I don’t know about you, but  every year I struggle with gift ideas for the holidays while trying not to break the bank! How do we give a thoughtful gift on a budget?

My best advice is not to wait until the last minute.  Start in January thinking ahead to the next Christmas.  Keep a gift log with a list of those people that you want to buy for.  Use the log to make notes of their favorite colors, favorite candy, sizes, hobbies or collections.  Keep this list with you when you shop during the year.  Be watchful of the store return policies, if you buy in March you won’t be able to return it in December.

Be creative—handmade gifts or great thrift store finds make very unique and personal gifts.  When shopping, don’t overlook the clearance section of the store.  Set a budget and stick to it.  The old cliché “it’s not how much you spend, but it’s the thought that counts” is so true.  There is no difference between a lamp that costs $50 vs. the same lamp you could purchase for $12.50 on clearance.  You saved 75% and the recipient received the same lamp—that’s smart shopping!  Trust me, there are deals like that to be had.

I love placing gifts into baskets and beautiful containers using the different fillers.  Here is a sampling of gift ideas to use with different containers:

  • Fill a basket or bucket with bottled soft drinks, microwave popcorn, candy, and include a DVD or a gift certificate to Redbox or online service.
  • Fill a basket with pretty notepaper, thank you note cards, postage stamps, a pretty pen and an ink pad and stamp.
  • Fill a large basket with art supplies for an older child or adult, such as paper, brushes, instruction books, and possibly a small table easel.
  • Fill the compartments on either side of a plastic lap desk with paper, crayons, markers, colored pencils, stencils, stamps—you have endless possibilities on this one.
  • Fill a colorful bucket with a flexible (plastic) cutting board with an assortment of colorful plastic cookie cutters, and Play doe.
  • Fill a decorative box intended for wine with a rolled up magazine and a note announcing a year subscription.  Add a beautiful decorative paperclip to mark pages.
  • Fill a vintage purse or pretty fabric bag with jewelry.
  • Fill a small box with a scarf pin and wrap it with a beautiful scarf.
  • Fill a fancy colander with fancy spaghetti, homemade sauce, a chunk of Parmesan cheese and spaghetti tongs; don’t forget the bread.  Depending on your budget, add some wine! Run with this idea using different meals.
  • Purchase or hand make a bed pocket and fill with a book, book light, bookmark, and a pair of glasses (if you know the strength).


  • Fill a basket with a beautiful candle (if allergies are a problem use flameless candles) along with a rain or ocean nature CD.
  • Fill a basket with a warm cozy blanket, slippers, a movie, and hot chocolate mix.  This is a great idea as a gift for someone who is ill.
  • Fill a basket with everything relaxation and include some bath salts and lotions.
  • Fill interesting mugs with coffee, hot chocolate, teas, candy, or a gift certificate or any combination.
  • Fill a large terracotta pot with garden utensils, gloves, seeds, and/or bulbs.
  • Fill a beautiful glass jar or vase (with lid) and fill with mixed nuts or pistachios. Wrap with beautiful ribbon.
  • Fill a hat box with supplies for jewelry making, including beads, tools and instruction booklets.  Use this idea with any craft or hobby, such as knitting, scrapbooking, etc.
  • Fill a mason jar with ingredients to make brownies, cookies, corn bread—use your imagination.  Don’t forget to attach a note with the wet ingredients needed and instructions for baking.
  • Fill a pretty chest or large hat box with dress up clothes for a little girl.  The thrift store is a great place to find fun items such as hats, gloves, jewelry, and clothes.   If you sew, your options are endless.

Here are some other gift ideas:

  • When giving a gift certificate to a restaurant, include the menu.
  • Give a journal with a beautiful pen and don’t forget to leave some words of inspiration inside.
  • Give Grandma framed art from her special little artist.
  • Purchase a certificate for cake decorating classes (check Michaels and Hobby Lobby) and tuck it inside a cake decorating booklet.
  • Purchase some beautiful ice cream glasses and add gift certificates to a local ice cream parlor.  Add ice cream sauces and sprinkles.
  • Place a watch on the arm of a large stuffed animal such as a Teddy Bear to show off the watch.
  • Give old family recipes handwritten on recipe cards.  Wrap in pretty matching ribbon or place in a recipe box.
  • Bake cookies and place them in clear bags with ribbon or a pretty plate (let the recipient keep the plate).
  • Give a beautiful address/phone book with a pre-paid phone card.
  • Give a charitable donation in the name of your gift recipient.
  • Give a monogrammed Bible.
  • Give a personalized calendar to give to everyone on your list.
  • Give the gift of genealogy—spend some time during the year compiling information on your history.  Include the research in a book and give it as a gift to everyone in your family.
  • Give old forgotten family photos and include a beautiful frame.

These gift ideas are great when you need a small gift for a co-worker or friend.  Keep small gifts wrapped (add a sticky note with the contents so you don’t forget what’s in it) and on hand in case a friend or neighbor stops by with an unexpected gift—you won’t be caught off guard.

  • Give a book from your library with a note written inside.
  • Give a beautiful bookmark or set of fancy paperclips.
  • Give a plant.
  • Give a gift certificate to a coffee shop or bagel store.
  • Give movie tickets.
  • Give a cup with jelly beans or M&Ms
  • Give the good old standby—baked goods!


After you purchase your gifts, note the purchase in your gift log.  I keep my log from year to year so that I don’t repeat gifts. Relinquish it to paper, don’t depend on your memory; I guarantee it will fail you on occasion.   Get creative and enjoy the process—good luck!