Homemade (and Cheap!) Gifts

Use these simple but sensational ideas for any time
by Noël-Marie Taylor

Homemade gifts are gifts from the heart.One of the best ways to save money over the holidays is by giving homemade gifts. Depending on your level of craftiness and creativity, these can range from simple baked goods or ornaments to intricate quilts.

My current favorite homemade gifts are cookie and cocoa baskets, treasure boxes, and bath bombs. The directions for these, as well as suggestions for a few other inexpensive and easy-to-make gifts, are below.

Cookie and Cocoa Basket

Hot chocolate and cookies are the perfect holiday treat, and can be put together to make a beautiful holiday gift.


An empty basket

Homemade cookies (any type)

Plastic wrap

Mason jar

Fabric square, about 10" x 10" (remnants, or holiday sewing leftovers)


Paper label
Cocoa mix ingredients
1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup non-dairy cream powder

1/4 tsp. salt

2 3/4 cups instant nonfat milk powder

1 cup miniature marshmallows, if desired

[cookie graphic]

Wrap cookies (any type will work--sugar cookies cut in holiday shapes are easy and very festive) in plastic wrap. Wrapping two to four cookies at a time will usually keep them from breaking. In a large bowl, mix all cocoa ingredients. Fill mason jar with cocoa mix (this recipe makes enough mix for three to four jars). Place fabric square right-side down on table. Put jar in center, pull up corners to top of jar. Use ribbon to tie fabric around the neck of the jar. The edges that are sticking up can be trimmed so they are even, or left as is (using pinking shears to cut edges of fabric makes the jar look much fancier). Affix a label to the lid of the jar with directions for using the cocoa mix: "Add 3 to 4 Tablespoons to 1 cup hot water." Arrange jar and cookies in the basket. Add a bow if desired.

Treasure Box

A special, personalized box, whether filled or empty, makes a great one-of-a-kind gift.


Plastic shoebox with solid color cover (Rubbermaid or other brand, cost about $1/each)

Acrylic paints

Stencil forms (optional)

For each box, choose a pattern or design that matches the gift recipient's personality. Simply paint a design on the box lid (and if desired, on box sides). When using stencils, tape the stencil to the box lid, and paint one color at a time, letting the box dry between paint applications. The finished box can be filled with thematic gifts, if desired - for instance, a box decorated with sewing designs might contain needles, thread, pins, and a tape measure. Or for a child, a craft box with crayons, watercolors, and paintbrushes, decorated with any theme the child favors.

Bath Basket

Who wouldn't love a basket filled with items meant for relaxation and pampering? Fill a basket with some candles, bath bombs and/or bath salts, a washcloth, and a good book--the perfect gift for someone who needs an hour to herself after a long day! Or, if you want to, make the scent jars described below in place of (or in addition to) the candles!

Bath Salts

4 cups Epsom salts

2 cups sea salt

Essential oils for scent (lavender is excellent for relaxation, citrus oils also work well)

Food coloring (optional)

Mix the two salts together; this is the base for your bath salts.
Using 2 cups of salt at a time, add 4 to 10 drops of essential oil and food coloring as desired. Mix well, then place in a ziplock bag. Let cure for two weeks, shaking at least once daily.
Once salts have cured for two weeks, transfer to containers for use in gift basket.

Fizzing Bath Bombs

1 cup citric acid

3 cups baking soda
Fragrance or Essential Oil


Mix citric acid and baking soda, add scent until it reaches the strength you desire.
Using a spray bottle, add a fine mist of water to the dry ingredients. Mix in well. Continue adding small amounts of water until the mixture begins to clump.
Press mixture into candy or soap molds--plastic molds work best. Continue packing mixture until no more can be packed into the mold.
Let mixture dry. This may take anywhere from a couple hours to several days, depending on humidity.
When shaped bath bombs pop out of the containers easily, they are done.
Seal individually in plastic wrap.
To use, drop one or two into running bath water.

Scent Jars

8 oz clear, unscented glycerin soap

1 teaspoon fragrance or essential oil
10 drops food coloring

3 4-oz jelly jars

Melt soap in top half of double-boiler. As soon as it is melted, add fragrance and color and pour into jars. Let set for six to eight hours. Place lids on jars.
Open jars will lightly scent rooms for several weeks.

Need More Ideas?

Some other popular make-it-yourself gift ideas:

  • Cookie mix in a jar (or cake mix or bread mix). Many variants on this can be found at http://cookierecipe.com along with recipes for many other festive holiday treats.
  • Hand-decorated glassware and plates. Paint designs with perm-enamel paints.
  • Candles are easy to make, and can be a good family project.
  • Dough ornaments will last for years.
  • Make Your Own Gift Baskets is a terrific ebook guide to making homemade gift baskets for just about anyone--99 different ideas for baskets!
  • DIY Gift Package Templates can help you put together adorable packages.
  • Soapmaking Made Simple can help you put together inexpensive but luxurious gifts for everyone, and you'll have fun at the same time.

Noël-Marie Taylor is a freelance writer located in Columbia, Maryland. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including PC Magazine and The Mother Is Me. A stay-at-home mom to two children, she is also the designer of several cross-stitch kits for children.

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Terri Green's picture

Can I substitute sea salt for regular salt in my salt dough ornaments I am making? Please provide an answer shortly if possible. I am getting ready to make plenty of ornaments for the family for Christmas.
Thank you,
Sincerely, Mrs. Terri Green

Lynn's picture

But I don't know why you'd want to; it's much more expensive than table salt.

Lynn Siprelle, Editor

bobert's picture

this was the worst website yet no good ideas what so ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Deda's picture

can i use table salt instead of sea salt???????????? :grin:

Lynn's picture

If you can, find coarse salt, either sea or regular. The coarse is just aesthetically more pleasing and mixes with the other ingredients nicely.

Deda's picture

thank you for the info on the salt!!! :)

Mija's picture

Thanks for the great ideas. Just thought you'd want to know...the link you listed for makestuff.com leads to an inappropriate website.

Lynn's picture

This is a really old article; at the time it was written, that website wasn't a personals site. Its domain apparently expired and was bought by nefarious interests. It happens. Thanks for letting me know.

Guest's picture

:? u call these good gifts?

Lynn's picture

cheap gifts. :)

Thes are not the kinds of gifts to give your nearest and dearest. These are good gifts for people in your life to whom you want to give more than a card.

Rozann's picture

These are fun ideas. Years ago I made a "Cozy evening in a Box" gift for my mother-in-law. She loved it. I made a lap quilt for her in flannel, added a novel, a box of hot chocolate mix, some footies, and her favorite candy. She told me it was the best gift she'd ever gotten.

January's picture

Great ideas. Especially enjoyed the cookie/cocoa basket. :)

Guest's picture

I like the bath basket. And the sea salt
I want to make some of the things in there but idk if I have enough time! I have everything to make the bath salt BESIDES the actual sea salt. All I have is Epson. :( could it be a fine bath salt? Thanks anyways! Merry Christmas and happy holidays!:)

Anhata's picture

I use a recipe of one part Epsom, one part dead sea salts, one part regular sea salt. They each have a different mineral profile, I figure that's the best way to maximize the benefits of trace/rare mineral absorption. In a pinch, just Epsom is fine, though.

Anhata's picture

My mother would make coffee creamers and put them in pretty jars, she had about three or four recipes. My favorite was the mocha coffee creamer that used non-dairy creamer, instant coffee, and hot cocoa. Mix them all together, pretty jar, pretty label with instructions. You can find plenty of recipes on the web.

Something we did for our kids' teachers was the Cake in a Mug (similar to the cake mix in a jar, except it's in a mug). Printed out The Most Dangerous Chocolate Cake in the World recipe as a pretty recipe card, bought cute mugs at the dollar store, put the dry ingredients for the mix in a bag with the recipe, cellophane it all together and tie it off with curling ribbon. Attach a festive something to the outside--a handmade ornament for Christmas, a small balloon for special events, etc.

Cinnamon ornaments are wonderful. Mix copious amounts of cinnamon with a little applesauce until you can roll it and cut it with cookie cutters, poke a little hole in a corner, dry, thread with a festive ribbon and you have wildly fragrant ornaments you or your kids can make. There's a recipe for these at allrecipes.com.

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