I have Christmas on the brain. I'm still in the brainstorming phase of preparing for Christmas this year.
I'm sure some of you think it's crazy that I'm thinking about Christmas when we haven't quite turned the corner into September. But the feedback I received after my first post about handmade Christmas gifts lets me know that many of you are indeed thinking about Christmas already as well.
I've also been thinking about what it takes to make homemade Christmas gifts. I shared some of my past gift ideas with you, but it takes more than craft tutorials to pull off a handmade Christmas.
So, here's my advice to help you if you're interested in giving meaningful gifts this year and cutting your Christmas spending as well.
1. Start by making a list.
You know I'm a list lover. For this list I usually use Microsoft Excel. In the first column, I list everyone for whom I need to buy/make a gift. I have another column for my budgeted amount to spend on each person. I create a column to later fill in how much I actually spent on each person. This helps me with next year's budget (so I can work with the reality of what I spent). The last column is where I fill in any gift ideas I have for each person. I make this document early (usually in summer) so I can fill in gift ideas as I come across them.
I made a fake spreadsheet so you could see what this looks like. I can't show my real one. :)
You can obviously adapt this to whatever works best for you. Jot down names on a piece of paper. Make a Word document. Include more or less information. Make it work for you.
2. Gather intelligence.
Start gathering ideas for what you think people on your list might want. When you go to someone's house, pay attention to their decor, style, favorite colors. Take notice of things they don't have or comments they make about something they need or wish they had. Listen during phone conversations for clues as to what gifts would be loved by your loved ones.
Make notes in your document/list. Trust me, you won't remember those ideas if you wait until it's Christmas crunch time. Many times I read my notes for gift ideas and was so thankful I had written stuff down (or typed it) while it was fresh in my mind. Since this is brainstorming, include all ideas that come to you, whether big or small.
Simultaneously begin browsing the internet for ideas and tutorials for homemade gifts. Start looking to match up your recipients' wishes with what you can make. I like to bookmark online ideas and organize them on my computer.
3. Assess your skills.
Why not take advantage of what you're already good at? Everyone has skills of some sort. And I guarantee that you have skills that are valuable to people around you.
If you are a gifted photographer, take great pictures of someone's kids or create a framed print or set of prints (like the ones spelling someone's last name out of photos of everyday objects). If you are a talented chef or baker, made delicious goodies that everyone can enjoy. A great eye for fashion could help you select a great new outfit for a friend or family member.
Don't discount whatever you're good at. Landscaping, organizing, jewelry making, painting, sewing, card making, and even babysitting are all appreciated by others. My two cents: you can offer coupons to perform services using your skills, but be aware that some people (like me) are too timid to cash them in. :) You're better off giving a finished product or scheduling a service yourself, rather than waiting for the recipient to take you up on your offer.
4. Check your resources.
Take a look at what you already have on hand. My favorite part of a project is choosing the supplies needed. Unfortunately for me, this year I need to focus on using what I have. But that will really help my spending this year. I have so many leftover craft supplies and things I've purchased on clearance to use some day. It's time to use them up. Similarly, I buy new Christmas wrapping paper each year for a couple of years, and then one year I use up all the leftovers.
Look around to see what you already have and look for ways to use it. Maybe you have an amazing printer that could print pictures on canvas. Or if you have a recent photo of your kids or family, look for great photo gifts from websites like Shutterfly or even Walgreen's. Maybe you have fabric or yarn or other craft supplies. Maybe you have tons of mason jars that could be repurposed as candle holders or cookies-in-a-jar or be filled with homemade hot cocoa mix. Even saved cardboard boxes can be used for all sorts of crafts (seriously). Baby food jars and wipes containers have lots of other uses. Browse the internet and you'll find a way to dress up whatever you've got.
And don't just look for craft supplies. Do you have a family photo album or recipe book that you could copy for other family members? Even if what you have is time and a computer, you can research your family's genealogy and create a detailed family tree and give family members a copy using various software available. Consider re-gifting an unused item that someone else would use/appreciate more than you.
5. Start with one good idea.
Sometimes you can find one great idea and use it for lots of people. Like the year that I discovered the method of making freezer paper stencils and used it to personalize shirts and bags for all my family members. It's almost always cheaper to make multiples of something than it is to make just one of a lot of different ideas. Last year I used this tutorial to make cute snowmen (filled with Mentos gum in a reusable container) for all SIX teachers who worked with my younger two kids, Nolan's school teacher, and a couple extra small gifts for people on my list. I only needed to buy one package of buttons, one package of pom poms, and one square of orange foam (for the noses). I needed these supplies for the first, and I had plenty to make the other 9 snowmen.
Look at your list and try to divide your recipients into groups. Then look for a general idea for each group. One idea for all the grandparents, one for your siblings, one for all the teachers, etc. This isn't meant to be impersonal. The goal is to give each person a meaningful gift, but save yourself some time and money by reusing your gift ideas for other people who would enjoy the same gift.
6. Watch the sales long before Black Friday.
This tactic is good for buying supplies for all handmade gifts, buying
semi-homemade gifts (like photo gifts or something you can personalize),
and buying items for straight-up (non-handmade) gifts.
I check Moms by Heart daily to see how I can save money on what my family needs. I also find deals on things that would make great gifts. Deals on toys would lead to great gifts for my nieces and nephews. Cheap photo gifts work for grandparents. Free and cheap magazine subscriptions could be for anyone on your list.
Watch for sales online and in stores. Peruse clearance sections. Take advantage of free shipping offers and end-of-season sales. You will find more sales if you start looking now. Plus you can spread out your spending over several months. And you'll save yourself stress of trying to do all your shopping and creating in December.
7. Balance the gift process and the recipient.
I admit I have gotten so lost in the process of making a gift that I focused more on the craft process than the recipient. I had to remind myself of the recipient's perspective. They won't notice if my version doesn't look like the original pattern. They don't care which method I use to sew in a zipper. They won't even see that crooked seam or pay attention to each imperfection. Remind yourself of why you love the recipient, and focus on making a gift that will let them know that you love and appreciate them. Let them know that you happily put time, energy, and focus into their gift but don't insist that they acknowledge your craftsmanship or just how hard you worked.
8. Fight perfectionism.
It's no secret that I battle this one. It's closely related to #6 above. I often get paralyzed because I can't find the "perfect" gift to make someone. I want something new that no one has ever received before, something that uses some supplies I have on hand, and something that the recipient will keep and use forever. That just doesn't happen. So then I relax some of my expectations.
Keep in mind that this is not the only time you will be giving gifts. You can't give the favorite gift every single year to every single person. Exchanging gifts at Christmas is not a competition. It's about letting people know, in a tangible way, that they are loved. Keep your focus right, and the people on your list will get the message.
Have I convinced you that you can save money and give incredibly meaningful gifts to your loved ones this year?