01 December 2008

Five gift ideas for the chronically frugal

In some ways I am profligate (I do love to eat at restaurants), but in other ways I am so frugal by upbringing and personal predilection that this new belt-tightening everyone is bracing themselves for already feels like second-nature to me. Anyway, here are a few fave frugal gift and craft ideas for when you're feeling strapped for cash but want to get creative:

1. Mix CDs. They are windows into your soul. What songs still get you going after all these years? What are you listening to this week? People love getting them, and drawing all sorts of conclusions about what is going on in your personal life based only on the songs you choose.

2. Make some refrigerator magnets. Get prints of your favorite photos and mount them on magnets that you buy from an office supply store. Often these are sold in business-card size, but you can stick two side-by-side on the back of a larger image (just peel off the backings, butt them up against one another, aligning the ends, and with scissors or a craft knife trim off any extra photo paper from around the edges).

Or with tiny, super-strong magnets, you can turn other objects into magnets. The magnets are too small and too strong to be useful on the fridge on their own, it turns out, but they set off a little brainstorm for me. I went online and ordered some neodymium disc ones, pretty small, that weren't too strong. Good magnet fodder includes tiny dolls, rocks, single earrings, buttons, and random crap I find around my house. I also use those clear pebbles decorators and florists use, which work if you can find decent ones that you can see through. They have a nice magnifying effect and look great with something glued onto the flat side. You need a strong, transparent-drying glue (it's nasty and fumacious but E-6000 is probably the best one I have found) and some fun magazine pictures, photos, or papers (origami with metallic detail works well, as do many wrapping papers). I started making so many of these I bought hole punches (a 1/2" one for the smaller pebbles, and a 1" punch for the larger ones). What's fun about them is being able to back them with anything. I gave my daughter's teacher a set of magnet pebbles I'd made by punching each of the kids' faces out of a copy of the class picture a couple of years ago.

3. If you're feeling ambitious, you could bind a book. You'll need a lot of supplies: boards, fabric or paper for covering the boards, glue, end papers, binding cord or ribbon, and the paper for the inside. You also need a vise grip and access to a drill, so this project is not for the faint of heart. But it can be so satisfying to make a personalized journal or photo album by picking out just what you think they would like and assembling it yourself.

4. Make a set of stamp-art note cards. Cut some nice thick paper or card stock in half, fold each half, and make potato stamps for printing a design on the front of each one. Cut a potato in half, and scrape away anything you don't want to print. Dip your stamp in some tempera paint and print onto a card. Make a few items of different sizes so you can mix motifs and accents.

5. Apples. Everyone loves apples. Even if the recipients don't eat them all, I once read about a study finding that one of the sexiest scents to humans is of dessicating apples. Think of it: A snack, and an aphrodisiac, all in one! Rinse them, polish them with a dishcloth, and place them into a paper bag that you decorate with some crap you've found around your house. Add a few filigrees with a colored marker, and you've just charmed the socks off some neighbor who is now mentally scrambling for what she can gift you with in return.

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