The holidays are six short weeks away—and they’re probably getting full with plans, so when we say “short,” we really mean it. It’s time for you to check every person off your gift list.
That’s why, today, we’re giving you some great ideas for easy and inexpensive do-it-yourself gifts.
When you look at your list, you'll probably see that the people who cherish gifts divide into two camps: Some feel special if you pick out the shiny thing in the store that they adored, others feel more loved if they know you spent time making something unique for them.
For that latter half of your list, we’ve come up with eight do-it-yourself gift ideas guaranteed to please.
These delicious twice-baked cookies (biscotto is derived from the Latin for twice baked) keep for long periods of time, making them a sweet gift that will last past the season. Pack them in an airtight container, and wrap it with a bow.
Because these cookies take such simple ingredients (that you likely already have in your pantry), this gift can cost you very little. Here, we present traditional and double chocolate biscotti recipes from AllRecipes.com:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon anise extract, or 3 drops anise oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and anise flavoring until well blended. Combine the flour and baking powder, stir into the egg mixture to form a heavy dough. Divide dough into two pieces. Form each piece into a roll as long as your cookie sheet. Place roll onto the prepared cookie sheet, and press down to 1/2-inch thickness.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. When the cookies are cool enough to handle, slice each one crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Place the slices cut side up back onto the baking sheet. Bake for an additional 6 to 10 minutes on each side. Slices should be lightly toasted.
Double Chocolate Biscotti
1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 (1 ounce) squares white chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in cocoa and baking powder. Beat for 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in flour by hand. Mix in white chocolate and chocolate chips. Cover dough, and chill for about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide dough into two parts, and roll each part into a 9-inch-long log. Place logs on lightly greased cookie sheet, about 4 inches apart. Flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool for one hour.
Cut each loaf into 1/2 inch wide diagonal slices. Place slices on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 9 minutes. Turn cookies over, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.
If you’ve got a smartphone with the Instagram app and have taken some downright pretty photos, you can create a beautiful and very personalized gift. Using Printstagr.am—a site that prints and binds your Instagram photos—you can make a minibook of trip photos for a vacation buddy, or a "Tinybook" of oldie but goodie family photos for relatives. This teeny booklet even has a magnet, so it will stick to the fridge.
All you need is a smartphone with Instagram. Two Minibooks with 50 photos each is $12 ($6 per gift), and three Tinybooks of 24 photos each is $10 (or $3.33 each).
It's colorful, festive and utterly customizable, so you can choose the perfect flavor for friends. Besides, infused vodka is one of the simplest flavored liquors you can DIY: It literally takes ten minutes to make, but you'll have to start early since the flavors need a week or two to infuse.
Your cost will depend on the type of vodka and flavorings you buy and the size of your gift bottles. If you make four gifts from the recipe below, and choose a relatively inexpensive vodka, it will cost about $15 per gift.
Makes 2-4 gifts
2 750 ml bottles of vodka, preferably one that has been distilled more than three times
Your choice of flavoring (see tips below)
2 quart-sized glass jars with tight seals (such as these jars with swingtop lids)
2 750 ml glass bottles (such as these bottles with tight-fitting caps) or 4 375 ml glass bottles (such as these bottles with secure swingtop caps)
Wash everything thoroughly. Then prepare your flavorings according to this guide (if no amount is listed, assume the equivalent of two large apples’ worth):
- Citrus fruits: thinly peel the skin, being careful to remove all the white pith, or use the zests of lemons and oranges (3 lemons/oranges or 1 grapefruit per bottle of vodka)
- Strawberries: slice thinly
- Cherries: de-stem and pit
- Other berries: leave them whole
- Pineapple, mango and similar fruits: skin and cut into chunks
- Vanilla beans: cut lengthwise (eight beans per bottle)
- Herbs (like basil, thyme or mint): use whole, stems and all (two fist-fulls per liter for fresh herbs, half for dried herbs and spices)
- Chili peppers: leave whole or cut in half for more spice (up to you; the more, the spicier)
- Garlic: peel and use whole cloves (one medium bulb per bottle)
Fill the glass jars with your chosen fruits, herbs or vegetables, then pour in vodka until the jar is full. Seal the jars tightly, and place in a cool, dark place, such as your refrigerator.
Shake the jars every few days, and use the timing in this guide to decide how long to let the flavors infuse:
- 3-4 days: Strongly flavored ingredients such as citrus fruits, vanilla beans and herbs such as garlic, mint, basil, thyme, etc.
- 1 week: Softer fruits, such as strawberries, peaches, mangoes, cantaloupes, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, pitted cherries
- 2 weeks: whole chili peppers and fibrous ingredients such as pineapple, fresh ginger and lemongrass
Do a taste test every few days until you are happy with the product. When done, pour it into the bottles using a funnel and coffee filters. Make sure you are using bottles with tight-fitting seals, such as those suggested above. Seal tightly, slap on a personalized label with these wine labels (as low as $1 each), and wrap with a pretty bow.
Salt Scrub and/or Bath Salts
Homemade salt scrubs and bath salts are simple luxuries that anyone who likes at-home spa treatments will enjoy. And you can handpick an aroma you know your recipient will love. Also, the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if you want to make a large batch.
Depending on the essential oils you use (some are far more expensive than others), this gift should run about $10-$15 per person, including the glass jar.
Salt Scrub Ingredients
1 cup fine-grain bath sea salt or Epsom salt (available here)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) grapeseed oil
2 ounces (1/4 cup) avocado oil
20-30 drops of essential oil
Glass jars with tight-fitting seals (such as these wide-mouth Ball canning jars)
Makes 1 gift
Salt Scrub Directions
Combine the oils in the glass jar. (Because of the amount of oil in this scrub, make sure that the jar you buy has a tight-fitting lid that will not leak. We suggest the Ball canning jars.) Slowly pour in the bath salts, and mix well. Here are a few good essential oil combinations:
- For an invigorating scent, add 20 drops of sweet orange oil and 10 drops of grapefruit oil.
- For a relaxing batch, add 20 to 30 drops of lavender oil.
- For something that will soothe tired muscles, use 5 drops of eucalyptus oil and 15 drops of lavender oil.
After mixing, place in your glass jar, tie with a bow and add a gift tag noting that the recipient can use one or two tablespoons of salt scrub during the shower to exfoliate and moisturize the skin.
Bath Salts Directions
To make bath salts, use all the ingredients above except the grapeseed and avocado oils. Pour the bath salts into a large mixing bowl (preferably glass because the salts can scratch other materials), then add the essential oils and stir well. The mixture should be dry but fragrant. Pour into a glass jar, tie with a bow and add a handmade gift tag describing the aroma and these directions: To use, add 1/3 cup to ½ cup per bath.
This simple, not-too-sweet granola is delicious and keeps for months. People especially appreciate it because as long as it lasts, they always have a healthy breakfast on hand for those mornings that are too harried for cooking. Just be warned: It will also inspire them to request refills when their supply runs out!
Your cost per gift will depend on whether you decide to package your granola in an airtight jar (like this OXO Good Grip pop container), wrap and tie with a bow—or go with a Ziploc bag. For a gift that costs as little as $5 per person, divide your batch into four servings and give the granola in a Ziploc wrapped with tissue paper and nestled in a festive gift bag.
Makes 2-4 gifts
Mix together in a bowl:
4 c oats
1.5 c sweetened shredded coconut
1 c whole almonds
1 c sliced almonds
1/2 c pumpkin seeds
1/2 c sunflower seeds
In separate bowl, mix and then pour over oats mixture to coat:
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/3 c honey
2 t vanilla
2 t cinnamon
Spread everything over two baking sheets and bake in a 300-degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Cool, then mix in 2 c dried cherries. Store in airtight container for up to 3 months.
Hand-Painted Dessert Dishes
If you have a creative streak, we have the perfect gift for you: painted glassware. Invest in a pack of 10 glass paints ($45 here), and buy glass dessert dishes (such as these footed dessert bowls) to paint. You can also paint other glassware such as cookie jars, water pitchers, wine glasses and more.
Be careful to create a sophisticated design that will keep your gift from looking like a junior-high art project (get inspiration from some of your favorite housewares stores, and check out the flower and bird ideas to the right). Let dry for 24 hours and then bake according to instructions on your paint packaging.
Your cost per gift will depend on the glass items you buy and how many gifts you give. If you make gifts for ten people and each glass item costs you $10, it will run about $15 per person.
Makes several gifts
Bespoke Photo Cards
If you have a talent with photography and photographic software or smartphone apps, you can print out your photos and create beautiful, one-of-a-kind cards to give as personalized gift sets.
If you make 100 cards for ten people, this gift can run you as little as $10 a person.
Photo software or smartphone photo app
First, take nice photos that will really pop on a card. If you don’t like the shot as a whole, zoom in and crop the photo to focus on the strongest part—whether that one radiant flower or cute animal. Or use a filter to give your photo a nostalgic quality or an edgy look. Be willing to experiment; sometimes photos that look good on a computer or smartphone underwhelm when printed out, and vice versa.
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The next step is important: Print your photos at a high-quality photographic shop, not at a drugstore or even on Internet sites like Shutterfly or Kodak. Print 4”x6” or 3”x5” shots with a matte finish to avoid problems with fingerprints. If you’re using square photos (such as the ones created by the smartphone app Instagram), you’ll have to ask the store to cut the photos for 4”x4” or 3”x3” for you, or ask them if you can do it yourself with a paper cutter.
Buy blank cards and envelopes in bulk then use double-sided adhesive tape to affix your photos. Give out packs of 8 or more, tied up in a ribbon if you don’t have a card box. Create themes—animals, nature scenes, architecture, city life etc., depending on your friends’ personalities. People will love them so much that they’ll tell you they never want to use them!
An eye pillow is a small luxury that can anyone can use to block out the light and steal a discreet nap anytime, anywhere. A homemade version that smells of soothing lavender will help your lucky recipient unwind. This version also contains flax seeds inside that provide a gentle weight on the eyes. It's best to give these as gifts if you have a sewing machine or are at least handy with needle and thread.
Because the flax seeds and dried lavender will be fairly inexpensive, if you manage to find used fabric remnants that don't cost you much, this gift can cost you as little as a few dollars each.
1/2 cup dried lavender flowers (no stems)
1 cup flax seeds
Muslin for the inner pillow in two panels measuring 4 1/2" x 10"
Soft fabric for the outer cover such as dupioni silk in two panels measuring 5" x 10"
Mix the lavender and flax seeds in a small bowl and set aside. Using your sewing machine or a needle and thread, sew together the two muslin panels inside out on three-and-a-half sides. Turn the pillow right side out so it forms a pouch, and pour in the flax seeds and lavender. (Use a funnel to prevent spilling.) Then hand-stitch the end of that last side.
Sew together the two silk panels inside out on three sides. Turn the case right side out and insert the muslin pillow. Turn the seams of the open side in, and sew them together to complete the pillow.
Correction: An earlier version of this post relayed the directions for a salt scrub under the heading "Bath Salts." The post has been updated to include recipes for both bath salts and salt scrub.