Gift giving all year.
Saturday mornings are shopping mornings. We get up extra early, have breakfast, and head out. We start with a few garage sales, weather permitting. We don't always buy anything - but sometimes we get fantastic deals. Next we'll go to a local thrift store or dollar store. (Or we go to these first if there are no garage sales to hit.) We might not buy anything there either. And once a month we drop in at a used bookstore. After that, we'll do our grocery shopping and come home.
Last fall at a community garage sale, I found a woman selling very pretty, expensive teacups and saucers. Each one was a different pattern. She'd apparently thought to start collecting them, buying them one at a time, then changed her mind. I was surprised they'd been passed up by other buyers, as nice as they were, and I bought the lot - 5 cups and 5 saucers - for $2.50 total. I have seen cups like these for sale in "boutique" shops* for as much as $40.
I brought my cups home, washed them, and put them away in my closet. A few months ago, while at a grocery store, I found boxes of flavored teas marked all the way down to $1. They don't expire until mid-2008, but the store had decided to quit carrying the brand - Twinings. Nice tea, by the way! I guess we Americans are too accustomed to our Lipton or something. I bought 5 boxes.
Using THIS FREE PATTERN, I made 5 bookmarks. (All five only took one weekend.)
Finally, I bought 5 plain, white gift bags at fifty cents a piece, and I always keep green tissue paper "in stock." (Green because it works year-round, including Christmas.)
So far, I've given away 2 of my gift bags and have 3 more to give. They have been birthday presents for woman friends & family.
The final product is this: I take a bag and paint a floral design in colors to match the teacup & saucer, using the "one stroke" method - a very easy painting style to master. I also paint the recipient's name. In the bag, I put the teacup and saucer, box of tea, crocheted bookmark, plus one or two paperback books I purchased at the used book store. (Books that I know the recipient will enjoy, based on their reading tastes and favorite authors.). Finally, I add a bag of CINNAMON SPICED ALMONDS, and a homemade birthday card, encouraging my friend to take an evening off for herself. I top this with some crumpled green tissue paper and I'm done.
Even with the cost of the almonds' ingredients - the most expensive part of the gifts! - each of these bags has cost me only around $5. This is actually on the high end of gift giving for me, but still I'm able to assemble a lovely little gift for less than half the cost of many things people frequently give out as gifts - like music CDs, and for WAY less than those fancy gift baskets you see everywhere.
But all this only works because I'm *constantly* on the look-out. I really do shop & create year-round. By utilizing this method, I'm not stuck at the last minute with rushing out to buy some over-priced gadget or knick-knack, and my gifts show a lot of love, time, and care - something you can't really demonstrate with a plain box of chocolates!
*"boutique shops" - No, I never buy anything from these little gift & clothing stores. But my MIL loves to poke around in them, so I have had occasion to be in some. I just wander around and marvel at the prices and make note of any ideas the items spark for me. :)