The holidays done on a dime

By Stephanie Trabold

It’s that time of year again when people are searching to find the perfect gift for the holiday season. During the holidays, the average consumer spends approximately $688 on gifts for relatives, friends and co-workers, according to research conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF). The NRF reports that this figure was down from $755 in 2007.

So how is one to combat these expenses during an economic recession? Recently, more people are taking the initiative, turning to hands-on personalized ideas for holiday gift giving through crafts and family-friendly activities.

The holiday season is a time to express love and affection to the special people in our lives.  Here are some money-saving gift ideas that are fun to make and convey a deeper, more personalized meaning to the recipient.

Painted cookies

A homemade baked goodie box is an easy and colorful way to express warmth and happiness to anyone who enjoys a sweet treat.

To personalize the cookies, try painting the person’s name on them. Using food coloring and eggs, one can brush and paint sugar cookies to bake colorful creations for any occasion. Be sure that the paintbrushes have not been used before. Paintbrushes should be available at a local dollar store or CVS.

Using any sugar cookie recipe, make the dough. After the dough is kneaded, divide it in half and roll it out and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Then, after the dough has chilled and become firm, cut the cookies out using cookie cutters if desired.

The “paint” is a simple combination of mixing raw eggs and food coloring. The eggs and dye go on the cookies before they are baked in the oven to ensure that the bacteria is cooked out. One only needs three eggs to make the paint. In six separate bowls, one can make each color of the rainbow.

The egg yolks are used for red, orange and yellow, while the whites are used for green, blue and purple.

Be sure that the cookies are completely baked. The paint will form a colorful outer layer on the cookies.

Once the cookies are baked and cooled, decorate the box with a personal touch. Using an old shoebox, line the interior with aluminum foil to protect the cookies and decorate the exterior with wrapping paper. This gives the box an outward appearance of a gift and is themed appropriately. Another way is to cover the box with paper, drawings, phrases, stickers, glitter, markers and other craft supplies to personalize the box to the recipient’s liking.

Picture frames

Another gift idea is to capture memories through photography. Using a photo of the giver and receiver together, purchase a blank frame from the dollar store. These frames can be easily decorated to the gift-giver’s choosing. Some popular frame decorating ideas include small drawings, stickers and writing fun phrases or inspirational quotes.

To personalize the gift, attach a small note on stained paper. For a more rustic look, boil a cup of tea and allow the teabag to steep. Take a common piece of white printer paper and drag the teabag across the page. Make sure the paper is dry before writing any messages.

Hot chocolate kits

Budget101.com offers interesting insights for the clueless consumer who needs some frugal gift ideas. One suggestion includes giving mini marshmallows in a small sandwich bag known as “snowman’s poop.”

Budget101.com suggests attaching this poem along with the marshmallows to bring some laughter to the gift:

“Dear [Name], Santa looked at his list, even checked it twice. And he has seen that you have not been very nice. Since coal’s so expensive, here’s the scoop: Santa’s filling your stocking with snowman’s poop!”

To complement the small bag of mini marshmallows, one can purchase an oversized holiday mug and make a hot chocolate kit to stay warm during the winter months.
To make a hot chocolate kit, include a festive mug (which can be decorated with ribbon) and fill it with packets of instant hot chocolate and the plastic sandwich bag of “snowman’s poop.” Adding a candy cane gives it a peppermint twist. Use plastic gift wrap and tie everything together with a piece of colorful ribbon.

Apple-cinnamon ornaments

One Rider student shared a traditional family recipe for homemade apple-cinnamon ornaments. These ornaments smell enticing, but ironically are intended for decoration, not consumption.

Take equal amounts of applesauce and cinnamon. Mix together until it forms a batter, flatten it with a rolling pin, cut with favorite cookie cutter and let harden. Finally, create a hole to slip the ribbon through.

Saving money can be easy by using some creativity. Personalizing gifts for someone shows that the gift had some thought and meaning without hurting the wallet.

Happy Holidays!

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