Making Gifts on the Cheap!

Making Gifts on the Cheap!

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DIY gifts you can make with your kids

This is something I know about. In fact, this is something I’m really good at! Not because I’m cheap, but because I’m a Solo Mom. I’ve been making inexpensive gifts since the dawn of time or, at least, since the dawn of my kids. Throw in being a “room mom” and an intense nine-year stint as a Girl Scout leader, and I’ve got Martha Stewart in a headlock and am taking her to the mat.

The following list includes some of my favorite DIY gifts that can be made with your children. Even better, accidentally leave the list in a place where your littles can find it so they can make a gift for you. They don’t have money, either. And there is no better gift than the look on your children’s faces when giving you a present they have made themselves—even if it means you will be cleaning clay out of your carpet until they leave for college.

Bath salts

Because everyone loves bath salts.

  • Six parts coarse sea salt
  • Three parts Epsom salts
  • One part baking soda
  • A few drops of essential oil (Lavender is wonderful.)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and put the salts in a jar or cello bag. Tie with ribbon, and voilà.


Because the most meaningful gifts are meaningful memories.

  • Card stock or scrapbooking paper (your background paper)
  • Hole punch
  • Craft scissors
  • Ribbon or screenplay brads
  • Acid-free glue (liquid, glue dots, glue tape)
  • Pen (Sharpies work best.)
  • Scrapbook covers or make a cover with heavier card stock or cut up a cereal box and use that!
  • Stuff (anything fun to use as decoration or embellishment, such as fabric swatches, ribbon, stickers, buttons, glitter, recipes, paint, handprints, wrapping paper, etc.)
  • Photos
  • Memories (stories, names, dates, song lyrics, first words, or any special recollection you can write in the book; this is especially cute if written by your children, spelling uncorrected).
  • Box of Kleenex

Decorate the pages with your “stuff.” Punch three holes in your completed pages, and fasten them with ribbon or screenplay brads.

Look at it. Weep. Use Kleenex to blow your nose.


Using the above concept, make a cookbook with cherished family recipes. My family did this with recipes going back four generations (and oh, boy—have eating habits changed!). Some of the recipes were still in their original form. My grandmother’s “Shrimp Shellroni Salad,” written 75 years ago in her own script, is still an all-time favorite and sentimental gem.

Note: For some of P. Charlotte Lindsay’s old-time family recipes, check out her Broken-Heart Diet.

Splatter paint anything

Thank you, Jackson Pollock, for the amazing gift idea.

My children and I have splatter painted everything from umbrellas to dish towels to tennis shoes to sweatshirts to dog collars to each other.

  • Drop cloth
  • Fabric paint (available at your local craft store)
  • Plastic cups
  • Paintbrushes (Different sizes will affect the type of splatter.)
  • Paint clothes (as in, clothes you don’t care about)
  • White things to splatter

Note: You will get messy (as in, you will have fun).

Put on your paint clothes. Place your splatter object on your drop cloth outside. Squirt a different color of paint into each plastic cup. Lay your object on the drop cloth. (If it’s clothes, make sure they are flat; if it is an umbrella, open it and balance it on its side.) Dip the tip of your brush in the paint, and go to town.

Fling it hard, soft, with a little paint, with a lot of paint, and in all directions. Experiment. It’s all good—it’s art.

Do one color. Let it dry for an hour. Do another color, etc., turning the object as needed. Make sure one side is completely dry before turning over to do the other side. For shirts, consider doing one side only.

Take a shower.

Coupon book

This one is great for kids to do solo.

  • Construction paper
  • Craft scissors
  • Glue
  • Crayons, pens, colored pencils, etc.

Make a large folded card out of construction paper. Cut or fold another piece of paper half the size of the card. Put glue around its edges and make an inner pocket to hold your coupons.

Decorate the card, then cut squares of paper to make coupons of chores and special treats to be “cashed in.” (Coupon ideas include clean bedrooms, wash car, make lunches, pick up dog poop, a hug, a foot rub, etc.)

My favorite coupon was “Queen for a Day.” This involved breakfast in bed, sitting me on a decorated chair (my throne), putting lots of costume jewelry all over me, my daughter’s tiara on my head, and a blanket (royal robe) around my shoulders. I was sung to, danced for, and then allowed to take a bath.

Phone case

Especially fun for your teen, or your inner teen.

  • Cheap, solid-colored phone case
  • Glitter adhesive paper (available at your local craft store)
  • Scissors
  • Sharpies

Draw designs on the back of the glitter paper (hearts, stars, monogram letters, etc.); peel away paper’s coating and stick designs on the phone case. Decorate with markers.

Journaling notebook

As seen in high-end, expensive gift shops.

  • “Washi” or fabric tape
  • Sharpies
  • Composition or blank notebook
  • Alphabet stickers
  • Pencil
  • Thick ribbon

Decorate the notebook with strips of washi tape as desired. Think about weaving horizontal and vertical stripes, geometric patterns, triangulated corners, and strips of tape along the binding. Play with colors. Use the alphabet stickers to spell a name, a subject, an inspirational word, or simple monogram letters.

Wrap the pencil with matching tape, and tie to the journal with a bow.

Monogrammed coffee mug

Extremely impressive, and super easy.

  • White coffee mug (I like the tall, simple, smooth elegant mugs.)
  • Oil-based Sharpie marker (I prefer the silver or gold glitter color.)
  • Large alphabet stickers (as an outline)

Place monogram letter sticker in the center of the mug. Use the marker to outline the sticker with small dots. Make sure the dots are cluttered and heavy around the letter as they are forming the letter’s reverse silhouette (the outline of the letter).

As you move away from the sticker, spread out the dots. Dot them around the rest of the mug, gradually fewer and far between.

Once dry, remove the sticker.

Parisian Oreo cookies

These embellished cookie favorites are so elegant, they give any Ladurée macaron a serious run for its money.

  • Macaron boxes (sold at your local craft shop—I swear!)
  • Oreo cookies
  • Decorative sugar sprinkles
  • Parchment paper

Line the box with some parchment paper as you would for a shirt in a gift box. Roll the frosting area of the Oreo cookies in sugar sprinkles until they form a thick layer. Place cookies single file in your macaron box. Once the box is full, fold your parchment and tie up the box with an elegant bow. You just saved yourself $30.

Other homemade gift ideas

Here are a few more great DIY gifts to consider:

  • Photo magnets
  • Bookmarks
  • Decorative bobby pins
  • Bedazzled anything
  • Cookie or cake mix in a jar, with recipe tied to the lid
  • Painted votive glass with a votive candle
  • Painted rocks for garden ornaments

With a little bit of Internet research or a visit to your local library, you’ll find that DIY gift ideas are endless. The only thing you might be short on is the time to do them—but that is where your kids come in!

A favorite DIY gift and crafting site is DIY Network’s How-To section, which offers ideas for what crafts to make and how to decorate them. Also check out Lifehack.

Note: I do not recommend Martha Stewart’s website,, because 1) there are so many pop-ups that the site is impossible to navigate, and 2) she is busy . . . because I have her in a DIY-gift headlock on the mat.

Have fun!

Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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