Low-cost, low-stress homemade gifts

You don't need to brave another trip to the mall or spend the January grocery budget to finish crossing off your Christmas list. But not all homemade gifts are created equal (the soft fellow in this picture is super cute, but we're not going to ask you to sew anything). You don't have time to knit scarves for all your cousins and your friends and family don't need more delicious treats. Instead, turn up the carols or queue up It's A Wonderful Life and make these easy-peasy, inexpensive, and thoughtful ways to say "Merry Christmas."

A Complimentary Mirror
A great self-esteem-boosting gift for a teenage girl. Decorate small, inexpensive mirrors with feel good compliments like, "Good morning, gorgeous," or "You look smashing!" Or take the focus off looks altogether and use an inspirational phrase. Paint on the words with acrylic paint. Go freehand if you've got great penmanship, or use a stencil. Make a mistake? Wait till it dries, scrape, and start over.

More: Holiday gifts to craft with your kids

Personalized Stationery
With rubber stamps and inexpensive plain or colored store-bought cards and envelopes, you can give everyone on your list monogrammed stationary. Stamp out their initials or oft-used phrases for cards like, "merci beaucoup!" "coffee?" or "feel better soon, doll."

Teacup Candles

Here's a shabby chic gift for the romantic Jane Austen-lovers in your life. Pick up pretty floral teacups for a song at a junk store. Swing by the craft store for wicks, wax (or you can use old candles), and essential oil (optional). Melt the wax in a double boiler, and add fragrance if desired. Holding the wick, pour the melted wax into the teacup. As the wax cools it will contract and form a well. Add more wax, or pour in a different color for a decorative effect.

Coupon Book

The only gift I loved more than the coupons from my mom for lunch together and a trip to the museum were her sparingly distributed, "Get out of trouble free" coupons. Studies show that focusing on experiences rather than things leads to increased feelings of contentment. Give your husband coupons for a back rub or a night at the movies, his pick. Give your kids coupons for special dates with you making cookies, having an adventure, and if they've been really good, maybe one get out of trouble free card. (They won't even need it!)

More: Traditions to start with your family


Bean Soup in a Jar
After a month of rich party food, give the gift of a wholesome supper with a pretty layered jar of dried beans and seasoning for soup. Combine one-half cup of the following beans in a 24-ounce jar: kidney, garbanzo, black, red, lentils and split green peas. Make a seasoning mix of 1 tablespoon dried sweet pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules, 2 teaspoons dried minced onion, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon celery seed, and 4 tablespoons brown sugar. Place seasoning mix a resealable plastic bag and place in jar or attach, along with the a gift tag with the following recipe (courtesy of the great Owlhaven):

Rinse beans and place in large Dutch oven or stock pot. Pour 4 cups boiling water over beans; cover and let soak overnight. Drain beans and return to stock pot. Add 6 cups water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 to 1/2 hours or until beans are almost tender. Add 2 14-ounce cans stewed tomatoes and seasoning mix. Stirring occasionally, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Uncover beans and continue to simmer about 1 hour longer or until beans are tender and soup thickens.

What easy homemade gifts have been your most successful?


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