No Cash Or Time? 10 Last-Minute And Homemade Gifts

Christmas gift
Family, Self

According to a recent study, 84 percent of people will be looking for ways to save money this holiday season, and 34 percent say they plan to spend less than last year. Given those figures, homemade gifts should be on everybody's giving list. What's more, homespun gifts show your special someone (or his family) that you took the time to create something just for them. The downside to DIY gifts is that they can easily slip into tacky territory, and they certainly don't come with a gift receipt.

We put our craft and cooking hats on and came up with 10 DIY gifts that are not cheesy and are sure to be loved. And for those who are allergic to the phrase "do it yourself"—or those who are simply too busy—we've found a last-minute version of each that doesn't reek of "I totally forgot to buy you a gift and just picked this up at the drugstore."

1. Mulling spices. Here’s a gift that will warm the heart: homemade mulling spices. The possible spice combinations are virtually endless. You’ll definitely need cinnamon sticks, cardamom posts and cloves, but the rest is up to you. Some people add orange rind, ginger and even peppercorn. We like this simple recipe, but a quick internet search will yield many more.

Make individual packets by placing a small amount of the mixture in six-inch rounds of cheesecloth (webstaurantstore.com, $4.29) and tying with twine (muslin tea bags also work). The wrapping can be as simple as a tin (papermart.com, $17.30 for 24) with a pretty label. The recipient can place one sachet into a mug of hot apple juice (or wine, if they wish) and steep for three to five minutes, or heat a larger batch in a large saucepan and add two to three sachets.

All you lazies out there are in luck: Pre-made mulling spices still make a great gift and are pretty easy to find. Williams-Sonoma's tin is lovely (williams-sonoma.com, $18), and you can pick up the spice ball to go with it (williams-sonoma.com, $9.95).

2. A tote bag. In an age where green is the new black, a tote bag is the perfect thing to have on hand. Even manly men aren't afraid to use them. Add your own design and it's that much more special. You can buy canvas totes of various sizes at Jo-Ann Fabrics for as little as $4. While you're there, pick up some iron-on transfer paper ($5 - $10). There are myriad websites with free iron-on designs (we found great ones here), or you can create your own. Simply print your design on the transfer paper, iron it onto the fabric and voila: lovely tote bag, thoughtful gift!

Don't even have the time for an iron-on? You can still pick up a plain tote from your friend Jo-Ann. For extra character, fill it with some goodies: cookies, notebooks, some gourmet coffee... pretty much anything goes. If you're too pressed for time to shop for goodies, you can find cute, pre-decorated totes just about anywhere. We like this market bag (target.com, $9.78).

3. Flavored olive oil. The perfect gift for the gourmand in your life. Make your own by adding herbs to an elegant bottle (oliveoilsource.com, $19.40 for 12) and letting it sit. Note that any herbs or fruits with water in them can promote bacteria, so read this guide to infuse safely. This recipe is easy and delicious. Note: You could also infuse vinegar and gift a set.

If you'd rather not deal with the extra steps, you can find prepared oils at any gourmet food store. Sur La Table has a great selection, from blood orange oil ($19) to truffled olive oil ($17), and even a very pretty oil made just for fondue ($18). For an added touch, you could throw in the Prepara oil mister, an amazing gadget that helps distribute the perfect amount of oil on salads and snacks. DIYers might even infuse in this rather than a bottle—it's not as pretty, but it's definitely handy.

4. Stationery. In this fast-moving age of 140-character communication, we often forget the beauty of the handwritten note. That means handmade stationery is a double whammy of a gift: beautiful note cards made with love by the giver,on which the recipient can pen thoughtful, handwritten notes. Head to your nearest craft store and pick up some high-quality paper and supplies like stamps, glitter, fun scissors or edge punchers. The possibilities are endless, so let your creativity take the lead. If you need some help getting started, trusty Martha Stewart has all sorts of ideas.

Procrastinators take note: Even though you didn't make them, note cards still make a thoughtful, easy, last-minute gift. If you can wait for shipping and would like to go handmade (just not by you), Thornwillow Press makes gorgeous cards, engraved with everything from ballet slippers to beehives ($40 for 10 cards). For more immediate needs, Papyrus makes very nice cards and can be found in just about any mall.

5. A spice rub. For the carnivore in your life, whip up a homemade spice rub and package it in a pretty mason jar (kmart.com, $10.99 for 12 32-ounce jars). Cater your recipe to the recipient. A Dixie chicken will swoon over this spicy cayenne version while someone with more exotic tastes will enjoy a Moroccan rub. You could even go Chinese-style.

The kitchen-averse can purchase delicious rubs in pretty packaging at most stores. We like this set from Foodzie ($19.95 for three) or, if you're in a hurry, Sur La Table's got everything from Java rub to Lone Star style ($9.95 for one, $28 for a set of three).

6. An herb garden. Gift green thumbs with all the essentials they need for an herb garden. Pick up a few herb pots (velocityartanddesign.com, $6.50) and personalize each with the name of the herb, then fill with a baggy of potting soil—if you're a true DIYer, you'll make your own (otherwise buy at Ace Hardware, $4.99)—and a corresponding seed packet.

For a quicker route, pick up a pre-made kit (restorationhardware.com, $39). We also love this herb-drying rack ($19.99)—bonus points if you package it with some fresh herbs set to be dried.

7. Infused vodka. Good gift: a bottle of booze. Better gift: a bottle of homemade infused vodka. And the beauty is that pretty much anything goes. Grapefruit, cucumber, pepper... (we don't recommend combining the three). Base your variation on the recipient's tastes. These instructions are easy to follow, and here are even more variations. An old-fashioned glass bottle (crateandbarrel.com, $3.95) makes the package.

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If you're rushed, a store-bought bottle will do the trick; just make sure it's a pretty one. Try Kai Lychee Vodka ($19.99) or Rain Cucumber Vodka ($18.99), or simply gift them a bottle of your favorite brand along with cocktail infusions of their own (teaforte.com, $12 for eight, three flavors). If it's a bottle for him, he may prefer the accompaniment of his own cocktail shaker (pier1.com, $24.95).

8. A personalized apron. For the recipient who could live in the kitchen. Remember those iron-on transfers? They come in letters (joann.com, from $1.49) that you can iron onto a plain apron (zazzle.com, $19.95). His and hers monogrammed aprons make great gifts for the couple that loves to cook.

Good news for the iron-phobic: Our friends at Williams-Sonoma will personalize the aprons for you (williams-sonoma.com, $29).

9. Custom-blended coffee. Make your favorite java-phile's coffee break an extra special treat with biscotti and custom-blended coffee. This cranberry-pistachio biscotti is as festive as it is scrumptious, but if you need more variations try this site we found devoted completely to the perfect coffee cookie. Place cookies in a cute tin (you can even customize your own, $9.99) or arrange them on a festive plate (target.com, $11.99). Then mix a pound of freshly ground beans with two teaspoons of cinnamon or nutmeg, or the seeds from four vanilla beans (use a paring knife to scrape them). You can find coffee bags with coated linings at any kitchen supply store (cw-usa.com, $3.95 for 10). Finish with ribbon and a decorative sticker.

The fast fix: Stop by a local bakery to purchase some biscotti and a local coffee shop for a signature blend (for even more points, get it from your pal's go-to spot). If that's still too much, you can get this whole gift created while you're shopping for groceries at Whole Foods. They even have a guide to coffee to help you out.

10. A heat therapy bag. Everyone can use a little extra pampering, and a heat therapy bag feels so much more luxurious than an ugly old heating pad. You'll need fabric scraps, two pounds of rice and essential oils. This great guide breaks down the process, and even tells you how to make a matching eye pillow that can be cooled in the freezer for extra soothing (the therapy bag can be microwaved). The site also offers a template for gift tags.

You know those kiosks in the mall that you're always too busy to visit? Now you're too busy not to. They sell attractive versions of the heat therapy bags. You can get eye pillows at most bath shops or beauty supply stores, or you can go with the ready-made stress management kit (ulta.com, $25). If you don't need the gift yesterday and can wait on shipping, you can find handmade versions ($15.95) on Etsy.

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