Post-Christmas self-respect assistance needed
December 28, 2005 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Money was tight for Christmas this year, and thus I asked Family and Friends to not get me any gifts, as I wasn't able to reciprocate. Inevitably, some did, and now I feel awful (as I knew I would) that I wasn't able to get them anything in return. So, I'm wondering if anyone can help me work out posthumous gifts I can make on a very tight budget.

I'm not a particularly craft-oriented person, but I have a lot of patience, and as long as whatever supplies are involved aren't too expensive, allowing for trial and error, I don't mind making several failed attempts at a project as a way of learning how to do it right. I have 4 people I would like to be able to give gifts to, and a budget for materials of about $50 Australian.

Extra points for:

- cheap materials
- "even you could do this"-ness
- "hey, that's actually a pretty cool gift!"-ness

Please help me salvage some self-respect, as being broke and not being able to buy gifts for the people I care about are both new experiences to me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My sister who is in school gave me a ziplock full of brownie ingredients, a card with the instructions to make the best brownies, and a bottle of vanilla extract (synthetic). Total cost? Probably less than $5 per person if she gave the same to a few others.
posted by furtive at 7:00 PM on December 28, 2005

Oh, and in the past I've received home made chutney, home made curry paste, and home mixed dry spaghetti spices.
posted by furtive at 7:01 PM on December 28, 2005

Write thank you letters, explaining to these people what they mean to you? I really doubt they're looking for reciprocal gifts, they just care about you. Tell them they're appreciated.

If that's too touchy-feely, candles are easy to make. Mould, wick, dye, wax, tin can for melting wax, online instructions. Scent optional. Make sure you get the right wick size for the mould.

Ice candles are really cool, but fragile - fill the mould with partially-melted ice cubes before pouring the wax. You'll have a candle something like swiss cheese.
posted by Leon at 7:05 PM on December 28, 2005

You could invite all of them around (or separately, depending on the crowd) for a good meal. You don't need to have an entree, when they arrive just have some chips and dips or some olives or whatever to nibble at while you catch up. Main could be pasta with a basic home-made tomato sauce (oil + garlic + tomato + basil + salt and pepper. Or something to that effect. If you want the recipe I use, email's in my profile) and some grated parmesan or pecorino on top. Serve it with a garden salad and some fresh crusty bread and you're in business. Dessert could be a supermarket apple pie with some ice cream. Everyone loves that.

That's just one idea, but big, simple, satisfying meals can be made very cheaply. I've done the above idea before and materials didn't exceed $30. There are some quite respectable wines around for $15 (I know bugger all about wine, but 2004 Heartland Shiraz goes for AU$15 and is quality), and chances are at least one of them will bring a bottle of wine anyway. If you wanted to serve wine, that is.

It's not the kind of gift you can wrap up and post to them, but if you get them around and say "Hey guys, I just wanted to thank you for the thoughtful Christmas gifts and to catch up" it could be quite memorable and fun.
posted by teem at 7:06 PM on December 28, 2005

I'm just going to go ahead and say that you shouldn't feel that you have to reciprocate, because you told them in advance not to get you anything. Knowing this, your loved ones went ahead and gifted you anyway, which means that they really just wanted to give you something, and honestly didn't expect anything in return. I'll bet they'd feel terrible if they knew you were agonizing over this. Maybe a handmade note with sincere thanks would be present enough.

That being said, if you have access to a craft or sewing store where you are, you can buy clear flat glass beads and make magnets out of them. People go apeshit over them. You can also turn them into bracelets, necklaces, or thumb tacks. You cut out cool little pics from magazines or gift wrap or comic books or printed out stuff, and glue them onto the flat backs of these beads, and then glue magnets on them. You can customize the pics you use to specific interests of the people you're giving them to. There are tons of tutorials at Craftster on how to make them - search 'glass marbles'. Some people take cheap tins or paper mache boxes and line the bottom with velvet and fill the box with the marbles - it's a nice presentation. Good luck - these are fun, addicting, cheap, and easy.
posted by iconomy at 7:07 PM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you have a CD burner, make a mix cd of music you think the person would enjoy. Bonus points for making a CD cover to go with it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:08 PM on December 28, 2005

I made fruitcakes for many of the people in my extended family this year (I gave out 9, and another batch is going out soon). It was kitschy fun -- people with good senses of humor "got it", and who really cares what the other people think? -- and relatively inexpensive. Given the choice, I'd take one of those sweet little loaves, and all the care and thought that went into it, than a giftcard any day.
posted by Eamon at 7:13 PM on December 28, 2005

I can't echo iconomy enough. *I* feel horrible that you feel horrible! And I didn't even get you anything! ;-) But really, don't feel bad, you asked them not to get you anything. People do not give gifts to get gifts. They give gifts because it is fun to give gifts when you can.

A handmade thank you card, or a homebaked delicious treat would be very sweet of you, and I am sure would be well received. You could whip up a few batches of banana bread or pumpkin bread relatively inexpensively, wrap in plastic and tie with a jaunty ribbon. Attach the recipe if you want to add a little extra something.
posted by tastybrains at 7:21 PM on December 28, 2005

There is an inexpensive Dover book out there somewhere that shows you how to bind blank books, out of any paper you want. If you look in the right places, paper is essentially free.

A bound sketchbook, made out of many different papers—whatever you're able to find, even—would be welcome to most people.
posted by interrobang at 7:34 PM on December 28, 2005

I second the idea of inviting all of the local folks over for a cheap but heartfelt dinner. Put some effort into postal invitations, perhaps a collage and a specific and sincere wish for them in 2006.

I'm also a big fan of regifting and recycled gifts. Think about your cherished possessions and what you might be able to part with on behalf of these gifters. Sentimental value is what you're searching for -- send these sweet little tokens with the long version of why they're so important, handwritten.

Other cheap ideas: seeds with a small handpainted pot (go to a craft store for a paint kit and the pots), flower bulbs for planting in spring, handwritten everything, photo collage, personalized indie CDs with covers designed for the recipient, hand-stitched floral herb sachets (bargain bin fabric is cheap!), write a poem in their honor and then cheaply frame it, draw a self-portrait of them from memory, give them each a book from your library with a sweethearted inscription, set up a situation where you can be photographed enjoying the gift they sent you (ask a friend to man the camera?) then print the photo and send them a copy with a letter telling them how much you appreciated their gesture, buy x-number babyfood jars then empty, wash and refill them with natural objects from near your home (sand, dirt, plants, water, rocks) and write to them about your environment, send them one bottled beer (if they drink?) and a card telling them that you'll be drinking the same beer in honor of them at a specific time and encourage them to drink the beer at that time (with time zone adjustments) as well, consign yourself to doing x-number random acts of kindness in the next week and document the process and results in a sweet letter to your recipients, tell them that the act was in honor of their kindness of thinking of you at the holidays, pick a random day in the future for each recipient and promise to send them something special on the day (perhaps you'll be better funded by then), send each a card telling them that a random gift will find them on a random day in 2006 -- keep them guessing -- then spend your $50 on the first two for January and February.

Something special and strange: think of each person you gifted you and what might be important to them. Then, invest a few hours each into internet-based research into the topic that interests them most. Dump all of the learning into a word processing document and format it up nicely with footnotes. Perhaps create or find some copylefted images to illustrate their points. Add personal anecdotes. Print 2/up on a page (like a book) and stitch the pages together with a friend's sewing machine (or pay a local seamstress to do the job for you, certainly less than $50 for multiple copies). Draw/paint/paste onto the covers and send your handmade books out. If that seems like too much, download an MS-Word to PDF app and send it to them via e-mail.

Good luck. Go big with your heart and get it done. Doing anything and following through will certainly be enough.
posted by cior at 7:45 PM on December 28, 2005

This may be interpreted as a wisecrack and flagged accordingly, but since nobody else has mentioned it: Don't use "posthumous" on the gift cards. Maybe "belated" or "post facto" or "a few days late." Good luck.
posted by staggernation at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2005

Make chocolate covered pretzels (buy "chocolate bark" or chocolate coating -should be sold near the chocolate chips in the store) melt it per instructions, throw in a handful of small pretzels, stir, remove with tongs or a couple of forks, and lay them to dry on wax paper. Then you can bag them as you like-I use those plastic Ziploc containers.

This is fairly inexpensive tho labor intensive, and they are absolutely addicting to eat. I make these every year, and people love them.
posted by konolia at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2005

First off, some people just like to give gifts and they do it because they love to do it, not because they expect you to be reciprocal. I am on a tight budget and don't shop much for the holidays and I tell people in advance and some people just shop for me anyhow. I do my thing and they do theirs, and it mostly works.

However, you weren't really asking how not to feel bad, so.... here is what my sister and I did this holiday season to have some little things to give family members to unwrap. We did this very very cheaply and mostly asd an excuse for me and my sister to have something to do ON Christmas Day (see? mine were late too, this will be fine...) It's basically iconomy's box suggestion. We got craft boxes at craft stores. They cost a buck or two $US. We got some ModgePodge which is like really thin glue which is good for pasting things on, goes on white, dries clear. I think you can dillute regular white glue wiht water to get the same effect.

We printed out pictures from the Internet in a few different ways: we got a picture of my stepmom's daffodils for her box from her Flickr page, a picture of the Declaration of Independence for my boyfriend which we printed on fancy paper, a picture of a sailing captain from American Memory (you could try this gateway to Australian images for some ideas) and we used the Poloroidonizer to make some fakey Poloroids of some kid pix for my Mom's box. You can use a photo printer for this or get prints made at a drugstore. Make sure the images are at least 300 DPI or they will look weird. So then we painted the boxes black, or stained them, and then decorated them, stuck on some of the images with rubber cement and modgepodged anything that needed to be covered. I think we also had a warm glue gun for pieces like the fake rhinestones and the butterfly. We put little gifts in them -- fridge magnets, gum, little books, post-its -- and then wrapped them up all nice. All the boxes said "I'm thinking of you" pretty loudly and that was really the message we were trying to get across. I think I also used some old library cards in some of them. Here is a picture of the boxes we made. I'm fairly certain each one cost less than $3 in supplies, though we did have a fair amount of junk on hand around the house.

I'd link to these on Flickr but since we haven't given my Mom her picture yet, it's still a little on the down-low.

posted by jessamyn at 8:59 PM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

I love cior's idea of promising a gift at a future random date - it gives the recipient something to look forward to with an element of surprise, plus it buys you time to think of something (and sock away some more money if necessary).

Can you knit or crochet, or learn to? You can make a scarf out of an interesting skein of yarn, which shouldn't set you back too much (prices vary wildly, but you should be able to find something decent in your price range). As it's summer in Australia now, a scarf would be a good gift to delay!

Crepe paper flowers are cheap and cheerful and you can make them fairly easily. Forget understated elegance - a big colorful bouquet is the way to go (think "Mexican fiesta").

If you have some ability at drawing or painting, you can put a design on a T-shirt, tote bag or other fabric item. You can get heat-transfer paints or crayons at a good fabric/craft shop and then make your design on paper first (allowing for several attempts to get it right before committing it to fabric). The design will transfer with an ordinary household iron, but it may not stand up to repeated laundering.

There are also ways to transfer a photocopied image to fabric (you'll have to google this - I've never done it myself and I think it involves some special supplies). So you could borrow a family photograph, photocopy it, and then transfer the image to the fabric. You can get creative with montages, combining old photos and stuff like leaves, feathers, bits of lace, etc into your final photocopy before transferring the composition onto fabric. I also recall seeing special paper that will allow you to print a color image from an inkjet printer, then transfer it to fabric with a hot iron. The paper costs a few dollars per sheet, but you can Photoshop to your heart's content before printing. Computer stores often carry this paper, as do art supply and craft/fabric stores.

Have fun. If you follow cior's wonderful suggestion you'll have time to think about what to make, where to find the supplies, and develop your new skills. I think this will be more enjoyable and memorable than a bunch of store-bought gifts, for both you and the recipients!
posted by Quietgal at 9:09 PM on December 28, 2005

Make up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and give 'em out. That's pretty cheap, and people love homemade chocolate chip cookies.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:26 PM on December 28, 2005

My mother made spiced nuts for all the aunts/coworkers/etc people she wanted to give gifts to, but didn't have the time or money to shop for. She used the cook's illustrated recipe with pecans, and it was easy (I helped) and delicious (I sampled). My mother packaged them in little holiday baskets she bought pre- decorated, but any nice-ish bag/basket would probably work fine.
posted by MadamM at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2005

If you know the people well, books cans be very inexpensive yet personal gifts. Just make sure you're buying for their taste and interest, not yours.

Home-made candles are cool, but not as easy as Leon makes them sound.
posted by raider at 10:32 PM on December 28, 2005

You're okay. Give hugs and tell people what they mean to you. Things will get better.
posted by Shane at 10:36 PM on December 28, 2005

Just a heads up "posthumous" means an action taken after death (like having a book published, for example). Other people pointed it out, but yeah.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on December 28, 2005

I doubt the OP meant this as a suicide note. It looks like it was used in the sense of 'after the holiday is over', or something done in a backdated sense. These seem like a clever idea: Shoulder bags made from jerry cans. I might even try making one myself!
posted by planetthoughtful at 12:24 AM on December 29, 2005

Some of the best gifts I've ever gotten have been autographed books by my favorite authors. The cost to the giver was just the cover price of the book, plus the time it took them to stand in line at the signing. But the value to me is... well, pretty priceless. Those books now have double sentimental value to me--they represent a personal touch from a favorite author, and a really thoughtful gesture from a loved one.
posted by yankeefog at 1:34 AM on December 29, 2005

Oh, two other thoughts:

1. Consider budgeting at least some of your gift money for phone bills, and then making an extra point to stay in touch with them throughout the year.

2. I just remembered a gift I've gotten that's even more valuable to me than the autographed books: framed reproductions of some old family photos. If you know the parents (or some other relatives) of the people you want to give gifts to, you could ask if you could borrow some old family photographs. If you could then get access to a scanner, you could then scan them in (and possibly even touch them up digitally) and then get them printed pretty cheaply from disk.
posted by yankeefog at 1:42 AM on December 29, 2005

From relatives who were poor students, I've gotten a supply of really cool homemade cards (collages made from bits and pieces of things cut out from magazines, newspapers, other cards, wrapping, etc.) I love them! They are so funky and fun.

You could make homemade caramel (dulche de leche) which is REALLY easy. One can of sweetened condensed milk. Preheat oven to no more than 200 degrees (be sure to check with an oven thermometer to make sure your oven doesn't run high). Put can in oven for 4.5 hours. Remove can, let cool. Voila! Instant heaven that you can eat over ice cream, mix with whip cream or eat with a spoon :) Please follow this recipe carefully if you decide to do this because deviation can cause the can to explode...a bit risky there. If you want to make it look fancier, spoon it into little jars and wrap with a ribbon...use homemade label.

Really, please do NOT feel badly. I'm sure those folks heard you when you told them about "no gifts". Some people get such pleasure out of giving and really don't expect you to reciprocate, especially if they knew that you were having a lean Christmas.
posted by jeanmari at 4:23 AM on December 29, 2005

Australian? Live in Melbourne? Or not? Email is in the profile. I will help any way I can.
posted by bdave at 5:02 AM on December 29, 2005

Yet another idea: if these people knew your situation when they gave you the gifts, then they might have given them to you in a deliberate effort to brighten a Christmas that otherwise would be a tough one for you. If so, instead of (or in addition to) giving them a gift, you could write them a note saying how much the gift meant to you in a difficult Christmas, and promising that, when your situation improves, you will pass along the favor by doing something to brighten somebody else's Christmas. And some day, when you DO have the chance to pass along the kindness--write a followup note telling your loved one about the good deed you did in their honor.
posted by yankeefog at 5:33 AM on December 29, 2005

I second the blank or full books idea. Bookbinding is one of those crafts that is a rare enough thing that people really appreciate it. With desktop publishing being so easily accessible, you can do craft self-publishing. Family recipe book?

Dunno what's the standard tome in Oz, but in the US,
Aldren A Watson's Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction is the standard.

It's not hard, but requires a series of simple steps, so it really takes care and patience, not a high degree of skill. And you can get by with very simple tools. Add a slipcase and you'll blow their minds.

Sneaky hint: if you want to skip the work of sewing signatures, there's a thermal binding process that you can get done at some copy shops that uses cloth tape with hot glue. Have the shop do the intial binding and then add hard covers.
posted by warbaby at 7:14 AM on December 29, 2005

I totally love cool arty handmade gifts. The glass magnets are nifty, and you can make them to suit the recipient's kitchen. If you took pictures at Christmas dinner, you can get cheap plexiglass magnetic frames and send framed pictures. A detailed and affectionate thank you note is required.

But, really, I'm with those who say that you don't need to reciprocate. Giving is a joy, and not always quid pro quo. Or it should be anyway.
posted by theora55 at 8:21 AM on December 29, 2005

How about making a deck of cards (you decide how many) and on each card write "Good for 1 back rub" or "Good for washing the dishes 1 night" or "Good for 3 hours help in your garden" or "Good for driving your son to football practice" or "Good for a long quiet walk"

You get the idea, include things that will cost you no or minimal money and make the recipient feel good or pampered or gracious. Save the recipient some time (time is money.)

Deliver the deck giftwrapped and in a nice box (you can make the box.)
posted by leafwoman at 9:03 AM on December 29, 2005


Gift from person A goes to person B.
Gift from person B goes to person C.
posted by BradNelson at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2005

anonymous has contacted me and has asked me to post the following, so he can maintain his anonymity:
Many apologies to anyone who was alarmed by my use of the word 'posthumous' in my post. I was taking liberties with the language I probably shouldn't have. As staggernation pointed out, I meant it in the sense of belated. Apologies, again. I'd also like to thank everyone for their wonderful suggestions - if I could, I'd mark all of the suggestions as being great answers, because truly, every single one of them is a great answer. You've not only given me some wonderful ideas, but some unasked-for (but treasured nonetheless) emotional support, for which I am more grateful than I know how to communicate. Thank you, all, again and again."
posted by bdave at 5:37 PM on December 29, 2005

Well, God Bless us, each and every one.

*waves crutch*
posted by warbaby at 5:48 PM on December 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

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