No need to ditch your frugal lifestyle around the holidays. You can save money, and earn bonus points for thoughtfulness, with a homemade gift.
“Whenever someone gifts me something homemade, I always picture them working on it at their house, thinking of me,” says Emma Chapman, founder and CEO of the lifestyle blog A Beautiful Mess. “To me that’s much more intentional than picturing them just clicking to add something to their online shopping basket.”
Chapman gets the same satisfaction making gifts for loved ones, too. Her favorites: sugar scrubs and bath bombs for her girlfriends, craft kits for kiddos and sweet treats for her mom.
To keep costs (and your sanity) in check, don’t plan a different homemade gift for each person on your list. Instead, pick one or two items to make for each group of gift recipients.
“Making the same gift in bulk will always be more affordable than making a bunch of different things for different people,” says Cassie Johnston, founder of the blog Wholefully.
Buying containers like jars, tins and bottles at thrift stores also helps keep the cost down, Johnston says.
DIY gift ideas
Break out the hot glue and flex your frugal-living muscles with these DIY holiday gift ideas.
The cost to buy versus DIY will vary depending on supplies on hand and the materials you buy.
Whip up some freshly baked treats for that “Ooh, the cookies are still warm!” reaction, or gift a mix with the necessary dry goods for the recipient to bake on their own time.
Just take any allergies or intolerances into consideration before gifting cookies, breads, candies and the like. Because nothing falls flatter than a treat filled with nuts or gluten when the recipient is allergic.
- Cost to buy: $10.99 per jar of Mason Jar Cookie Co. mix from Target.
- Cost to DIY: Less than $3 per jar of cookie mix (including ingredients).
You don’t need an elaborate homebrew setup to make a gift with a little extra kick. This eggnog recipe from Food Network star Alton Brown calls for just five ingredients — milk, heavy cream, eggs, bourbon and nutmeg — and comes together in less than 30 minutes.
Limoncello also makes a great gift and requires just four ingredients: lemons, sugar, water and vodka. The cost to DIY is largely determined by the vodka you choose. Our estimate, using a bottle of Tito’s vodka priced at $19.99, comes out about the same per milliliter as buying limoncello. You can save money with a less expensive vodka (this recipe from The Kitchn recommends 80- to 100-proof), or by purchasing the ingredients in bulk and making a large batch.
- Cost to buy: $24.99 for a 750-mL bottle of limoncello.
- Cost to DIY: $32.37 for two 16-ounce bottles of limoncello (960 mL).
A good spice blend is every home chef’s go-to. Whip up Nom Nom Paleo’s umami-packed Magic Mushroom Powder or Martha Stewart’s all-purpose spice rub, a great gift for the self-appointed “grill master” in your family.
- Cost to buy: $8.99 for a 3.5-ounce jar of Magic Mushroom powder at Whole Foods.
- Cost to DIY: Less than $4 per 3.5-ounce jar.
Nothing says cozy comfort food like a hot bowl of soup. Simply put the dry ingredients in a canning jar with a handwritten recipe tag and “Voila!” An easy, tasty holiday gift. Use your go-to soup recipe — the one your friends always rave about — or snag one of Johnston’s soup-in-a-jar recipes. (Coconut curry? Yes, please!)
- Cost to buy: $8.95 for minestrone soup mix from Crate and Barrel.
- Cost to DIY: Less than $2 per mix.
Talk about an easy DIY gift. Just combine sugar, coconut oil and a few drops of a scented essential oil, like lemon, lavender or eucalyptus, and you have a luxurious body scrub. Present it in a cute container with a custom print-at-home label for an extra-special touch.
- Cost to buy: $16.50 for a body scrub from Bath & Body Works.
- Cost to DIY: Less than $5 for this vanilla brown sugar scrub from Somewhat Simple.
Pamper someone on your gift list with a rich, soothing lotion. This simple formula on Chapman’s blog has just two ingredients — cocoa butter and avocado oil — and comes together in minutes.
- Cost to buy: $16.50 for a 6.5-ounce jar of body butter from Bath & Body Works.
- Cost to DIY: $5.75 for a 6.5-ounce jar.
Know someone who enjoys long baths? This fizzy gift is for them. You’ll need a mold of some sort, which you can pick up at a craft store, along with the ingredients. Most bath bomb recipes include a mixture of Epsom salts, baking soda, olive oil, citric acid and an essential oil.
- Cost to buy: $26.95 for a set of three at Lush Cosmetics.
- Cost to DIY: $10 for a set of three, including molds.
Warming neck wrap
Make tense muscles melt with a microwaveable wrap made with rice and essential oils. You’ll need sewing skills but not much else to make this gift. Tips: Use 100% cotton fabric; don’t use instant rice.
- Cost to buy: $18.95 on Etsy.
- Cost to DIY: $3 for one wrap.
Fleece tie blanket
Cozy blankets are crucial for cold weather. And you can make one using just two pieces of fleece (and scissors). Use 2 to 2.5 yards for a large blanket, perfectly sized for an adult, and 1 to 1.5 yards to make a blanket for a child.
- Cost to buy: $25 to $55 for a large blanket on Etsy.
- Cost to DIY: $20 to $30 for a large blanket.
Make the littlest on your list a sweet playhouse with nothing but a cardboard box and spare paint or wallpaper. Check out these cute houses on Chapman’s blog, A Beautiful Mess, for some inspiration.
- Cost to buy: $129.99 for a Little Tikes playhouse at Target.
- Cost to DIY: $0 if you have a box and paint lying around. Bonus points for cute contact paper.
Barbies and G.I. Joes need homes, too. But you don’t need to spend a ton on a store-bought dollhouse. Instead, craft a doll home out of plywood and add personal touches with furniture and curtains. (Tip: Have the hardware store cut your plywood to the dimensions you need.) The result may become a keepsake treasured for generations.
- Cost to buy: $50 or more at Target.
- Cost to DIY: $31 for materials at Home Depot.
More From NerdWallet