Archive for the ‘frugal’ Category

Gift Basket Goodies

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Gift baskets are a traditional holiday gift in our home, and each year you’ll find us decorating boxes and filling them with all sorts of tasty goodies. 

We usually start with the more traditional homemade food gifts of Christmas cookies like these yummy Sugar Crusted Ginger Chewies at Joy the Baker, and seasonal quick breads like this Spiced Pumpkin Bread at momadvice. We include only two of these ‘eat now’ foods because we’ve found that many people already have lots of food around the holidays and appreciate foods that can be saved for another time.   Although if you know someone who doesn’t have the opportunity to bake, then certainly load them up with treats they can use right away.

So what types of foods will last till after the holidays? 

Food mixes that you put together in a jar are very popular.  You can find mixes for brownies, cookies, soups and even main course meals by searching on the web for ‘gifts in a jar’.  Our friend’s favorite food is always Beef Stroganoff mix in a jar.  Our family and friends look forward to just that each year.  It’s such a hit that we keep some on hand to give throughout the year for people who may be ill or just had a baby and need a simple, good meal that they can make quickly.  And after all that tasty food everyone will be thirsty, so add in drink mixes like hot cocoa  and chai tea  that can be packaged prettily and put in your basket.

 Jams, jellies and any home canned items like applesauce or peaches make a nice addition to your basket and can be eaten anytime during the year.  Also you can make herb blends and put them in a nice container, there’s salt substitute seasoning blends, as well as a seasoning blends for chicken, fish or barbeque depending on what the recipient likes to eat. You can find some great mixes at simplemom  or google on spice blends or seasoning blends to find even more great ideas.

So now you’ve got your mix ideas ready to go, but you’re thinking great mixes but how do I put them in a jar and make them look pretty enough for gift giving then look no further than budget101 for some creative ideas on dressing up your jars.

Need more food for your basket?  Sure!  Nothing is more appreciated then food.  (or is that just me.)  Homemade snack mixes packaged in small decorated boxes or bags.  Homemade candies that are wrapped and made oh so special, like these super simple cake balls and chocolate covered marshmallows.

Next we personalize each basket with a few bought goodies that we know the gift getter would like. Watch for great sales on items like tea bags, and get a favorite flavor like blueberry or orange, or  find hot cocoa or coffee in gourmet flavors onsale.  Pringles chips or goldfish crackers come in lots of flavors are great on sale and keep well.  You get the idea.



Finally we add a personal touch by buying or making a small something or two that we know the person really likes and may not treat themselves to very often. A favorite specialty candy bar, or unique hot sauce, a luxurious bubble bath or body lotion for the tired mom or some homemade stationery for a grandma who writes a lot of notes to family.
One final tip.  We’ve found that with all the fun of digging through a gift basket to see what goodies lay inside, everyone still likes the mystery of an item wrapped.  To meet this ‘need’ we wrap one or two of the specialty items and have them peeking out the top. 

Just think outside the box (and put it in the box) and personalize the ‘baskets’ to each individual or family and watch the excitement as they see what goodie they find next in their own special Homemade Gift ‘Basket’.

Have Yourself a More Frugal and Less Stressful Christmas

Thursday, November 6th, 2008


If you’ve been shopping anywhere recently, then you know it’s time to start thinking about the holidays already.  And let’s face it, the holidays can be stressful….on so many different levels, but that’s another story.  So here are some tips to help you forego  financial stress and have a more frugal and less stressful Christmas this year.

 Gift Giving.  Who, what and how much?  These are the questions to ask yourself.

Get a small notebook to use as your Holiday Notebook and jot down the names of each and every friend, family member, or coworker that you need to get a gift for this year.  Plus, be sure to put a page at the end for those ‘extra’ gifts in case you end up being invited to a party and need a little something to take along.

Under each person’s name write a few things that you know they like, followed by any gifts that you’ve given them in the past that you know they really enjoyed.  Also pencil in a few gifts that you can think of off the top of your head that you could get or make for them this year, and the approximate cost of each. 

Here are some sample entries. 


Trains, old records, bugs bunny, raspberry anything, decaf tea. (Can’t have chocolate)

Always wears a tweety bird shirt the kids got him.

This year’s ideas.  All homemade.

Fleece Blanket with trains or bugs bunny type cartoon on it. (about $10)

Sweatshirt the kids paint with train or with iron on we make. (about $8)

2 Pillowcases with anything he likes on them. (about $10)

Brian’s coworkers (6)

This year’s ideas. 

Separate gifts for each.  Candle ($5 each), homemade jar of jam or applesauce

Group gift.  Tin of pretzels or popcorn ($15).  Basket of coffees, teas, crackers, chips to be enjoyed at work. (Watch for sales. $20)


This notebook won’t take you too long to do, and it will give you a quick idea of how much you would be spending so you can modify gifts if you need to spend less.  Plus you can then make a list of anything you need to buy, and watch for sales on those items.


Decorating  What, Where and Why?

In all that fervor of gift giving expense, don’t forget the decorating.  Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who are totally happy with your decorations and don’t need one new thing this year, but if you’re not, here are some things to consider.

Put another page in that Christmas Notebook and list what items you’ll need for decorating.   

Need lights?  Outdoor or indoor?  Write it down now and watch for sales leading up to the holidays.

If you’re thinking homemade, will you string popcorn or let the kids make a paper chain garland for on the tree or fireplace mantle?  And perhaps you’d like to try making some salt dough or cinnamon applesauce ornaments for on your tree. (these also make great gifts)

Or go Natural decorating.  If you have access to any pine or spruce trees, holly, arborvitae, or any other evergreen plant, get out the clippers and get a box full of branches. 

Bunch a few branches together and tie with a piece of wire at the stick end, then tie a bow to cover the ends and hang it on your door.  Put some greens in baskets or clay pots and add a pinecone or ornament and a bow around the rim and set it on a table fireplace or at the front door.   Evergreens will last for weeks inside without water.


Gift Wrapping   What and How?

Decide on what you’ll be using this year and you can start watching for good deals on those items asap.

Will you use ready made wrapping paper, or go with something homemade?

If going homemade you can use plain brown or white craft paper and then decorate with a ribbon or recycled fabric bow (link to kidoozy blog).  Or you can have the kids stencil or paint designs on it.  A simple natural idea is to glue a small branch of greenery and a pinecone on the packages once they’re wrapped. 

You could forego paper altogether if you have some old sheets or curtains in neutral colors.  Wrap them around the gift, bunch it at the top and tie on a red or green bow.

For peel and stick gift tags you can use white address labels printed on your computer with a little clipart picture on the side and the To and From Lines next to it.  Or forget the computer and give the kids something to do and have them draw a little ornament or tree and write the To and From.

Don’t have any labels around, then use some old Christmas cards from Christmas past and cut out nice pictures and use those as your gift tags.


Some General Tips

Once you have your separate sections in your Holiday Notebook, make a list of all the things that you’ll need to buy for your gifts, decorating, and wrapping.  With your list handy, you’ll always be able to keep your eyes open for sales and great deals in the coming weeks.  

Check off each item as you buy them and be sure to write in the price so that you don’t go over your budget in any areas. 

Keep your Holiday Notebook handy so when you have a great idea for a gift or decoration you can mark it down immediately.

Find an area in a closet or basement where you can keep a box to keep all your holiday items as you buy them that way when you need everything you’ll know just where to find it.

Money Saving Monday - Calendars

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Happy November, also known as the month to start thinking about Christmas, or you’ll never have everything ready in time.  That would be me, never be ready in time.  But, I’ll try once again (and never yet successfully) to thwart the usual week before Christmas madness of trying to make all of gifts at once.  With that in mind, we have started our first gifts this year, our yearly personalized calendars.  

Calendars, who needs a calendar for a gift, right?   Well ours are very special calendars…..really. 

When we started giving them the idea was to give a useful gift to some of our older family members who can’t keep track of all the birthdays and anniversaries of all the kids and grandkids.  We planned to buy a nice calendar and for each month write in any birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.  Then a brainstorm struck as I was wading through a sea of paper, crayons, and markers on our sunroom floor while the twins were in the midst of a drawing session one day.  We’d add our own artwork for each page!  That way the kids artwork isn’t just getting piled up to eventually be (shhh don’t tell them) thrown out.  What a mean mommy I know, but in my defense, I would always save the best pictures. 

Now each year we buy our cheap $1 calendars (some are even free from local businesses) and then glue a drawing on each page overtop of the existing picture.  Sometimes we add some photos or cute sayings, and then we write in all the birthdays and add special stickers on those days. 

In summary, 

Great Personal and Useful gift for only $1.

A way to get rid of. . . .I mean share. . . .all of the kids artwork you have piled around the house (or hanging on the fridge).   And a subtle way to remind people when your birthday is. 

For more detailed instructions and ideas for making your own homemade calendars visit our Masterpiece Calendar Project on






Homemade Gift Baskets

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

If you’re trying to save money this gift giving season then start thinking gift baskets.   They’re a great gift for a family, a couple or an individual and can be made very personal and inexpensive too. 


We’ve been doing this every year for about 10 years for the relatives who already have everything they need (or we just don’t know what to get them) so we’ve come to discover what is most appreciated.

Since gift baskets can be so unique and filled with many different things (we try to stick to mostly homemade items), I’ll just cover the basics of preparing the boxes for the goodies today and go into details of some items you can put in them in future posts.

First, to save money we skip the baskets and dress up a few cardboard boxes in the sizes we’ll need.  The boxes can be decorated in lots of different ways and can become the best dressed gift under the tree.  We’ve decorated our boxes a number of different ways over the years, depending on what I had on hand, and how much time I had to work with. Here’s a few you can try.

Use white or brown craft  paper and then hot glue on holiday embellishments like pinecones, and real pine branches and small ornaments and stuff. They always look homey and festive.

Have some old white sheets or old worn Christmas table cloths.  Cut them up and line the boxes with them and allow the fabric to flow over the edge.  Add a ribbon bow and you’re done with the ‘basket’.

Have bored kids?  Then here are two great ideas.  They’ll have fun and be so proud.

Give them some acrylic paints and let them paint solid colors or designs on the boxes.  A blue box with white paper snowflakes glued on is pretty, or try basic red and green.  (just be sure to let the green dry before you start the red….red and green mixed make brown).

Or, give them modge podge.  Or mix elmers glue and water to a thin consistency.  Then they can apply wrapping paper scraps, construction paper or tissue paper to make very colorful boxes.

For the goodies, we have put in everything from quick breads and cookies to homemade candies, jams, food mixes and a few bought packaged food items (flavored teas, coffees, hot cocoas, etc.) we got on sale. 


Just think outside the box and personalize the box to each individual or family and watch as everyone digs through your gifts excited to see what they find next in their special Homemade Gift ‘Basket’. 


Check back next week for details on some goodies to include in your baskets.