By Rhonda Barfield
Christmas is right around the corner and your life is crazy-busy with errand-running, shopping, food prep, and church activities. Suddenly you remember that you forgot to buy a present for that special friend or relative. Or maybe your neighbor just shared a batch of cookies, and you feel obligated to reciprocate. What can you do?
Fortunately, some last-minute gifts can be not only easy to assemble or buy, but also inexpensive. Here are some ideas:
- Mail-order food gift
These can be pricey, but when shared, they also offer a no-hassle present for a number of people. In past years Michael and I have sometimes ordered one mail-order gift basket of cheese, nuts, and sweets sent to his parents in North Carolina. The basket provided appetizers on Christmas day for his six siblings, their spouses, and all our nieces and nephews.
Combining several gifts into one brings the price-per-present down to an affordable amount, with minimal effort required.
- Food basket
For local family and friends, assemble your own food basket. Purchase an on-sale basket at a craft store and line it with red tissue paper. As you do your weekly grocery shopping, pick up a nice assortment of on-sale fruits, nuts, seeds, baked goods, or specialty items. Add these to the basket, and top with a festive bow.
- Family food gift
As an even cheaper option, give a family gift of homemade food. One of our favorites is homemade caramel corn. Using microwave popcorn or a popcorn popper, you can make a huge batch of this gourmet treat in about 30 minutes of hands-on time, plus 60 minutes in the oven. Package your creation in a large Christmas tin—plenty for a family or two (or three).
- Handwritten Coupons
Give a handwritten coupon promising to shovel snow, run errands, mend clothes, or do other tasks the recipient finds challenging. Promise a home-cooked dessert (or casserole or muffins) delivered once a month for three months. Offer coupons for back rubs or foot rubs—my daughter Lisa often gives this one to me, plus lotion, and it’s always welcome.
- Charitable donation
For those who have everything, consider writing a check to a favorite charity in their names. Our friends Jon and Esther did this one year. In their Christmas card they included a note that they had made a donation in our name to an organization helping to rescue women from sex trafficking.
- A Letter
It only takes a few minutes to write a heartfelt letter, and this gift can be treasured for a lifetime. I once collected several notes from friends and relatives of my mother, and included them in a notebook called “What I Love About Lois. “ It was one of her favorite gifts. You may not have time for this, but you could ask your children to draw or write something about Grandma, and include their notes in a Christmassy folder.
Gifts for Children
Some of the best, last-minute kids’ presents can be the cheapest. For example:
- A giant, empty box or two from the appliance store. (Call ahead to learn the best day to find one.)
- All the materials to make a homemade doll house: a medium-sized cardboard box and pieces, paper and fabric scraps, spools from thread, tiny boxes, and glue. You probably have most of what you need around the house.
- Budding carpenter’s work set: wood scraps from a local builder, plus an old hammer, saw, and nails—some of Dad’s extras, perhaps?
- Dress-up clothes: wacky dresses and shirts, hats, shoes, and jewelry. A quick trip to Goodwill should yield all you need.
- Coupons for one-on-one outings, designating a dollar amount for spending. The child gets to choose your destination.
Even the most expensive gift described here can cost as little as $10 per person, and many only 50 cents to a few dollars. Most require little effort. When we let our creativity flow, we can avoid the frenetic rush and the pressure to spend a fortune at the mall this holiday season. Instead, we can share wonderful, simple gifts…even last-minute ones.
Rhonda is wife to Michael, a former homeschool teacher, and mother of four young adults. She’s authored five books—Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home and four on saving money on groceries– plus 120+ articles. Rhonda also coaches students for WriteAtHome.com and teaches piano.