Ask Karen!
$15 Present Ideas

I got an email last week from a reader I can really empathize with.  Jen’s an adult putting herself through college so she doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on Christmas presents.  That means right about this time of year she’s probably getting that panicky, doomsday feeling.  You may have experienced it yourself and didn’t even know it was a genuine, ailment.   In the June, 1997 issue of Pretend Medical Journal the condition was given a name; GeezIhopeyoudon’tbuymeapresentcauseIcan’taffordtobuyyouoneitus.

In layman’s terms – Pathetic present syndrome.

I can relate to Jen’s dilemma.  There were years, when I had to handmake my gifts not because I wanted to but because I had to.  Who hasn’t had to resort to “The Coupon Book” at some point in their lives?  Good for one free massage, one taking out of the garbage, one Romanian sexual favour …

So Jen asked me what she could buy for each of her family members that would cost $15 or less but didn’t look it.  She can’t sew, can’t can and isn’t particularly crafty.  So Jen … this is for you and everyone out there who needs to buy a small gift for an office exchange, teacher or neighbour.


Jen described her oldest sister as a working professional, her other sister as an artsy/crafty girl with canning and gardening tendencies and her mother as liking odd, one of a kind things.  For $15 or less the first thing that came to mind was bringing my glowing outdoor orbs, inside.

Orbs off

$3 for each shade, $6 for the twinkle lights = $12

This idea should work for at least one of the women.

orbs on

Other $15 Gift ideas …

Secretly plant $15 worth of daffodils or tulips.  Tell them they’ll get their gift in the spring.

$15 worth of little plastic kitchen gadgets like this.  Take the labels off so they have to guess what they are.

An old, cracked leatherbound book.

A personalized photo calendar.

Vintage tea towels tied up with twine.

A small glass French Press.  French Presses make the best coffee. $10-$15 (add in a very small bag of good coffee if you can afford it)

A magazine subscription.  I’ve never  met a single person who doesn’t like this. (Country Living is one of many that are only $12 for a one year subscription, Dwell is a little more at $20)

This 10.5″ writing slate for $12, along with some chalk and a frame stand from The Dollar Store would look great on any kitchen counter.

$15 iTunes card

A french butter bell

Make a pillow out of  an old sweater.

Salt & Pepper shakers. From modern to vintage – I for one, have never met a set of salt and pepper shakers I didn’t like. Make sure you package them beautifully in a small box with tissue paper or pine shavings and nice wrapping paper and a bow.

That’s my quick list of ideas.  Now, I have a request of you.  You there.  The one reading this post.  Yeah, YOU.  I’d like all of you to add any suggestions you have for a $15 present in the comment section.

So in times of Pathetic Present Syndrome, like Jen’s experiencing now, we can all refer back to this list and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing something on this list will be the perfect present for that sister, mother, neighbour, co-worker.  Or blog writer.  Can’t forget the blog writers.



  1. SK Farm Girl says:

    Visit your local thrifty stores! There are some really gorgeous vintage dishes! Beautiful cake platters, tiered serving dishes, funky vases, groovey liquor decanters, great pottery, the list goes on and on! Who said the gifts have to be brand new! Once was loved, then forgotten and now reloved! Some of my most complimented pieces have come from thrifty stores, yard sales and even back alleys! Give it a shot, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

  2. Jen says:

    I think I’m going to like this post! Great suggestions so far- I can’t wait to read more!

  3. Aimee says:

    For $14.95, you can buy black mugs at Starbucks that come with a white paint pen. Draw and/or write on it, and bake it, and you have a personalized, useful gift for any tea, cocoa, or coffee lover! I’ve given these a couple of times, and they’re always well-received.

    (I can tell I’m going to have fun coming up with these ideas!)

  4. Aimee says:

    If your recipient is a crocheter or knitter, head to a locally-owned yarn shop (not a big craft store!) and pick out a beautiful skein of yarn in your price range. I have a hard time buying myself a $15 hank of yarn, but I LOVE it when my husband buys me one as a surprise!

    Oh, and visit for some GREAT, inexpensive gift wrap ideas. Pretty, thoughtful gift wrap goes a very long way in making presents feel special.

  5. Marti says:

    I would buy a bunch of apples and toss them in the crockpot for a batch of homemade apple butter. Then put that in some canning jars. Since she’s not crafty enough to have ever canned before, she needs to put a “store in fridge, consume within 1 month” label on it, just so’s she doesn’t poison anyone.

    Even more welcome would be some spiced nuts:

    Easy to make. Present them in a nice (Dollar-A-Rama) tin box.

  6. Aimee says:

    For our teacher gifts during the holiday season, we give a nice card, and inside, we write that we’ve made a donation to a charity they favor in their name.

    The strategic thing about this gift is, if you’re giving to someone who is concerned about how much you spend and wouldn’t be satisfied with your budget, you don’t have to put the amount in the card…and it would be tacky for them to ask. 😉

  7. Aimee says:

    Amazon gift card, if recipient has a Kindle! B&N, if they have a book. An actual book if neither.

  8. Jen says:

    WOW. All I can say so far… this rocks!! Sadly it is near midnight and I have to be up at 5:30 or I would just sit up all night and stalk this post. Great, great inspirations and ideas already (Aimee, can I just borrow you for the season?). Karen, thanks so much for posting this. Even if we ended it here (which we better not!), there are more (and thankfully better) ideas than I could have come up with in a million years. And I think my Mom would love the orbs, btw! Thanks, thanks, THANKS!

  9. Centsational Girl says:

    You are just the helpful Elf this year… I’d love to see you in a green felt costume! Seriously, such great ideas my friend! Esp those salt + pepper shakers, we all need them and rarely buy them for ourselves. You are too smart.

    Now about that green felt costume ….


  10. Home-made chocolate truffles always feel luxurious, and they are dead easy – hard to go wrong.

    Gorgeous soap?

    I used to hand monogram linen tea towels: motif, initial and year…

  11. misskher says:

    Costco has three boxes of Turtles for $12 and once I’m done shoving them all in my face I’ll think of a gift idea!

  12. SK Farm Girl says:

    Another idea! A photo of yours that would be suited for the recipient (you and the person, the recipient’s pet, the two of you as kids, that great sunset shot you got, etc.)! Find a nice frame, within your budget of course – check out the Dollar Store, and VIOLA – the perfect gift!

  13. bex says:

    I came across an interesting gift.. its a teapot and cup in-one. Basically the teapot sits fitted directly on top of the cup. Make your herbal/special drink in the top half and pour it into the second half. Very cute. Hope none of my friends go shopping in that shop 🙂

  14. A paperback novel and a bottle of wine. I often do this in a cute reusable shopping bag, all tied up with a big bow. People seem to love it. Or maybe they are good actors.

  15. ev says:

    While at a friends/love ones house, I have secretly taken somewhat close-up shots of their pet. I print them out and buy an inexpensive frame for the photo. This is a gift that is always appreciated and cherished. Thanks for your ideas Karen.

  16. Elle says:

    I’ve been following your blog for some time now, and I really love this post!
    I don’t live in the US so am not sure about prices there, but my suggestion is: Socks!
    There are some really beautiful things out there, Ranging from crazy colorful through organic cotton/hemp/bamboo/wool blend to knee-high and “house socks”. You can pair these with a nice mug and chocolate spoons (for making hot cocoa – you can even make these yourself) for a great wintery gift.

    you can also get an inexpensive book and add a related personal touch. For instance, I once got a great book about growing bulb flowers (5.49$ on Amazon), attch a bag of tulip bulbs – and you have a gift.
    “Pies & Tarts” by Linda Collister is 5.95$ on Amazon and would be a great gift with a tart pan, a couple of personal tart pans or a pack of pie weights.

    Or a pair of “house socks” and a novel for these wintery evenings and weekends…

    I know I would love any of these presents.

    • Traci says:

      I was thinking about socks this year too. I love your idea of putting them with a book or mug.

      For those of you who shop at Costco, they have 2 packs of Merino Wool Boot Socks for $3 off this weekend.

      I was also thinking of getting some fleece and making fleece wraps/ruanas. Those would pair nicely with cozy socks.

  17. pve says:

    I purchased the most charming boxes on “smock” paper and plan to fill with super cookies! I also love giving a meal….it comes in the form of a hand made gift certificate and then I deliver it….on the date desired.
    Love giving oatmeal, dried fruits, brown sugar and a wooden spoon for a winter b-fast basket.
    Can you tell I love food.

  18. Doreen Stuart says:

    I have picked up wine glasses at second hand stores and will have them engraved at a local store for some of my girlfriends and my twin sister with something this is meaningful to us.

  19. Pat says:

    ….a book, a basket/gift bag filled with special edible treats, a gift card to a favourite coffee shop, sample/tasting packs of teas or coffees, movie pass, gift pass for a yoga class, pass to local swimming pool/recreation center/fitness center, donation to a favourite charity, wine, special beers, make poppycock or nuts and bolts. I was thrilled when a friend bought me a variety of new sewing supplies, e.g. measuring tape, marking pen, ripper, etc. Check out those thrift shops and consignment shops for interesting pieces of jewellery, scarves and bags. I have found lovely silk scarves for a couple dollars.

  20. Susan says:

    How bout a favourite photo or a special person… Either the giver or givee framed or even a bunch? I cherish mine. Photo albums are better than looking at a cell phone screens any day!

  21. Susan says:

    Or a big bag of chicken scratch! 14.95 at the local feed store for the premium stuff! My girls love it! 🙂

  22. magali says:

    Books on Amazon. Books are always cheaper on Amazon and you can usually get free shipping.

  23. Antoinette says:

    I’m going for Large hanging baskets (about $12 AU from the $2 shops) which come with a thick natural coir like insert ~ the name illudes me, but you know what I mean. Using rich mushroom compost (20c a 15 kilo bag from the growers {and WAY better on SO many levels, than any bought potting mix}; I’m making hanging herb gardens with a rooted sprig of our special family-loved Hoya ~~~~ so … along with the emerging & up-front useful herbs, eventually they will hopefully have a big ball of beautiful blossoming and highly scented, wax flowers.

  24. Jules says:

    Fun post Karen! Love thrift store gifts as Farm girl said…visit your local one and find some Mason jars and some candlesticks- just go by shape of the candlesticks-paint the lids and bases the same color, glue the jars (E6000 glue) to the top of the candlesticks and fill with candy…or use one large jar on a candle base and fill it with homemade cookies- unique gift on the cheap! I have also made the solar lights in Mason jars (glass topped ones of course) and given them as gifts..very inexpensive. Good Luck!

  25. Thera says:

    The dollar store is always good, the trick is to dress it up with other dollar store items or cheap stuff from the hardware store.

    Easy teacher/neighbour/co-worker gift:
    Dollar store mug, filled with dollar store candies, wrapped in dollar store cellophane and ribbon (app $3 each as you use the wrap and ribbon for more gifts, you could cover 4-5 people with this gift).

    Other idea’s:
    Dollar store basket, fill with dollar store baking items or the stuff to make a perfect hot chocolate, add a printed out recipe.

    4-6 dollar store mugs (preferably a light colour) and chalkboard paint. Paint a fair size strip around each mug, include a pack of dollar store chalk and the person now has a set of matching mugs they can personalize when they need to and not get them mixed up with company or darling hubbies that like stealing the last of their coffee.

  26. Cindy Marlow says:

    First, let me say that when you put links to past blogs or other sites, I NEVER seem to get through the current one – I’m off on the amazing path that is Karen’s archives. Now that I’ve lodged that small complaint, I’ll share my go-to spot for inexpensive gift ideas: There are tons of ideas for creating treasures from junk. Everybody has junk around the house, right? Another idea is Heifer International. One year when I was feeling particularly philanthropic, I made donations in my family member’s names to to buy chickens, bees, ducks, and geese. I then sent gift cards to my family explaining where their present went. Really a ‘feel good’ idea. This is an exciting blog that I will refer to many times. Thank you, Jen, for asking the question!

  27. Tracy says:

    Everyone (provided they are over 21) loves a bottle of wine. There are lots of decent ones in the $15 range.

  28. hunter says:

    Movie night…

    1) big bowl
    2) sack of popcorn
    3) box or two of movie style popcorn
    4) cheesy 80s movie

    Place 2, 3, and 4 inside of 1…tie up, hand over.

    Or what about tickets to the zoo or a local attraction?

    • Mickey says:

      I’m going to use that great idea for family members and friends.

      • hunter says:

        Happy to help.

        Of course I was an idiot and midtyped number 3…I meant a box of candy!

        And, right now in the dollar section of target, they have big cups that look like the popcorn cups you get at the theater. Could be a cute addition!

  29. Kathy RS says:

    I love baskets – of stuff! Go grab some baskets at your local thrift store and do kits – food is always good. Italian? good sauce and pasta, a couple dish towels for napkins and utensil(wooden spoon or pasta fork). Party? Dip mix or already made, selection and some great gourmet chips or cookies (you can add a beverage if you like). Baker? That’s easy-hit the baking aisle and add a novelty pan or cookie cutters. Pets? …you get the idea…

  30. Betsey says:

    Get yourself some Fimo clay, a piece of lace and a snowflake cookie cutter. Roll out your clay, use your lace to imprint a pattern, then cut out your snowflakes. Don’t forget to punch a hole in each for a ribbon. Bake them and viola! Beauteous ornaments. You can even write their names/date/whatev on the wet clay before you bake it for extra credit!

  31. roxana says:

    It’s too early (in the morning) to fire up the thinking engine but I am Romanian and I am very curious as to what “one Romanian sexual favour” might be!!

  32. christyl says:

    Arm&Hammer is having an awesome deal. On marked boxes you can buy 2 1lb. boxes ($2.00)and then they will give you (or send it to a friend) a free 1 yr subscription. I bought one for all the ladies in my family (although I had to get creative with the emails-they are required-and i didn’t want to use theirs)

  33. KJ says:

    I usually either make a bean soup mix (they’re easy), various Christmas cookies on a pretty plate, or I gather seeds from my garden & package them with either dollar store gardening gloves or a small pot. I tried giving a weekly homemade dinner “coupon book” once, but my grandpa just laughed at me. It didn’t go over well.

    Wine is usually an appreciated gift, too.

  34. Lindy says:

    I am a big fan of Etsy for finding fairly priced gifts. Here are two Etsy stores that I have used for special Christmas presents this year.
    Here is a darling French sachet for $9.00 plus sh.
    Stencil art is all the rage. It smells divine.
    Best Friends Studios has the most darling handmade dog ornaments for $22.50 plus shipping. OK, a little over $15.00, but check it out!

  35. Sharon says:

    I think something for a baker or cook might be a really good bottle of vinegar or vanilla extract or a hunk of imported parmesan–something most people would think too extravagant but would fall into your price range as the gift-giver. Throw in a dish towel or wooden spoon or something related and decorate a gift bag.

  36. Emie says:

    For the foodie…. a great bottle of olive oil or speciality salt…. 2 movie tickets….

  37. Cheryl in Wisconsin says:

    One year I got basic clay plant pots and painted them in a personalized way. It could be something as simple as their house number, initials, or just matching an unusual color they use in their home. On my mother’s I painted caricatures of her cats. I put a hunk of wood in the bottom for loft, a basic white pillar candle in the middle and filled the rest with glass marbles from the dollar store.

  38. JulieB says:

    I _love_ all these ideas. I have a question for Karen – are you happy with your ceramic butter bell? One reviewer said it developed cracks and the butter seeped in and then the whole thing went rancid. I suspected it might be preferable to hand wash, but I also thought it could be just one damaged crock. Do you use a dishwasher or hand-wash yours?

    My suggestion is for some pre-made goodies in canning jars. Mix up dry ingredients for cookies or hot chocolate or bean soup, write the recipe on a card, and use some ribbon or twine to attach them.

    If she likes to bake, make some homemade bread and a nut butter
    2 cups walnuts, shelled
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon honey
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    2 teaspoons walnut oil or canola oil

    Soak the nuts overnight. Spread them out on a cookie sheet and toast them at 350 for about 15 minutes, turning them once or twice so they don’t burn. Then, once they’ve cooled, mix them in a food processor with the salt, honey and cinnamon, then drizzle in the oil until it’s as creamy or chunky as you like. It lasts about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

    Also, never underestimate the power of warm, really soft socks. I got a pair from my uncle years ago and would have worn them every day if I hadn’t needed to wash them. And I’m a barefoot gal. 😉

    • Karen says:

      JulieB – I love my butter bell. I handwash it and put it in the dishwasher. But this summer my butter *did* get mouldy. So did my mother’s. I’d always read that you should let the water come just to the bottom of the butter, but now I’ve seen where the water should come 3/4’s of the way up the bottom of the jar. So … maybe this would help the problem, making sure no air gets in contact w/ the butter. I like it because it helps to keep the butter spreadable in what is my freezing cold kitchen during the winter. ~ karen!

  39. Cindy Marlow says:

    My father sent me an email that reminded me to shop locally for presents this year. I love the idea of gift certificates for a haircut, groceries, wine, chocolates, car wash, etc.

  40. Liz S. says:

    Several of my girl friends are recently married (last 2 years or so) and still building their decor. Most all of us concentrate on staple items like getting rid of the couch from college that you bought at a yard sale and getting a real couch from a furniture store. So I like giving nice decorations for all year long or for Christmas. So I saw this neat idea of Pinterest ( to paint vases and turn them into candle holders. Those nice cylinder vases aren’t cheap (especially when buying like 30 of them). So I’ve bought two boxes of these glasses from WalMart for a little less around $10 each box( That’s $0.625 a glass. Plus a big bag of rubber bands ($3) and 4 cans of the cheapest white spray paint ($1 each). Hitting up Dollar Tree for the battery operated candles (6 candles for $1). So tax and all, 30 candle holders for less than 40 dollars. Add a 10 neat home made gift bags and tissue paper. So gifts for 10 people for around $50. Not bad if I do say so myself.

  41. Libby says:

    I’m making eReader cases for all of my friends. There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest. I know it sounds goofy, but I’m planning to upcycle some of those ridiculously strong plasticized pet food bags to make them…not sure yet how it’s going to turn out. They may be so stupid-looking, I’ll have to resort to fabric cases instead.

  42. Ashley says:

    Giving an experience rather than an item is always a great route. Don’t take the people you’re giving to, too seriously. My fiance and I went to the zoo one Saturday just the two of us and it’s one of the best times we’ve ever had. Even a 25-year-old curmudgeon like my love can’t keep a smile off his face when feeding a giraffe.

    My favorite experience gift is to give someone all the tools for a Christmas lights tour. Make a map of the area they live in and design a route that will take them past tons of houses with christmas lights displays. Plan a stop at a public park where they can get out of the car and stretch their legs.

    Pack all of this in a little basket with some hot chocolate mix, maybe a couple of thermoses, and a homemade cd of christmas music. Don’t forget to include a little map light. Book lights work great for this and they come as cheap as $2 at Books-a-million.

  43. Susan says:

    This isn’t necessarily an idea for a $15 gift, but one for one of those hard-to-buy-for men! My dad was murder to buy for – anything he wanted, he got, after he retired. But he loved a drink in the evening and he enjoyed good beer. So I went to the big liquor store and picked out a basketful of singles, imported and different beers. The one made by monks in Belgium was the eventual winner but it was one of his favourite gifts ever. Every evening he’d say to my mother, “now which one should I try today?”

  44. Alex says:

    your first picture gave me an idea. run down to the community college’s art class and ask if you can buy a drawing from a student (heck, they’ll probably just give it to you). buy a frame at walmart. total cost would be around $10-$15, depending on how nice the frame is.

    there is a nice, one of a kind drawing by a real-live artist, framed and all. perfect for a bathroom or quirky mantel.

  45. Gloria says:

    I like to shop at Victorian Secret…they have body sprays on sale….and of course there is always Bath and Body works… do have to go to the store….that’s where the best buys are…..

  46. Regan O'Rourke says:

    Mixed CD’s from your itunes-Cheap, easy, and you can make different play lists for different people. I know it is cheesy, but I did this last year and my family LOVED it.
    By the by, LOVE THIS BLOG!!

  47. Lydia says:

    Way less than $15 – black socks. Everyone always needs black socks.

    • Ginny says:

      Last year for Christmas I have my husband a big box of socks. He had been complaining about none of his socks matching and quite honestly he needed them. I wrapped the box with ribbon and made it seem just as important as any other gift. HIs first response was laughter and then he was very thankful. He was very happy with that present!

  48. Lynn says:

    OMG… I seriously just breathed out a GINORMOUS sigh of relief. I think you may have single handly prevented my what-am-I-going-to-do-for-Christmas nervous breakdown. I’ve got another tab up as I type and will be placing my order from Fishes Eddy momentarily. You saved a life today Karen. You should be proud. (BTW – recieved my doorstop from the ‘rolling pin’ artist last week. It’s fanfriggintastic.)

  49. Jennifer says:

    Art-O-Mat gift certificates. Art-O-Mat is art sold from a refurbished cigarette vending machine. Each piece is $5 and they are located all around the world. Total fun!

  50. Erin says:

    homemade cookies wrapped in a $1 store tin the tin wrapped in a tea towel and pulled through or tied off with a star or heart cookie cutter

    learn to embroider it is cheap you can get trace designs from anything and it makes any textile item special (sublime stitching site is a great resource for getting started)

  51. Trissi V. says:

    Glass rings and small antique bowls (they make great jewelry “catch alls” for the dresser/chest). Small pink depression glass bowls are usually $3 – $5 a piece. A glass ring can be $5 – $10. You can also pick up an antique tea cup and saucer for $5 – $10 that can be used for tea or another catch all in the house. An antique cast iron iron makes a great door stop, they are around $8.00 or so.

    So I guess I am saying, go to a couple of antique shops and look at everything. Everything has dual purposes and old household items are usually are inexpensive.

  52. Jem says:

    These are some great ideas, and I can’t wait to see more from readers. Any suggestions for my particular situation? I’m unemployed and really broke. Chanukkah’s coming up, and I have two teens: 16 yr. old girl, pretty mainstream, loves music, reading, theater, clothes. 14 yr. old boy, mild Asperger’s, geeky, obsessed with Minecraft, Legos. Nothing that needs another person to do/play. The presents are traditionally pretty small, but 8 each! Help! Thanks, all!

    • Jillian says:

      If you live in the States, try You can post what you want or looking for and if someone has it they will respond. You will need to pick up at the time you both decide on. Most of the time its on the porch. AND once you are on the email list you will receive Offer emails. It’s all for free! I have acquired an arts and crafts end table (needed paint), compost, potting soil, chicken wire, Epson scanner, 5 x 7 rug (needed cleaning but good enough for my kids), plants (both indoor and out – perennials and annuals), magazines, 2 matching antique nightstands (needed paint) and much more. I am not sure if Freecycle is in Canada but its worth a look in to!

    • Terri says:

      Jem, not sure what stores are in your area, but Target dollar bins, 99 cent or Dollar Tree stores, tend to have a good selection of socks, gloves, knit hats, make-up bags, hair accessories, fun notepads and pens, puzzles, even small lego sets for a dollar each, this time of year. I saw a 2-pack of gloves at Kmart, that includes a pair each of one full-fingered and one fingerless gloves for $2. If you have some yarn or embroidery thread, you can always ‘glitz’ them up/personalize them with a contrasting color. Also, vintage is in – check out Thrift stores for gently used items. Wishing you good luck!

    • traci says:

      I would check out Michaels (or similar craft store). For your daughter you could put together different craft kits. Examples: Beads to make a necklace (there are always lots of clearance items of the trendy variety), tshirt or tote bag and scribbles/puff paint to decorate, yarn and crochet hook for making a scarf. You could also try stores like JC Penny which have nice necklaces and jewelry for $5 around this time of year. You might also consider a bigger gift that is given in pieces over the 8 days.

      For your son it is a little tricky without having more info. Does he have any video game systems? You can always find used games for less. If you have a good computer and internet you can create a Steam account for him and give him a small gift certificate. Steam has sales all the time where good games go on sale for $1, $2, or $5.

      I have this make your own paper clock book that is awesome. You cut out the pieces and and assemble with glue and it makes a real weight powered clock.

      There are also tons of paper toy books that are more vibrant. Such as:

      Here is thinkgeek’s gifts under $10 section

      Hope this gives you a few ideas! Good luck! (I also second freecycle. I use it a lot.)

  53. Nan Tovar says:

    Great article! And YOU are so helpful, hehe 😉

  54. Chrys says:

    If your giftees are of drinking age, you can make fruit infused vodka as gifts (I like strawberry). Put it in pretty jars, with a ‘drink me’ tab, and it looks way more impressive than it actually is.

  55. Nic says:

    @ Jem
    Despite the fact that I was a 16 year old girl at one time, I really got nuthin, there. But for the 14 year old boy, my husband said: Zombie Dice.

    (Or you can find them in hobby type shops with the tiny models and such.)
    It’s just a dice game but it is STUPID addictive.

    Here’s hopin’ ya get 15 more suggestions!

  56. gloria says:

    I must have a chronic case of this particular “itus”, because every Christmas is this way for me. So I’ve had to learn lots of crafts and other frugalista-type stuff. My mainstay is Dollar General stores (different from the everything for a dollar stores). They carry name brands for cheap. Every year I attend a get together that does a gift exchange game w/15.00 limit, and my gifts are always fought over. Last year I took a beautiful, purple leather handbag, 10.00, to which I tied a color-coordinated silky scarf, marked down to 2.50. No one would ever guess where I’d bought them because none of them shop the Dollar General store.

  57. Lynn says:

    I’d check out i’m an etsy-aholic with a shop of my own. I’d say go hunting there, you can find some amazing deals and people are pretty easy to work with. I’d whore out my preserves shop as the jams and whatnot will be really affordable, but I’m waiting on labels from the printer so there is nothing in the shop at the moment. >_<

    Another idea is to ask around your friends to see who is good at making what (knitting, sewing,crafting, preserving, baking) and then trade. its so much fun and you get some great things to gift that you may not have otherwise.

  58. gloria says:

    Me again. Make your own bath salts. Buy a big carton of Epsom salts (in pharmacy), about 2.50, put a bunch in a bowl and add drops of lavender oil, or any scent you prefer (I like lemon oil) which you can get at craft stores under 10 bucks. Mix it around then put in a pretty jar. I save the cute, little jam jars from Aldis discount grocery store. Tie a ribbon around or a colorful strip of fabric and add a nice tag with instructions for use. A personalized label on the lid to hid any letters or logo. The salts and essential oils last a long time, so you can make lots.

  59. Ellen says:

    Chocolate!! most people love it…. so go either a small amount of fantastically good stuff, or a huge amount of cheaper stuff. A Godiva box, no matter how tiny is wonderful, & a huge jar of no name smarties is pretty fantastic too.

  60. ira says:

    Homemade granola in a pretty mason jar! looks great!

  61. Jill says:

    Handmade cards. You can collages out of scrap paper or take photos that are meaningful and have them copied onto card stock. Very inexpensive and a wonderful personal gift idea.

  62. Joanne says:

    Instead of buying toys or other junkie items for for my friend’s kids, I take about 20 – 30 fun pictures from the previous year and make a 5×7 photo album through I tried Tiny Prints this year as I used their 40% off coupon and each book was about $8. They LOVE them, and I now make them each year. I pretty much give photo books to everyone on my list – I make 8×10 bookstore quality photo books for family members and friends which run about $30 – $40. It take a long time but it is worth it! I make one massive one for my husband each year as well. Hope that helps! Love the epson salt idea, BTW and the vintage tea towels. Chocolate bark is fun to make as well – and very easy.

  63. Aly says:

    I live in New England and we have a great chain store called Christmas Tree Shop. They sell everything from furniture to spices and everything in between. The prices are great too. You won’t find any investment pieces there, but they always have really fun, cute gifts for low prices. And on Black Friday they have incredible deals. I always can find deals on cute storage containers. Even slice-&-bake cookies look great if they are presented in a pretty tin or a glass bowl.

    Ikea has inexpensive, modern gifts such as: candles, plants, wine glasses, decorative lighting, baking utensils, barware… I even saw some cute slippers on the website.

    A theme basket is always great too. You can put a “relaxing evening” basket together from the dollar store – hot cocoa, pretty mug, fuzzy socks, hand or foot cream, a candle, and maybe throw in a DVD – used ones from the video store are pretty cheap. Its simple but every woman appreciates if you recognize that she needs a little time to pamper herself.

  64. Sharon Turner says:

    I make/retro fit Mason jars into soap dispensers… Karen, you’ve got one…. they’re nice, yes? Provided you can find Mason jars in your area, together with the fittings and pump, you can create those beauties for less than $10. [Directions: To repurpose jars as a soap dispenser, measure and mark the center of the jar’s lid. Drill a hole approximately half an inch wide, at the marked spot, to fit the width of a soap dispenser pump ($3.75; . Fill the jar with liquid soap, insert the pump (and trim, if needed), and start washing.] My friends and loved ones that I’ve given this gift to are NEVER disappointed.

    Maybe Mason jars aren’t available in your area ~ if you’re like me, you’ve got a stash of glass jars that you’ve collected throughout the year in the back of your corner cabinet. And here’s what I do with those… bake some cookies or make some candies, fill the jar… paint the lid with chalkboard paint and write on the top something significant for your recipient… the homemade goodies are always welcomed and the storage jar can be used over and over again for whatever they want.

    Google: “Gifts In A Jar” ~ you’ll get about 2,520,000 ideas in about .13 seconds.

    Last but not least, go to your local salvage store ~ pick up a box of Christmas cards (I bought 18 CUTE cards & envelopes last week at Goodwill for a buck)~ write a note in each one to your recipient, “A Donation has been made in your name to ________” [choose your organization].

    Country Living website is a great resource for homemade gift items on the cheap.

    Happy holidays!

  65. Amanda says:

    Little kids love coloring books. My mom gets pics of the kids throughout the year (birthdays, Halloween, vacations, etc.) and does a simple Photoshopping to make them line drawings, then clips them into a binder for a personalized coloring book. You can Google “line drawing conversion” for a ton of free options for converting your pics without Photoshop.

  66. Michelle says:

    This idea harkens back to Karen’s “Cake in a Cup”
    You could premix the dry ingredients into mason jars(pour them in separately so that they give a neat layered affect), dress the jars up with some cute fabric and ribbon,print out cute instruction cards and then pack that together with some cute coffee mugs from the dollar store! How sweet would that be! 🙂 And I need to find another word other than cute! LOLOL

  67. Gig says:

    We have a great local store, called Ross. I always find coooooool stuff there for under $5. They almost always have Really nice body butter. If the jars are dirty or messy, just give them a wash! I also favor the Socks idea. My son did that one year for $2 each, everyone loved it. I did socks one year and then filled the socks with “stuff” tape, a pen, fruit, candy, anything else that will fit, all stuff people use all year.

  68. Heather says:

    Local flea markets have great stuff for super cheap. A beautiful vintage plate hot glued to a slender clear glass vase- an instant, one-of-a-kind cake stand for less than $5.00 (can you picture it?). Topped with home baked cake / pie /cookies / muffins… WELL under $15.00!! The catch- planning ahead and buying all the plates and vases in the summer.

  69. Linda Kay says:

    A friend of mine and I went shopping at the local antique mall last weekend and we found beautiful hankies priced anywhere from $1-$3. They were lovely and would make a great gift. I also bought wonderful french milled soap from Camilled Beckman on Amazon for $4 each. They smell fabulous and I wish I would have gotten some for myself!

  70. Susan says:

    Here’s a few I’ve given in the past:

    1. Homemade cookie dough frozen into “pucks” so you can bake a few at a time and always have warm cookies from the oven;

    2. Amaryllis ($6.00-$10.00). Plant them at Xmas and have the most gorgeous flower come February just when you need a boost from the weather.

    3. Homemade Bailey’s – Lots of recipes on the web (my son’s doing this one for his friends this year).

    4. I shop at Etsy too. It’s a great place to buy gifts.

  71. Tracie says:

    Hi Karen, I am sooo grateful for this particular post. Seems I’ve had financial setbacks at Christmas for the past few years now, and of course, Christmas always catches me by surprise, somehow….You’re always such a great source of inspiration and I am never disappointed when I try something from one of your posts. Even when I’m skeptical, as in the glowing orbs…you said they could be found in thrift stores for 2 to 3 dollars and I scoffed! Well, I found them, and at the price you quoted too. I’ve even found them for free! Beautiful! Anyway, thank you…you save lives, you’re gorgeous, and I believe everything you say….xo p.s. I would dearly love one of your craft posts right now, what’s the chances??

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for the very, very nice comment Tracie. It’s comments like those that keep me going on days like today when I have NO idea what to post about, LOL. And yes … I try to be as completely and totally honest as possible. I don’t want people to try my recipes or crafts or whatever and be disappointed. What the hell’s the point of that? Oh! Craft post … coming up next week! Thursday probably. 🙂 ~ karen

  72. Tracie says:

    You are most welcome Karen…and yippee on the craft post next week!! One question, about the orbs…I’ve just washed them and put in the lights but all I see are individual bulbs and wire, am I missing something? Yours look so awesome and uniform. I’ve made your mirror vases and although they took some finangling, they turned out pretty great. I will have to do some more as I gave them away as gifts last year with poinsettias/pointsettas….xmas plants in them. Look forward to your reply 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Tracie – You just have to fiddle around with the lights inside a bit. Shove them here and there. What you’re probably seeing are the shadows being cast by the lights and bulbs. A little shoving them here and there should help. ~ karen!

  73. Janelle says:

    Okay, for ten bucks you can buy a “Unicef Inspired Gift” for someone else. Your $10 goes to Unicef to help pay for thinkgs like mosquito nets, bottled water, school supplies, soccer balls, etc. (you choose) for women & kids in developing countries. You do it in the gift recipient’s honor, though. Unicef sends a little certificate with the recipient’s name on it, so they know you had them in mind when you gave – that certificate is the gift. You can personalize it a bit, too. My mother in law was a nurse, so hers was 10 HIV test kits for pregnant women. My friend was a teacher, so hers was notebooks and pencils for kids to use at school. My brother in law played prof. football, so his was soccer balls for kids. They are wonderful to give to people who have everything. Link to the U.S. site:

    and here is the Canadian site:

  74. Deb says:

    As soon as I read the “orbs” post, I ran out and bought three or four different sized and shaped ones. Two are on the TV cabinet. I kind of like the way the shadows from the cords show through.

    As for inexpensive gifts, did I miss seeing candles? Two or three pillar candles combined with a square ceramic plate (the type used for sushi–found at World Market, Pier 1, probably Ikea, etc) looks just great. Shorter candles with tumbled glass spread on bottom of a long square plate or river rock is also an alternative.

    Scented soy beads with potpouri pots and tealight candles or a small electric warmer.

    Hand-milled soaps with a beautiful soap dish.

    Popular right now are hand-knit cowls and infinity scarves (made with organic cotton, they are just beautiful). I’d bet craft bizarres and holiday fairs carry them.

    Hmmmmmmmm….so many things.

  75. Deb says:

    …or craft bazaars. Of course, in Oregon, some things really are bizarre. (I just hate seeing those misspelled words as soon as I hit the “send” button—ack).

  76. Marina says:

    DYI idea – instead of paying $28 for this –×3

    Poke a hole in the lid, add some lamp oil in a pretty color, and voila!

  77. Jem says:

    Wow! Great suggestions for teen Chanukkah presents! Gotta get the Zombie Dice for my son. He LOVES Zombies. I always forget scented candles and soaps and stuff since I don’t like them, not do I like taking baths (as Kramer says, soaking in a tub of my own tepid filth–yuck! And so boring!). But my daughter loves that stuff. Great idea. Thank you, all.

  78. Patti says:

    A great gift, especially for a family, is to go to the dollar store and pick up a big bowl and a set of salt and pepper shakers. Then, get some microwave popcorn, or, if they have an air popper, get some popping corn. Then, travel to the Bulk Barn and pick up some popcorn seasoning in two different flavours (dill pickle and all dressed are my favourite). Package them all together, maybe throw in a free movie rental coupon or gift card for a movie rental. Or, even go to a rental store and buy a previously used movie (pick a classic, like Stand By Me) for super cheap and, voila – you’ve got movie night in a bowl that the whole family can enjoy! (If you’ve got money left, toss in some twizzlers, and you’re good to go!)

    Here’s a link to the cool popcorn containers that are sold at the dollar store – they add a little pizazz!

    Also – my man and I made home-made instant hot chocolate, which we packaged up and gave out a few years ago. There are recipes online. It’s more work than we originally intended, but it was pretty scrumptious!

    • Karen says:

      Patti – I actually have a recipe here for homemade hot chocolate. 🙂 It’s pretty good. As is often the case with me, I researched and tried almost every hot chocolate recipe on the web and figured out the best one. ~ k

      • Patti says:

        Hahaha! I don’t even remember where the recipe I got was from, but the hard part was getting the chocolate down to shavings from chunks when I don’t have a food processor. Yeah. I tried my blender, but it got warm, melting the chocolate and turning it into a hot mess. So, I ended up shaving the chocolate by hand with a steak knife.

        This was during the days where I lived on my own and a night out with my friends meant eating peanut butter on toast for a week.

        I’m sure there are much, much easier ways! haha!

        • Patti says:

          Also – I’ve seen that recipe, Karen, and it was definitely easier than what I went through. I’ve been reading this site since your 2nd week running, and I remember seeing you on TV growing up.

          But I’m not a stalker. I swear. I think you’re funny! And useful!

  79. Christina says:

    Sweet little potted plants can be found for under $15 including very low maintenance ones for brown-thumbs like myself. I think most people like to have some plants in their home so it’s a great gift in my book. This cute and modern bamboo arrangement is currently available for $13.99 USD on Amazon.

    If you’re feeling crafty, here’s a tutorial for how to make solid perfume (like a balm rather than a liquid) and they’ve put it in a locket. An adorable gift for the lady-like in your life! However to make this you’ll need some essential oils which will go far but probably break the $15 budget to purchase initially.

    Page-A-Day Calendars are fun and often inexpensive. I’m using the 2011 version of this one and have enjoyed it a lot.

  80. Bols says:

    I find Home Sense to be a pretty good and reliable source of inexpensive gifts. A week or two ago, I triumphantly brought home a lovely ikat pillow, for $10! Of course, I noticed only later that there was a small tear on the wrong side but it is not anything that cannot be fixed quickly.
    Another good source: Value Village or whatever thrift store you have where you live. Of course, it may take multiple visits but I go there regularly just to browse. I am always looking for something that can be repainted or transformed some other way into something new. Some of my best finds are from there. You can do miracles with a can of spray paint.

    • Karen says:

      Bols – Love Value Village. Had a bit of a “It’s time to update” moment there last week when I found our television for sale for $12. Time to upgrade to a flatscreen finally, I think. For all the Americans … HomeSense is like HomeGoods. ~ karen!

  81. Amy says:

    An inexpensive colander with some gourmet pasta, maybe a small bottle of infused olive oil.

  82. Buy a pretty painted glass ornament (I think stores like Hobby Lobby have some nice ones that are almost always on sale. I’ve also I’ve had luck getting some at K-Mart 50% off a few times. And no, I don’t regularly shop at K-Mart).

    The key here is presentation, darlings. Remove any cheap looking packaging if necessary, tie a bow on the metal hook with fabric ribbon, and wrap it carefully and beautifully.

    Bonus points for if you find an ornament that ties into an interest of theirs (but that can be difficult, so it’s not a mandatory).

    Hope this helps someone! Great ideas, Karen!

    Erin @ Dwell & Tell

  83. sarajane says:

    You don’t necessarily have to can, but if you can heat stuff up on the stove, things like homemade caramel sauce, hot fudge are pretty easy to make and keep for a long time in the fridge.

    Sugar spiced nuts are easy to make and great to eat out of hand and on salads.

    A selection of nice teas and a pretty teacup from the thrift store, maybe a silver spoon, if you get lucky at the thrift store.

    An amaryllis or other plant-to-bloom for the recipient.

  84. cheri says:

    Once upon a time, when I was poor…. oh wait I still am….. I made homemeade pasta, fabulous marinara sauce-(yum. just tomatoes & butter-the BEST!)and an inexpensive pasta serving bowl from pier one or some such place.

    None of us need to spend more than 15$ on a gift. As a retailer, I stock the shop heavily on gifts at 20$ and below especially this time of year. (yea, if you’re in Boise Idaho..come by!!!)

    Books, exfoliating wool wrapped soaps, candles, Flying Wish Papers–(extremely cool & she does sell online I think-out of Portand, OR)

    I love the popcorn and movie idea-I would love that!! Or a bottle of wine & a chunk of cheese..


  85. Chris says:

    With some creativity and a few items from the grocery store you can make that gift spread to more than one. Shortbread cookies involve flour,a pound of unsalted butter, rice flour and icing sugar. If you don’t have cookie cutters then a small glass dipped in flour will do. The creative part comes in how you package them. You can find cheap stuff in the dollar stores but have it connect to the person you are giving them to. My other go to recipe is what I call “Turds” which are everyones all time favourite and they involve chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, unsalted peanuts and chinese chow mein noodles. Just melt chips, add nuts and noodles and drop on wax paper and put in fridge to harden. They don’t last long so package quickly before anyone including yourself starts to taste test.

  86. Hand Made Soaps – I get goats milk soap ones off etsy
    A selection of Coffees and some chocolates – get the coffee from the bulk store and grind it there then make pretty labels for their plain bags. add a chocolate assortment or bar or a mug.
    Chai Latte Set from Etsy
    A set of nicely packed cooking spices
    A few good condidtion used books and a bottle of wine, or some other food item
    A DVD
    A CD – I dont use itunes, like a good old fashioned cd
    a set of my hand made recipie cards or come up with your own design of card and print them off
    Mug and hot chocolate mix nicely packaged.

    I could probably go on and on but I will stop. Never under estimate the used goods. GOOD used goods that is. You could get a few cheap nice mugs and some dishwasher save ceramic paint and paint up a set of mugs like here:

  87. Del says:

    Hooley dooley, look at all the ideas! Re your orbs. I made some and they sit on a retaining wall in the backyard lit with a string of solar lights (I’m in Australia). Even my husband was impressed. My Christmas presents are the same every year. A bag of goodies, whether they are edibles like biscuits, lollies or little things people like – favourite hand cream, magazine etc., or something they have never tried but have always wanted to. The best present I receive during the year is on Mother’s Day. My son buys me manure for the garden. I love manure and so does my garden and… I don’t get some weird useless thing that he thinks I might like. My daughter of the other hand refuses to buy manure and usually buys me a book – something strange I would never pick and I enjoy them every time. Good luck to all at this frantic time of year.

  88. Theresa says:

    I just picked up some cute winter scarves at the dollar store to wrap around a bottle of wine for when I go to any holiday parties this year.

  89. Gayla T says:

    Gather up some neat bottles in different shapes or buy some at Hobby Lobby. Buy a bunch of dried flowers in a bright pretty color and a bottle of fragrance oil while you are there. Tear the flowers up and stick a stem or two in each bottle. Fill it with baby oil or mineral oil and a few drops of the fragrance oil. If your bottles don’t come with a cork, buy a bag of them while you are at the craft shop and cork each bottle. I melted down an old pillar candle over low heat in a clean empty can. Dip each corked bottle in the wax to seal the cork and give it the fancy look. I then tied a ribbon bow or twine bow around each one. These look like a million bucks and are el cheapo. I made several dozen of them for a charity sale and shoppers were literally fighting over who had her hand on which one first. They sold everyone of them for ten dollars and up depending on the size of the bottle. If you don’t have a good craft store you can buy all this stuff online including a case of bottles. They look so pretty sitting in the bathroom but they are meant to be bath oil and smell great in hot water.

  90. Gayla T says:

    Almost forgot that the next year I did the same bottles, filled them with white vinigar and added things to it like little dried red peppers I found in the produce dept. Also used lemon and lime wedges, small mushrooms. Nothing spoils in vinigar so you can put in the corks and wax and trim like the bath oil bottles. This kind of thing doesn’t help with your boy but if you save on the gifts for sisters, and other females on your list, you can spend a bit more to get him what he wants. The church sales that are all over town this time of year are a gold mine too. Those church ladies always do things up nice. I did mine for a local group called Sherltered Living which is a charity to help the mentally challanged adults. I hope this helps someone.

  91. Bonnie says:

    I once gave all of my kids’ teachers herb infused salad dressing in special bottles. (I only have 2 kids, but by middle school, they had several teachers each.) So, I bought some pretty bottles, infused some vinegar with herbs, added some good olive oil, pasted a printed label on each, put a pretty ribbon, and voila!

    I gave my sister a brass planter with herbs to put in her kitchen window. I also made a brochure for her about the herbs (with pictures) and ideas about how to use them. She loves it!

  92. Elizabeth says:

    What I’ve done for several years is to look through all those “Gifts for Him/Her/Under $20” lists and find things I can make for a fraction of the cost.

    I found a “sewing kit” consisting of a tape measure, pins, needles, thread and scissors all in a Mason jar. The lid was topped with cotton fluff covered with fabric for a pin cushion. ($48 at Anthropology) Could substitute a magnet for the pin cushion.

    For the sister that’s crafty, how about homemade laundry soap, pre-treater, glass cleaner, etc. Spray bottles are $1 at Home Depot and the ingredients are next to nothing (bar soap, borax, alcohol, vinegar).

    Also saw some cute Santa hats/reindeer heads made from felt used as bottle toppers on a 6 pack of specialty beer.

    For a golfer that has a very dry sense of humor, how about a box of Schweddy Balls (a SNL skit with Alec Baldwin). I think there’s at or

    A nice ornament is always a thoughtful gift. A week or so before Christmas, Macy’s has their ornaments on sale. Or a ‘Person’ ornament (a skater for the skater, a hammer for the handyman, etc) personalized with the recipient’s name.

    Thrift shops are fantastic. Once found a three-tiered Spoke Christmas cookie tray for $5.

    Something that reminds one of a favorite childhood memory.

    A board game is a great idea. Sorry, Parcheesi, Clue, Yatzee.

    A book of card games with deck of cards.

    I just finished 8 friendship bracelets for a friend that wanted some.

    Jewelry – Hobby Lobby has jewelry makings on sale all the time. No special equipment; just string a few beads onto a necklace or string.

    I’m also making some bags from old tee shirts for carrying produce at the farmer’s market.

    My oldest some wants bowties for Christmas. Found a few patterns online; fabric from Hobby Lobby. Four ties for less than $10.

    Something matching for you, your Mom and sisters; tie-dye tee shirts, necklaces/bracelets, etc.

    How about a zipper purse? There’s patterns online. Basically, two long zippers (different colors) unzipped and then re-zipped to the other color, sewn together along the flange to create a purse.

    A kit for the car with hand sanitizer, spot remover pen, bandaids, safety pins, hand lotion, tissues, etc.

    There’s a DIY online somewhere to make an indoor ‘firepit’/’fireplace.’ Glass panes, metal planter-type container, stones, sterno can.

    Fresh flowers in a vase (from the thrift store).

    Most of all, don’t fret. Family and friends don’t really care about the gifts anyway – they care about everyone being together to celebrate the holiday.

  93. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, forgot a great one!

    A feather Christmas tree! Use a tomato cage upside down, use string or wire to create more vertical supports and then wrap a few feather boas around it. Tie the boas onto the verticals with matching ribbon so it doesn’t show. Someone told me they have boas at the dollar stores; Hobby Lobby has some for $2 or $3. Something very girl-y and feminine.

    Just made one with fake evergreen garland and it really turned out great. Put it in the empty porch planter and will string some lights on. (Even my 17 yo son remarked, “It’s not bad.” High praise from him.) Total cost: 5 garlands from Hobby Lobby (@ $5 minus 1/2 off on sale) + 2.50 for tomato cage from Home Depot and some string = $15.

    And make some origami ornaments. You can make the “box” which can be slipped onto a bulb from the string lights and they look great. Doesn’t have to be origami paper – cut squares from copy paper.

  94. Andrea T says:

    Yep, this is me this year.

  95. Kirsten says:

    Teaopia’s got flowering teas for $3 a teaball, which can be infused up to three times. It’s a really special little gift, since it’s amazing to watch this ball of tea leaves unfurl into an amazing flower sculpture in your teapot (or glass pyrex since I didn’t have a glass teapot).
    What I’m doing for my sister this year is infusing some vodka. It’s super easy – vodka plus whatever you want to infuse it with, put in a cool dark place, shake it every few days and smell/taste every few days to check when you think the flavour’s imparted enough.

  96. Susan R. says:

    I found amazing handmade African candles at Home Goods and Marshall’s. Do you have those stores in Canada? They are also available on several websites for around 12-15 dollars.

    If the recipient is a cook, how about some interesting salts? Himalayan pink salt, fleur de sel, smoked salt, etc.

    • Karen says:

      Susan R. – We do have those stores. Home Goods is called HomeSense here though. I’ve given pink salt as a gift before. Fun. ~ karen!

  97. LaserJet says:

    Yes! Finally something about Workstation.

  98. Paula says:

    I am purchasing very nice China! I get SINGLE plates only at thrift stores. I vow not to pay more than $5 each. I will give them to friends with an appropriate goodie and a note ” do not return the plate… Pass it along to someone who needs a plate of homemade yummy”

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