unique Christmas gift ideas

Unique DIY Gift Baskets for Under $20

Troll the aisles of your favorite thrift shop for cool reusable containers, and let your local natural-food market provide the rest.

By Jean Nick, the Nickel Pincher

As the season of Holiday gift giving approaches, you may be running short on time, cash, and ideas. Before you buy supermarket fruitcakes for everyone left on your list, here are some unique Christmas gift ideas that are sure to please—and won't end up on the "return" list the day after. I gathered all of the following gifts during my weekly shopping trips to the co-op and supermarket, plus a single short trip to one of my favorite thrift stores, so they're also time-efficient tasks for this busy time of the year, and each one cost me less than $20.

#1: Breakfast in a Basket

I'm as fond of sweet treats as the average person, but this time of year few of us really need more sugar, or baked goods that need to be eaten right away before they go stale. At the local food co-op, I purchased the makings of several easy and good-for-you breakfasts, including a two-pound box of organic whole grain baking mix (with recipes for pancakes, waffles, and biscuits on the back; $3.50), a bag of seven-grain hot cereal ($2.70), a small bag of dried blueberries ($5.40), and another of dried cranberries ($3.90), as well as a jar of local honey ($5). All are packed in a square basket I found at the thrift store ($2), lined with a cheerful holiday-themed placemat from the same place ($2)—perfect for bringing hot biscuits to the table in later. The recipient can tuck all this away in the back of the pantry, to be rediscovered and enjoyed some snowy morning in February.
#2: Pasta in a Pot

Some friends of mine are just starting out and don't have much in the way of housewares, so I'm giving them a nice stainless steel pasta pot with a lid (thrift store, $8), filled with a small cheese grater (thrift store, $1), a sturdy wooden spoon (ditto, $1), a pound of whole grain pasta ($3), and a jar of gourmet pasta sauce ($5.75). After the food's been eaten, they'll keep using the kitchen tools for years, and think of me every time (perhaps even invite me to dinner now and then).
#3: Relaxing bath kit

Marie, one of the vendors at our local farmer's market, makes wonderful all-natural soaps and lotions. I picked out two bars of her soap (Lovely Lavender and Himalayan Sea Salt), some citrus-scented body wash, and a little pot of lily of the valley solid perfume—all for $16, and all of which are made from plant-based ingredients that are free of hormone-disrupting chemical fragrances that contain phthalates and paraben preservatives. When shopping for natural soaps, don't be fooled by labeling or "natural" packaging. Check the ingredients list and avoid anything that lists "fragrance," "perfume," or "parfum," which are code words for chemicals. The cute little glass serving bowl I found at the thrift store ($2), nestled in a fluffy cream-colored hand towel ($2), makes for a perfect reusable gift container.
#4: Extra-Thrifty Gifts

If the bad economy has hit you particularly hard, you can still create inexpensive Christmas gifts.

Pick up a sturdy mug (my thrift store has a wild and wide assortment at $1 or less each) and stuff it with a candy cane and a couple of packets of hot cocoa mix or mint tea bags.

Whip up some homemade bath salts. Mix equal parts coarse sea salt and Epsom salts, sprinkle on a few drops of essential oil, or even vanilla extract, and mix with a spoon until well blended. Pack in a pretty glass jar. I especially like the old green glass canning jars. Attach a tag with directions: "Add ½ cup to a hot bath and soak away your troubles." Including a seashell on top as a scoop adds a special touch. A hot soak will sound good after all that gift wrapping, cooking, and entertaining!

Measure and layer the dry ingredients of your favorite cookies or brownies into an attractive jar. You can even be artistic and creative with how you layer them. Or simply mix them in a cellophane bag, which saves weight if you're shipping it. Add a tag with recipe instructions.

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on

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Published on: December 16, 2009

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