My husband and I didn’t have time to buy a dining room table before hosting Thanksgiving this year. Fortunately, we found a creative solution for this conundrum: the patio table. Had we had the 11 people we originally expected, rather than the 6 we had, we would have used the patio table plus our kitchen table.

The Art of Doing with Less
Obviously, I didn’t want to eat outside in November, and I also didn’t want my guests to feel like we were at a patio table. To protect my floors, I put dollar store baby mittens on the feet of the table. I used kitchen chairs and two folding chairs rather than patio chairs. Then, I laid a nice tablecloth over the top. We dressed it up with my wedding candleholders and a few fresh flowers. I even brought out my nice white napkins I received for my wedding. It looked and felt fancy, even if we were eating at a patio table.

The key to getting by with less is to dress up what you do have so that it looks nice. If you only have a small tree, dress it up with the nicest of your ornaments. If you only have a few holiday candles, put out an assortment of candleholders in different sizes and shapes, but similar colors. A trio usually looks beautiful. If you have extra ornaments, fill a glass vase or bowl with colored balls. Hang large wooden ornaments from doorknobs.

Focus On Being Festive
Just because you don’t have a house full of ornaments or can’t afford a major gourmet feast, you can still entertain with less. Instead of buying expensive candles and favors, put your budget into the food. Plan your menu around sale items. Serve finger foods rather than a full meal. Make it a cocktail party rather than a dinner. Bake cookies, fix appetizers based on bacon, meatballs, and cheese, and serve eggnog, brandy, and wine. Then crank up the holiday tunes and get ready to have fun. Your guests won’t notice the lack of gourmet fare if you don’t point it out.

Raid Your Leftover Christmas Cards
This year I scored 75 cards for $6.99 via a timely Woot sale, but for the past several years I’ve simply raided my stash of leftover cards. If you regularly send out cards, you should have a few left from each season. You may also have received cards from various charities you’ve donated to in the past. Match all those up to envelopes and then all you need to buy are stamps. Trust me, no one will remember if they receive the same holiday card two years in a row.

Give Group Gifts
Your gift budget goes further when you give a group gift. For example, my husband and I are joining forces to give my sister and her husband something they really want, but that is more than the individual budgets we’ve set aside for them. My sister and I have merged our money to get a better gift for my mom or dad in the past. My sister, my mom, and I also go in together on group gifts for my cousins, who would otherwise receive three small gifts. Now they get one gift they really want. We all spend affordably, but no one feels like they got gypped.

Remember the Reason for the Season
Amidst the shopping frenzy of years’ past, the reason for the season seems to have gotten lost. The true meaning of the holiday season is slightly different for everyone, but in general it means gathering with family and friends in a joyful atmosphere. So next time you’re stressed for a gift, just remember what the Beatles said: All you need is love.

I’ve written many, many posts on affordable holidays and holiday shopping. Why I even compiled an entire e-book on the topic. But, if you’re revving up for a big shop, here are my five quick tips for keeping your holiday shopping affordable.

Carry Your List with You at ALL Times
Put your Christmas gift list in your wallet or purse so it’s ready whenever you spy a potential gift. Consult your list and your budget. If it’s not in the budget, it’s not going home with you. If it’s in the budget and it’s a better gift than the item you already had in mind for recipient, then buy it and mark that person off your list.

Note Online Prices on Your List
In addition to name, gift, and budget, I also write online prices on my list, with shipping and tax added where applicable. That way I can determine whether the item I see in a store is cheaper than the item I see online. If it’s not, I go home to order it. Order your gifts by about 12/10 to ensure it will get to you or to the recipient in time. Or, if it’s a specialty retailer participating in Free Shipping Day, wait until 12/17 to order.

Remember, Stores Will Run Low This Year
If you see a perfect gift and it’s in your budget, snap it up. In past years, you could wait until later to markdowns, but the stores majorly reduced their stock this year. Most will not be offering major markdowns as the season progresses, they’ll simply be running out of stuff. Don’t be like Joey and Chandler and present your friends with gifts from the gas station because you waited to shop.

Set Aside One Weekend Morning or Mid-Week Evening to Shop
Once you’ve finished your list and determined your stores, figure out which mall has most of those stores (unless you’re lucky enough to have one mall with all the stores.) I find that a Wednesday evening in early December is an awesome time to shop. I can get in and out quickly with minimal crowds. I hit the mall closest to my office, then by the time I’m done the commuter traffic is gone so I can zip home.

If You Must Shop a Weekend Evening, Make it a Date Night
Take your spouse with you for dinner and shopping. If you have time, see a movie. Yes, the stores might be more crowded, but they’ll be open later. Just make sure you make a reservation or get to the mall early to snap up an early seating time. Two years ago my husband and I did this. We arrived at the mall at 6:30 and got a 7:30 seating at the Cheesecake Factory – the most in-demand restaurant in the shopping center. By the time we finished eating at 8:30, they were handing out 11PM seating times. We pre-shopped, enjoyed a lovely dinner, and then went back to the stores to buy our final choices. We ended up missing the movie because we didn’t want to wait for an 11PM show, but we still had fun.

And finally, when in doubt, give truffles. It’s the cheap, no-fail gift, and completely in keeping with the season: I love you, here’s something delicious and fattening.

As each holiday season rolls around, people start talking about gifts as expressions of love. To some extent, yes, you should try to buy thoughtful gifts for the people you love. I think choosing gifts carefully shows that you really know the person and their interests. However, I start to get stabby when I hear people, especially parents and spouses, explaining that they have to buy a really expensive gift in order to show love.

Gifts Do Not Equal Love
Gifts are certainly an expression of your feelings for a person, but an expensive gift does not automatically mean you love the person more. It means you bought an expensive gift. For several years, my husband and I didn’t exchange gifts at all. I didn’t feel unloved. I also didn’t feel more loved the year he bought me a $200 iPod. I felt loved because he got me exactly what I’d asked for, and managed to keep it a secret so it would be surprise. He knows I like to be surprised by my presents.

Diamonds Do Not Equal Love
Every holiday season you’re guaranteed to see almost daily commercials declaring that this year’s trendy diamond necklace is the only way to show your wife you love her. Poppycock! If your wife has always wanted a diamond necklace and you can afford it and you choose one specific to her style, then yes, it’s a great way to show that you care. But defaulting to the journey pendant or the heart pendant or whatever pendant was in the commercial is not the same as putting thought into a gift.

Cheap Can Equal Love
I’ve shared this story before, but the best gift I ever got my husband cost one cent. I’m pretty sure it had been closed out and the store didn’t realize they still had any copies of the computer game on hand. Nevertheless, the clerk insisted on selling it to me at the price it rang up. I felt so guilty about only spending a penny on my husband that I went and bought him another game. He still plays the first game six years later and hasn’t played the second game a single time. So, it really doesn’t matter what you spend if the gift you choose is perfect for the person receiving it.

Thought Equals Love
So, please, as we edge into the holiday season, try to remember that the gift is a reflection of your love for the recipient, it isn’t actually love. It doesn’t matter what it costs as long as it’s something you choose carefully and know the recipient will love. Even if it only costs a penny, choosing the right gift is the best way to show your love. Frankly, if you order a bunch of gifts without thought, but they cost a lot, that’s a sign that you don’t care enough to make an effort. That speaks volumes.

I can hear the collective groan, but yes, it is time to start thinking about Christmas if you plan to make gifts. You don’t want to be a bleary-eyed crafting fiend the night before Christmas. Leave that to the elves. If you’re looking for something fun, affordable, and cool, here are six ideas for this Christmas.

Canvas Floor Mat
We have several doors in our house that are too low for rugs, but I want that extra buffer after people wipe their feet on the outdoor mat. My mom created these canvas floor mats that are as thin as a piece of fabric, but hold up well. To make them, buy pre-treated canvas rolls (usually treated with Gesso) at the art store, along with acrylic paint, brushes, and stencils. Cut the mat to size and then use carpet tape on the back to “hem” it. Sketch your design on paper, then paint the mat. If you’re not artistic, use the stencils. Let it dry, and then apply several coats of clear shellac. When it’s dry, it can be cleaned with a mop.

Customized Stationery
Visit a paper store to buy pre-folded white notecards. Next go to the craft store to buy stencils, watercolor paint, and brushes. Paint a pretty design on ten cards, then tie them and ten envelopes together with a ribbon. You could also use stamps rather than paint. Few people write notes these days, but most women still love pretty stationery.

Pretty Pegboard
My sister had trouble organizing her jewelry one year, so I made her a pretty pegboard. I simply bought a piece of white corkboard and stapled on a fabric frame. She mounted it to the wall and hooked her necklaces over clear pushpins. You could get fancier by covering the corkboard in attractive fabric in the recipient’s office or bedroom colors. You’ll only need a yard, so you should be able to find cheap scraps at the fabric store. Buy complementary ribbons and place diagonal strips over the canvas to form diamonds. Use upholstery pins to hold down the strips where they cross.

Teacup Candle
For the more sentimental people on your list, make teacup candles. You can find cheap teacups at the thrift store. They don’t have to match, but avoid cracked cups. Then visit a craft store for paraffin wax and dye dots or unscented candles, and wicks. If you’re using candles, cut it off the wax first. Now melt the wax in a double boiler. Pour it into the cup. Tie the wick around a pencil with a piece the depth of the cup extended from the center. Dip the wick into the teacup and rest the pencil on the edges to hold the wick in place while the wax cools.

Oil Dispenser
This one is simple and fun for you, too. First, buy wine in a cool bottle (bottle color or shape, not the label.) Drink the wine. Soak the bottle until the label comes off and wash the inside and out thoroughly. Paint the bottle with a non-toxic paint suitable for glass. Stick an oil dispenser tap in the top and you’re set.

Picture Frame
Buy cheap wooden frames at the craft store, and then hot blue buttons, beads, seashells, or other fun, funky items in an attractive design to the frame. Place a photo of yourself and the recipient inside. It’s a keepsake and a way to show you care.

Baked goods are always popular, but you pretty much have to make those a few days before you give them or make a lot of room in your freezer. Need more ideas? Check out my list of seven more traditional homemade Christmas gifts.

Last Christmas I received several gift cards. It took me a few months to use up the coffee cards, 11 months to use the iTunes cards, and I’m still holding onto my Best Buy cards. So far I haven’t received any additional cards, but I’ve got a different tactic in mind in case I do: spend them promptly, and here’s why.

Stores May Go Out of Business
It’s unlikely that every Coffee Bean or Starbuck’s will close, but it could get a little harder to spend those cards if the one near your office closes. I’d worry more about independent coffee stores that could close without warning.

Best Buy also seems to be doing well in the wake of other closures, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m taking my gift cards and a couple of rebate cards and heading down to buy a Wii. I’ve been thinking about getting one for over a year, so it’s time to put those cards to good use.

Gift Cards May Expire
I was able to hoard my cards because California made it illegal for store gift cards to expire, but many other states do allow them to expire after a year. Gift cards from credit card issuers usually start losing value after a year, so make sure you spend them promptly. If you can’t think of anything you want, use them for groceries and then remember you have that money for another purpose later.

Tastes May Change
Sure, you like that store this year, but what if they change their style in a year and you hate everything? This is especially true of women’s clothing stores. If you have a gift card to a fickle store, spend it now while you still like what they sell.

What if You Can’t Spend Them?
So what if you can’t spend them? What if the store isn’t in your area or you don’t enjoy their specialty? You have a couple of options:

Swap Them. Go on Craigslist, a swapping site, or just poll your friends to match up the gift cards you don’t want with the gift cards you do.

Sell Them. I know people who’ve done this, but I’d worry about getting scammed, so I’d much rather swap them with someone I know.

Give Them. I’ve considered regifting some of those coffee cards I’ve received.

Spend them on someone else. Does anyone have a birthday or wedding coming up? Spend your gift card on a gift for them. That way you’ll have it on hand. Since you’re swapping it from your gift budget, you’ll then have that same amount to spend on yourself.

I’m of mixed feelings about gift cards. They’re certainly easy to give, but a lot of people hate receiving them. I try to only give them to people I know will use them, and to buy them at stores I know they shop at. I also think that I’ll spend them more quickly in the future – no more gift card hoarding for me.

So it’s almost Christmas and you’ve just realized you need one more gift. Before you brave the mall or bust your budget, go to the pantry and fridge for a cheap, quick, and easy gift: homemade truffles. You can also add them to your arsenal of homemade Christmas gifts with a little advance planning next year.
Once you master the basic truffle recipe, you can change the flavorings to nearly anything. These truffles are orange, but I’ve also made mint, lemon, apple, chili oil, hazelnut/amaretto, Bailey’s Irish cream, and Chambord truffles. The possibilities are endless.

Homemade Truffle Ingredients
7 ounces chocolate
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 teaspoon orange flavoring
powdered sugar or sweetened cocoa powder

truffle ingredients You may need to add or remove some of the cream if you change the flavoring. The goal is to have about ½ cup plus 2-3 tablespoons of liquid. At least ½ cup must be cream. When I use liquor for flavoring, I replace 2 tablespoons of cream with 1.5 tablespoons of liquor. I also usually reduce the vanilla to ½ teaspoon. Start with small amount of each flavoring and add more as you go until it reaches the right taste. For these, I used orange flavoring, but you could also use an orange liqueur. If you do, use 1.5 tablespoons.

A Word on Chocolate
You can use cheap chocolate or expensive chocolate. I usually use 3.5 ounces of bittersweet and 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate. You could also use all dark, all bittersweet, all semisweet, or a mix of bittersweet and semisweet. The choice is up to you. I’ve never used milk chocolate or white chocolate, but I imagine those would work well, too. I usually use Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bars, which are $4 each and make several batches of truffles, but you can use any chocolate. The only one I don’t like for truffles is Scharffen Berger. Although it’s delicious on its own, it has a fruity undertone that may compete with the other flavors you’re adding.

Homemade Truffle Instructions
Follow these simple steps to make the truffles. You’ll need about 20-30 minutes of prep time and a few hours of rest time.

Chop the chocolate very fine. I use a flexible cutting mat so I can pour it directly into the bowl without losing any chocolate or messing up my hands.

chopped chocolate

Heat the cream in a small pot until small bubbles form around the edges.

heat cream

Pour the cream through a strainer and over the chocolate.

pour cream over chocolate

Whisk until smooth and glossy. If it doesn’t melt immediately, you can do one of two things: place the bowl over a pot of steaming water and whisk until smooth (do not let the water touch the bowl of chocolate) or microwave it on 50% power for 15 seconds. Whisk and repeat until all of the chocolate is melted.

whisk chocolate until smooth

Place the bowl in the fridge to chill for 45 minutes to an hour. If you’ve flavored the chocolate with alcohol, it will take closer to an hour. You want it to be soft enough to scoop, but firm enough to hold a basic shape.

Cover a cookie sheet with parchment, then drop small balls of chocolate onto it. I use a cookie scoop, but you can also use two teaspoons. You’ll have 15-18 small balls. Return the sheet to the refrigerator to chill for 10-20 more minutes. Again, alcohol truffles may take longer.

drop chocolate balls onto a baking sheet

When the truffles are firm, but moldable, it’s time to roll them into rounder balls and apply the coating. These truffles are very rich, so you may also consider cutting them in half. I usually do. With a sharp knife, slice down the middle. Either with bare hands or while wearing latex gloves, roll each truffle or half-truffle into a small ball. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Work quickly because the chocolate will melt.

Roll each ball in the coating. For these, I used powdered sugar. You can also use chopped nuts, sweetened cocoa powder, tempered chocolate, sprinkles, or just about anything else that will taste good with your combination.

roll truffles in powdered sugar

Chill the truffles one more time. At least 8 hours is preferable, but one hour is fine. They need to firm up and hold their coating. Once they’re done, transfer them to a tin, small box, or bag. Attach a tag with the flavor and instructions to store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. They’re best when warmed for 20-30 minutes before eating. Then they’ll melt right in your mouth and the flavors will be full on your tongue.

chill truffles again

There you have it – a gift that will have your friends pronouncing you a gourmet chef. Only you’ll know that you spent less than half an hour preparing this extravagant gift.

My mom recently asked what we wanted for Christmas this year. I usually have a list of things to buy in my notebook, so I sent her that list. It was mostly small, fairly affordable items. I’m simply not in the mood to acquire a lot of stuff for the sake of stuff this year. Anything expensive, I’m already considering buying for myself or my husband and I will buy it as a joint gift – like the Wii we’ve been thinking about for over a year. So how do you figure out what you really want this Christmas vs. what you’ve trained to want by holiday season advertisements? Here are a few tips for creating a holiday wish list.

Keep a List
For list keepers like me, this is an obvious one, but it might not be for everyone else. I keep a running list of things I want or things I need to buy all year. For example, I need a new digital cooking thermometer. I listed the brand on my “to buy” list so I can be on the lookout for it. I also add things to my list if I’ve wished I had them a few times. Examples from my wish list this year would be French onion soup bowls and an enameled Dutch oven. Other years, it’s been items like gold hoop earrings or black corduroy pants. It all depends on your needs at the moment.

Do Your Research
For a long time, I opened up the catalogs of cooking equipment and wrote down things that looked fun. Some of those items have never been used. Now I take a different approach to my wish list. In addition to keeping notes throughout the year, I research options for my list. What is the best Dutch oven? What’s the best one in a reasonable price range? Obviously, Le Creuset is the best, but I’m not about to ask anyone to buy me a $300 piece of cookware. Instead I found two $50-60 options that meet my needs and have good reviews. I can feel comfortable putting them on my wish list. Maybe someday I’ll splurge on the expensive version myself.

Don’t Ask for the Sake of Asking
My husband is terrible at creating wish lists. He never wants anything. If he does, he buys it himself. That makes him very hard to shop for. This year, it took me three tries to finally pry a one-item “wish list” out of him that I could convey to my mom. It’s small, affordable, and something he just realized he needs, so he won’t have time to buy it himself.

Be Reasonable in Your Expectations
In the past I’ve put for some very expensive items like a new leather jacket or boots on my wish list. When I do ask for something expensive, it’s something I really do need. I hope to receive it, but I always understand if I don’t.

Remember Who’s Paying
I find that many people buy expensive gifts for their spouses. I don’t really understand this thinking. If you wouldn’t buy it yourself, why would you ask for it as a gift from your spouse? Unless you have separate accounts, you’re still paying for it. I don’t think you need to give or receive expensive gifts to show your love. Some years we skipped the gifts entirely. Other years, we stayed affordable. One year we splurged on each other, but even that was only around $200 each.

This holiday season, it’s especially important to think about your true wants and needs, as well as the cost they bear to other people. No one needs to spend $200 on a gift to show they care. Often a cheap but well-chosen gift means far more. Make your wish list carefully this season and ignore the ads. Gifts you truly want are the gifts that keep on giving.

This year, that is the question. Do you give someone a gift card because it’s easy, but run the risk that the store will go out of business before they spend it? Or do you give them cash and then wonder if they bought something fun or used it to pay bills? There’s no right or wrong answer, so here are a few gift card dos and don’ts.

Never Give Bank-Branded Gift Cards
Never give a Visa, MasterCard, or American Express gift card. Unlike store gift cards, these cards slowly eat away the balance if it’s not used within a certain time limit. In addition, there are fees to reactivate them and other bugaboos. If you can’t think of anything else to give someone, just give cash. It’s easier to use and has no rules or restrictions.

Choose a Store They Like
My husband and I tend to receive a lot of coffee gift cards. He doesn’t drink any coffee, and I only drink it a few times a year. It takes me months to use a $10 gift card, and I currently have two in my purse. He may re-gift the one he received. If you decide to get someone a gift card, make sure it’s a general purpose store with something for everyone (like Target or Macy’s), or a specialty store they like. I love to read, so bookstore gift cards are tops with me. Amateur chefs or home decorators will love cards for Williams-Sonoma or Crate and Barrel.

If You Can’t Afford the Expensive Gift, Get a Gift Card for that Store
When my husband and I got married, we received several Bed, Bath, and Beyond gift cards. We used the gift cards to complete our registries. Because we could combine several, we didn’t have to pay out-of-pocket for the gifts. I’ve also had occasions where I wanted a $40 item and had a $30 gift card. That allowed me to buy it without feeling guilty about spending a lot of money.

Kids Love Gift Cards
My cousins always love gift cards. I look for stores like Gap, Old Navy, Target, and Toys R Us where they can spend the cards without dipping into their allowance money or hitting up Mom and Dad to cover the rest. And unlike adults who don’t spend gift cards because they don’t have time, kids will spend those gift cards as quickly as possible.

Check the Expiration Date
Gift cards branded by credit card companies can and do expire. Rules for store cards vary by state. In California, it’s against the law to expire store cards (which is why I’ve been hoarding cards to Best Buy for over a year). Other states leave it to store policy. If you’re not sure, ask before you buy the gift card.

Make Sure the Store is Financially Stable
You can’t completely predict these things, but if the store is looking shabby or the news is shouting that the store is in trouble, don’t buy a gift card to it. No one could predict that Sharper Image would go under so quickly, but I don’t think many people were surprised by the demise of Linens ‘n Things – at least not anyone who got married in the last few years or frequents consumer message boards.

When In Doubt – Give Cash
Some people think giving cash is crass, but we appreciated the checks we received for our wedding. If you just can’t decide where to buy a gift card, then cash in a card is simple and straightforward. It doesn’t require the recipient to do anything except put the money in their wallet and spend it as they please. You also don’t have to make a special trip to buy it.

As I’ve said before, if you really can’t figure out what to get someone, then maybe they shouldn’t be on your gift list. However, there are times when I’ve really appreciated receiving a gift card. Other times, it’s left me wondering whether the person knew me at all. If you plan to give gift cards this holiday season, spend a little effort choosing a card to the right store. Don’t default to the store you’re shopping in at the time.

This year my mom proposed nixing one Christmas gift exchange. We cancelled another one last year. My husband and I will be out of town for the first of two potential white elephant exchange. I haven’t decided yet whether to join the second one, if it happens. Frankly, I’m relieved to be sitting them out. So when do you say yes or no to a Christmas gift exchange?

Reasons to Say Yes to a Christmas Gift Exchange
You have room for the gift in your budget.
You enjoy shopping for something anyone will enjoy.
You enjoy the suspense of wondering what you’ll get.
You don’t want to upset a long-standing tradition.
Not participating will cause tension in your office.
Not participating will cause tension with your family.

Reasons to Say No to a Christmas Exchange
You can’t afford it this year.
You always re-gift whatever you get the next year.
You don’t particularly enjoy gift exchanges.
Several people in your office routinely sit it out.
It’s not a long-standing tradition, so no offense will be taken.
You’re trying to reduce the amount of stuff you own.

How to Say No to a Gift Exchange
When you decide not to participate in a Christmas gift exchange, you run the risk of offending someone. Some people might call you a Scrooge. Others might accuse you of being cheap. And others will just think you’re weird. Use these strategies to deflect the tension when you say no.

Explain that you’re committed to reducing your debt this year, and every penny counts. Most people can appreciate that you have a larger goal and will want to support you in that.

Explain that you’ve decided to give more to charity this year and will be using your normal exchange allotment for that purpose. How can anyone accuse you of being a Scrooge when you’re helping others? (You can use this excuse even if you can’t afford to give to charity.)

Explain that you’re trying to reduce the amount of stuff you acquire in order to reduce your environmental impact. Again, it’s tough for someone to make you feel guilty for that.

Explain that you’ve already committed to two exchanges and that’s the limit in your budget this year.

Explain that you’ve hated Christmas since you were five because your dad left, your dog died, and your house burned down all on Christmas Day.

If it’s someone you’re close to, be honest. If finances are tight for everyone who participates, that first no might be enough to get everyone to reconsider.

If you can’t say no, then weasel out of it later. This only works with a one-day exchange, not a secret Santa, but you have three options:

  • Claim you forgot to bring it, then hide in your office.
  • Schedule a client meeting for the time of the exchange.
  • Claim you have to take the dog to the vet, attend a school recital, or visit the doctor.

As a worst case scenario, call in sick that day. You can’t participate if you’re not in the office. True, you might miss the holiday lunch, but with all the junk you’ll be eating this holiday season, do you really need more cookies, cake, and pie?

Some Christmas gift exchanges are fun. If you want to participate, here are some ideas for affordable gifts.

  • Dig into the closet for something unused but useful.
  • Visit a craft store to make your own gift basket out of candles and ornaments that are on sale.
  • Visit Target or Wal-Mart to make your own candy basket with discounted candy.
  • Visit Target or Wal-Mart to make a spa basket with discount bath salts and soaps.
  • Visit the markdown endcaps to find close-out deals and super discounts.
  • Check the newspaper for Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons. You’ll find great, affordable gifts there.

When deciding about a Christmas gift exchange, the most important factor to consider is your budget. If you can’t afford it, just say no. If you really need to save money, check out my holiday savings e-book for more tips.

As I mentioned previously, my sister and I used to bake holiday gifts for our relatives. Not only are they cheap gifts, but it’s fun, quality time with your kids. We made a wide variety of cookies and fudge, but a few stood out as my favorites to bake. Once you choose your recipes, set aside a weekend to bake. Plan to give about 20 cookies or pieces of fudge for each gift.

Holiday Recipes for Kids
Fudge
Fudge seems difficult to make, but it actually couldn’t be easier to make. Watch the supermarket circulars for supersales on the ingredients.

Here are some tasty recipes to try with the kids:
No Fail Fudge
Best Ever Fudge
Million Dollar Fudge
Rocky Road Fudge
Chocolate Fudge

Thumbprint Cookies
Thumbprint cookies were my absolute favorite thing to bake when I was a kid. There’s nothing better than having permission to poke food with your finger. Try these recipes:

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
Thumbprint Cookies
Pecan Thumbprints
Chocolate Thumbprints

Stained Glass Cookies
Stained glass cookies are another fun option for kids. Like fudge, they look fancy and difficult, but are actually very easy to make. Try these recipes:

Stained Glass Cookies
Stained Glass Cookies
Stained Glass Cookies

Snickerdoodles
I don’t know why, but Snickerdoodles feel Christmassy to me. They’re a classic cookie that don’t get made as often as sugar or chocolate chip cookies. Making these at the holidays is a special treat for your friends and family.

Snickerdoodles
Snickerdoodles

Candy Cane Cookies
When packing your holiday cookie tin or basket, tuck in a few of these candy cane cookies to complete the festive look. Again, kids will love making these simple cookies.

Candy Cane Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
These are like the thumbprint cookies, but with mini peanut butter cups in place of jam or Hershey’s kisses. Here are some recipes:

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Packing Your Holiday Cookies
Once you’ve got everything baked, it’s time to pack them. We had two methods when I was young: cheap mugs and holiday tins. If you have craft store coupon, wander the aisles and see what you can find. You’ll also need tissue paper and thick plastic wrap.

1. Start by lining the mug or tin with the tissue paper.
2. Now add a layer of plastic wrap large enough to cover the tops of the cookies once it’s filled.
3. Fill the tin with cookies or fudge. If using cookies, use several different kinds. With fudge, it’s best to fill the whole thing.
4. Fold the plastic wrap over the opt and attach the lid. If you’re using a mug, twist the plastic up and tie a nice ribbon around it.
5. Print a nice card to attach to the mug or tin with a phrase like “Happy Holiday from our family to yours” or “Happy Holiday from the Smith Family to yours.”

If you have a lot to bake, it can take a whole weekend to assemble everything. Crank up the holiday tunes, pour ample eggnog, and let the kids like as many spoons as they want. When they’re done, you’ll all have a fun family memory and cheap gifts for friends and family members.

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