favourite readaloud, Sharpies, etc. A Little House in the Big Woods/Little House on the Prairie basket with a sunbonnet, small rag doll, candy sticks, jar of plum jam, string of beads, homemade pancake mix, Little House craft or cookbook or paperdolls, maybe some Lincoln Logs. An "I love my 18-inch doll" pajama party set with handmade matching pajamas or nighties and/or slippers for girl and doll, matching pillowcases (handmade, they're easy), popcorn, cocoa mix, marshmallows.
And of course you can go with more usual basket themes, like sewing or crocheting supplies, but again, be careful--these days even spools of thread cost more than you'd think. Maybe pick out one more expensive and wanted item, and fill in with scavenged and inexpensive things, like (thrift-shopped) pattern magazines.
In the very silly category, at the office where I worked we used to make up "survival kits" for various people based on different in jokes and containing things like chocolate, nerf weaponry, random office supplies, all with labels that reflected various running office jokes. I think you had to be there to get it.
Another thing I have done to jazz up handmade gifts (not being very talented in that line) is to make up some amusing explanation to go with them. Like the year I could not get my dad's fudge to turn out, I made him a storybook called "Goldilocks and the Three Fudges" that retold my misadventures. Or the time I made rather lumpy hats and added a "warranty" that promised all kinds of extravagant things, carefully explained away by the fine print.
All really great ideas. I plan on doing something similar this Christmas. Most of my family already has everything they could ever need. I need to think outside of the box and this post as really helped.
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