Necessity is the mother...
All right, so I didn't just walk up and hand them cardboard tubes, but they were used in the gifts I made. It was the year I learned to prepare for Christmas all year long. I hadn't previously done that. But as I said in my About Me page - I've had to learn all this stuff as I go along, and I'm still learning new things every day.
This particular year, I didn't get started on Christmas gifts until late November, something I'd always thought meant I was "ahead" because I wasn't waiting until December! Eep. Unfortunately, this had been a particularly hard year for us. Our second child was only a few months old, and a new baby obviously adds new expenses, and my husband had been out of work for almost three months. By October, he was working again, but our finances were even tighter than usual.
(More in full post.)
My gift-giving brainstorming started off with twenty dark brown paper gift bags and a bag full of toilet tissue rolls that I had been keeping because I would cover them with paper and let my then preschooler play with them like blocks. The bags were un-used, but they had advertising on one side that I needed to cover up. I decided to make pictures out of construction paper, a supply I always have on hand because I use it with my own kids and with the kids in my Sunday School classes. I did not draw anything at all. I cut everything out, piece by piece, in the color I needed and then glued them to the bags. After a little thought, I decided to use Christmas carols as a theme. So, for instance, one bag was covered with a cut-out Christmas tree and cut-out ornaments (O! Christmas Tree!) and another had Jesus in the manger. I made one bag for each adult I was giving a gift to - at the time 15 people total. As I worked on the bags, real inspiration struck. I'd already decided to invite everyone to a dinner at my house as part of their gifts. Instead of making tags for the gift bags, I wrote down the names of each carol I had used on small strips of paper. I put each strip in a toilet tissue roll and added 3 Hershey kisses from a bag I'd bought to make my husband's favorite chocolate pie on Thanksgiving. I covered the tubes with tissue paper and tied them on the ends so that they looked very much like ENGLISH PARTY CRACKERS - of course mine wouldn't actually "pop" when you opened them. For each tube I made, I took a plain white mailing label, drew little Christmas ivy and berry designs on it, wrote the recipient's name and stuck it to the tube.
For actual gifts, I made all the men spicy hot pecans and the ladies got sugar almonds. Because this was the year my daughter was born, I had lots of recent pictures of my friends and family with my kids. I picked one good picture of each person and framed them with inexpensive frames designed to be used as Christmas tree ornaments. Finally, I made everyone my "famous" Chocolate-Peanut Butter balls, a candy much like Reese's, but with coconut and a few other ingredients. I put all the nuts and the candy in bell jars I'd bought at a garage sale. (I added red gingham fabric tops and tied them with green bows.) Each bag got a jar of nuts, a jar of candy, and a picture ornament. I topped each bag with some colored tissue paper I bought just for this - using one color per bag to match the construction paper design. They actually looked quite pretty and festive, all lined up.
The night of my dinner party, I used the "crackers" as place setters. After we'd eaten, I told everyone to open their crackers. They then all had to go to the Christmas tree in our den and figure out which gift bag was theirs, based on the song titles. Someone - not me! - then suggested that each person, on finding his/her bag - actually had to sing part of their carol. Somehow that turned into a full hour of singing by everyone, followed by cups of coffee or hot cocoa and my husband reading from a Christmas story book. (That was for our kids, but everyone sat around listening.)
Later, several of my guests told me this had been one of the most fun and memorable Christmas dinners they'd ever been to. In fact, every so often, someone STILL mentions it. "You remember that year you made those Christmas song bags...."
Necessity is the mother of invention, but I think it's also the mother of creativity and ingenuity. If I'd had more than about $20 to spend on gifts that year (outside of the dinner food money), I really doubt I would've even considered using toilet tissue rolls in my gift-giving.
I once read a book by a supposedly frugal author who made it a point to distinguish between "frugal" - shop at sales! and "cheap" - recycle envelopes. Her time, she explained, was worth more than that penny she would've saved by reusing an envelope. (And is apparently worth more than the environment, too, since she couldn't be bothered to not send something directly to the landfills.)
Cheap, mind you, is a terrible, terrible, shameful thing to be. I'm sure this woman would be horrified by the idea of using toilet tissue rolls in gifts. And yet, because my definition of "cheap" clearly doesn't mirror hers, I was able to devise something that turned out wonderful just with a bit of inspiration and a lot of determination.
You are NOT being cheap when you are creative with things you have. You are NOT being cheap when you re-use something and save it, at least for now, from the garbage heap. (And not only are you preventing it from going into the trash, you aren't buying something new to become more trash later.) You are NOT being cheap when you count your pennies. You are being responsible with the money you have.
A cheap person is one who hordes his wealth and property to himself, someone who readily takes, but never gives.
If you find yourself in a situation where you want to give someone a gift, but you have no money at all to spend, then give your time. This is not cheap, either. In fact, really, it is the most valuable thing you could ever give. I have cleaned a friend's house after the birth of her third child, mowed and weeded someone's yard, and even organized a family member's garage as gifts before and I promise you they appreciated it way more than they would've some Hallmark store trinket.
Nowadays, I spend all year working on Christmas gifts, as I explained in a previous post, and I've found I'm easily able to keep things in the same price range as I did for that crazy song-bag year. I still have to get creative, but though you may shake your head as you read this: being creative with things is easier than you might think. I am not an artist/imaginative type by nature. I'm a logical/organized type. I'm not the dreamer - I'm the stick-in-the-mud, let's-get-it-done kind of person. I don't look at a beautiful lake setting and think, "I should paint that!" I think, "Wow. Bet there are a lot of mosquitoes there." I get my ideas from everywhere - things I see on TV or the internet, magazines I'll skim through at the library, things I see for sale, and then I figure out how can I recreate something like that with the money and items I have? Or sometimes, as in the case of the toilet tissue rolls, the ideas simply flow out from another idea.
I encourage you to get creative, even if you're the list-writing, schedule-making, no-nonsense type like I am - in fact especially so in that case! - and start looking at things you might have laying around your house to see what they can inspire in you. Not just in gift-giving, but in any and all aspects of your life.
And remember, again, you aren't being cheap! Don't let the everything-must-be-new-and-brand-name, consumer-driven mentality that pervades our culture ever make you think so!