A DIY Christmas: 6 Thoughtful Gift Ideas Worth More Than What Money Can Buy

Living on a budget can be difficult any time of year, but it’s the worst during the holiday season – when the common tradition is to throw all your money at your loved ones and find “the perfect gift.” This year, my budgetary constraints have led me down the dark, dangerous path to Michael’s craft store, creating all of my Christmas gifts by hand and counting every penny as I go.

Christmas is only a few days away. Do you still need a thoughtful gift for someone special? Here are my best last-minute craft ideas to make it look like you worked hard for weeks without breaking the bank.

Gifts for mom and dad: Photos of your face

All parents are the same when it comes to getting emotional over their kids’ pictures. Think back to your favorite recent memory with your parents: Thanksgiving dinner, a recent wedding or your last vacation. Find a great photo from that trip, one that’ll make your parents nice and weepy with nostalgia, and print it out. Most drug stores do it for less than $1.

Then, head out to your closest craft store and buy a basic wooden picture frame, which costs $1 at Michael’s. Buy a small paint set, or utilize the art supplies you have tucked away at home, lost after years of primary school crafts. I, then, would take to Pinterest for some inspiration, whether that’s fancy hand-drawn Christmas lights or cool, colorful designs.

Total cost: $3 to $10 (depending on whether or not you need to buy paint)

Gifts for siblings and family members: Christmas ornaments

Think of a place or a memory that can be particularly special to your family members. I am personally lucky in that I just moved from the East Coast to Texas, so it’s pretty natural for everyone to get Texas Christmas ornaments this year. My local craft store sold plain, wooden ornaments in the shape of the state, which I was able to paint over and write corny lines like, “Someone loves you in Austin!”

If you live in a state with less pride, find any Christmas ornament in a cute design and give it a coat of paint. Michael’s sells these in packs for four for under 3 dollars. If you want to step up your thoughtfulness game, write a personalized message to each family member. The cornier the better.

Total cost: $3 to $10 (depending on whether or not you need to buy paint)

Gifts for family members: A recipe book

Probably my favorite idea, this gift costs nothing, but requires a bit more time than you may have when you’re down to the wire. For anyone in their 20s  still learning how to be a real adult, one of the biggest challenges can be learning how to cook! Knowing that Grandma, Uncle Don and every other relative that considers themselves skilled in the kitchen is going to love showing off their skills to their younger generation.

This Christmas, ask all of these kind souls for their favorite, easy dinner recipes. Then, after Christmas, put them all together in an online format – I’m probably using Evernote Web Clipper – and send out the family cookbook!

This can also be a good idea for a relative that is notorious for their recipe collection, like I imagine some grandmas are. If you can get your hands on their prized collection secretly before Christmas, unveil the online collection on Christmas Day and send it out to your entire family.

Total cost: $0

Gifts for friends: Coloring books

Adult coloring books seem to be the biggest, weirdest trend these days, but as someone who works with kids and frequently colors, you forget how relaxing it can be. In honor of all of my workaholic friends that need a moment of peace during their busy days, I am making them adult coloring books.

Paper and ink aside, this gift is awesome and free for anyone with a black and white printer. For me, I checked out the public library’s printing policies, which allow me to print for 20 cents per page, coming out to 4 dollars for a 20-page coloring book.

The Internet now has thousands of resources dedicated to this newest trend, so finding pages to color is easy. I chose designs that particular friends would love and customized each. When you’re finished printing, staple your pages together or place them in a cute binder.

Total cost: $0 to $4 per book (excluding the potential cost of a binder)

Gifts for your significant other: Cross stitching

I began this whole crafting mission with one goal in mind: to learn how to sew. I have always been useless with a needle, unable to stick a thread through the eye, let alone sew on a button. For my boyfriend, then, I decided to step up my game this Christmas and learn to cross stitch.

Cross-stitching sassy messages has been an Etsy trend for years now, inspiring legions of 20-somethings to hang “Please refrain from doing coke in the bathroom” on their walls. For my s.o., I decided to stitch “We want the funk!” (a line from our favorite Kendrick Lamar song) onto a hoop to hang on his wall.

As a stitching newbie, I had to start from scratch at Michael’s, buying a sewing kit, thread, backing and hoop for a total of 11 dollars. A few hours of trial and error, YouTube cross stitching tutorials and cutting out my mistakes later, I had a really cute, thoughtful and personal gift! For someone with sewing experience, you could knock this out in one night!

Total cost: $11

Gifts for your significant other: “Open when…” letters

For a couple that’ll be spending any time apart or for a partner that could use a little boost this holiday season, “Open when…” letters are a really beautiful, personal and affirming way to show you care. Write 8-10 letters to your partner for various occasions: “Open when it’s our anniversary”; “Open when you’ve had a rough day at work”; “Open when I’ve pissed you off” and one that explains the project, “Open right now!”

For the cost of a cheap stationery set, you can create an incredibly thoughtful gift for your significant other that keeps the love and good vibes flowing into the new year. Just make sure your partner knows to not break the rules and open them all at once!

Total cost: $0 to $5 (for the cost of paper and envelopes)

The Christmas season comes rushing in after Thanksgiving, starting with Black Friday, which prioritizes spending money over being with your family and celebrating the holiday spirit. It’s easy, then, to get caught up in the money, presents and wish lists and to lose sight of why you want to give someone a gift in the first place.

This year, taking the time to physically make every Christmas gift with my own two hands has reminded me of why I give gifts in the first place. I’m not going to make just anything for my loved ones: I want to take time and think of what they’ll love or need the most. I want to give something that reminds everyone of how special they are to me. That goal feels really different this year, after having worked really hard to make something for each and every person I love!

Featured image via Unsplash


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