Here's what Marjorie Hillis, author of Orchids on your Budget says about Christmas...
"Your income is in a bad way if you can't give a few presents. Some of the most engaging presents we've ever had, have cost next to nothing, and some of the most expensive have been frankly Gosh Presents (meaning the kind of presents that make you say Gosh when you open the package). Someone once gave us a Gumdrop tree which she'd made from the branch of a tree, stuck in a pot, and silvered all over, with coloured gum drops shimmering on every twig. It stood in the window and was the most enchanting Christmas decoration of the season. Once we were gifted a pile of mirrored tiles to put under vases. They came from the discount store and were tied with a ribbon and we're still using them with the greatest pleasure. Another ingenious woman gave friends who had fireplaces, great bags of pine cones she'd gathered herself. The bags were made of pale green fabric and tied with enormous silver bows at the top and everyone loved them."
Wise words from Marjorie...as usual.
We've been discussing Christmas on a lean budget, and we've already agreed that you can trim your list of gift recipients, by instead inviting them for a Sundae Soiree` or Hot Chocolate Banquet after a Carolling session, ensuring you do that one thing lavishly and with a generous hand and heart. Incidentally, Marjorie writes at length about entertaining on a budget and recommends a similar approach.
Set the table beautifully, get out every glass and bowl or cup and mug you own, invest in as much of the required ingredients as you need and then some, and do it well. Don't go doing this as a money saving exercise, and then get all silly about how many scoops of icecream or how many cups of cocoa each person indulges in. There's a difference between Thrifty and Stingy. Marjorie devotes a whole chapter of her book on that topic!
If you still prefer to give gifts, then as with so many things, when you lack money, you must instead devote time. Making gifts worth giving, does involve an investment of time and a little money too, truth be known. So don't be thinking you'll get out of it with a nil spend. Although, if you're clever enough, and willing to invest enough time, you can come close to a nil spend.
Let's look at Marjories three examples and see how they can work for us.
Example 1: Silvered tree branch with gum drops
Material required: Found tree branches of suitable shape and size (if you live in Australia, Poinciana tree twig litter is ideal), container and sand, soil or balls of newspaper to anchor it, silver or chrome spray paint, 3 packets of gumdrops (I used generic brand Cocktail Sherbets...they must be a sweet that is wrapped), thin craft or gift ribbon. I added the ruffled pink tulle as I had it on hand. It's not actually necessary. My 'twig, is anchored in the sheets of newspaper, utilised to contain the overspray when painting the pot. I just scrunched it up and arranged it around my twig. Happily, it was already silver from the overspray!
Method: Scrub the branch clean and let it dry if you want, but I didn't bother. Spray it with the silver paint. Spray paint the container too. I like to use terracotta pots at under $3 each from the gardening supply store. Fill the plant pot or jar with sand or salt or soil, and anchor the branch, or use the newspaper method mentioned above. Tie the gum drops on with satin or metallic ribbon. Total cost around $10 each including the pot and the gum drops.
Example 2: Mirrored tiles
I confess I've been in love with this idea ever since I read it for the first time. I scoured eBay and found 130 bronze mirrored tiles, used as Charger plates for a wedding, and I've been gifting them ever since. They set me back $100 at the time, equating to just .77c each! I even bought some etching fluid and stencils and have etched them with stars, hearts, and French script. Check out recycling warehouses, tile suppliers, Gumtree, and eBay for similar bargains. It has to be a pickup though as they are darned heavy!
An alternative is to grab thrifted photo frames and upcycle them as I've detailed below.
Material required: Mirrored tiles, or empty photo frames from thrift shops and a tin of Looking Glass spray and some white acrylic paint.
Method: None required if ready made tiles are used. For the frames, clean the glass and the frame well. Paint the frame white with the acrylic paint and allow to dry. Paint the glass according to the instructions. Allow to dry. Reassemble. Tie with a big bow. Attach a card explaining that it's a mirror to reflect any ornament or vase place on top, doubling the pleasure. Total cost around $30 if you're buying the Looking Glass paint, but this will yield many gifts. Thrift shop frames cost between 20c and $3. So an investment of around $40 should yield 10 gifts or $4 each. Note that mirrored tiles also make the most lavish Charger plates. Those sell in the upmarket homewares stores for about $70 each! Bundle 6 together and call them Charger plates or Under plates or Placemats, and they'll think you've spent a fortune!
Example 3: Bags of Pine Cones
Material required: Pine cones, fabric, satin ribbon, sewing machine or patience to hand sew. Glittering or glossy dollar store ornaments to add to the pine cones if you wish.
Method: Collect pine cones. Even here in Australia, they're everywhere. Use your chosen fabric whether it be plain, checked, tartan (plaid) or Christmas print (thrifted quilt covers are ideal...miles of fabric in those!) to make the bags, fill with cones and tie off with ribbon. Total cost $30 for 10 or $3 each.
I make mine just big enough for about 6-8 pine cones and three glittering dollar store ornaments to be used as a display, with the top of the bag rolled down like a 'collar'. It will come as no great surprise to anyone who knows me, that my fabric remnant just happens to be red and white Parisian Bus Roll fabric, snaffled for $2 each for two lengths from the remnant bin at our local haberdashery :)
Turn it inside out, fold the collar you formed by having some of the fabric on the inside top edge, down, scrunch the bottom artfully as pictured, and fill with 5 pine cones and top with three sparkly or glossy ornaments. Tie a ribbon around it if you wish, as per Marjories description.
You don't have to do the collar, but it does give the finished product a better look and also means you can fold the bag up around it's contents and tie the ribbon around the 'neck', for transport and storage.
To many of us, and certainly in my eyes, any of these would be preferable to a chain store gift purchased for the same amount of money, and the feel good factor is far greater.
Make sure you wrap your DIY gifts beautifully and give them with a gorgeous hand made card too. We made this one by painting glue inside a cookie cutter and sprinkling glitter over it, before removing the cookie cutter and shaking off the excess glitter. It's just project cardboard, cut to size, with a pretty organza ribbon tied along the inside edge, and with a hand scribed festive message.
If even that's too daunting, go with any inexpensive festive card, but at least pretty it up with ribbon or bling to make it special. Again, if you're not investing money, you must instead, invest time and effort.
For wrapping paper, I always recommend either plain clear cellophane or butchers paper scribed with festive greetings with a big fat felt pen. I bought 5 kilos of white butchers paper from a catering and party supply warehouse three years ago for $28, and I haven't bought gift wrap since. We write things on it with the pen and huge loopy handwriting, or we stamp it with black ink and shapes like the celery stalk roses or vintage ballerinas sourced on Etsy. We like the plain writing the best though...
Christmas doesn't have to be a competition to see who can spend the most. Any dimwit can go out and spend money. Investing time and effort to make a special something takes thought and care and a giving spirit.
Which would you rather be?